Andy Warhol's 'Factory' Was The Weirdest Place On Earth For Two Decades

Though they weren't quite as wild as those crazy kids from the Weimar Republic, the habitués of Andy Warhol's Factory were no less memorable in their excesses. The 1960s New York City art scene was an era teeming with groundbreaking aesthetic and social movements, and as the decade developed into the equally taboo-shattering 1970s, Warhol's gathering place remained at the forefront of everything. (Even if it did have to change locations three times... no small feat, even in a pre-gentrified NYC that still had cheap spaces to offer artists).

Warhol may have famously declared that everybody would be famous for fifteen minutes, and the digital age may have expanded that prediction into a 24/7 rotation of neverending exposure. Nevertheless, easy access is no substitute for the novelties of history, and these true stories of Andy Warhol and The Factory remain as notorious as ever. Pull up a silver tinfoil upholstered chair and delve into art world debauchery and outrageous shenanigans that still have the power to make hair curl and squares hurl.

  • The Valerie Solanas Shooting

    The Valerie Solanas shooting - undoubtedly the most infamous event to take place at The Factory - was set into motion by many factors, most of which had everything to do with revolutionary intentions gone pathologically wrong. The fact that Warhol survived it at all is almost a miracle, in itself.

    Solanas, a playwright and radical feminist, met Warhol in 1967, the same year she authored her notorious SCUM (Society for Cutting up Men) Manifesto. Though Warhol initially agreed to read and possibly produce her play about a young prostitute, Up Your Ass, he eventually decided not to take on the project. Resentment over said outcome continued to mount, and on June 4, 1968, Solanas went to The Factory and shot Warhol and art critic Mario Amaya, who also survived. Filmmaker Paul Morrissey was in the bathroom at the time, and Solanas's attempt to kill Fred Hughes, Warhol's manager, was thwarted after her gun jammed.

    As artist Billy Name remembered the confrontation:

    I was in the darkroom when I heard these bangs. I didn't know what the sound I opened that door and walked into the front part, and there was Andy on the floor, lying in a pool of blood. I went right over to him. I was immediately down on my knees kneeling over him ... and Andy said to me, "Don't, don't, don't make me laugh, it hurts too much." We all went to the hospital ... Mario was in the emergency room with Andy and heard the doctors over Andy's body, saying, "Oh, this bullet has gone through so many organs. We can't do anything about it. There's nothing we can do." Mario popped up and said, "You can't let him die. He's rich. He's got a lot of money, and he's a famous artist..." So they operated on Andy for five hours and saved him. Actually Mario saved him...because they were gonna let him die.

    Whether this anecdote is true or not, the above black-comedy medical dialog does seem like it could have come straight out of one of Warhol's movies. (The incident, as chronicled by American Psycho director Mary Harron, was later explored in the 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol).

  • The Filming of 'Drink'

    Drink, one of The Factory's earliest films, is also one of its most interesting ones. As MOMA put it,

    In January 1965, over drinks at the Russian Tea Room, the documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio warily agreed to collaborate with Warhol on a movie. Believing their politics and art to be absurdly different, De Antonio instead gamely proposed to drink an entire quart of J&B scotch in 20 minutes under the unflinching, voyeuristic gaze of Warhol’s camera.

    Forget Martin Sheen's non-staged drunk scene in Apocalypse Now - this film experiment featured a blacked-out Emile De Antonio "writhing on the floor, clawing the walls, and speaking in tongues." According to Warhol, De Antonio, who had been told that The Factory would be near-empty while the shooting was going on, ended up cavorting madly before 40 peanut-crunching onlookers before the night was through. He was allegedly so horrified by the final product that he threatened to sue if the film were ever screened publicly.

  • The Filming of 'Horse'

    Horse, starring an IRL stallion rented for the occasion, was one of The Factory's most notorious on-location (and drug-fueled) extravaganzas. Designed to be an exploration of "cowboy homosexuality," the experimental short tells the story of three men (an outlaw, a jailer, and another man) whose game of strip poker spirals into ultra violent, spontaneous, and pretty much completely improvised incoherence. Though no animals were harmed (or otherwise inappropriately handled) during the filming, what happened is the stuff of legend. As Warhol: The Biography describes it:

    [Gerard] Malanga and [screenwriter and novelist] Ronald Tavel wrote out directions and held them up on cue cards. The first card read, "approach the horse sexually." Under the influence of amyl nitrate, alcohol and marijuana, the nervous horse, and Andy's silent presence behind the camera, the scene completely disintegrated in about four minutes. The horse kicked one of the actors in the head. When he didn't respond two of the other actors pounded his head against the stone floor. [They] put up signs saying, "Stop! Enough!" but the actors were out of control, and they had to rush onto the set to break up the brawl.

    The melee was said to have continued "even when the cue cards were replaced by screams."

  • The Filming of 'Vinyl'

    Conceived as an interpretation of Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (and made before Kubrick's masterpiece), Warhol's Vinyl is perhaps best described as a listless and distracted torture-fest. Filmed at The Factory, it stars photographer and poet Gerard Malanga as a guy who's bound to a chair and systematically tormented in all sorts of drug-induced, probably largely improvised ways. An enigmatic Edie Sedgwick sits by, nonchalantly flicking her cigarette ashes into the carnage. All of the sex, drugs, and torture implied (or shown) therein were real, and Malanga's interrogators were "professional sadists" brought into The Factory specifically to do their thing.

  • The Filming of 'Taylor Mead's Ass'

    When writer and actor Taylor Mead decided to go balls to the wall for Andy Warhol, he also decided to go ass to the camera. Filmed on location at The Factory in 1964, Taylor Mead's Ass chronicles two hours in the life of a posterior. Described by ArtForum's Wayne Koestenbaum as "76 seriocomic minutes of this poet/actor's buttocks absorbing light, attention, debris," the film would go on to become a classic of reviled cinematic experimentation. As Kelly M. Cresap puts it in Pop Trickster Fool: Warhol Performs Naivete:

    Mead does indeed gamely sport his behind for the camera. In one sequence he pretends to remove a variety of items from his anal sphincter, including vacuum cleaner accessories, the torso of a mannequin, a roll of industrial tape, and a publicity still of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind.

    In other words, the project was filmed both on location and in location.

  • Billy Name Shutting Himself Up In A Coffin-Like Structure For Years

    Photographer and designer Billy Name was a fixture at The Factory for many years, but he was particularly famous for his mole-like, Nosferatu-esque habit of shutting himself up in the equivalent of a coffin. According to Jean Stein's Edie: American Girl, Paul Morrissey described how Name "lived in a [Factory] toilet for four years, a black-painted toilet with no real light inside. He sat in there reading mystical texts and the cabala, stuff like that. He almost became a leper ... totally caked with sores because of a lack of light and vitamins ... he'd been in the toilet for so long! He'd only come out very late at night so nobody would see him."

    Eventually, though, Name did emerge, leaving a note for Warhol that was reputed to have said "I am fine. Goodbye.”