SHOW: Fresh Air
DATE: June 9, 2000
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Actor and director Dennis Hopper is best known for such films as "Easy Rider,"
"Apocalypse Now" and "Blue Velvet." He's also an artist, photographer and art
collector. An exhibit of his photographs from the 1960s is on view through
mid-September at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles. On
this archive edition, we have a 1996 interview with Hopper in which we talked
about his involvement with the visual arts and how that relates to making
movies. We talked first about growing up in a small town in Kansas.
Mr. DENNIS HOPPER (Actor and Director): I just remember it was a dry state, but
if you were old enough to get your hand up on a bar, they'd put a drink in it.
Mr. HOPPER: And fighting around the drive-ins seemed to be--not the drive-in
movies, but the drive-in hamburger joints--seemed to be the big thing to do
after football games. And, you know, my mother managed a swimming pool in
Dodge City, Kansas, so I had an active swimming life as a child. And my
grandfather was a wheat farmer. So it was a good life.
GROSS: Was it fun to see movies about Dodge City living there?
Mr. HOPPER: Well, I remember Errol Flynn came to Dodge City when I was about
five years ago. That was a big time--for the premiere of--I think it was
called "Dodge City," I think, or "Fort Dodge" or whatever it was. It was a
movie that Errol Flynn starred in with Olivia De Havilland. And, you know,
they came in--it probably had a lot to do with me eventually wanting to be an
GROSS: Was that the only connection you saw between the movie world and your
Mr. HOPPER: Well, I mean, I was raised at the end of the dust bowl, so I used
to tell people the first light that I really saw was not from the sun, but it
was from a movie projector. Yeah. My grandmother used to--she didn't drive a
car, so she used to fill her apron--we lived about five miles outside of Dodge.
And so my grandfather would go off to the farm in Garden City, which was 60
miles away. And my grandmother would fill her eggs full of apron on Saturday
GROSS: Fill her apron full of eggs?
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah. And we'd walk into town, she'd sell the eggs at the poultry
place and get the money, and we'd go and see a matinee. And I'd see the
singing cowboys. Once in awhile, we'd see an Errol Flynn movie or a sword
fighting, buckling--swordbuckling movie. That's about it. I don't really
remember what they were, but I knew--I wanted to know where they were making
these movies. And Kansas was a very flat place, so I wanted to know where the
trains were going and, you know, what a mountain looked like, what a skyscraper
looked like, what the ocean looked like.
And years later, I thought that--I think it's one of the reasons I became so
interested in the visual aspects of things because of that horizon line when I
finally saw the ocean when I was 13 years old. I saw my first mountain when I
came to Colorado when I was 13, on the way to California. I was really
disappointed. My mountains that I'd imagined were so much bigger. And I got
to California and I saw the ocean, and it was the same horizon line that I'd
seen in the wheat field and I thought, `Wow, this is not what I had imagined,'
you know. I don't know what I thought. I thought you could see all the way to
China or something, or it'd look different, be a different angle. But it was
the same horizon line.
And I think that--and then I saw my first skyscraper, and not as big as I had
imagined. I always thought that, like, my imagination had been developed
quite--was a little out of whack, you know. My buildings were bigger, my
mountains were bigger and the ocean was bigger in my imagination than in
GROSS: But when you started taking photographs, did you want the size of
buildings and the size of mountains to be as big as they had been in your
memory from movies, or did you want them to be as real as reality was, even
though that was often disappointing?
Mr. HOPPER: You know, what I did was I--I became an actor when I was 18
years--I started acting at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego when I was 13
and--doing Shakespeare and doing all that. So when I was 18 years old, I moved
from San Diego to Los Angeles. And in a short amount of time, I got a contract
at Warner Bros. I was still 18 years old, I just from graduated high school
and I was now under contract with Warner Bros. And I was doing "Rebel Without
a Cause," and when I was 19 I did "Giant" with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor
and James Dean.
So during that period of time, everybody was photographing me. So when I
started taking photographs, which was in this period of time, I'd already been
a painter. And I started taking photographs not of people, but of walls and of
things where I had no depth of field. I would shoot flat on, so--I had a
painting surface, so I'd shoot flat on a wall or flat on something. And it
would become like the surface of a painting. So that was my early beginnings
of photography in the early '50s.
And then I went through a Cartier-Bresson, decisive moment period when I came
to study with Lee Strasberg in New York, which is where you catch something in
action, guys throwing a ball or just before he catches the ball or somebody's
walking over a puddle, action scene. He's got his foot up just before his foot
hits the water. And whatever--it's a moment where you see with a still camera
when to push the shutter.
