VIVA: ANDY WARHOL'S GARBO
IN THE BUFF
A staple of the Warhol factory,
Viva expressed a desire to be a fixture of the Hollywood studio
system at the time of my New York Times interview with her. That
was in 1969, and she has yet to achieve her goal. But in my book,
she will always be Viva Superstar. --GUY FLATLEY
big fat lady came
up to me and asked, How do you get into the movies?
Take off your clothes, I told her. But what about
acting school, shouldnt you go to acting school first?
she asked. No, no, no! You just take off your clothes.
For some, thats not the way it happens, but that, swears Viva,
is the way it happened for her. Viva, the undisputed queen of the
unclad underground, took her first untrembling step toward superstardom
just a little over two years ago. Before that, she had appeared
in only one movie, Charles Weins "Ciao! Manhattan,"
supporting Edie Sedgwick and Paul America, both glamorous graduates
of the Andy Warhol factory system.
"And then this Negro girlfriend of mine named Abigail said
that I ought to get into an Andy Warhol movie myself," Viva
reminisces. "An Andy Warhol movie! I said. With
that bunch of perverts? Ugghh! But then I went to see I,
a Man, and flipped. The very next day I called Andy and said,
I want to be in one of your movies. O.K.,
he said, but youll have to take off your blouse.
So I put a Band-Aid on each nipple and went down to the factory,
and as I was taking off my clothes, I thought, I really should
get out of here. "
But, of course, Viva didnt get out of there. Instead, she
got into "The Loves of Ondine," one of Warhols superhits
of 1967. Actually, you could count "Ondine" as Vivas
movie debut, since "Ciao! Manhattan" seems to have sunk
forever into the abyss of the underground. "What happened there,"
explains Viva, "is that they were all holed up in a cabin somewhere,
editing the film, and when they werent looking, the dog got
hold of it and chewed it up."
thats ancient history now, over 14 movies ago - movies
that have included such Warhol whoppers as "The Nude Restaurant,"
"Bike Boy," "Tub Girl" and the currently confiscated
"Blue Movie" - movies in which Viva, undraped and
improvising her own zany dialogue, tussled nobly with notably limp
Lotharios. And now there is, at last, a non-Warhol movie, Agnes
Vardas "Lions Love," an outrageous comedy in which
Viva plays Viva, an underground movie goddess waiting for that big
Hollywood break. The film, and especially Vivas performance
in it, created a stir at the recent New York Film Festival and is
now at the 72d Street Playhouse. Incredible as it sounds, Viva manages
to suggest a hippie Dietrich, a gregarious Garbo and a turned-on
ZaSu Pitts - all at the same time.
Like all good movie goddesses, Viva has perfected the Art of the
Interview - sort of. It is evident the second she opens the
door of her Hotel Chelsea apartment that she will never receive
a Seal of Approval from Good Housekeeping - there are no shades
or curtains on the windows, and copies of Shock and Kiss are scattered
everywhere. And yet Viva makes you feel right at home. Smiling warmly,
she presses your hand in hers and looks into your eyes, thereby
giving you the perfect opportunity to look into hers. They are green
and enormous; her skin is pale, her lips thin, her cheeks hyper-hollow.
The next thing in the
room that you notice is a strikingly buxom girl. She is wearing
black braids, a brown beret, and a bulging blue sweater a
dramatic contrast to Vivas bosomless red velvet and black
silk slack suit. "This is my secretary, Donna," Viva says
in a soft sing-song. "Shes having her breasts amputated
in a couple of weeks."
"Not really amputated," Donna volunteers. "Just reduced.
Ever since I was 16, people have been making fun of them. Theyre
just too big."
"Nonsense," says Viva. "I wish I had boobs like that."
The next thing you notice is a young man named Michel. He looks
like Ringo Starr and talks like Charles Aznavour. He is, in fact,
a French underground moviemaker and he is married to Viva.
"Not there," he says, as you struggle to find a chair.
"Come in here where it is more comfortable."
