Friday , April 12 2024
"...white-haired with anthracite-black eyes and legs to swoon over..."

Remembering Edie Sedgwick

She breaks just like a little girl. — "Just Like A Woman," Bob Dylan

Remembering Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol superstar, fashion icon, New York art and party scene socialite, is remembering the frenzy of the '60s and the golden flashbacks to those times, their enchantments and traps, a world populated by artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns, authors like Truman Capote and Gore Vidal, and a plethora of youthquakers, musicians, designers, aesthetes, and freaks.

Edith Minturn Sedgwick was born on 20 April, 1943 at the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California, and was named for Edith Minturn Stokes, her father's favourite aunt. She belonged to an aristocratic privileged family whose ancestors dated back to her great-great-great grandfather, William Ellery, a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence and Judge Theodore Sedgwick (Speaker of the House of Representatives), whose wife Pamela Dwight was the first Sedgwick declared mentally insane. Francis Minturn, Edie's father, had been diagnosed as manic-depressive and deemed unfit to reproduce, but he cherished the project of a big family.

All the family called Francis "Fuzzy" or "Duke", and when they moved to the vast Laguna Ranch, in the Santa Inez Valley, he started to isolate his wife and kids with his severe discipline. Fuzzy was defined as "a cross between Mr. America and General Patton… a Marquis de Sade" by a one of the visitors to the Ranch in Edie: An American Biography (1982), by Jean Stein and George Plimpton. Re-edited in 1994 as Edie: An American Girl, this is the best book about Edie Sedgwick's life to date, an oral biography with detailed material from a multitude of interviewees and also the chronicle of the rise and fall of the '60s revolutionary days.

Francis was the biggest influence on Edie's life along with pop art master Andy Warhol. He referred to Edie as his "little chorine". In Edie: Girl on Fire (2007), by David Weissman and Melissa Painter, which features a CD with the last recorded interview of Edie, tracking down interviews and old pictures, his friend from Harvard, Bartle Bull recalls: "She admired the fact he was his own man and nobody influenced him. But she also knew that there was a dangerous, decadent side to him. And, indeed, that attracted her to other people later in her life, the people who were witty but corrupt, artistic but corrupt."

Bartle Bull had met Edie in September of 1963 at Harvard and he invited her to a picnic. She was the most eccentric girl in her clique of rich heiresses and Porcellian Club boys. Edie used to steal her father's Porsche when she was 14 and drive down the coast highway.

Later, she took up sculpture classes in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She went to class in a grey Mercedes and her art teacher Lily Saarinen says: "She was very insecure about men, though all the men loved her."

"Every boy at Harvard," said a former classmate, "was trying to save Edie from herself."

Edie's little sister Suky remembers one of the first crazy episodes of euphoria shared with her driving their fancy Mercedes 190 SL. They sizzled along the highway wearing sunglasses, the music blaring, and crossing the line between fun and hysterics. She was beginning to show the symptoms of psychological abuse inflicted by her elitist father. After she caught him having an affair with another woman who posed for one of his sculptures, she was interned in Silver Hill's psychiatric hospital as delusional and anorexic. Another patient in Silver Hill said Edie tried in a game to "steal" her soul.

In Cambridge, she joined a group of sophisticated gay young men, led by Cloke Dosset and Ed Hennesy. "Edie had the capacity to create instantly the world around her […] She saw herself as somebody who, if touched, could be annihilated," said her friend John Anthony Walker.

Edie's brother Minty was found dead in 1964. He had hung himself the day before his twenty-sixth birthday. On New Year's Eve, another brother, Bobby, had an accident on his Harley Davidson, dying on January 12, 1965. These losses would affect Edie deeply.

With Chuck Wein ("Chuckles"), a close friend from Cambridge who thought of her as her particular Trilby creation, she would move to her grandmother's apartment in fall of 1964 to New York, where she'd spend her entire inheritance in six months' record time. Edie had been introduced to Andy Warhol in early 1965 at Lester Persky's apartment. Immediately there was a attraction between the dreamy heiress and the nutty artist, who invited her to his studio for the purpose of turning her into "The Factory Queen." They became an unprecedented couple on the New York socialite scene. Andy and Edie had a mysterious relationship as binary stars. "Edie believed she was Andy," Henry Geldzahler commented in Warhol, by Victor Bockris (1997).