GROSS: What were a couple of the decisive moments that you clicked the shutter
Mr. HOPPER: Oh, dear. Well, I mean, through the time my career of taking
photographs, I was at a lot of different places. I was at the free speech
movement in Berkeley. I was at the hippie love-ins. I was--I marched with
Martin Luther King through the South. I was a student of--I was on the Student
Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. And, you know, I was at the March on
Washington and Selma to Montgomery and all those things. So I covered--in that
decisive moment period, I covered everything from attack dogs and--you know,
biting us to a flower being handed to Martin Luther, you know, I mean, by a
GROSS: What was your first exposure to art? Was there any art around when you
were growing up? I'd even be interested in hearing if your parents or
grandparents had, you know, tacky, kitschy things that they decorated the house
Mr. HOPPER: You know, I don't know. You know, I drew when I was kid and I had
studied at the Nelson Art Gallery on weekends. They had an underprivileged
children's art class.
GROSS: Were you an underprivileged child?
Mr. HOPPER: Well, I got in there. I slipped in. So at that time, I was in
drawing class and I was doing a little watercolor like I'd learned in Dodge
City. And this man came up to me and he said, `What are you doing?' And I
said, `Well, I'm painting this rock and river and some'--and he said, `Well,
son,' he said, `I don't know how to tell you this, but someday you're gonna
have to get tight and paint loose.' And this man was--God, I'm trying to think
of his name. I kind of just slipped his name right up. But he was Jackson
Pollock's teacher. He was--my God, this is gonna drive me crazy. Oh, Thomas
Hart Benton. Thomas Hart Benton, yeah. He taught me, he taught Pollock.
Anyway, I studied there, and I found that I would go into the theater and draw
GROSS: Movie theater or stage theater?
Mr. HOPPER: Stage theater, when they were rehearsing plays and I'd sketch the
actors. And so that was sort of my beginning of my art career. And when I
arrived in Los Angeles--I had worked at the La Jolla Playhouse, and my friend
who was my boss there, he was an interior designer and he was working with Mary
Price, Vincent Price's wife, who was an interior designer. They had a kiln
where they did tile work at Vincent's house, and I went up there and made some
tiles. And that's where I saw--Vincent was an art collector, and that's where
I saw my first Franz Kline, my first Jackson Pollocks, my first de Koonings and
so on, where at his house. And I had been painting abstractly, but I'd never
really thought that anybody really painted abstractly until I saw these things.
GROSS: Now it must have been interesting to be exposed to your first abstract
art through somebody's private collection as opposed to if you were in a
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah.
GROSS: Did that, in a way, encourage you to later become a collector? I mean,
because it was a part of how you were first exposed to it. I know you collect
a lot of art.
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah. Well, Vincent gave me a painting, actually, when I was
about--I was about 19 or 20, Vincent gave me a small painting. I don't even
remember who it was by now.
Mr. HOPPER: And he said, `I know that you're probably gonna be a collector, so
let me start you off.'
GROSS: Gee, how nice.
Mr. HOPPER: And then when I got my first money, I did start collecting art. And
it's like a compulsion. I was thinking about it the other day. I think
that--no, I don't have a formula where I go to the right dealer and buy the
right painting. I've been very fortunate to seem to have an eye. I bought
Andy Warhol's first soup can painting, hand-painted, for $70. But...
GROSS: What--how--when was it? Was it...
Mr. HOPPER: Well, it was, like, in 1963, I believe.
GROSS: Why did you want to own it? What spoke to you about the painting? What
Mr. HOPPER: The first time America had an art form of its own was abstract
expressionism. We'd always imitated the Europeans before that. And rather
than drawing a mountain and saying, `I'm now gonna draw a mountain,' or, `I'm
gonna draw a tree,' or, `I'm gonna draw this wonderful face of this person,'
abstract expressionist says, `We're gonna use paint as paint. We're not gonna
draw anything. We're gonna make a brush stroke, and that's gonna be the
painting. And it's gonna be action--it's gonna be done with action. So we're
not gonna have time to think and preconceive a lot of stuff. We're just gonna
use our motion and use the action of painting itself and make that become the
design and the pattern and the motion of the canvas.' And so this changed the
whole way that everybody looked at art.
Now at that time, there was of a bunch of--a group of painters in San Francisco
called the Bay Area figurative painters, and there was David Parks and Elmer
Bischoff and Richard Diebenkorn and then Nathan Oliveira, whatever. And they
were using abstract expressionist terms and they were going back and using the
figure, and I looked at this and I said, `No, this is good painting, but this
has already been done. Soutine had done this before in France before abstract
expressionism. This couldn't be the return to reality because they're using
old forms to return to reality. It doesn't make sense to me.'
So when I saw my first soup can painting and I saw my first by Andy Warhol and
I saw my first cartoon paintings by Roy Lichtenstein and I saw the billboard
paintings of Rosenquist and I saw Oldenburg's giant hamburgers and so, I
realized that this was the return to reality, that was the comic book and the
soup can and the Coca-Cola bottle of Jasper Johns and so on--Rauschenberg. And
these guys were coming back to reality with a whole new of set of things. I
mean, before pop art as we know it--popular art, commercial art--came into
being, the largest lithograph was just, you know, a two-foot-by-three-foot
piece of paper. And suddenly we could use--there was Rosenquist and suddenly
we could do what commercial art could do. We can make lithographs the size of
billboards, and Ed Kienholz showed us that we could make things off the wall
and we could make rooms and environment. And Rosenquist took the square and
the rectangle and broke the surface for the first time in 1961, and suddenly we
had different shaped canvases, and suddenly there was hard edge, and it went on
and on. And it was a wonderful, wonderful life I've had in art because I've
seen so many different things happen and develop.
