Mary Woronov was born in Brooklyn and studied art at Cornell University. Her stepfather was a cancer surgeon who prescribed speed to Mary's mother after diagnosing an under active thyroid. Although Mary was banned from smoking pot at her family's home, she was allowed to take as many of mother's speed pills as she wanted. (MW12)
She had originally met Gerard Malanga the previous year, in 1965, through a mutual friend ("Murray") at Cornell. Malanga filmed her walking across a bridge and called it Mary on Triphammer Bridge. Later that year she visited the Factory on an art class field trip and Malanga asked her to be in a Screen Test. Her first full-length Warhol film was Hedy (The Shoplifter), with a cast that included Mario Montez (in the title role) as well as Jack Smith and Ingrid Superstar. It was also Ingrid's first Warhol film.
Hedy is "an incredibly grim film, and, I think, how Warhol seduced me into it was that he said, 'Well, we'll really use a moving camera and many scenes and all of that. So, you won't be bored, and it will be nice...'
And Warhol got behind the camera, and he did the camera work, which is incredible and unbelievable. It moves constantly from the high point of action. It's very strange... It's beautiful. As the script starts to build toward a climax, the camera leaves it and goes up to the ceiling and begins to examine furniture, also. As a film, that's an incredible thing. Again, it was shitting on the script because it was falling together marvelously. So, it was irking me beyond my hopes... This was shaping into a very coherent, super-serious statement on Hollywood and American life and everything else. Very ingenious." (PS503)
After Hedy, Woronov appeared in Superboy, and after that, in The Chelsea Girls. Tavel wrote the The Hanoi Hannah episode that features Woronov in The Chelsea Girls - one of the few scripted segments. Tavel had become disillusioned with the way his previous scripts had been used and mailed the script to Warhol - rejecting Warhol's request to come to the filming. (PS503)
The Hanoi Hannah segment was filmed in Susan Bottomly's room (Room 116) at the Chelsea Hotel.
"The movie set was a room in the Chelsea Hotel. It was Velvet's room and Velvet was a slob; a girl slob, messy but sexy like underwear and perfume..." (MW33)
At the Factory, Woronov became involved with a group nicknamed the "mole people" - a group of speed freaks which also included Billy Name and Ondine.
"... it was only a matter of time before I was introduced into an extremely narrow circle that surrounded Warhol during the days of the Silver Factory on 47th Street: the Mole People. Mole because they were only seen at night wearing sunglasses and a skin pallor that had to be the result of years of subterranean existence; Mole because they were known to be tunneling towards some greater insanity that no one but this inner circle was aware of.
Some of the Great White Moles were Ondine, the Pope; Rotten Rita, the dealer; Orion, the witch; the Duchess, and of course, Billy Name, the protector of the Factory. The Moles even dared to rename Warhol 'Drella', a combination of Dracula and Cinderella, which became his pet name.
Drella warned me to steer clear of the Mole People, so I kept my distance until one night Ronnie invited me to get high with them. Ronnie was a rather handsome straight-looking but totally speed-crazed homosexual whose last name was Vile in case anyone was fooled by his pleasant manner. He said that for the last five days the Moles had been cooped up in an uptown apartment making necklaces, and all I could think of was that they must have some really powerful dope to keep that bunch stringing beads for a week. But the real reason I got in the cab with Ronnie was because he said Ondine would be there." (MW62)
Woronov was fascinated by Ondine who appeared in one of the most controversial scenes in The Chelsea Girls, where he attacked Ronna Page - both verbally and physically.
Ronna was actually a friend of Jonas Mekas who had sent her to the Factory. She also hung around with Gerard Malanga and appeared in Warhol's film Bufferin with Malanga. She accompanied Gerard to poetry readings as well as appearing onstage with The Velvet Underground when they played the Boston ICA as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable show in 1966. (GMW56-9)
Woronov later remembered a conversation she heard by Andy, Paul Morrissey, Gerard Malanga and Billy Name about the Ondine/Ronna Page scene.
"[International] Velvet [aka Susan Bottomly] was beginning to really annoy me... She was nervous because she thought this was her big movie chance... Even I knew this was not the way to Hollywood. I was not really sure what this was the way to, other than a kind of boredom. No matter how simple they made it - Paul loaded the camera, Andy pointed it, and Gerard started the tape recorder - there were always endless amounts of waiting. Of course there were endless amounts of drugs too, which sort of made up for it. I listened to the three of them talk about a scene that they had already shot with Ondine. Apparently he had decked a girl called Ronna and they were laughing about it because the audience reaction had been cheers.
Paul [Morrissey] laughing: "Everyone sided with Ondine, it was really terrible."
Andy: "Oh, it's our best film yet. It's so beautiful."
Gerard: "Ronna was being a cunt. Shit, this stupid tape recorder. I hate machines."
Andy: "I don't. I really want to be one. Everything would be so much easier."
Paul: "Gerard you're going to break it. Let Billy fix it. You know, Ondine can be so nice and then so scary - it's really quite shocking. Everybody in the room was terrified."
Andy: "That's because he's a star."
