Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Néstor Almendros

Cuba’s government is not just homophobic – the anti-gay climate is legally institutionalized. Spanish-born cinematographer Néstor Almendros (1930-1992) followed his father to Cuba in 1948 in order to flee Franco’s government. Even though he was himself a closeted gay man (his autobiography made no mention of his private life), when Almendros had the opportunity to direct his own film project in 1984, he made a documentary about Cuba's persecution of gay men, Mauvaise conduite (Improper Conduct), a blistering indictment of Castro’s oppression of homosexuals. From 1965 to 1967, the Cuban government engaged in an anti-gay pogrom, rounding up locas (loosely, “queens”) for confinement in labor camps. Néstor’s documentary featured 28 interviews with these men. Critical response was wildly positive, and Almendros went on to co-direct another documentary, titled Nadie escuchaba (Nobody Listened – 1988), again about repression in Cuba. Like the first documentary, Nobody Listened drew its power from the directness of real people telling their tragic stories in their own words.

Almendros built a career that encompassed a great body of work as a cinematographer: Days of Heaven (1978), for which he won an Academy Award, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The Blue Lagoon (1980), The Last Métro (1980) for which he won a Cesar award, Sophie's Choice (1982), Pauline at the Beach (1983), Places in the Heart (1984), Heartburn (1986), Imagine: John Lennon (1988 documentary) and Billy Bathgate (1991), among scores of others. He was known for his many successful collaborations with famed directors Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut and Robert Benton.

Néstor Almendros was born on this day, October 30, in Barcelona in 1930. He died of AIDS-related lymphoma in 1992 at age sixty-one. In a fitting tribute Human Rights Watch gives an annual film award named in his honor.

Stills from Days of Heaven:

Production began in the fall of 1976. Though the film was set in Texas, the exteriors were shot in Whiskey Gap on the prairie of Alberta, Canada. Jack Fisk designed and built the mansion from plywood in the wheat fields and the smaller houses where the workers lived. The mansion was not a facade, as was normally the custom, but authentically recreated inside and out with period colors: brown, mahogany and dark wood for the interiors. Patricia Norris designed and made the period costumes from used fabrics and old clothes to avoid the artificial look of studio-made costumes.


According to Almendros, the production was not “rigidly prepared”, allowing for improvisation. Daily call sheets were not very detailed and the schedule changed to suit the weather. This upset some of the Hollywood crew members not used to working in such a spontaneous way. Most of the crew were used to a “glossy style of photography” and felt frustrated because Almendros did not give them much work. On a daily basis, he asked them to turn off the lights they had prepared for him. Some crew members said that Almendros and Malick did not know what they were doing. Some of the crew quit the production. Malick supported what Almendros was doing and pushed the look of the film further, taking away more lighting aids, and leaving the image bare. Due to union regulations in North America, Almendros was not allowed to operate the camera. With Malick, he would plan out and rehearse movements of the camera and the actors. Almendros would stand near the main camera and give instructions to the camera operators.


Almendros was beginning to deal with deteriorating eyesight by the time shooting began. To evaluate his setups, “he had one of his assistants take Polaroids of the scene, then examined them through very strong glasses”. According to Almendros, Malick wanted “a very visual movie. The story would be told through visuals. Very few people really want to give that priority to image. Usually the director gives priority to the actors and the story, but here the story was told through images”. 


Much of the film would be shot during “magic hour”, which Almendros called “a euphemism, because it’s not an hour but around 25 minutes at the most. It is the moment when the sun sets, and after the sun sets and before it is night. The sky has light, but there is no actual sun. The light is very soft, and there is something magic about it. It limited us to around twenty minutes a day, but it did pay on the screen. It gave some kind of magic look, a beauty and romanticism”. This “magic look” would extend to interior scenes, which often utilized natural light.


Almendros said, “In this period there was no electricity. It was before electricity was invented and consequently there was less light. Period movies should have less light. In a period movie the light should come from the windows because that is how people lived.”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dsquared2: Twin gay brothers

Identical twin gay brothers Dean and Dan Caten, born with the surname Catenacci, are a Canadian creative design duo who are fashion designers. They are founders and owners of the high end international fashion house DSQUARED2.