Under Andy's voyeuristic, detached direction, Edie appeared in underground films as Vinyl (a parody of A Clockwork Orange), Kitchen (filmed at sound technician Buddy Wirtschafter's apartment with poet René Ricard and Roger Trudeau), Beauty no. 2, Poor Little Rich Girl, Outer and Inner Space, Restaurant, Lupe, Ondine and Edie. Although many believed Warhol manipulated her through Chuck Wein (specially in Beauty no. 2), according to Billy Name (Factory's photographer and silver foil decorator), "She called her own shots."

"She was the total essence of the fragmentation, the explosion, the uncertainty, the madness that we all lived through in the Sixties." — Filmmaker Joel Schumacher

Edie liked long exotic earrings and her wardrobe was full of fur coats, hats, black leotards and Breton striped T-shirts. She applied thick layers of make-up on her face, putting on spidery false eyelashes, her eyes popped out like chocolate baubles. Self-conscious of everybody's eyes on her, she looked for stress relief with "acid doctors", speed pokes, and sex marathons. "The spotlights were on her and she was being treated as something very, very special, but inside she felt like a lump of dirt,"  noted Henry Geldzahler. She changed the fashion's rules and posed for Life and Vogue. Diana Vreeland was fascinated with her but they stopped working with her because of her drug problems.

Bob Dylan, who just had given away his song "I'll Keep It With Mine" to German chanteuse Nico (who would supplant Edie as the next underground superstar), questioning her career in Warhol's films, invited her to the Woodstock Festival. Dylan's manager Albert Grossman asked her to sign a contract in the hopes of shooting a film with Dylan. Jerry Schatzberg photographed her Fitzgeraldian beauty in one of her happiest moments.

But Sedgwick found out that Dylan had married Sara Lownds in a secret ceremony — Warhol told her during an argument at the Ginger Man Restaurant in February 1966.

Dylan doesn't acknowledge any relationship with Edie, though he says, "I know other people who, as far as I know, might have been involved with Edie. Uh, she was a great girl. An exciting girl, very enthusiastic… I did know her, but I don't recall any type of relationship." But Edie would inspire his biggest hit, the touchstone "Like A Rolling Stone," released in 1965 (it appeared on Dylan's album Highway 61 Revisited) and chosen the best popular song by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004. The lyrics talk about a rich society girl ("Miss Lonely") and her moral disintegration. There are also allusions to Warhol ("Napoleon in rags") and to the lifestyle at The Factory: "Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people they're drinkin, thinkin' that they got it made." Dylan's masterpiece Blonde on Blonde (1966), purportedly contains more songs inspired by Edie, like "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" and "Just Like A Woman."

"Just Like A Woman's" lyrics are revealing of a painful relationship expressed in a wish of forgetting about it: "And your long-time curse hurts. But that's worse is this pain in here… Yes, I believe it's time for us to quit. When we meet again introduced as friends please don't let on that you knew me when I was hungry and it was your world."

"Dylan liked Edie because she was on of the few people who could stand up against his weird little numbers," says Jonathan T. Taplin, Dylan's road manager and producer of Mean Streets and The Last Waltz.

Edie was most intimate with Dylan's sidekick, Bob Neuwirth, who had rescued her from another mental hospital where her father had sent her in Christmas of '66. But the romance was cut off due to Edie's paranoia: "It was really sad — Bobby's and my affair. The only true, passionate, and lasting love scene, and I practically ended up in the psychopathic ward."

Spiraling downward with her addictions, she was committed to the New York State Psychiatric Institute for attempted suicide and then transferred to Manhattan State Hospital where she was treated with thorazine.

Edie describes the irreversible effects of her drug use in Ciao! Manhattan's tapes: "The nearly incommunicable torments of speed, buzzerama, that acrylic high, horrorous, yodeling, repetitious echoes of an infinity so brutally harrowing that words cannot capture the devastation nor the tone of such a vicious nightmare."