GROSS: My guest is Dennis Hopper. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: On this archive edition, we're listening to a 1996 interview with Dennis
Hopper. There's an exhibit of his photos from the '60s in Los Angeles. Early
in Hopper's acting career, he was doing TV, but also living another life,
helping Andy Warhol make his first films.
Mr. HOPPER: I did his first film with him called "Tarzan and Jane Revisited,"
which he shot out in Los Angeles. Andy had his first shows in Los Angeles--and
Roy Lichtenstein. They didn't have them in New York. They were shown at the
Ferris Gallery in Los Angeles.
Mr. HOPPER: And a lot of this was because Marcel Duchamp had his--the only
retrospective he had in his life was in California in 1963 at the Pasadena
Museum. A friend of mine, Walter Hopps, gave him a retrospective there. So it
brought all the artists out from New York and around the world to Los Angeles.
GROSS: Now Marcel Duchamp, I mean, did you read his diaries, his journals?
Mr. HOPPER: No, no, I never did. But I knew him.
GROSS: You knew Marcel Duchamp?
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah.
GROSS: How did you meet him?
Mr. HOPPER: Well, I met him at his retrospective.
GROSS: At the retrospective.
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah, all of us.
GROSS: You didn't play chess with him, did you?
Mr. HOPPER: Actually I did.
GROSS: You did?
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah. Not for very long. He was really good.
GROSS: So what was it like to play chess with Marcel Duchamp? I mean, there's
like--John Cage has talked about that, too, about how he loved to play chess
with Duchamp. That was a big thing for Duchamp.
Mr. HOPPER: Well, it was--listen, I sat down at a table with him for about
three minutes. It was a thrill. OK.
GROSS: Right. I was gonna s--right. Right. Right.
Mr. HOPPER: But I don't know what moves I made or what he did, you know...
GROSS: Right. Right.
Mr. HOPPER: ...except that I was thrilled by it. And that was the same day he
was playing--there's a famous photograph of him sitting--playing chess with a
nude and that was in Pasadena.
GROSS: Now, Dennis Hopper, can I talk with you about music a little bit?
Mr. HOPPER: Sure.
GROSS: Has music played an important life--part in your life? Do you like
music a lot, listen a lot?
Mr. HOPPER: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: Now you grew up in the early years before rock 'n' roll. What did you
listen to before rock 'n' roll?
Mr. HOPPER: (Singing) Marie, the dawn is breaking. Marie, my heart is aching.
You know, something like that?
GROSS: Is this the era of The Four Freshmen. No, who am I thinking of?--The
Four Aces--The Four Aces.
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah, right. Right. Exactly.
GROSS: Perry Como, Patti Page.
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah, that's right.
GROSS: Could you tell the good from the bad then? I mean, was there a
difference to you between, say, you know, Patti Page and Ella Fitzgerald?
Mr. HOPPER: (Singing) It's a big, wide, wonderful world we li...
Yeah--no, I could--I didn't know what--listen, I was having enough problems
just trying to get through high school. But...
GROSS: Was there anything you loved out of all that period of pre-rock 'n' roll
Mr. HOPPER: Well, I was a big--when I got to Los Angeles when I was 18--this
is, like, 1954--I got into jazz right away.
Mr. HOPPER: So there was a period in there before rock 'n' roll--I'm not sure
of the years, but there was a period of time there where jazz was king and
Miles Davis was the greatest act in the country. And Bob Rafelson said to me
once, who was curator--the creator of The Monkees and later went on to do "Five
Easy Pieces" with Jack Nicholson and make some wonderful films. But at the
time, he said if Miles Davis hadn't turned his back on the audience, The
Beatles would never have been able to invade this country so easily. But Miles
would only blow at a certain point when he felt like it, and so he would go out
and just stand there and not maybe go through a whole concert. I've seen him
go through whole concerts where he didn't blow at all and did make some fans
angry. But I still love jazz, and rock 'n' roll was something that I was
listened to secretly on the radio. I had a channel--I would move it to the
rock 'n' roll station, but even my wife, when she got in, I would change it to
classical or change it to popular, or change it to something. I didn't want
anybody to know that I was listening to rock 'n' roll.
GROSS: Why not?
Mr. HOPPER: It was like animal music. You're not supposed to be listening to
it. And this was like--this was a condition that went on for some time. And
by--one time my wife got in the car and started the car before I changed the
station--it was playing rock 'n' roll. She said, `Oh, this--I love rock 'n'
roll.' I said, `You do?' Big surprise, huh? Oh, wow.
GROSS: You might be one of the few adults who had to hide rock 'n' roll.