DSquared2: not your grandmother’s runway show



Now in their late forties, Dean and Dan Caten say they started out by designing denim, because they weren't allowed to wear it when they were growing up. "Our Dad, like a lot of older people, thought denim is for poor people," said Dean in an interview. The twins were in a family of nine children, raised by a single father, a welder, in Toronto. They say their success in the fashion world is probably due to that modest background. "I think sometimes the less you have, the more creative you have to become," Caten said. "It's not having the things you want in the fashion sense. We didn't have great clothes growing up, and we didn't have fashion accessible to us."

DSquared is based in Milan, Italy, and it now has moved light years beyond denim, but the twin’s collections are still tinged with Canadian themes, Dan said. "Doing a collection, we start with a theme, and that gives us a point of departure – cowboys, matadors," he said. "We're telling a story. It's like making a short film. When it comes time for the runway, we have the set, the music, the lighting – will we make it rain or snow?"

Their clothing, the denim in particular, is a favorite among musicians like Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, and Madonna, who asked the duo to create more than 150 pieces for her 2002 Drowned World Tour. The design duo did the costumes for a recent Usher world tour, as well. The brothers opened their flagship store in Milan in 2007, complete with an exclusive Champagne bar, and subsequently launched locations in Capri, Kiev, Istanbul, and Hong Kong. In 2010, they were the hosts of Launch My Line, a design competition reality show on Bravo. They have launched a signature fragrance, have designed football team uniforms and have collaborated with Fiat automobiles. In 2009 they launched Dsquared for Sirius Satellite Radio's BPM Channel, and somewhere in there I forgot to mention that they have a designer line of sunglasses. Their products may be purchased in the U.S. at high retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and at select fashion boutiques. A link to their on-line shopping site is at the end of this post.

Dean and Dan, who divide their life/work between Milan and London, create their collections in Italy: “Born in Canada, living in London, made in Italy”.

“We are the two simplest people on the face of the earth. We have come from nothing, have made something, and we’re giving back to everything that we ever came from, everything that we support.”

http://www.dsquared2.com





Thursday, October 18, 2012

John Horne Burns

Born the son of a wealthy Irish Catholic lawyer in Massachusetts, John Horne Burns (1916-1953) attended Andover Academy, where he studied music. His Phi Beta Kappa graduation from Harvard in 1939 resulted in a teaching position at a boys' boarding school, the Loomis School in Windsor, Connecticut. Answering his country’s call, he was drafted into the army in 1942. Thus a gay soldier found himself lucky enough to be stationed in Casablanca, Algiers, and Naples, spending WW II in a military intelligence job censoring the content of mail written by enemy prisoners. Burns used his war experiences, including pickups in gay bars in Naples, in his brilliant first novel, The Gallery (1947), a set of nine vignettes, reissued in 2004 by New York Review of Books Classics. The novel is a semi-autobiographical fictionalized account of his Italian war experiences.

The Gallery – "The first book of real magnitude to come out of the last war."
– John Dos Passos

Set in occupied Naples, Italy, in 1944, The Gallery takes its name from the Galleria Umberto, a bombed-out arcade where everybody in town comes together in pursuit of food, drink, sex, money and oblivion. A daring and enduring novel – one of the first to look directly at gay life in the military – The Gallery poignantly conveys the mixed feelings of those who fought the war that made America a superpower. The book captures the shock that war dealt to the preconceptions and ideals of the victorious Americans. Each of the stories gives the reader a glimpse into the social and sexual practices of American GIs during WW II, from a censorship office run by an egomaniac to an Italian girl finding love in an America officer's club to a gay bar. These portraits are linked by the narrator's own experiences from Casablanca to Naples and his realization of what love and the war mean to him. Upon publication in 1947, the book became a critically-acclaimed bestseller.



His literary debut launched him alongside James Michener and Irwin Shaw (photo above). Two years later, however, Burns suffered a second novel comedown with Lucifer with a Book (1949), a satire which drew on his experiences as a boarding school teacher. Lucifer with a Book was one of the most talked about new novels, because it dealt with the naughty goings-on at an all boys' prep school, something Americans could not handle in 1947. Burns was savagely attacked by the same critics who had praised him as a war novelist. Disappointed, disillusioned and disaffected with American culture, Burns moved to Florence, Italy, where he began drinking himself to death. A third novel,  A Cry of Children (1952), also garnered bad reviews. Supporting himself as a travel writer, he began working on a fourth novel, but died at age 36 of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by alcoholism.

