Last June Andy Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanas and pronounced clinically dead, but surgeons at Columbus Hospital were able to revive him. Since the shooting, life at his art/film studio, the Factory, has been slow. Warhol recently underwent a follow-up surgery and has created little work since he and film partner Paul Morrissey produced Lonesome Cowboys. The movie opens in New York City next month.
Smith: How many movies have you made to this point?
Warhol: We didn’t make any movies this year.
Smith: How come?
Warhol: Well, I lost a year.
Smith: But how many altogether do you figure you’ve made?
Warhol: Well, there’s short ones and long ones. So I don’t know.
Smith: Twenty? Fifty?
Morrissey: It’s so hard to estimate. There’s so many that were never shown. If you took by hours, you would have to come up with about two hundred hours or two hundred films. But for theaters, I think only twelve films have played actual commercial theaters and maybe twenty more for nontheatrical showings.
Smith: Do you still do artwork?
Smith: Are you going to?
Warhol: No. We’re just trying to do movies and television. We were really working on this show called Nothing Special. It was gonna start at 1:00 AM and go on till 7:00 AM, and we’re still waiting to hear about that.
Smith: For television?
Morrissey: To go on after Johnny Carson.
Smith: On [channel] four?
Morrissey: Some people were trying to promote it for that station to buy, but it was supposed to be hours of nothin’ happening, people doin’ what they wanted to do, talkin’ if they wanted to. See, most of Andy’s early movies were geared for more television than a movie theater. It would be much better to have that kinda thing in your home, on TV, where you don’t have to watch it if you don’t want to. A more easygoin’ kind of thing, less self-important.
Smith: It was called Nothing Special?
Morrissey: That’s if it’s done once. It would be a special. But then if it was popular, Andy really wants to do it every night.
Warhol: It’s like those apartment-house TV stations that you just wait to see who comes in the door, and nobody ever does. Have you seen them? On channel six.
Smith: Would you have anything planned?
Smith: Literally anybody could just drop by?
Warhol: Ultra Violet would have planned something. She’s the only one that thinks about things.
Smith: Did you realize when you started doing the movies that you were gonna stop doing art?
Warhol: No, I just bought a camera and went to Hollywood and that’s what started it. No, I didn’t know it was gonna happen. But we really want to do TV….Well, all-day television is more like one program than a whole bunch of different programs.
Smith: Have all your movies made money?
Warhol: No, just the ones that we’ve been showing the last year.
Smith: Like Chelsea Girls?
Warhol: Yeah, and Lonesome Cowboys.
Morrissey: But Chelsea Girls really. It was a company that made it and the company didn’t make any money at the end of the year, because they made other films that were never shown. So it really didn’t make any money.
Smith: You mean your company?
Smith: But Chelsea Girls itself, how much did it gross?
Morrissey: You mean in ticket sales? It might have grossed around half a million dollars.
Smith: What’d it cost to make?
Warhol: Fifteen hundred, I think. And plus all the million-dollar suits.
Morrissey: We had a lotta lawsuits connected. Somebody sued for a million. Somebody sued for two million. But they all settled for a hundred dollars.
Smith: Why did they sue?
Morrissey: They thought the film was making a lotta money. And then when they found out it wasn’t making any money, they were glad to get the hundred dollars.
Smith: Did the Chelsea Hotel sue?
Morrissey: They said it gave the hotel a bad name. But we found out they wouldn’t be able to prove that, because the hotel was booked up for the past year and they didn’t lose any business.
Warhol: They said if we gave them money or somethin’, they would let us give it a bad name.
Morrissey: So they accepted the bad name and it’s still hard to get a room there.
Smith: I hear you’re gonna make a 3-D movie?
Warhol: Oh, yeah. We were out in California and they showed us some 3-D…beavers and that’s what we’re gonna make.
Warhol: Oh, yeah, it’s really terrific. It really works. The girl takes off her clothes and throws it out at you and you feel like it’s coming at you. And she picks up her leg and tickles your nose. Have you seen it? It’s really terrific.