Since the chairs in the bedroom are littered with bits of clothing
and what appear to be extremely lifelike, extremely naked paper
dolls, you sink as casually as possible onto a large rumpled bed,
where you are instantly joined by the star and her entourage.
Viva stretches and groans. "Ive been sitting at the goddam
typewriter all day," she says, "and my back is killing
me. Michel and I are writing my autobiography. Youd better
call it a fictional semi-autobiographical novel."
Some of the facts and fancies that emerge during the highly informal,
three-hour, three-way interview are perhaps better left to the imagination
- or to the publication of that semi-autobiographical novel.
Like the time Viva learned to paint nudes from a plain-clothes priest
in Paris, or the time she set up housekeeping with an actor and
his wife, or the time Donna had a date with a foot fetishist and
she got a cramp in her leg, or the time Viva sang vespers in an
Italian convent, or the time Donna set out to woo Vivas kid
brother, or the time Viva and Michel were scolded by the police
in Positano for sleeping in the nude.
"Were starting our novel right at the beginning of my
life," Viva says.
When was that?
"Say that Im in my mid-twenties - better make that
mid-toward late twenties, and that my real name is Janet Sue Mary
ODare? Then youre Irish?
"No. Auder - thats Michels last name,"
she giggles, nuzzling up to her shaggy-haired, 25-year-old husband,
who sits cross-legged and grinning beside her on the bed.
The Auders met for the very first time last New Years eve
at a party given by Viva in Paris. Michel stumbled in at 4 a.m.
with an upset stomach, looking for someplace to sleep. "But
Pierre Clementi was already asleep in the bedroom," Viva recalls,
"so Michel had to settle for yogurt."
Viva married Michel last March in Las Vegas, on a day off from "Lions
Love." It was the first marriage for each of them, unless you
count Vivas hippie wedding with Allen Midgette, another Warhol
discovery. "The ceremony with Allen was a mixture of Indian
Indian and American Indian," Viva says. "We had the Dalai
Lamas prayer wheel and everyone danced around us. Say, maybe
Allen and I are still married! But I dont think so -
the guy who performed the ceremony was just a hippie. Our marriage
lasted three days. My landlord was throwing us out and I got mad
at Allen because he wouldnt help me pack."
But getting back to "A Star Is Born," Part One. Janet
Sue Mary Hoffman was one of nine children in a well-to-do family.
"My father is a self-made man, a big criminal lawyer who never
lost a case. Hes writing a book now called In Hot Blood.
We lived on a big estate in Syracuse, with a lake and a lot of boats.
But we had to rent the boats from my father when we wanted to use
them. In fact, we had to rent anything that needed a key to start
it. I think my father sort of digs my being a movie star, but my
mother says Im dragging the family name through the gutter.
The last time she went to the movies was to The Great Caruso.
Viva is a graduate of Marymount, the Catholic girls college
in Tarrytown, N.Y. In fact, she seriously considered becoming a
nun, but she says that Bishop Fulton J. Sheen convinced her that
she was not cut out for the sisterhood. She spent her junior year
studying at the Sorbonne in Paris and discovering that there is
more to life than meets the average Syracuse eye. After graduation,
she came to New York, where she began drifting through several jobs,
mostly in modeling, and several love affairs, mostly with non-marriageable
And then smash, bam, along came Andy Warhol, who named her Viva
- after Viva Paper Towels. Sad to say, not all of the critics
jumped on the Viva bandwagon. There were those, in fact, who went
so far in the other direction as to make painful comparisons between
Viva and Draculas daughter and to refer to her as a fag-hag
(presumably because many of the Warhol heroes seem more smitten
with other Warhol heroes than they do with Viva).
"How can they call me a fag-hag?" says Viva, in mock-shock.
"No, this is not true," says Michel, obviously wounded.
"Viva is no fag-hag."
"They think that because I do something in a movie, I do it
in real life," Viva asserts. "But Ive only played
myself once or twice. In Nude Restaurant, in Blue
"Blue Movie" is the Warhol film that was seized by the
New York City Police because it seems to be showing Viva engaging
in sexual intercourse with Louis Waldron. How much of that movie
is for real?