According to Gore Vidal, Burns once said "To be a good writer, one must be homosexual."

The Gallery: Burns has a brilliant facility for reproducing the sights, sounds, color, feel, and smell of the places he has seen. He uses this to startling effect to recapture what many Americans beyond the frontiers of their antiseptic homeland for the first time found in exotic and warped war centers as Casablanca, Fedhala, Algiers, and of course the twisted and diseased Napoli itself. – William Hogan, San Francisco Chronicle

No one will ever forget this book: a story torn from impassioned experience of modern wars in a shattered city of the ancient world. The Gallery is unique, unsparing, immediate; inextinguishable.
– Shirley Hazzard

The Gallery – John Horne Burns; 392 pages, paperback.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton was a United States Founding Father, soldier, economist, political philosopher, one of America's first constitutional lawyers and the first United States Secretary of the Treasury. As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton was the primary author of the economic policies of George Washington’s administration – specifically the funding of state debts by the Federal government, the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs and friendly trade relations with England. He became the leader of the Federalist Party, created largely in support of his views.

On March 3, 1777, forty-five year old President George Washington hired twenty-two year old Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) to be his personal secretary and aide-de-camp, subsequently promoting him to lieutenant colonel. Of illegitimate birth and raised in the West Indies, Hamilton was educated in New York, where he lived with a 32-year old bachelor male haberdasher, Hercules Mulligan. After his studies, Hamilton was elected to the Continental Congress from that state. He resigned to practice law and subsequently founded the Bank of New York. In 1789, after Hamilton returned from further military service, Washington appointed Hamilton as the first ever Treasury Secretary of the United States. Many researchers suggest that Washington, who was in a life-long childless marriage, and Hamilton likely had an intimate relationship, as well (Hamilton was known to have intimate relations with both men and women). Washington’s otherwise warm relations with Hamilton turned somewhat frosty after Hamilton married a woman following the death of the object of Hamilton’s devotion, John Laurens (1754-1782).

Hamilton and Laurens had an intense, intimate relationship and often compared each other to Damon and Phintias* (!), a euphemism used to denote a devoted gay couple. In 1779, chiding Laurens for not corresponding as often as he would have liked, Hamilton wrote, "like a jealous lover, when I thought you slighted my caresses, my affection was alarmed and my vanity piqued." In 1781 Hamilton requested a transfer from Washington’s staff to be able to serve in combat with Laurens, and the request was granted. Hamilton and Laurens engaged in several military campaigns together, but Laurens was tragically killed in a skirmish in 1782. Hamilton was completely devastated.

*In Greek mythology, Phintias, who had been condemned to death by Dionysius, wanted to return home first to put his affairs in order. Damon agreed to be put to death in his friend’s stead, should Phintias not return to face his execution. Phintias returned as promised, sparing Damon’s life. Dionysius was so impressed by the friends’ devotion to each other that he pardoned Phintias and asked to be friends with the two lovers.

Four months prior to John Laurens’s death on the battlefield, Hamilton wrote to Laurens playfully suggesting that Laurens find a wife for him, offering an exaggerated and amusing description of the ideal candidate’s appearance, personality and financial standing ("as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better"). Hamilton then withdrew the suggestion, writing, "Do I want a wife? No – I have plagues enough without desiring to add to the number that greatest of all."

Bronze statue of Alexander Hamilton outside Hamilton Hall, overlooking Hamilton Lawn at his alma mater, Columbia University in New York City.






Yet Hamilton did marry late the following year, entering into a union with the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in New York City, where Hamilton resumed his law practice. After the war he  participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787. When he became president, Washington appointed Hamilton the nation’s first ever Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. However, Hamilton left the poorly-paid Treasury position in 1795 to resume his more lucrative law practice, but he remained a valued adviser to the president and a leader of the Federalist Party.

When the contentious presidential race of 1800 ended in an Electoral College tie, the House of Representatives was charged with resolving the impasse. Hamilton famously put the good of his young nation above party loyalty. Because he believed the Federalist candidate, Aaron Burr, would be a disastrous president, Hamilton went on a campaign to urge his fellow party members to vote instead for his longtime political adversary, Thomas Jefferson. Aaron Burr, who received the second highest number of votes, became Vice President, but he  never forgave Hamilton for his defeat. When Burr ran for governor in New York State in 1804, Hamilton's influence in his home state was strong enough to prevent a Burr victory. Taking offense at some of Hamilton's comments, Burr challenged him to a duel in July, 1804, and wounded Hamilton, who died of his injuries shortly thereafter.