Mr. HOPPER: Yeah, well, it was strange, you know. It was a strange time. It's
like it's easy to accept pop art and it's easy to accept abstract expressionist
art most places these days, but in the old days, if you had an abstract
painting, that was really weird. And if you had a soup can or a cartoon
hanging in your house, I mean, who were you? What kind of weird person
were--and listening to rock 'n' roll was like listening to the jungle or
something. It was just unheard of and it was not accepted.
GROSS: Now television--as we mentioned, you were doing a lot of episodic
television in the--I guess the late '50s?
Mr. HOPPER: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
GROSS: Early '60s? When did television come into your life, not as an actor,
but as a viewer?
Mr. HOPPER: Oh, as a viewer. I saw my first television show when I was 13.
GROSS: That's pretty old.
Mr. HOPPER: Same year as I saw the mountains. Yeah, well, I was like--let's
see, I was--How old was I What year would that have been? About 1949,
something like that.
GROSS: Right. Yeah. What about the best shows to do when you were acting in
episodic television? I saw you in the pilot of "The Rifleman." You know, they
were re--maybe they still are rerunning it on The Family Channel. It's a
really great series. And the episode you're in, you're like the kind of kid
gunslinger who comes into town and who's a real show-off in it.
Mr. HOPPER: You know who wrote that? Sam Peckinpah wrote the pilot for...
GROSS: Yeah, well, he wrote and directed a lot of them, yeah.
Mr. HOPPER: He didn't direct it, but he wrote. But he was there on the set
telling me how to play the part. So--but Sam and I had known each other for
years. He's the only guy I knew that smoked grass besides me. So we could
hide together on the studio lots and smoke a joint every once in a while.
GROSS: Just one question about marijuana and other drugs. Do you think that
they affected your visual sensibility at all or, you know, your artistic
Mr. HOPPER: Well, you know, I--first of all, I'm in these 12-step programs
because I had a problem, you know. I became a drug addict and an alcoholic. So
I'm sort of torn with this question. I think that--I don't think anyone needs
them to enhance their visual or intellectual capacities. Does it help? It
might, in the beginning, open up some doors, you know. But those doors rapidly
close if you're a drug addict and it's not a way of seeing, it's a way of
dying. And that's a reality.
As far as drinking, I mean, being an alcoholic and a drug addict, it was so
easy for me to point out, `Because I am an artist after all. It's OK for me to
drink and take drugs, because I have an excuse,' and being in total denial
about the fact that you're an alcoholic and drug addict, because after all, Van
Gogh (pronounced van Gog) spent a whole summer of drinking to find that yellow.
And then at the end of it, I say, `Well, yeah, he probably couldn't find the
tube the yellow was in he was so drunk,' you know. But you justify all these
things, and it's too easy to justify using drugs and drinking because you're an
artist. And I can't cop to that excuse. I can say, `Yes, in the beginning,
everything works--sex works, drugs work, everything works.' If you go too far
with it, it becomes less effective and then you start working for it rather
than it working for you. And some of the greatest artists of all time never
drank and never took drugs. And that's a reality as much as it is a reality
that a lot of them did and a lot of them died painfully stupid lives, which
could have been avoided if they hadn't drank and taken drugs.
GROSS: I really want to thank you a lot for talking with us.
Mr. HOPPER: Well, it's always a pleasure. It's great listening to your show.
GROSS: Dennis Hopper, recorded in 1996. His photographs from the '60s are on
exhibit through mid-September at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Actress Mary Woronov dropped out of college in the mid '60s to dance and tour
with The Velvet Underground and appear in the Andy Warhol movie, "Chelsea
Girls." Woronov went on to act in several Roger Corman films, including "Death
Race 2000" and "Hollywood Boulevard." She also co-starred in the film satires
"Rock 'n' Roll High School," "Eating Raoul," and "Scenes from the Class
Struggle in Beverly Hills." Her memoir, "Swimming Underground: My Years in the
Warhol Factory," has just been published in paperback. It coincides with the
publication of her first novel, "Snake." On this Archive Edition, we have an
interview recorded in 1995 after her memoir was first published.
Woronov grew up in a fairly conventional 1950s home. She went to private
school. Her mother was a homemaker; her father a doctor. She says it was an
Ozzie and Harriet kind of life, and describes her childhood as happy, but
unhappy. Everything changed when she went to Cornell University. She met
people who were into sex and drugs, and she met Gerard Malanga, who introduced
her to Warhol. She and Malanga danced with The Velvet Underground as part of
the Warhol show, "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable." I asked her about her
entrance into that world.
Ms. MARY WORONOV (Actress and Writer): Well, actually, what happened is the
first thing that happened is I did a movie. And then I thought, well, this is
fine, I have a job. You know, I'm going to do these movies for Warhol for
which I'm not paid. What a great job. I was very naive. And then added to
what happened is Barbara Rubin brought The Velvets in and they would play. And,
you know, Gerard was not one to give up his stage, so he would get up on the
stage and start dancing, and I was with him. So I would get up on the stage
and start dancing, too. And it just became this, like, show. They put a movie
in back of The Velvets, and we danced in front and The Velvets played. And then
Andy started moving it around as "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable." And went
to California. But, yeah, I danced in front of them all the time. It was
GROSS: I want you to describe the dances that you and Malanga did to The
Ms. WORONOV: It's going to sound very strange, but--well, first of all, both of
us are dressed in black leather by now, and both of us have, you know, whips.
