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Andy Warhol: From Nowhere to Up There

an oral history of Andy Warhol's early years

by Gary Comenas

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page seventeen

4. The Synthesis of Nothingness

Lynn Spigel: By 1953 Warhol had already made a splash on the TV title-art circuit. In that year, CBS director of graphic design George Olden listed him as one of the top twelve artists in the 'Who's Who in Art' for television. Olden singled out Warhol's title art for a 1953 episode of CBS's Studio One, 'Letter of Love,' which was commissioned by a producer of Studio One at Olden's suggestion. In 1954 American Artist reprinted the 'Letter of Love' title art as an example of Studio One's ground-breaking decision to commission 'well known artists' for the small screen. (LS255-6)

David Bourdon: With his career as an illustrator progressing so well, Warhol began searching for larger living quarters. In 1953, he happily discovered that he could take possession of a floor-through apartment in a four-story building at 242 Lexington Avenue, between 33rd and 34th Street. The apartment belonged to Leonard Kessler, one of Warhol’s former classmates at Carnegie Tech and now an author and illustrator of children’s books. Warhol sublet Kessler’s top-floor apartment for about a year and then signed a new lease with the landlord. (DB32-3)

George Klauber: I helped Andy move twice. The first was from the 103rd Street apartment to this one on 73rd. At that time, it was impossible to do anything with Andy in an organized fashion. The second time was when he then moved to 242 Lexington Avenue. He got an apartment there through Fritzie Wood… His mother was on the top floor. You see, he had a duplex. It was a townhouse. Andy had the parlour floor. Fritzie lived above that, and above that lived Mrs. Warhola. (PSC28)

Fitzie Wood (Warhol's neighbour): My ex-husband was in publishing at the time and we knew George Klauber, Andy’s classmate. Andy took the apartment at 242 Lexington that was the top floor. Calvin Holt lived there. Calvin was one of the originators of Serendipity. That top floor had fireplaces, and it seems to me that his cats lived in the back room, where Mrs. Warhola lived… Later, Andy also rented the parlour floor. (PSC43-4)

Paul Warhola: Mother told me back then that she would most like to move out of the city. She said she wouldn't enjoy living in Oakland [area of Pittsburgh] by herself and if I knew of some place in the country she'd move there. Only in the meantime my brother John decided to get married and Mother changed her plans. She got it into her head that her place was with Andy. She went to New York and stayed there. She felt that Andy needed her help, that he was actually still a child. (RU70)

Júlia Bezeková-Běláčová (Andy Warhol's cousin): I don't think Júlia was sad in America. She had her other two sisters Maria and the youngest one, Anna, there. They saw each other. Letters would come from the other sisters, but only once or twice a year. But Aunt Júlia kept writing all the time. She loved my mother. (RU166)

Vasiľ Bezek (husband of Júlia's sister Eva): Andy looked after his mother well, and that was why he never married, because he didn't want to marry a woman who would get on badly with his mother. Then one woman even shot at him because she wanted him to marry her so much. (NRV149)

Nora Zavacky (Andy Warhol's cousin on his mother's side): I knew Andy from childhood in Pittsburgh and I have this picture from him. He asked me what he could give me and I chose this one. It was some time in 1953 in New York on Lexington Avenue.

The way it started was that I was in New York with two girlfriends from Pittsburgh. We were staying in a hotel and my friends couldn't think of anything except how to meet boys. I got fed up with hit so I called Aunt Júlia. And she said, 'Come round to our place. I'll make chicken soup.' So I went round and Andy was there too. There were shoes lying everywhere. 'If you like any of them and can find two that more or less go together than take them,' Júlia told me. There was only one of each pair there, and most often a size 3 or 4. They were the shoes Andy was drawing then. 'It's dumb. They always only give me just one shoe!' Andy explained. 'Because they're terribly expensive.'

That evening Andy wanted to show me the city. He asked me if I liked ballet - he wanted to go to one that day and asked if I'd like to accompany him. I agreed. We went to Greenwich Village. For a while we just walked around and then it was the start of the performance. It turned out Andy didn't have any money. 'Never mind,' I said. I had some money and so I bought the tickets.

(Note: Nora Zavacky notes that when she returned to Pittsburgh, Warhol sent her the money back, saying that he wanted to buy her a bracelet but he didn't have the time and so was sending a cheque instead.)