Morrissey: We have a new movie comin’ out called Lonesome Cowboys.
Smith: When is it gonna open in New York? I got two letters this week at the Voice sayin’, “You wrote up this movie. Does it exist? Or is it another Warhol myth?”
Morrissey: It’s a theater jam. We’re supposed to open in Lyceum Theatre in early May. It’s been playin’ in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco. It’s been very popular in California.
Smith: Like, really grossing a lot?
Morrissey: It’s already grossed around $200,000, in three theaters. It cost around $10,000.
Smith: Ten thousand?
Morrissey: That was a big, expensive film. We might go to California, make a film. But I don’t know. We might make a film in a month as soon as the Western film opens in New York.
Smith: I want Andy to answer this one. How do you make movies that cheap?
Warhol: We just turn on the camera and have the right people and so there’s never any mistakes.
Smith: What d’you mean there’s never any mistakes?
Warhol: Well, whatever anybody does is a mistake.
Smith: So you don’t edit anything?
Morrissey: We’re looking for mistakes. So if they make a mistake, that’s good—that’s what we want. There are some people who can’t do anything wrong. And you put those people in front of a camera, then you can’t go wrong and it works.
Smith: Most people shoot ten to twenty feet of film for every foot they use. What’s your ratio?
Warhol: We’re using more film now, but…
Morrissey: It’s still a one-to-one ratio.
Smith: One to one?
Morrissey: Each thing is only done once, but we film a lot more than what we actually put in the theaters now. We used to put everything in the theaters that we filmed, one to one. But we never do anything twice, because we don’t ask for anything to be done, so whatever is done is done.
Smith: Do you edit at all?
Warhol: We just eliminate.
Smith: But you don’t edit in a scene?
Morrissey: It’s not really editing—it’s shortening. But in movies editing is something different. It’s putting together shots that were supposed to be put together in a certain way and keeping the best shots of the best takes. Editing to us is just shortening.
Smith: Andy, what goes on every day in your life? Like up at the studio, what do you do?
Warhol: Yesterday was the first time I’d really been there for a long time. It was sort of exciting….Oh, Ingrid came in and began cryin’ and…Then the rock ’n’ roll group from Rochester came down and we might do a rock ’n’ roll opera with him. It’s called…Armand Schaubroeck Steals. He came to see us a year ago. I told him to write an opera and we might be able to do it, so he spent a whole year doing it and he brought it down yesterday and it was sorta good.
Morrissey: And who else was there? There was a Swedish man.
Warhol: Oh yeah, the Swedish man was there.
Morrissey: There’s always some reporters there for some reason, writing a story for some European capital. Magazines are very popular in Europe, I guess. More popular than here.
Smith: Do you have some ultimate goal of movies? What would you really like to make?
Warhol: Well, yesterday I also went to see a new opera that Virgil Thomson was doing, and they were so different. It was at the Metropolitan Opera House and it was all so organized. And it was the first time I thought, “Well, maybe if we had a little more money, we could make a better movie.”
[After a pause in the recording, the tape recorder is turned back on mid-conversation to a discussion of Valerie Solanas.]
Morrissey: They said we just have to put her away and that the only way to do it is to give her a plea that we can hold, like second-degree assault, which would only put her away for a maximum of four or five years.
Warhol: Or less than that.
Morrissey: She’d be out in one. We said, “What is assault in the first degree?” and they said, “It’d be too hard.” But then it turned out he must have asked her lawyer to ask her to accept a plea of assault in the first degree, which she then did accept.
Smith: No, her lawyer says they asked her to accept a plea of assault in the second degree, which she agreed to. But then when they arrived in court, it was changed to assault in the first degree.
Morrissey: Because she went to court the next morning, after we saw the DA.
Smith: But that was a shock to Valerie. She felt like, “There it is again. They screw me again.”
Warhol: But how could he do that?
Smith: He just changed it. And there she was standing in court, and before you knew that was it.
Morrissey: He tried to resign us to the fact that it was assault in the second degree, and we were just so nasty to him. We told him that he was just tryin’ to get off the hook, and he felt guilty.