"Lets just say Im a very good actress," Viva
says. "Actually, I havent seen all of the movie yet,
but what I have seen is beautiful. Andy used the wrong kind of film
by mistake. He used outdoor when he should have used indoor. Theres
a lot of sun coming in the window, and it makes everything a hazy
Viva considers Warhol a super moviemaker, even if he does use the
wrong kind of film. "And theres something good about
him as a person, too," she acknowledges. "He makes us
feel that were a group of artists sharing in the creative
process. But the idea of group sharing should go all the way. You
shouldnt have to worry where your breakfast is going to come
from. And your rent. I dont have next months rent, and
it costs $450 for these two rooms. Andy claims he cant afford
to pay us, that he never makes good deals. But somebody told me
that he just bought three brownstones on the Lower East Side. He
has given me checks from time to time, but sometimes when I call
to ask for money, he says, Try to get in the big time, Viva,
so we can all get in the big time. You shouldnt have
to beg for money that way. I toured 50 colleges lecturing for Andy,
and he didnt pay me a penny. Its good practice
for you, he told me.
"Michel and I really do need money. I didnt get very
much for Lions Love, and Im not getting much from
TV anymore. Im banned from the Johnny Carson show because
of Blue Movie. Maybe theyre against heterosexual
Perhaps the prestige that comes with being the star of a New York
Film Festival hit will help stimulate Hollywood interest in Viva.
Her festival luck, however, has been rotten in the past. Take the
1968 New York Film Festival. "Allen Midgette and I were doing
a dance at the closing night party, giving everybody a good show.
Allen took off his shirt, stooped down and started giving bird calls.
All of a sudden, three plain clothesmen rushed in and dragged him
across the dance floor, kicking him as they went. I threw myself
on Allen, trying to protect him, so they began kicking me in the
head. They dragged us into a corridor, but still within view of
everyone at the party. They kept kicking us. I was really freaking
out, and I didnt even notice that they had pulled off my blouse.
I rolled up my scarf and began hitting one of them in the face,
so they kicked me all the harder. Inside, Im told that Norman
Mailer was dancing the Blue Danube. Jeanne Moreau and
Truffaut were also there. But nobody
came to help us, except the Italian director Bertolucci.
I can tell you one thing - Ill never vote for Norman
wanted to make a speech at the festival this
year, after the showing of Lions Love. I wanted to say,
Its nice to be here this year under such auspicious
circumstances - after having been beaten up last year.
But I was afraid it would embarrass Agnes Varda."
In the final scene of "Lions Love," Viva looks soulfully
into the camera and complains that once again she has been talked
into doing a film in which she must take off her clothes and make
up her own lines.
"Thats really the way I feel," Viva says. "
Lions Love is very beautiful, but Im still
hoping for a period piece, with costumes and lines. I would have
loved to play Katharine Hepburns role in The Lion in
In the meantime, Viva and Michel are trying to scrounge up $50,000,
the amount they feel they will need to get their own modernized
version of "Cleopatra" before the cameras. Viva, of course,
will play the title role - only this time the Serpent of the
Nile will be bisexual. Louis Waldron will play a homosexual Antony,
and Taylor Mead a heterosexual Caesar. If the movie turns out to
be the masterpiece Viva and Michel expect it to be, their problems
will be over.
"Maybe then theyll
stop calling me Andy Warhols Star. And I dont
want to be Agnes Vardas Star, either."
Viva sits up straight on the bed and runs her fingers through her
tormented hair. "I just want to be Viva."
TO READ MANY MORE
OF GUY FLATLEY'S ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEWS--FROM DENNIS HOPPER TO CATHERINE
DENEUVE TO HENRY FONDA TO AMANDA PEET TO ALFRED HITCHCOCK TO BUTTERFLY
McQUEEN TO JACK BLACK TO JEAN ARTHUR--CLICK