Although Hamilton had a fruitful marriage (and eight children), researchers and biographers deem that Hamilton’s relationship with Laurens was the most important romantic and emotional bond of his life. Earlier biographers edited out the most embarrassing and damning paragraphs from Hamilton’s effusive letters to Laurens, but a 1902 biography relates that Laurens "took Hamilton by storm, capturing judgement as well as heart, and loving him as ardently in return." In describing Hamilton's reaction to the death of Laurens, "Hamilton mourned him passionately, and never ceased to regret him. Betsey [Schuyler Hamilton, his wife] consoled, diverted, and bewitched him, but there were times when he would have exchanged her for Laurens." She added, with some regret, "The perfect friendship of two men is the deepest and highest sentiment of which the finite mind is capable; women miss the best in life." Hamilton's grandson, Allen McLane Hamilton, wrote that many of his grandfather's male friends were attracted to his "almost feminine traits." So there you have it.

The memory of Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens lives on in San Francisco at the Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion, the organization’s only branch comprised primarily of GLBTQ veterans.


Hamilton and Laurens are depicted standing together on the "Surrender of Cornwallis" commemorative U.S. postage stamp released in October of 1981. The stamp was based on a  painting of the same name commissioned by the U.S. Government in 1817 from painter John Trumbull. In the extreme right of the painting, Hamilton, with hands clasped in front of him, stands in the front row immediately to the right of the ash colored horse with the prominent neck; the similarly dressed John Laurens stands next to him (click to enlarge). This painting hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.

And of course, Hamilton’s image graces the U.S. ten-dollar bill in commemoration of the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

George Nader

After appearing in small roles in forgettable films in the 1950s, a pair of strapping, handsome young gay actors were hungry for leading roles in higher quality films, and they were chasing the same dream. They were friends, but the competition did not always end up amicably. One of them, Rock Hudson, got lucky with Magnificent Obsession (1954), which turned him into a star and a hot commodity. The other, George Nader (1921-2002), was not so lucky. These two gay men with stunning physiques and charisma to spare were about to be involved in a Hollywood studio intrigue that left only one man standing.


According to insider reports at the time, Rock Hudson was a bit too indiscreet with a man he picked up, and their dalliance was photographed. Universal Studios bosses received a phone call from Confidential magazine saying they were about to expose Hudson’s homosexuality on their front page. The studio panicked at the thought of losing its hottest new star, so they cut a deal with the magazine. They made a decision that made Rock Hudson a Hollywood legend while simultaneously dashing the career of Nader to hopeless obscurity. The magazine agreed to ruin Nader's career by outing him as a homosexual in exchange for accepting a large cash payment to keep Rock Hudson's gay activities out of print forever. Another version of this story relates that Confidential was about to expose a relationship between Nader and Hudson himself, but both men later said they never had a sexual relationship. In fact, Nader and Mark Miller (Nader’s life partner) became Hudson’s de facto family and were especially supportive in the months leading up to Hudson’s death from AIDS in 1985. BTW: I can find no evidence that a magazine article exposing Nader as homosexual was ever published, although the threats may have been real. Photo below: Rock Hudson (left) wth fellow beefcake actor George Nader.

Nader’s Hollywood career sank, but he was not down for the count. Astonishingly, he became the second biggest film star in Germany, playing a James Bond type character by the name of Jerry Cotton in 8 films released in a five year span from 1965 to 1969. He continued working in B movies until 1974, but his career was thwarted a second time. An automobile accident resulting in a detached retina made it difficult and uncomfortable to work in front of the bright lights used on movie sets, so he switched to an entirely different career as an author. He wrote a popular science fiction novel titled Chrome (1978), in which two gay men were the principal characters.

Even more astonishingly, Nader and Hudson remained good friends. Nader began dating Mark Miller while the two were fellow actors at the Pasadena Playhouse, and Miller went on to work as Hudson’s private secretary. Nader and Miller became lovers and remained partners for 55 years, and Miller, Hudson and Nader became so close that Nader was included in Rock Hudson’s will, receiving the interest from his estate.