But it was definitely rock 'n' roll dancing; it wasn't, you know, Martha
Grahamish at all. It was rock 'n' roll, but we would have all these different
things, like black lights and, like, those flickering strobe lights and
crosses; and we would dance with these objects. Everybody there was very
accustomed to happenings, as they were called then. You call them performances
now. But doing things while you were dancing was nothing. I mean, it was
considered fine. And Gerard and I were just very good together; we were very
instinctive. So, you know, you dance, both of you have a whip. You know, you
do all of these sort of, you know, pretend S&M things while you're dancing.
GROSS: Like what?
Ms. WORONOV: Oh, he spent a lot of time on his knees, and he kissed--you know,
kissed the whip, 'cause, you know, in one of the songs it says, `Kiss the whip
lightly.' He would do that. And, you know, we would just--it was actually very
sexy what we did.
GROSS: That song also says something about licking your shiny boots. Did he
lick your boots, too?
Ms. WORONOV: Yeah. A lot of kissing of boots and licking of boots. As a
matter of fact, he made a whole movie of it. I didn't get to talk in that
movie, obviously, but--look, we were very young, and we just did things, you
know. And nobody said no.
GROSS: Most of the people in the Warhol crowd had a persona, you know, often a
pose of some sort, or a transformed person who they became. Did you have a
pose, a persona?
Ms. WORONOV: Yes. Yes.
GROSS: What was it?
Ms. WORONOV: My pose at the time was unsexual, gender-shifting into male, very
powerful, very threatening.
GROSS: Now you described yourself as asexual in your persona; yet, the whip
dance that you did was very much of a sexual turn-on. So make those two add up
Ms. WORONOV: I believe that, especially during Warhol, one of the sexiest
things about that whole time was gender-slipping. I do not think that it's
unsexy. I think it's very sexy. A girl--well, first of all, I mean, the
entire basis of Warhol's movies in the beginning was all of the drag queens,
and they certainly were gender slippage, and they were certainly very, very
sexy. A lot of art is about, you know, gender slippage, and that's what makes
it sexy; that's what makes it interesting and attractive.
GROSS: But you described yourself as having an asexual pose, and yet...
Ms. WORONOV: I did not come on flirty, you know, and want a lot of guys. I
would pretend that I was a man--not pretend that I was a man, I would act very
masculine. And to see such a pretty girl act very masculine was a turn-on. I
mean, all I did was act, you know, sort of tough.
GROSS: And you're about six feet tall, so you were imposing also.
Ms. WORONOV: Yeah. Yeah. Everybody posed. If you didn't pose, nobody saw
you. It was a fight to get the biggest pose on. And that's what we liked,
posing. I mean, you can't be around all of those queens and not think about
posing every minute of the day. It was a language.
GROSS: Was it tiring after a while to live in a pose? Or did you become that
Ms. WORONOV: No. Nothing was tiring; we were all on amphetamine. There was no
GROSS: But was it mentally exhausting to have to stay in pose all the time, or
did you become the person?
Ms. WORONOV: No, you never become the person. I mean, the whole thing about
our poses were they were completely ridiculous. I mean, first of all, half of
those guys, you know, when they got dressed up as girls, they didn't do it like
guys do it now, it was, you know, totally dumb. They'd have runs in their
stockings and, you know, runs in their hair. It was about doing something that
was, obviously, not working, but pretending it is working to such an extent
that everybody buys it. It was fun.
GROSS: I think the thing that I found alarming, reading your memoir, was the
time when you and a lot of the Warhol people were--I guess it was, you know, a
party or a gathering of some sort, and one of the women there OD'd.
Ms. WORONOV: Yes.
GROSS: And someone stretched her out on the table, and the party kind of
Ms. WORONOV: Yes.
GROSS: And she was kind of like the centerpiece at the table.
Ms. WORONOV: We were so far gone that death didn't really enter in as, `This is
a person and her life is gone.' We weren't even thinking of her as a person.
GROSS: She actually lived; she hadn't really died?
Ms. WORONOV: No, she hadn't. She hadn't. I mean, I didn't have that much
experience with heroin, and apparently, you look like you can go under and then
you come back. I didn't even know she was shot with heroin, so I--you know,
nobody--we all thought she was dead. I mean...
GROSS: At what point did you say to yourself, `It is not human to behave this
way'? You know, that something's terribly wrong?
Ms. WORONOV: When I stopped taking drugs.
GROSS: Yeah. Were you shocked when you looked back on that?
Ms. WORONOV: No, 'cause I can remember how I felt; it was fine. And I didn't
really get in trouble. I mean, you know, a lot of people get in trouble with
drugs and they see people, you know, shot in the head and killed. And I--you
know, really, I was very, very protected.
