A look at the inspiration and historical research behind my latest work
The Silver Factory
In 1963, artist Andy Warhol visited a haircutting party held at an apartment decked out in silver spray paint and aluminum foil. (Shiny silver being a favorite in amphetamine culture.) Warhol was so taken with the crazy décor – that he asked the owner of the apartment, Billy Name, to recreate the design in his 47th street studio. Billy did, and the famed Silver Factory was born.
For those who’ve never heard of the place, The Silver Factory was the epicenter of Andy Warhol’s art empire. Actually there were three Silver Factories over Warhol’s 22-year career with each incarnation being newer and more professional than the previous one. But it’s the original location, the one that Billy Name decked out in foil and paint, that is the most famous. During the early 60s, this photography studio, a film studio, a silk-screen assembly line, drug den and a non-stop party rolled into one gave birth to the Pop Art movement.
What makes the Factory especially memorable isn’t the crazy décor, however. It’s the cast of characters that made the place their second home. During the 60s and early 70s, Warhol surrounded himself with followers that he called his Superstars, men and women who starred in his films, helped mass produce his silkscreen pieces and stroke his ego. Through their association with Warhol, these Superstars became minor NY celebrities (epitomizing Warhol’s quote about 15 minutes of fame.) Some, like Lou Reed, went on to greater fame. Others, like Edie Sedgewick, met tragic ends.
From the outside looking in, it must have seemed like an impossibly glamourous place. Photos show a perpetual party with guest appearances by celebrities like Tennessee Williams and Judy Garland. There were articles in magazines like Vanity Fair.
Dig a little deeper, however, and you realize there was a lot of darkness behind the partying. Many of the superstars were lost souls, looking for a place to belong, and who saw Warhol as a kind of father figure. Drug use was rampant with many of the Superstars – not to mention Warhol himself – becoming amphetamine addicts. Keeping the party alive came with a price.
The Factory’s party heydays ended in 1968 when Warhol was shot and nearly killed by an angry writer named Valerie Solanas. When he recovered, he moved to a location that was far more secure, and far less open to the public.
I used the Silver Factory as inspiration when plotting my current novel. What happens when an outside force disrupts a clique? How does the personality at the center react when his followers start to pull away? These are some of the questions I explore in The In Crowd.
In upcoming posts, I’ll tell you about a few of the Factory’s most famous personalities who inspired my fictional cast of characters.