home - news - about - superstars - interviews - articles - soup can - films - art - timeline - abstract expressionism - sources - citations

Andy Warhol: From Nowhere to Up There

an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years

by Gary Comenas

to: page numbers and topics

page six

Bennard B. Perlman: 1942 was a traumatic year for Andy as he prepared to leave Holmes Elementary for Schenley High School. His brother Paul was leaving the family circle to join the Navy. Andy’s father, who had taken a construction job in West Virginia, fell ill and died on May 15. (BP150)

Paul Warhola: Dad worked as a rigger for a removals company by the name of Eichleay. They moved whole buildings, whether ten-storey or just two. They worked in various parts of the United States, and so mother was more or less left with three of us children on her hands and being the eldest son I naturally had to take charge. Back then it was very expensive and dad didn't earn much. He had no school and he worked very hard. They called it 'heavy construction,' and it was very difficult work.

All the labourers who went out from our area to work in West Virginia ended up with serious health problems, you know. There was a badly polluted water there, which everyone drank and everyone got sick from it. We were told that Dad died of liver problems. He had never been ill before, never taken any medicines and then he was suffering for six weeks and slowly dying, until he passed away... if it happened today they could cure that infection, but it was back in 1942 and there were no drugs for it. (RU66)

 Pat Hackett (Warhol's secretary and editor of The Andy Warhol Diaries): Andy's father died in May 1942 when Andy was thirteen. (AWDP697)

Paul Warhola: When they brought the body into the house Andy was so scared he ran and and hid under the bed. But we didn’t push Andy too much when Dad died because we didn’t want him to have a relapse. We were always fearful that his nervous condition might come back. Andy started crying. He begged Mother to let him go and stay with Tinka at Aunt Mary’s house on Northside or to have Tinka come over and keep him company. (VB 45)

Júlia Warhola (from her Power of Attorney document filed in Pittsburgh on 22 March 1946): I, Julia Varcholová neé Zavacky, coming from the illage Miková, region Medzilaborce in Slovakia, at the moment inhabiting 3252 Dawson Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, empower my sister EVA BEZEKOVÁ NEÉ ZAVACKÁ, an inhabitant in Miková, region Medzilaorce in Slovakia, to take under her administration all the properties that are in my husband's name Andrej Varchola who died in May 15, 1942 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, registered in the land record of the vilage Miková according to property law. To use these properties and to pay tax and other charges connected with them until the time when I am bak in the homeland and can administer the properties myself.

These properties are currently used by Michal Závacký and Fetco Choma, inhabitants of Miková, my named sister has the authority to request restitution of the preoperties of my deceased husband from them, or take action against them in court. (RU150)

John Warhola: My father passed away when Andy was still small. They didn't want dad to be in a funeral home. he was laid out in the house and Andy was afraid of being in the house with a dead person. A couple of years later when my mother was pretty sick in hospital he was very sad and missed her not being home.

I also remember us playing baseball. He played out in the field and suddenly a little while after we started to play a ball came out of the field just where he wa supposed to be. But he wasn't there. We were wondering where Andy had disappeared to. After half an hour we went home and there he was in front of the house painting pictures.

One day in the summer our mum sent us to dig in the garden. We had flowers and potatoes. I was plainting potatoes but Andy only wanted to plant flowers. At the time we had a competition for prizes at school. Andy brought flowers and I brought vegetables and we both won first prize. The first prize was 25 cents. (Back then we could buy a cinema ticket for 10 cents and go and watch the movies.)

Reporters came round from the newspaper wanting to take a photo of us. There was another older boy who had won a prize for flowers too. The reporters said they wanted to photograph him, me and Andy altogether. So we went with our mother to the other boy's apartment, but his mother sent us away saying [s]he would send the photogrpahers round to our home afterwards. We didn't much understand this but we went and waited at home. The photographers never came. She hadn't sent them round to our place. She didn't want her son to have his photo in the papers with me and Andy. The next day there was a just a photo of her son in the paper. The teachers at school wanted to know why we weren't in it too. So we told them what had really happened.

When I thought about it later, when I was already older, I realised why taht lady didn't want us in the photograph with her son. They were people who had a fine apartment. They were better dresed than us, just people from a higher class. But those sort of people wer shameless. They used to call us 'damn Hunkies.'

Our mother didn't speak English. We boys learned English at school. With our mother - you know how it is - when someone is older it's hard for them. She just spoke what they called broken English and the children just laughed at her. With us she spoke just our way and they laughed at that too. (RU46)

Bennard B. Perlman: Between September 1942 and June 1944, when Andy was in the ninth and tenth grades, he earned straight A’s or S’s (satisfactory) in every subject: English, mathematics, science, social science, art, health education, and (a year of each) Latin and French. Because both of his brothers had gone directly from high school into the work force, their father Andrej Warhola, had left what was then a considerable sum of money, $1,500, earmarked for Andy to attend university…

In part because of his academic achievements and in part because schools were accelerating male students so that they could graduate prior to being drafted, Andy skipped the eleventh grade and entered his last year at Schenley [High School] in September 1944. But at this point his grades took a nosedive.

The reason had less to do with Andy’s having missed his junior year than with his mother’s having been diagnosed as having colon cancer. She was operated on the every month that Andy entered the twelve grade. (BP150-152)

Victor Bockris: Julia’s piles started bleeding so badly that she was forced to call in her doctor, who prescribed a series of tests and shortly diagnosed colon cancer. Her chances of survival were at best 50/50, he informed both Julia and John, and that chance depended entirely on her agreeing to an operation which doctors were just beginning to experiment with called a colostomy. (VB47)

John Warhola: My mother had so much faith in religion, she told me not to worry. I guess she [had] seen the expression on my face where you’d think that I was the one that was going for the operation. Don’t worry, she says, she’ll be all right. I don’t think the doctors knew that much. We always felt that she didn’t need that operation. I’ll never forget the first day Andy come down there after she was operated on. The first thing he asked me, he says, ‘did Mumma die?’ (VB47-48)

Bennard B. Perlman: During his mother’s illness, Andy dropped the art elective soon after the fall term began, and he received no grades for art his final year in high school. Now his out-of-school activities were virtually limited to art sessions with Nick Kish, and even those were relegated to weekends…

As graduation from Schenley High School loomed, Andy and Nick, having determined they would continue on together, began to check out the prospects for higher education in the area. When Kish settled on the University of Pittsburgh with the idea of majoring in engineering, Andy decided on Pitt, too. They filled out their applications together and hand-delivered them to the school. Since courses in the university’s art department were limited to art history. Andy intended to enrol as an education major in preparation for becoming a teacher…

As Andy and Nick prepared to enter the university that fall, the U.S. military intervened. Nick, who was older than Andy and eligible for the draft, received his induction notice in July... Andy was faced with the prospect of going to Pitt or seeking admittance to the much smaller Carnegie Institute of Technology, where an art-education option was available in the Department of Painting and Design. He chose the latter… (BP151)

to page seven

home - news - about - superstars - interviews - articles - soup can - films - art - timeline - abstract expressionism - sources - citations