Viva la Factory Girl
Author/Warhol superstar Viva waxes nostalgic on the infamous artist, filming in La Jolla, and the truth about fiction.
n. Andy Warhol’s uber-cool clique of New York City personalities, made famous by him — if only for 15 minutes.
Such clique members include Edie Sedgwick, Baby Jane Holzer, and Viva. Born Janet Susan Mary Hoffmann, the latter was able to carvee out a nook of social real estate in the demigod’s circle by first asking for a handout at his Factory some time around 1965 (or so we hear). True or false, one thing’s certain: She was in the right place at the right time, for the artist cast her in close to a dozen of his films (Lonesome Cowboys, San Diego Surf, Blue Movie, Bike Boy, The Loves of Ondine, Tub Girls, Nude Restaurant, and many more), destined her to a life of glamour, and christened her with an effortlessly chic single-name moniker. To be so lucky.
Beyond the Factory lights, however, Viva made a name for herself: securing roles in award-winning films (like Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy), pioneering video art; and publishing two books, her first, Superstar, a semi-autobiographical candid account of a woman’s reawakening, and The Baby, an outrageous video novel dedicated to the motherhood. Now in her 70s Viva has is a mother of two, Gaby Hoffmann an actor on Transparent and Alexandra Auder, a yoga teacher at soon to open Magu Yoga in Philadelphia, and a grandmother of three. She calls Palm Springs home, but hasn’t forgotten the creative spirit of her heyday, as is evident in her essay below. Enjoy.
Andy wasn’t happy that he’d been found out in Eugene Oregon. He’d sent Alan Midgette in place of himself on a college lecture tour along with Paul Morrissey, his cinematographer and a writer-director. Someone in the audience recognized that Alan wasn’t the Pop Master but Paul couldn’t believe this hadn’t happened at the airport. The moment Alan stepped out of the fuselage and onto one of the ladders they used in 1968, his head was engulfed in a cloud of silver when the wind blew away a lot of the spray I’d applied just the night before.
Now Andy had to actually appear or be sued.
Neither the lecture bureau nor the University of Oregon appreciated the brilliant Pop Gesture of having oneself impersonated. In reality Andy, somewhat dyslexic and certainly suffering from Aspergers, was terrified at the idea of having to speak beyond an “Uh,” “Um,” or “Oh.” He could have accomplished it on the phone as he had no problem speaking into a receiver but they insisted on his physical presence.
He resolved the nightmare by deciding I would speak for him.
He would appear, Paul would give his usual intellectual semi-diatribe promoting anti-intellectualism, and I would answer the questions posed to the Master.
Aside from having chunks of ice thrown at us from the roof as we headed for our rented car and driver in Eugene, the rest of that tour was going well. I managed to answer everything in as ridiculous a manner as possible: “Why do you make these movies?” “Because it’s fun. Especially the dirty parts.” Paul kept to his as yet unnamed Deconstruction (the French hadn’t yet invented that genre) of Culture, Education, and Art. But come to think of it, even then irony was lost on the majority of the student population.
Once we got to San Diego we were seduced by the Pacific Ocean, not to mention the beautiful surfers. I don’t remember which one of us decided we had to make a movie there.
The last time we’d traveled to make a film, it was in Tucson, for Lonesome Cowboys. We’d been lecturing in Phoenix and just before we left our motel, Andy was watching a Mexican gardener mowing the lawn out in the brilliant sun and remarked for the first time I’d ever heard a wistful tone from the Underground Woody Allen (Andy hated being out of New York), “I might like to live here and do something like that.”
I told him I loved it there too, in the sun and out of the dismal Factory and grey New York, and I wouldn’t leave unless we could come back. So we went back and made Lonesome Cowboys.
This time around we were billeted in La Jolla, where we’d rented one house on the beach for the shoot and another in which to live, right next to Judge Ruffin who had a wife and three children. The Judge’s wife was quite enamored of us and I think we put her in the movie. I remember using her baby because during a scene where I was playing the mother. I actually dropped him and Joe Dallesandro came to the baby’s rescue and caught him before he hit the ground. But I know I used Bebee’s washing machine and dryer because one day as I was on the public sidewalk between our house and theirs, a police car pulled up, two officers got out, and one of them asked me if I was wearing a bra.
This was a level of harassment I’d not experienced before in our travel sagas. I was wearing a Betsy Johnson pair of pale blue long linen pants and a red crocheted short sleeved sweater which buttoned down the front. I didn’t even own a bra as my breasts were so small they didn’t need one. I don’t know how they knew I wasn’t wearing one as the crocheted stitches were pretty close together, but nevertheless they said I’d have to come with them to the local precinct. I reacted with total outrage and said, “First, let’s call the judge! In fact this is his house. Let’s go in and see what he has to say. If he isn’t home his, wife will be happy to phone him (no cell phones then).”
In the end Judge Ruffin arranged it so that the police would never bother us again as long as we were in La Jolla. I only found out last week, when the Judge’s daughter Sara Ruffin, who was 10 years old back then, came to see me and told me that the police had decided to run us out of town by constant and continual harassment.
I also recently discovered that the FBI had a file on us from the shooting of Lonesome Cowboys where they’d quoted a supposed “witness” to the filming as having seen some things – carried out in a public corral no less – that were the invention of a mind so hilariously salacious that the final “act” he’d described had “one of the actors trying to shove his cowboy hat up the woman’s anus.” In light of the recent revelations about lying TV Journalists, this doesn’t come as a shock but I wonder whether it was the “witness” or the FBI who invented the story. In fact the events of that Lonesome Cowboy shoot were even further embroidered upon by an “interview” supposedly of me, in the first issue of New York Magazine, where the journalist invented the entire thing which was further elaborated on forty years later by Tom Wolf and given an even newer fictional twist after that on the original journalist’s website. The real puzzle with all the Warhol-related epistolary inventions is why either the FBI, the journalists, nor anybody else didn’t understand that the actual truth to anything connected with Andy in those days was so much funnier and more interesting than what they could dream up. But compared to what goes on these days in film, we were practically The Victorians. I have only to think of my own daughter, Gaby [Hoffmann], walking nude except for a pair of sneakers through the Chilean desert in Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy. If only I’d thought up that one myself!