But we need to back up a moment. Miller had intended to study opera in NYC but abandoned his plans to stay in California to help Nader launch his career. Miller took odd jobs to provide income while Nader established himself as an actor. By 1952 Nader was successful enough that Miller became his business manager.

In 1953 Nader starred in a 3-D film called Robot Monster (at right), which grossed more than a million dollars on a $16,000 production budget. Nader played Roy, the often shirtless hero who saves the world from the clutches of a robot in a gorilla suit. Shot in just 4 days, it went on to become a camp cult classic. It also has the dubious distinction of being named one of the worst movies of all time.

In 1954 Nader won a Golden Globe award as Most Promising Male Newcomer of the year, but the Confidential gossip magazine incident in the early 1960s brought a premature close to his Hollywood career.

Universal Studios tried to protect Nader  by arranging dates with actresses such as Mitzi Gaynor, Martha Hyer and Piper Laurie, while suggesting he get married briefly to one of the studio secretaries to quell the gay rumors (neither Miller nor Nader publicly acknowledged their homosexuality until the mid-1980s). Nader couldn’t bring himself to participate in such a sham, and he left the studio in 1958 to work freelance. After some mediocre work in television, he and Miller moved to Germany in 1963, where Nader made eight successful films as a James Bond clone. By 1972, Nader decided to move back to Hollywood, and Miller joined him.

In 1978 Nader wrote his first novel, a homoerotic science-fiction book titled Chrome, which went into six printings. Conveniently, Nader had earned a degree in English from Occidental College in 1943, so he was able to put those skills to good use.

Nader finally came out of the closet in 1986, a year after Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS. Nader and Miller collaborated on a second novel, The Perils of Paul, which Nader didn't want published until after his death. Centering on the gay community in Hollywood with names changed to protect the guilty(!), it was published privately in 1999 (good luck acquiring a copy). In retirement, Nader and Miller lived in Palm Springs, California. Nader contracted a bacterial infection in Hawaii and died on February 4, 2002, at age 80, at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Country Home in Woodland Hills, CA.

 With Anne Baxter in Carnival Story (1954)


As Jerry Cotton (above), an FBI agent in German language films.

With actress Julie Adams in Four Girls in Town (1956)

(


With a young Maggie Smith (above) in Nowhere to Go (1958).


Sex kitten (and ex-blond Bond girl) Shirley Eaton disciplines George in Million Eyes of Su-Muru (1967). Frankie Avalon (!) was his co-star. George was still looking great at age 46.



George could really fill out a uniform (above). He was a U.S. Navy communications officer stationed on Johnson Island in the Pacific during WW II.

Pure, 100% Hollywood beefcake:


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taner Ceylan

 
Taner Ceylan (b. 1967, portrait above) is a Turkish hyper-realist painter who was one of the first artists to embrace homoerotic subject matter in popular Turkish art in the late 1980s. Although Ceylan has suffered a significant amount of cultural backlash against his sexual orientation and provocative creative vision of nudity, eroticism and sexual intercourse, his career continues to sky-rocket as critics and art collectors recognize the impressive technical skill and intense emotional realism of his work. Curator Dan Cameron, who has championed the painter, orients him in a tradition of sexually explicit art stemming from Robert Mapplethorpe to Jeff Koons, but points out that the implicit argument of Celyan's work is "a romantic arguing for the wholesomeness of gay male sexuality.”

Although born in Germany, Ceylan lives and works in Istanbul, where he studied painting at Mimar Sinan University (1986-1991). He then worked for the Fine Arts Faculty of Yeditepe University (2001-2003) as a lecturer. At the same time he began serving as editor in chief of arts for Time Out Magazine Istanbul for a five year stint ending in 2006.


Serhan (title of painting above)

Many of Ceylan’s paintings are in private collections, such as those of Martin Browne, Dan Cameron and Fethi Pekin, as well as in museum collections, in particular the Scheringa Museum of Realist Art (Netherlands) and the Istanbul Modern. His first solo exhibition was held in 1991 in Nürnberg, Germany, and his work has since been shown in London, New York and Luxemburg. His photo-realistic canvases sell in the $80,000 range.

Taner Ceylan: 1997-2009, a hardcover book of his paintings, was published last year. 184 pages, available through Amazon.

You must be 18 years of age to enter the artist’s web site:
www.tanerceylan.com

Bear in mind that these examples of his work are paintings, not photographs.






