At some point between January and March 1965, pop artist Andy Warhol met Edie Sedgwick and became entranced by her beauty and vivacious personality. “He was probably in love with Edie,” future superstar Viva later theorized. “A sexless kind of love, but he would take up your whole life so you had no time for any other man.”6
Some Factory denizens pinpoint Tennessee Williams’s birthday party as the evening where Warhol befriended Sedgwick. If so, it was a fitting locale, as Sedgwick’s tale was as tragic as that of any of Williams’s doomed heroines. She was born in 1943 to an heiress mother and a rancher-sculptor father who struck oil. Sedgwick’s father had suffered three nervous breakdowns in his youth, and she later maintained that he made advances on her when she was seven. He was a ruthless womanizer, seducing the friends of his wife and children. Once, Sedgwick walked in on him cheating and tried to tell her mother, but he denied it and got a doctor to put Edie on tranquilizers. In boarding school, she developed anorexia and spent time in various psychiatric hospitals. Her beloved brother Francis hanged himself when she was twenty.7
In 1964 Sedgwick moved to New York City to pursue modeling, living in her grandmother’s fourteen-room Park Avenue apartment until her trust fund kicked in and allowed her to get her own place. She developed a unique waiflike “look”: short hair, heavy black eyeliner, large chandelier earrings, long legs in black leotards, mini dresses, striped shirts, and leopard-skin coats.
In December 1964, Bob Dylan’s right-hand man, Bobby Neuwirth, heard there was a wild beauty whom he and Dylan had to meet. They called Sedgwick, and she met them at the Kettle of Fish on MacDougal Street, arriving in a limo. They had a great evening, walking together through the snow down Houston Street, laughing and looking at the church displays. Along with the humor, Neuwirth saw that Sedgwick had a “tremendous compassion” for those “who had seen the big sadness.”8 The same month she met Dylan and Neuwirth, another brother, Robert, was carried out of Harvard in a straitjacket and taken to Bellevue. When he got out, he crashed his Harley into a bus on New Year’s Eve. He died from the injuries on January 12.
After meeting Warhol sometime in early 1965, Sedgwick started hanging out regularly at the Factory and had nonspeaking roles in his films Vinyl and Bitch. In April she appeared in Horse, which centered on cowboys in jockstraps on poppers (akin to laughing gas) playing strip poker with a horse in the room. A cue card instructed people to “Approach the Horse Sexually Everybody,” and the horse kicked one of the actors, Tosh Carillo, in the head.
Warhol decided to make a film built around Sedgwick. In April’s Poor Little Rich Girl, she puts on makeup, smokes cigarettes, tries on outfits, and talks on the phone about how she blew through her inheritance in six months. The main drawing point of the film was that she was in her underwear, though the first reel was out of focus. Kitchen followed in June. Again, half the film is out of focus. She is in her lingerie and talks with other actors until one of them strangles her on the kitchen table.
Critical consensus is that the high point of her oeuvre is Beauty No. 2, in which she reclines almost naked in skimpy underwear on a bed with a young man from the Factory named Gino Piserchio. For sixty-five minutes Piserchio gropes her legs and makes out with her, while, off camera, Sedgwick’s friend Chuck Wein asks her increasingly hostile and personal questions until she finally throws an ashtray at him.
The film premiered at New York’s Cinematheque on July 17, and nine days later the New York Times ran the article “Edie Pops Up as Newest Star”:
“For the restless hedonists who purport to lead the new, fashionable society, novelty is the staff of life. Last fall, they raised up a new goddess after she had been suitably baptized in the pages of Vogue and christened her Baby Jane. Before six months were over, they were whispering the obsolescence of Baby Jane. Now on Page 91 of the Aug. 1 issue of Vogue, her successor can be found. The magazine . . . has a full-page photograph of Miss Edith Minturn Sedgwick, 22, doing an arabesque in her living room. Vogue labels her a Youthquaker.”9
In November, Life ran a fashion spread on her, proclaiming, “The cropped- mop girl with the eloquent legs is doing more for black tights than anybody since Hamlet.”
Initially, Sedgwick’s folks had disapproved of her modeling. Then, when they got wind that she was being groped in freaky art films in her underwear, they pleaded with her to go back to modeling. But by now, Sedgwick and Warhol were the “it couple” of New York, her hair dyed silver to match his, both wearing boat-necked, striped T-shirts, jetting to his exhibit in Paris. In October, they appeared on The Merv Griffith Show to the strains of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Sedgwick wore her scandalous tights. The gum- chewing Warhol refused to speak, instead whispering to Sedgwick his responses to Merv’s questions.
That month they attended an exhibit of his in Philadelphia, and screaming kids mobbed the scene requesting autographs. (Warhol let Sedgwick sign his name.) The paintings had to be taken off the walls to protect them from being damaged. Warhol was delighted—an art opening with no art. The couple took refuge at the top of a stairwell. To make their getaway, they had to cross the roof to the fire escape next door. It was the closest the art world got to Beatlemania.
Warhol announced he had abandoned painting because films were “easier”— which, considering he didn’t even focus the camera half the time, was definitely true. His new dream was to go to Hollywood, and he believed Sedgwick could be his ticket. He began to think his film team should start developing coherent narratives for her.
Rumor had it that Sedgwick had also served as the muse for the song Dylan released three days after Beauty No. 2’s premiere, a song Rolling Stone would later rank as the greatest rock song of all time.
5. Stein and Plimpton, Edie.
9 Marilyn Bender, “Edie Pops Up as Newest Superstar,” The New York Times, July 26, 1965.