Andy Warhol adored television and, in a way, considered it his most formative influence. While his paintings, silkscreens, and films, and the Velvet Underground, might be all the legacy he might need, Warhol, more than anything, longed to be a TV personality. He made his first concerted effort in 1979, launching a New York public access interview show. In one of the show’s 42 episodes, Warhol sits in almost total silence while his friend Richard Berlin interviews Frank Zappa.
But Warhol hated Zappa, and hated him even more after the interview. When he talked to and about subjects he liked, he could be particularly chatty, in his deadpan way: see, for example, his interview with Alfred Hitchcock, whom he greatly admired, or early eighties Saturday Night Live spots for NBC and later eighties MTV variety show. In Warhol’s much earlier 1965 appearance on the Merv Griffin show, above, long before he made TV presenter a profession, he appears with the stunningly charismatic Edie Sedgwick, his beloved muse and original superstar, and he chooses to say almost nothing at all.
Sedgwick does the talking, informing the host that Andy, unused to making “really public appearances,” would only whisper his answers in her ear, and she would whisper them to Griffin. It’s an act, of course, but the performance of a persona that hid an even more shy, retiring character. In a textbook irony, the artist who ushered in the age of self-promoting influencers and invented the superstar could be about as engaging as a houseplant. Sedgwick, on the contrary, is characteristically enthralling.
Known as “girl of the year” in 1965, the California socialite had defected from her privileged surroundings to live in Warhol’s world. The two “fell in love platonically but intensely,” Karen Lynch writes at Blast magazine, “and their mutually beneficial relationship became the talk of the town.” Griffin introduces them as “the two leading exponents of the new scene. No party in New York is considered a success unless they are there.” This was no hyperbole, though the audience doesn’t know who they are… yet.
Sedgwick explains how they met at the Factory, where she arrived the previous year with her trust fund to introduce herself and join the scene. She more or less takes over the interview, selling Warhol’s superstar myth with eloquence and wit, and she seems so much more like today’s art stars than Warhol (who eventually gives a few one-word answers), and has arguably had as much or more influence on Gen Y and Z creators. Sedgwick was “more than aspirational stereotypes allow,” writes Lynch, and more than the fact of her untimely death at 28.
One online artistic statement of this fact, Edie’s Farm, a site for “counterfactual current events,” supposes that Sedgwick had survived her drug addiction and anorexia and continued making art (and giving makeup tutorials) into the 21st century, imagining her as her young self, not the woman in her 70s she would be. “Maybe no one’s ever had a year quite as amazing as my 1965,” the fictional Sedgwick says. “I loved Andy and his Factory. But it wasn’t a sustainable life for me”—a tragic irony impossible to ignore in watching her otherwise impossibly charming performance above.