Monday, October 1, 2012

Andrej Varchola Jr., a.k.a Andy Warhol

Andrej Varchola Jr. was born in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although he became world famous – even a household name – after he established himself in New York City as an artist, film maker, photographer and writer, his body was returned to his Pittsburgh neighborhood for burial twenty five years ago. Varchola had died at age 58 in New York in February, 1987, due to complications following routine gallbladder surgery. His brothers arranged for an open-casket viewing and funeral, and no expense was spared. Varchola’s body lay in a solid bronze casket with gold plated rails and white upholstery, covered with white roses and asparagus ferns. Andrej was posed beneath a crucifix, dressed in a black cashmere suit, paisley tie, platinum wig and sunglasses, clutching a small prayer book and a red rose. The funeral liturgy was held at the Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church on Pittsburgh's North Side. Back in NYC, a memorial service was held on April Fool’s day at St. Patrick’s cathedral. Yoko Ono was one of the speakers.

Varchola had so many possessions that it took Sotheby’s nine days to auction everything off – fabulous antiques, extraordinarily valuable art. The sale was the largest single collection sold by Sotheby's since it was founded in 1744, grossing more than $25 million; the sale catalog comprised six volumes. Calvin Klein bought the canopied four-poster bed from the master bedroom (right); Andrej used to hide jewelry in the bed hangings. At the time of his death, Varchola’s estate was worth more than half a billion dollars. His trendy social circle in NYC was surprised to learn that Andrej was  a religious person. Most of his friends learned only after his death that he was a practicing Ruthenian Rite Catholic, attending mass almost daily, and that he regularly volunteered at homeless shelters.

In 1991 a museum opened in Medzilaborce in  eastern Slovakia, near the Polish border, where Andrej's parents and two of his brothers were born. Ján Varchola delivered 17 original works of art by his famous brother to this town of 7,000 ethnic Rusyns, who were embarrassed to learn that their most famous son was a homosexual drug abuser. The art is displayed in a former concrete Communist era cultural center with a leaky roof. Because of its remote location, few foreign visitors seek it out. A more accessible $12 million museum, which opened in Pittsburgh in 1994, also displays only Andrej's works, a 12,000 piece collection valued at more than $100 million. This museum, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year, is the largest U.S. museum dedicated to the works of a single artist: Andy Warhol.

Evolution of a name:
Andrej Varchola = Andrew Warhola = Andy Warhol

Before he Anglicized his Slovakian name to Andy Warhol, he had illustrated Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Cook Book (1961) under the name Andrew Warhol, dropping the final “a” from the family name, Warhola, used by his brothers. These simple pen and ink drawings of kitchen utensils, cuts of meat, garnishes, food preparation, etc., predated his first New York City solo pop art exhibition (1962) in which he revealed his groundbreaking Marilyn Monroe Diptych and 100 Soup Cans works of art. The rest is pop art history.



Trained as a commercial illustrator, Warhol’s output celebrated pop culture and consumerism. His 1964 exhibit, “The American Supermarket”, was held in a gallery in NYC’s Upper East Side. The show was presented as a typical U.S. supermarket environment, except that everything in it – from the produce, canned goods, meat, posters on the wall, etc. – was created by prominent pop artists of the time. Warhol's painting of a can of Campbell's soup cost $1,500, while an actual autographed can sold for $6. His now iconic images of Campbell’s soup cans had been painted by hand on pre-stretched canvas onto which a projected image had been superimposed, a technique he used throughout the 1960s. The exhibit was one of the first mass events that directly confronted the general public with both pop art and the perennial question of what art is – or is not.




It was during this decade (1960s) that Warhol made paintings of iconic American objects such as dollar bills, mushroom clouds, electric chairs, Campbell's Soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles, celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, Troy Donahue, Muhammad Ali and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as newspaper headlines or photographs of police dogs attacking civil rights protesters. During these years, he founded his studio, "The Factory" and gathered about him a wide range of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities. Warhol coined the widely used expression "everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes", and his artistic output became popular and quite controversial.

