EDIE SEDGWICK: the first "it" girl

I don’t know what sparked my interest in Edie but I know i’m not alone. There seem to be hundreds of young girls that seem to relate to this troubled girl. Something about the poor little rich girl really resonates with me. not to mention she was a great beauty.

In any case, can’t believe I haven’t written a post about her and only her since she was my fashion muse and general hero for so long. So here it is. I”m sorry if this is a little long but there is a lot to know.

“Her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls…” With three nouns, in “Just Like a Woman” (said to have been inspired by her), Bob Dylan deftly summed up his friend Edie Sedgwick, the wayward princess of Andy Warhol’s multimedia Factory.
Here is a poem Patti Smith wrote and read at Edie’s Wake:

Seventh Heaven

Seventh Heaven by Patti Smith

“Edie Sedgwick (1943-1971)

I don’t know how she did it. Fire
She was shaking all over. It took
her hours to put her make-up on.
But she did it. Even the false eye-lashes.
She ordered gin with triple
limes. Then a limosine. Everyone
knew she was the real heroine of
Blonde on Blonde.
oh it isn’t fair
oh it isn’t fair
how her ermine hair
turned men around
she was white on white
so blonde on blonde
and her long long legs
how I used to beg
to dance with her
but I never had
a chance with her
oh it isn’t fair
how her ermine hair
used to swing so nice
used to cut the air
how all the men
used to dance with her
I never got a chance with her
though I really asked her
down deep
where you do
really dream
in the mind
reading love
I’d get
inside
her move
and we’d
turn around
and she’d
turn around
and turn the head
of everyone in town
her shaking shaking
glittering bones
second blonde child
after brian jones
oh it isn’t fair

how I dreamed of her
and she slept
and she slept
forever
and I’ll never dance
with her no never
she broke down
like a baby
like a baby girl
like a lady
with ermine hair
oh it isn’t fair
and I’d like to see
her rise again
her white white bones
with baby brian jones
baby brian jones
like blushing
baby dolls”
― Patti SmithSeventh Heaven

 

*** RECAP
According to some crazy old saying “American aristocracy ruled that a lady’s name should appear in the papers only three times: when she was born, when she married, and when she died.” Edie Sedgwick changed that. As well as publicizing her appearances in underground movies, her numerous committals for mental illness and drug addiction were widely reported. She met her future husband – a fellow patient – in the psychiatric wing of the hospital where she was born. On the last evening of her life, in 1971, she appeared on television, and then went home to die of an overdose of barbiturates. She was 28.
*** HOME LIFE
Edie’s troubles began long before she was born. Her distinguished New England lineage (a Sedgwick was Speaker of the House of Representatives under George Washington, another edited the Atlantic Monthly for a generation) was also distinguished by hereditary madness, as far back as the Speaker’s wife.
Edie’s father (whose own father had moved his family to southern California) had two nervous breakdowns soon after leaving university, and his wife was told by her doctors that she must never have children. But the rich do not like being told what to do, and the Sedgwicks were rich-rich (not only had Edie’s family inherited millions; oil was discovered on their property, enough to sink 17 wells).
Mrs Sedgwick defied doctors and fate and had eight children, two of whom died before Edie – one hanged himself, the other rode his motorcycle into a bus. As a father, Francis Minturn “Duke” Sedgwick was larger than life and much more terrible. A career as a monumental sculptor and owner of a ranch that was his own little dukedom (the children were tutored at home, and seldom left it) did not exhaust his energies. He seduced, or at least made advances to, his wife’s friends, his children’s friends and, Edie said, to her.
*** CAMBRIDGE
When Edie left California for Radcliffe, the women’s college of Harvard (the Sedgwick alma mater), she had already spent time in mental hospitals, suffered from anorexia and had an abortion. What men saw, however, was a delicate beauty and an appealingly vulnerable quality. “Every boy at Harvard,” said a former classmate, “was trying to save Edie from herself.”
The less high-minded boys flocked to Edie for other reasons – even at wealthy Harvard, there were not too many students who drove their own Mercedes, or were so uninhibited. At one boy’s Sunday family lunch, she left the table, walked out on to the lawn, stripped to her knickers and lay down to sunbathe.
**NEW YORK
Bored in Boston, Edie decided to swap the role of college girl for party girl and moved to New York, into the 14-room Park Avenue apartment of her obliging grandmother. At 21, she came into money of her own and got a flat – and clothes, clothes, clothes. Her stick figure, huge eyes and chopped-off hair suited the style of the early Sixties – Jean Seberg in the movies, Twiggy in the glossies- and Edie was, briefly, on the fashion pages.
Life magazine said she was “doing more for black tights than anybody since Hamlet”. The Vogue empress Diana Vreeland praised her “anthracite-black eyes and legs to swoon over… She is shown here arabesquing on her leather rhino to a record of The Kinks.” But, well before heroin chic, her drug-taking was becoming so notorious that editors stopped calling.
*** THE FACTORY
In 1965, Edie met an impresario who was more her style: Andy Warhol. Warhol and Edie were, horribly, made for each other. The Pittsburgh boy, son of Polish immigrants, wanted the Wasp heiress’s company more fervently than any straight man wanted her body; the neglected daughter craved the obsessive attention of a famous man who demanded nothing from her in return. “If you had a father who read the paper at the dinner table,” said Viva, another of Warhol’s film-stars, “and you had to go up and turn his chin to even get him to look at you, then you had Andy, who would press the ‘on’ button of the Sony the minute you opened your mouth.”
Edie introduced Warhol to her real father, but their one meeting was not a success. The artist thought Duke Sedgwick the most handsome older man he had ever seen, but the rancher said afterwards: “Why, the guy’s a screaming fag!”
Warhol’s clothes became smarter under Edie’s influence, and she dyed her hair silver to match his. “I thought at first it was exploitative on Andy’s part,” says the photographer Fred Eberstadt. “Then I changed my mind and decided, if it was exploitative on any part, maybe it was Edie’s.”