Ms. WORONOV: But the reason why this is in the book is because this was like
a--oh, a slight error. You know, it was that--and I understand it was just
really horrible. And thank God she did live. But it was like, oh, a slight
error. I mean, you know.
GROSS: That's how far gone you-all were?
Ms. WORONOV: Yeah. Yeah, we were really crazed on that one.
GROSS: My guest is Mary Woronov. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: On this Archive Edition, we're listening to an interview with actress
and writer Mary Woronov. She has a new novel, and her memoir about her Warhol
years has just been published in paperback.
I don't know if you saw this or not, but Victor Bockris in--while writing about
the life and death of Andy Warhol, quoted Gerard Malanga as saying, "Mary was
someone I invented. I got a whip in her hand, spread her name around, made her
a star, but she did not show any interest, and because of her passiveness
allowed herself to be eclipsed by Ingrid Superstar." What do you make of that?
Ms. WORONOV: Gerard is right. He definitely invented me. He found me at
Cornell, and when he brought me to New York, I was definitely someone
different. But I wanted that invention. I really loved that whole scene. I
mean, he would suggest something, and I would go, `Yes.' The reason why he says
that I was passive and eclipsed is I was not interested in becoming a
superstar. I was not interested in fighting for Edie Sedgwick's place. Fine,
I would do a movie, but I was not interested in becoming a star.
They loved girls to fight and, you know, to try and be stars, and I would just
would not take that place. If Ingrid wanted to pretend she was a star, fine,
go let her.
I refused to go into that game, and Gerard was furious with me because,
rightfully so, I was the most talented; I was the one who, you know, understood
what should be happening. Even Andy said this to me. But I just, you know--I
didn't feel like fighting. I liked the queens. I liked the whole drug scene.
I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. I didn't--you know, if Andy sat down
and then four girls tried to sit next to him, I'd walk the other way.
GROSS: Now you wrote in your book that this was a period when you didn't like
Ms. WORONOV: No, I hated it.
GROSS: I'm trying to figure out if I can ask you to explain why, on the radio.
What do you think?
Ms. WORONOV: I--well, for one thing, my parents didn't get along the way I
thought someone should get along, so I definitely was against marriage. I was
also, at the time, very young, and I was furious at the thought that I should
be happy just being a wife with a man. That really infuriated me. I had
floating rage about that one. So the other thing is that I went to Cornell
after being, you know, a virgin for a very long time. And I did not have a
great experience. I mean, you know, this apparently very nice kid, you know,
tried to go with me, and I was just so mad and so angry that it didn't work
And instead of being upset, I said, `OK, we're just going to make rules, and
one of the rules is that, you know, sex just isn't in the game for me, and I
just don't want it. And, you know, these other girls can, you know, go make
fools of themselves, but for me, it's out.' And I would do that. And then I
would say, `This is the way I'm going to lead my life.' And until I met a giant
stone wall, that's the way I did lead my life. I would always make up rules
and say, `This is the way it's going to be, and I'm going to do this and I'm
going to be different than everybody else.'
GROSS: I do find it really interesting that during this period when you were
defiant about not having sex, that you were doing this very provocative whip
Ms. WORONOV: Well...
GROSS: ...turning yourself on, and everybody else.
Ms. WORONOV: No, I think it's really normal because you can't shut someone down
when they're starting to peak with their hormones. I mean, I had to do
GROSS: So it all came out in the dance.
Ms. WORONOV: Yes, it all came out in everything I did, everything I touched. I
mean, I was a walking joke. You can't just shut someone--I was, you know, a
fool; a young fool.
GROSS: Now you were in Warhol's film, "Chelsea Girls."
Ms. WORONOV: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: Why don't you describe your role in that?
Ms. WORONOV: My role in "Chelsea Girls" was--first of all, the name was Hanoi
Hannah, and it was taken from this woman who had a radio show during the war,
and she would taunt the American GIs. But rather than being sexy about it, I
think I was just basically brutal--brutal beyond what a normal girl should be
capable of; and also intelligent, so that I sort of knew what was going on.
And what Warhol would do is he would put a lot of people, you know, in front of
a camera and then hope that something would happen. I knew what he sort of
wanted to happen, and I would engineer it. And then, you know, people would
fall into place, you know. If you had one strong person, you needed a victim,
and so the victim would usually be found. And then, you know, you do what you
GROSS: Your mother sued Andy Warhol after "Chelsea Girls." Why? Because he
didn't pay you? Is that it?
Ms. WORONOV: No, he didn't pay anybody. He was like Corman; he was the
cheapest man in the world. My mother thought that--my mother always stood
behind me. She said I was doing something artistic. I went to Cornell to be
an artist; now I was with Warhol. It did not matter to her that, you know, I
was running around in skin-tight leather, paraphernalia and drugged out of my
mind. It was artistic, so she let me do all of these things. But the minute
that I stopped showing interest, she suggested to me that I should get paid.
And then Morrissey came to me and he said he wanted me to sign something, and
GROSS: This is Paul Morrissey who made some of the films?