Paul: "Yeah, but how did he know that we all wanted to hate Ronna? How did he know all the audiences sitting the dark were waiting to hate Ronna?"
Gerard: "He should have hit her again."
Billy, exploding out of nowhere: "They're all frightened of his anger, so frightened they never listen to his words. If they did they'd realize he's right. There is no argument, there can't be. He is the Pope. You don't argue with a Pope, unless you're nuts, unless you want eternal damnation to hit you."
For a moment nobody said anything. Normally Billy never spoke; it was rare that he even left the Factory to help us set up. And now, after fixing the tape recorder, he vanished.
Gerard: Anyway, it's a lot more interesting than Nico cutting her bangs."
Paul: "How can you say that? Andy, Gerard doesn't like Nico's part."
Andy: You don't like that? Oh, why? It's so beautiful."
(Photo: Billy Name)
Brigid played the part of The Duchess in The Chelsea Girls and was sometimes referred to by that name in real life. She was the daughter of Richard Berlin, who ran the Hearst publishing empire, and socialite Honey Berlin:
HONEY BERLIN & BRIGID BERLIN
Warhol would later base his play Pork on tapes that Brigid had recorded of telephone conversations between herself and her mother. Brigid was nicknamed Brigid "Polk" because she liked to give pokes (injections) of speed.
Like both Edie Sedgwick and Mary Woronov, Brigid had been introduced to speed by her own mother. In Brigid's case it was to control a weight problem.
"I was sent to the family doctor to get amphetamines. I was 11. Dexedrine, too – little orange hearts. Mother would take Preludin. Then diuretics became popular – my sister wouldn’t drink water. Everyone was doing it. Jack and Jackie Kennedy went to Max Jacobson’s [a doctor who regularly gave celebrities vitamin B shots laced with speed]."
Henry Geldzahler introduced Brigid to Warhol in approximately 1964. She is probably best known for her role in The Chelsea Girls.
Since its original release, various versions of The Chelsea Girls have circulated. In one version, the beginning dialogue of Brigid's classic scene with Ingrid Superstar is left out. What she actually says to Ingrid at the beginning of their scene is:
Brigid: "Seen Andy lately?"
Ingrid: "Yeah, have you?"
Brigid: "No, I never go to the Factory."
Ingrid: "Why not?"
Brigid: "Because that was last year."
Ingrid: "Do you think that matters?"
Brigid: "Well, there's nothing to do up there - I can't drink anymore - and there's nothing to talk about... and you're always there... Susan Bottomly I would like to have except I'm afraid of her tits, they're too big. She paraded, my dear, in front of me in the nude and then told me to come and sit on the john while she took her bath. I just had to look at the floor the whole time..."
Ingrid: "So what else is new?"
Brigid: "With me?"
Ingrid: "With everything... you..."
Brigid: "Nothing. Drugs..."
Ingrid: "Well, you lost a lotta weight."
Brigid: "Do you think so?"
Ingrid: "Yeah. You've still got the beer belly..."
Brigid: "Well, that means I better take a poke... it's gotta stop [as she prepares to shoot up]. This is why I don't go around the Factory - Andy's paranoia about me and my drugs... This is going to be an O.D." [as she shoots up]
Brigid's comments reflect the fact that Warhol had become increasingly concerned about the extent of drug use on the Factory premises and the possibility of getting busted. Signs had been put up warning people not to use drugs on the premises. The police had raided the Factory in January of 1966 during the filming of The Velvet Underground. During the filming of The Chelsea Girls, the hotel switchboard operator had reported Warhol and his entourage to the police after listening in on Brigid Berlin's phone calls about drugs. Everyone was searched but the police only came up with two Desoxyn pills. (POP182)
The Chelsea Girls opened at the 200 capacity Film-Makers' Cinematheque on September 15, 1966. It returned there for a second week from October 19 - 25, and again from November 6 - 9, with many of the performances sold out. Due to the film's popularity, the Film-Maker's Distribution Center (FDC) booked the six-hundred seater Cinema Rendezvous at 110 West 57th Street to show the film, "making it the first underground movie to get a two-week run in a midtown Manhattan art theater." (DB248)
The Chelsea Girls cost approximately $1,500 - $3,000 to make and in its first nineteen weeks of release in New York, it grossed approximately $130,000 at the box office.
"So Chelsea Girls opened in a movie theatre and it was the first underground movie to come above ground. I was in Roosevelt Hospital - my always hospital - with either hepatitis or I was on a diet - and my father sent over Time magazine and the review of The Chelsea Girls and in it, it said 'Brigid Berlin, daughter of Richard E. Berlin, president of the Hearst Corporation, played the lesbian pill pusher dyke in Chelsea Girls. And I am sitting there flipping out that this has come above ground - 57th Street - and I'm on 58th Street in Roosevelt Hospital..." (BB)
When the film was initially released, Newsweek praised it as the "Iliad of the underground". Not all reviews were so favourable however. Rex Reed said, "Chelsea Girls is a three and a half hour cesspool of vulgarity and talentless confusion which is about as interesting as the inside of a toilet bowl." (LD258)