Edie's mother took her out of Manhattan Hospital in fall of 1968 and brought her back to the ranch. She barely could walk or talk and after a brief sober time, she got hooked on acid and speed again and got busted by the police. She was sent to the Cottage Hospital.

"She'd get dressed up and wear her wigs," remembers a social worker. "She spent her week's allowance of eighty dollars on padded bras." At Cottage she would meet Michael Brett Post, who found Edie "fascinating", fell in love and waited for her until she was discharged from the hospital to get married in a ceremony held at the ranch.

David Weisman and John Palmer wanted to make the first "above-ground" underground film and Weisman contacted Edie in the summer of 1970 to finish the shooting. He had previously met her when she lived in the Hotel Chelsea. The French film director Roger Vadim appeared in two scenes in Ciao! Manhattan and he had a vague idea of using Edie in his film Pretty Maids All in a Row (although like the Dylan project, it didn't materialize either). Edie went off with Vadim to Malibu, but he soon telephoned Weisman, complaining "she is a bit much."

The film Ciao! Manhattan (released theatrically in 1972 and on DVD in 2002) shows her hitchhiking down Old Malibu Road topless and the lead male character drives her to her home (an empty swimming pool). "He has no idea that his own lifestyle, his independence, his self-awareness, his whole generation has been created by her, by Edie Sedgwick," says David Weissman. The black and white footage reminisces about her glory days when she was Warhol's muse in New York. Her role is Susan Superstar but all her stuttering speeches are reminiscent of the real Edie:

"Speed is the ultimate, all time high. That first rush. Wow! Just that burning, searing, soaring sense of perfection." Her cracked tone of voice outlines her love of feeling the moment. "I'd like to turn the whole world on just for a moment… just for a moment," while she walks on a brick wall near the legendary Fort Lee Castle.

On the night of 15 November, 1971, Edie attended a fashion show at the Santa Barbara Museum, filmed for the television show An American Family. When her husband Michael Post woke the following morning, Edie was dead from a combination of alcohol and Doradin. She was 28. 

The film Factory Girl (2006) by George Hickenlooper tries to get a hold of the elusive Edie, but the portrait is insufficient and focuses too much on the hypothetical relationship with Dylan. Sienna Miller does a competent job of capturing Edie's fragility and insecurities but the script often falls short in its story development. Guy Pearce as the enigmatic Andy Warhol is quite enjoyable to watch, and Shawn Hatosy plays Syd Pepperman (a composite fictional character, mainly Bobby Neuwirth). Illeana Douglas is the glamorous Diana Vreeland, Vogue's editor-in-chief. The casting is good but the flaws in analyzing  Edie's psychology more deeply make it difficult to warm up to her.

Billy Name gives some insight into Edie's demise: "Her charm was not really manageable by Warhol or anyone else, so her career was not managed with skill and didn't go anywhere. […] Edie brought on her own destruction."

About Factory Girl: "It's an okay movie, but there's nothing special about it and the portrayal's on again off again, but not really Edie."

Chuck Wein (played by Jimmy Fallon) didn't like the film because "it's really dismissive of who she was. It's more Paris Hilton than Edie Sedgwick. They make her into this simpering, sentimental girl."

Lou Reed composed "Femme Fatale" for her, Kim Fowley called her "an heroic goddess," Bobby Kennedy went to Max's Kansas City to meet her, Robert Rauschenberg said "she was like art," Patti Smith wrote a memorial poem: "she'd turn around and turn the head of everyone in town." Warhol defined her in his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol as "a wonderful, beautiful blank" and "the mystique to end all mystiques."

Remembering her, we can only try to order the fragmented pieces of her unsoluble puzzle: the college girl, the collage girl, the muse, the scene queen, the clandestine patient, the trickster, the underground Marilyn, the complete unknown, the decadent drifter, all of her versions ready to dance and smoke and smile, always in her own world.

About Elena Gonzalvo

I'm Elena Gonzalvo, a Spanish/French blogger and film/book critic. My favourite genre is Film Noir. My blogsite is Weirdland:

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