Ms. WORONOV: Yes. He said he wanted me to sign a release for "Chelsea Girls,"
and I told my mother. She'd always told me never to sign anything because she
was afraid I was going to sign something communist, you know. So I told my
mom, and she said, `No, no, no, don't sign that, and let me sue him.' And I
just, you know--I said, `OK,' so she sued him.
GROSS: What came of it?
Ms. WORONOV: Well, she got $1,000, and she got his undying hatred; that's what
came out of it. He hated it. He hated giving out money, especially in that
manner. Of course, I'd hate that, too. And that's when I started leaving The
GROSS: Were you embarrassed that your mother was suing on your behalf, or did
you support her in the suit?
Ms. WORONOV: My mother is a very special person. I was used to her, you know,
throwing a fit in a restaurant. This certainly didn't embarrass me. My mother
could never be controlled.
GROSS: So you started leaving The Factory after this lawsuit?
Ms. WORONOV: Warhol definitely got cool towards me after the lawsuit, and he--I
was not asked to do movies anymore. I noticed that when I hung around the set
of "The 24-Hour Movie"(ph) I wasn't really asked to be in--I mean, the people
would ask me, but Warhol wasn't behind it that much, and so I left. I started
doing plays for Ronnie Tuvalle(ph).
GROSS: You know, it's interesting to me that during this whole period when you
were part of the Warhol crowd and, you know, you were performing with The
Velvet Underground, your home was with your parents; you were still living with
your--you weren't there every night, maybe, but that was still your home.
Ms. WORONOV: That was my home, yes.
GROSS: So, you know, you'd go from this incredibly out-there kind of scene back
to your parents' middle-class, nice home.
Ms. WORONOV: Yes, and lucky for me, I did; otherwise, I'd be dead. In other
words, when you get high, you have to come down. When you go out, you have to
come home. I had no money. I had to stay there.
GROSS: Do you think this is part of the reason why you survived when so many of
the Warhol people were casualties?
Ms. WORONOV: Absolutely. You can't get high without coming down; that's a
GROSS: So you really think you have your parents to thank, in a way?
Ms. WORONOV: Oh, of course. My parents were great to me.
GROSS: Do you think your mother did the right thing in not objecting to your
behavior during that period?
Ms. WORONOV: Absolutely. If she had objected--first of all, you can't object.
A child has to go through--and not just a child, everybody has to go
through--it's like a journey that you take so that you can become, you know,
someone else; so you can get, you know, your third eye, or whatever; or you
can, you know, like--that's the American way, to go through something--a
cathartic thing so that in the end you gain stuff. And any kid knows that;
they know they have to prove themselves. You know, they have to--I mean, kids
used to want to go to war or whatever. Well, this was my war. Now I met up
with a stone wall, because I went in with, you know, like, not a bad attitude
but just the wrong idea. I had to go through it again. But if she had stopped
me--if she had stopped me and not let me do what I had to do, I would have gone
harder, much harder.
Ms. WORONOV: I would have left home, and that wouldn't be good.
GROSS: What did you do with your life after leaving Warhol?
Ms. WORONOV: Well, for about a half a year, I just sat down and recovered.
Ms. WORONOV: I had a tremendous addiction to get rid of.
GROSS: And you got rid of it that quickly?
Ms. WORONOV: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, in my family, you know, you just--my
family's really strange. But, you know, you don't say anything. And the first
thing I did was get very fat, and I just sat in my bedroom until that went
away; that took about a couple of months. And then slowly but surely, I
started being, you know, the next person. And went on a date, all the way to
Europe. And, you know, you start again. But my parents--it was as--see, my
parents are the '50s, you know. They never mention that you've done something
wrong. When I came back and sat in my bedroom, you know, for about two months,
they treated it as if, you know, everything was fine, which was, thank God,
because I couldn't explain what was going on. All I know is I needed to rest.
GROSS: Do you know who you are now? And are you comfortable with that person?
Ms. WORONOV: I am more comfortable with myself because I have gone through a
lot of things. And, you know, once you go through these things you go, `Yeah,
well, you know, life isn't that bad.' I still ask people what they think of me
or who I am to them. So I don't know everything, no. And I do finally feel
fulfilled because of this book. I know that I'm a good writer, and I'm really,
really proud of myself for the first time.
GROSS: Mary Woronov recorded in 1995. Her memoir, "Swimming Underground," has
just been published in paperback. And her debut novel, "Snake," has just been
Coming up, John Powers reviews "60 Seconds." This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS, host:
"Gone in 60 Seconds" is the new summer action movie starring Nicolas Cage and
produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. It's also our last film review by John Powers,
who's giving up reviewing films.
JERRY POWERS reporting:
More and more the movie in my head is not the movie that Hollywood is making.
When I first heard about "Gone in 60 Seconds," about car thieves who try to rip
off 50 top-end cars in 24 hours, I thought of Steve McQueen, perhaps the last
American screen actor who conveyed the sense that he would know how to hot-wire
a car or dismantle the club. I pictured a small, taut, gritty story about the
expertise of an impassive, technique-minded man who's suddenly faced with
losing everything, but who goes ahead because honor dictates that he has to get
the job done.