Nora Zavacky: At the ballet Andy was completely in a trance, the whole time he was literally sitting on the edge of his seat. I was bored because those dancers and what they were doing were very strange. It made no sense to me. But Andy was in ecstasies. 'Wow, that's wonderful! Aren't the dancers beautiful?'

When the ballet was over we walked around a bit more. Although it was already one on the morning there were people in Washington Square still playing chess. That surprised me. Andy showed me the local cafes, which were mostly in basements back then. 'Do you like strong coffee?' he asked. 'Sure!' I said. So we went to have some. At the entrance to the bar Andy told me I should wiggle my hips a little. That seemed weird to me. There were a lot of sailors, boys from the transatlantic ships in flat caps. We sat down at the back and he ordered two real Turkish coffees. He warned me I might not like them. 'Please, why was I supposed to wiggle my behind?' I asked him. 'So no one here will think you don't belong here,' he told me. Then we went home. It was so late that Andy could already buy the morning paper. First he escorted me to the hotel, where I picked up my things. I was a little ashamed of him. He was wearing a kind of funny jacket with short sleeves. Instead of a wig he had a sort of tiny little hat (laughs). He looked strange, completely unlike all the others. I hoped no one would see me with him. That night I slept over at their house on Lexington Avenue on the couch. (RU84)

Fritzie Wood: Andy occasionally dropped in, but he wasn’t over for parties. It was a friendship as such, and, of course he was homosexual, and we were not… (PSC43-44)

Trevor Fairbrother: While Warhol successfully established a professional reputation with eye-catching and funny illustrations during the boom in advertising, he witnessed the growth of another area of publishing: the mass production of homophile magazines, homoerotic pictorials, and gay pornography, which all began in the 1950s. Concurrently the public was digesting the hard facts of Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male(TR60)

Barry Miles (writer): Kinsey wanted as wide and diverse a sample as he could get, so he worked from coast to coast and with all the social strata. Kinsey himself conducted 7,985 of the approximately 18,000 sexual histories gathered by his research team. [Herbert] Huncke proved to be invaluable to him. The pimps and pushers, hookers and hustlers of the Times Square area were an important potential source of data, but they were a very hard group for an academic like Kinsey to contact. Kinsey paid Huncke $2 for each person he brought to him. In this way Bill [William S.] Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Joan Vollmer and Vickie Russell, along with many of Huncke's other friends and acquaintances, answered the questions and - in the case of the men - allowed Kinsey to measure the lengths of their penises, both erect and detumescent. Their statistics were added to the pool and appeared, anonymously, among the tables of Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male when it was published in January 1948 by WB Sanders... Kinsey was surprised and pleased to meet Burroughs, Jack and the others as he had not expected to encounter educated, articulate people in such a setting. On several occasions they all dined together along with several of Kinsey's assistants. (BM118)

Trevor Fairbrother: One assumed that Warhol knew the spectrum of new gay publications and was attuned to the increasingly public debate about the status of gays in society. However, more concrete evidence can now be drawn from the archival collection of the Warhol Estate. Included among the assortment of things from the fifties is a copy of ONE, the first continuously published American gay magazine. The issue Warhol saved (September 1953) contains a denouncement of the article ‘Are Communists Homosexual?’ which had appeared in Mr. magazine, and an essay by Donald Webster Cory titled, ‘Can Homosexuals be Recognized?’ The magazine’s goal was ‘to sponsor research and promote the integration into society of such persons whose behaviour and inclinations vary from the current moral and social standards,’ and its title was taken from Carlyle: ‘… a mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.’ (TR60)

The Kinsey Institute: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) reported that: 37% of males and 13% of females had at least some overt homosexual experience to orgasm [and] 10% of males were more or less exclusively homosexual... (KI)

Trevor Fairbrother: One of Andy Warhol’s major artistic statements was his social persona, a creation of wit and spectacle heavily dependent upon the fact that he was honest about his homosexuality. Moreover, from the early 1950s he produced certain works that are as remarkable for their excellence in articulating a gay sensibility as for their technical and formal achievements… in 1953 Warhol produced his first two book projects, both done in collaboration with “Corkie” [Ralph T. Ward] who wrote the texts.

a is an alphabet included a... work involving two men. Their two heads, almost close enough to be kissing are formed in silhouette by the same continuous line. Ward's text beneath reads:

O was an otter
who slept in the same bed with this young man, and there was never an odder otter. (TR55/59)

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