Smith: He tried to make it sound to you like he gave in to pressures from her side, and to her he made it sound like he gave in to pressures from your side, when actually he was making all the decisions.
Warhol: Yeah, that’s what it was all about. That was sort of good then, wasn’t it?
Smith: You should speak with her lawyer. She’s very interesting.
Warhol: No, there’s no reason for us to talk to the lady, because I don’t know….
Morrissey: Why did you have to say that, though?
Smith: She made some interesting points; that’s all.
Morrissey: I think it might be good, because she’s gonna help her for her parole and maybe we could persuade the lawyer woman not to let her on parole for as maximum of whatever she’s…
Smith: Talk to her for whatever reasons you want to. But what I’m saying is she’s not just some lawyer who automatically assumes her client is right.
Morrissey: Is she appointed by the court?
Warhol: This was a newer one. The last one, she…
Smith: You should do it. Even if you do it after the sentencing.
Morrissey: One thing we have to do is keep in touch with—certainly not the DA, because he wouldn’t bother to tell us, but maybe her lawyer’ll at least tell you whether she’s being paroled, so you know enough to keep clear.
Smith: She didn’t know a lotta the things that I told her.
Morrissey: I don’t think she’s quite aware of how crazy Valerie is, because when she encounters Valerie, she thinks Valerie’s maybe a little bit of a mental patient who’s suffering from bein’ in the mental hospital or who’s suffering from havin’ done a terrible thing that’s put her in this certain way. But the point about Valerie—she’s always the same. That thing about Sirhan—that DA prosecuting him said that you can’t listen to any of that mental garbage. It’s just a lot of talk, means absolutely nothing. He said the man is sick, but he knew exactly what he was doing…. Anybody who does that is sick in the first place, but that doesn’t say that he’s completely free from any kind of guilt. It’s such a stupid thing. They had what, five or six weeks of psychiatrists sayin’ that Sirhan was under some sort of pressure? That’s such bullshit. It’s the same case.
Smith: When that happened with Valerie, a lotta people said they’d almost expected something like that, because so many of the people involved with you are crazy.
Morrissey: The people are high-strung, a lotta them.
Smith: It’s almost like you encourage everybody so much to do their own thing that where do you stop?
Warhol: But we didn’t encourage Valerie—I mean, she wasn’t one of the people we knew very well.
Morrissey: She only came around two or three different times, and she was never on a social basis.
Warhol: It’s that same thing—how people think about you and you don’t even know them or even think about them. I guess she just thought about me in a funny way and put so much on it, where we never even thought about her or ever really saw that much of her. She came once to see me about her script and oh, I thought she was too peculiar. So I never saw her. And then somebody was interviewing us and happened to tell us that she was so talented, so that’s how we just started up again. We thought, well, maybe she is talented and so we used her in the movie—just because she needed some money and it didn’t take more than a minute to do. Then she got peculiar again.
Morrissey: She used to call up a lot and say she had a problem with her publisher, Maurice Girodias, and try to talk to Andy about her problem—
Warhol: She thought I was…
Morrissey: She created the problem.
Warhol: She thought I had something to do with it and I didn’t even know anything. So it just got worse and worse and it’d never even occurred…
Morrissey: No, but then she disappeared and then came back after a year and then that was it. Didn’t even see her for almost a year. It’s hard to think about people acting like that, but people do. Famous people do get in people’s minds. I mean, the classic case is the Kennedys or Bob Dylan. I mean, almost any famous person, somebody gets in other people’s imaginations. You never know what’s gonna happen to you.
Smith: Yeah, you were very lucky.
Warhol: Well, I have old scars and I’ve gotten some new ones.
Morrissey: They opened Andy up again.
Warhol: And you can’t tell which one hurts more. It’s really funny.
From THE SMITH TAPES:LOST INTERVIEWS WITH ROCK STARS & ICONS 1969 – 1972, edited by Ezra Bookstein. Used with permission of Princeton Architectural Press. Copyright © 2015.