I'm still waiting to see that movie. The actual "Gone in 60 Seconds" is a
loud, fragmented blockbuster of the new school. Like the Indy 500 dropped into
a Cuisinart. Nick Cage stars as Memphis Raines, a master car thief who's
retired from the business. But when his brother--that's Giovanni Ribisi--gets
in trouble with a gangster, Memphis agrees to save his brother's life by
stealing those 50 cars. He quickly assembles his crew, which includes a savvy
old-timer played by Robert Duvall, a silent brute known as The Sphinx; and his
old girlfriend Sway, played with amusing swagger by Angelina Jolie, who looks
like a cross between a ghost and a harpy. To make Memphis' task even more
difficult, he's being tailed by his old nemesis, a police detective played by
Delroy Lindo. Here the two meet outside a bar.
(Soundbite of "Gone in 60 Seconds")
Mr. DELROY LINDO (As Detective Roland Castlebeck): Six years ago, you make a
real smart move. You know, you retire from a life that's gonna get you busted
or killed, or maybe even both. And I'm thinkin' that not puttin' you away when
I had a chance is like this big pock-up(ph), this real impressive career that
Mr. NICOLAS CAGE (As Randall "Memphis" Raines): Yeah. Well, without
disappointment, you can't appreciate victory.
Mr. LINDO: Eleanor(ph) tell you that?
Mr. CAGE: Now that's hittin' below the belt.
Mr. LINDO: Yeah. All right, let me tell you about below the belt, Randall. I
tell you what, from here on out, if you walk across the street outside of a
crosswalk, if you roll through a stop sign, if you use an aerosol can in a
manner other than directed--I mean, I don't care. You make one slip and I will
put you away for good.
POWERS: As you can probably tell from this clip, Cage is giving yet another
terrible performance. What happened to him? A friend jokingly suggested that
Cage's Oscar for best actor contains some clause forcing him to become
Sylvester Stallone. But frankly, Stallone would play Memphis with more
conviction. Cage has lost the instincts that once made him a fascinating blend
of the ardent and the offbeat. Now he's a hodgepodge of self-parodying
Not that any actor could do much with Scott Rosenberg's script, which seems
like a piece of lint that fell from Quentin Tarantino's navel. Rosenberg
actually has somebody saying the line, `He will follow you like a stain on a
mattress.' Like a stain on a mattress? Such inept macho bluster is of a piece
with Dominic Sena's direction, whose clumsiness is not disguised by the
lickety-split music video style editing. There's an art to action, and Sena
doesn't have it. None of his car chases is a tenth as exciting as those in,
say, "The Road Warrior" or "Ronin."
Then again, the real auteur of "Gone in 60 Seconds" is producer Jerry
Bruckheimer, who, along with his late partner, Don Simpson, shaped current film
style in movies like "Flashdance," "Top Gun" and "Armageddon." I don't dislike
all of his movies. In fact, I was a big fan of "Enemy of the State." But I am
out of sympathy with him. Bruckheimer is forever pushing his movies toward
pure sensation. There's no depth of character, no coherence in storytelling,
no real acting and no awareness of meaning.
Bruckheimer deals in cliches, some harmless enough, like the master car thief
and the blonde who digs him; others less appealing, like the saucy black dude
who never takes off his shades, or the bad driver Asian chick who causes an
accident and keens when her driving teacher criticizes her. This is the second
Bruckheimer movie in a row that seeks cheap laughs by humiliating Asian women.
You're the boss, Jerry, so cut it out.
When I tell people that I'm giving up film reviewing, they usually wonder why
I'd abandon such a cool job. The short answer is pictures like this one. I
don't mean this moralistically; nor am I suggesting that movies in America are
somehow going to hell. Pop culture is always changing, and I don't doubt that
there are people out there who can discover fresh, new ways of being excited by
what's hitting our screens. For my part, I simply find little pleasure or
nourishment in something like "Gone in 60 Seconds."
This is a movie about stealing cars that has no interest in stealing or cars.
We don't learn how car thieves work, or how they live, or what they love about
cars, or whether they're just in it for the money. We don't learn about
hot-wiring, or defusing alarm systems. We don't even get a scene where a car
has to be gone in 60 seconds. Steve McQueen weeps.
GROSS: John Powers has been FRESH AIR's film critic for four years. I suspect
no one is sorrier than we are that John is giving up film criticism. We'll miss
his recommendations. And we'll miss his perceptions, wit and general
sensibility even more. Perhaps his leaving would be easier to take if his
editor here, Phyllis Myers(ph), found him egotistical and difficult to work
Well, Phyllis, did you?
PHYLLIS MYERS (Editor): Nah, he was great.
GROSS: So we wish him well. And we hope to hear from him from time to time on
FRESH AIR. And by the way, you'll be able to read his book reviews in Vogue.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.