Warhol’s large studio loft in downtown Manhattan was populated by drug addicts, trannies, models, male prostitutes, painters and various and sundry hangers-on, yet he somehow managed to make thousands of screen-printed Brillo Pad boxes, paintings, soup cans and portraits. His workplace was dubbed "the factory" to reflect the mass production methods used to create the art, especially the series of silk screens. In the mid-sixties he started to make ground-breaking films, and later he took to photographing and videotaping everyone and everything he came into contact with. The photographs were later compiled into a book, "Andy Warhol's Exposures", which was a visual diary of the Studio 54 era in New York City from around the mid-seventies to the early eighties. From 1963 to 1968, he made nearly 60 movies. One of his movies, Sleep, is a five-and-a-half hour film of a man sleeping.

Tragically, Valerie Solanas, a crazed member of SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men), shot Warhol in the chest, seriously wounding the artist in June, 1968. A lesbian psychologist, she had written the SCUM Manifesto, which urged women to "overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex." Leaving California for NYC, she worked as a writer, beggar and prostitute. She met Warhol and asked him to produce her play, Up Your Ass. She gave him the script, which he misplaced, while seeming indifferent to her play. After she demanded financial compensation for the lost script, Warhol hired her to perform in two of his films. On June 3 she approached Warhol at his Factory office, shooting at him three times as he was talking on the phone. The first two shots missed, but the third bullet went through his lungs, spleen, stomach, liver and esophagus. She later told detectives that Warhol had too much control over her life. An interesting aside is that Solanas was buried in 1988 in St. Mary’s Catholic Church cemetery in Fairfax, Station, VA, just a handful of miles from where I live.

Warhol recovered to the degree that he was able to found Interview Magazine the following year, continue to produce movies and issue works of art.

Heat (1972 film)
From Andy Warhol’s Factory: Paul Morrissey wrote and directed Heat, a campy spoof of Sunset Boulevard. As former child star Joey Davis (Joe Dallesandro) works to revive his acting career, he takes up residence in a seedy motel, where he offers sex to his obese landlady (Pat Ast) in exchange for low rent. Meanwhile, he makes friends with the rest of the residents, including a has-been actress (Sylvia Miles) and her lesbian daughter (Andrea Feldman).














Warhol's boyfriend at the time, interior designer and film maker Jed Johnson (right), edited Heat during the summer of 1971. Jed and his handsome 19-year-old twin brother Jay (left) had hitchhiked from California to NYC, where they were promptly mugged and left penniless. A job delivering telegrams for Western Union led Jed to a delivery to Andy Warhol’s Factory on his third day of work. Jed was immediately hired to sweep the floors for Warhol. Climbing his way to the top, Johnson eventually became Warhol’s lover and moved in with the artist. Jed had selected a six story townhouse for Andy at 57 East 66th street and designed its interiors in a grand and ornate American Empire style, while secondary rooms were done up in French Art Deco and American Indian styles. The circa 1910 townhouse, with six wood-burning fireplaces and a rooftop terrace, is valued at $35 million today (Warhol paid $350,000 for the 8,000 sq. ft. house in 1974). Through Warhol’s connections, Jed Johnson became an important creative force. Johnson’s fame as an interior designer culminated in his being awarded the Interior Design Magazine Hall of Fame Award in 1996. Among Johnson’s celebrity clients were Mick Jagger, Barbra Streisand and Richard Gere. Warhol’s relationship with Johnson lasted 12 years.

French Art Deco pieces arranged by Jed Johnson at their townhouse on E. 66th St., NYC.


In 1980, Jon Gould (a bisexual V.P. for Paramount Pictures) became Warhol’s boyfriend, and their relationship lasted until 1985, when Andy began to focus his attentions on 19-year-old Sam Bolton – Warhol was 57 at the time. Gould died of AIDS in 1986, and Jed Johnson died at age 47 in the TWA Flight 800 explosion in 1996; Johnson’s gay twin brother Jay took over the interior design firm, which today serves well-heeled members of the business community.

Warhol was asked by Mick Jagger to design the cover art for the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album (1971). A jeans clad crotch shot with a real zipper created a sensation, but it was found that real zippers were damaging the vinyl records in shipment, so they were replaced by a mere photograph. Those with a real zipper (at right) are today valuable and highly collectible items.

Today Warhol’s art often fetches prices in the millions, and his personal furnishings (from the Sotheby’s sale in 1988) are displayed in museums scattered throughout the world. In 2008, the silkscreen Eight Elvises sold for $100 million.

Even Warhol's early 1970s brown and black Rolls Royce is considered collectible.


Trivia: Andy's mother tongue was Rusyn, the East Slavic language spoken by his immigrant parents.