“Edie and Andy,” the non-couple, were the couple of the moment. She took him to parties where everyone else was listed in the Social Register; he stage-managed her appearances, pushing Edie to the cameras and the microphones, where she was white with fear but loved every minute.
Edie became an habitué of the Factory, Warhol’s loft papered in aluminium foil, where the daytime was spent churning out silkscreen prints and the night on parties that mingled guests who contributed flash, trash and cash with a smorgasbord of illegal stimulants. (Some left the place in limousines, some in ambulances, a regular said.)
Flash-bulbs popped and crowds on the wrong side of the rope screamed when Edie turned up in leotards and her grandmother’s leopard coat. The Velvet Underground, Warhol’s rock band, wrote a song, “Femme Fatale”, about her. Warhol put her in a movie called Horse, which, contrary to what one might have expected from the title, was actually about a horse. The actors, in cowboy gear, were brought together with the stallion and a placard was held up that read: “Approach the horse sexually, everybody.” Edie was lucky for once – the indignant horse kicked someone else in the head.
 
*** BEAUTY 2
Edie appeared in Beauty Part II, her nervous radiance apparent from the first. George Plimpton, a fellow aristocrat (who, with Jean Stein, later put together the oral biography Edie) remembered seeing the film, in which Edie, in bra and pants, lounged on a bed with a man pawing her, while an offstage voice gave her instructions. “Her head would come up, like an animal suddenly alert at the edge of a waterhole, and she’d stare across the bed at her inquisitor in the shadows… I couldn’t get the film out of my mind.”
Other films included Restaurant, Kitchen and the cruelly titled Poor Little Rich Girl, with Edie back in bed in her underwear, putting on make-up or answering offscreen questions in an offhand way. Her dreaminess, like her hysteria, was fuelled by cocaine, alcohol, uppers and downers, alone or combined.

*** DRUGS AND THE CHELSEA HOTEL

Edie’s favourite was a speedball – a shot of amphetamine in one arm, heroin in the other. Several times she fell asleep while smoking in bed; once she was badly burned as candles toppled while she slept. Even then, her imprimatur was one the fashion world was eager to claim. “When Edie set her apartment on fire,” said Betsey Johnson, “she was in one of my dresses.”
Edie moved to the Chelsea Hotel, famous for its artistic clientele, where she met Dylan – whose song “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat” she is supposed to have inspired as well – and his right-hand man, the record producer Bob Neuwirth, with whom she had an affair.
However, Jonathan Sedgwick, Edie’s brother, says: “She called me up and said she’d met this folk singer in the Chelsea, and she thinks she’s falling in love. I could tell the difference in her, just from her voice. She sounded so joyful instead of sad. It was later on she told me she’d fallen in love with Bob Dylan.”
Some months later, he says, she told him she had been hospitalised for drug addiction and that when doctors discovered she was pregnant, they carried out an abortion, over her protests. “Her biggest joy was with Bob Dylan, and her saddest time was with Bob Dylan, losing the child. Edie was changed by that experience, very much so.”

*** FALLOUT WITH DYLAN

Dylan’s lover of record at the time was Joan Baez. Soon after they broke up, he married Sara Lownds; Edie was said to have been devastated when she heard the news from someone else.
Even with her inheritance gone, and unable to count on money from home, Edie wouldn’t economise. In all the time she lived in New York, she took the subway only once – to Coney Island, in a feathered evening gown over a bikini. The rest of the time it was limousines. She would never even settle for a taxi.

*** CALIFORNIA

At the end of 1966, Edie went to California for Christmas. At the Chelsea, they were relieved to see her go – there would be terrible scenes in the lobby when she wasn’t able to pay her bill, and she never could stop setting her room on fire.
As soon as she got home, her parents had her committed. And as soon as she could, she ran back to New York. But the spotlight never again turned her way. In 1967, her father died. A friend said: “Finally. Thank God. Now, maybe Edie can breathe.”

But she became more depressed. Her money was gone, and she returned to her grandmother’s apartment, to steal antiques which she sold for drug money. After eight months in increasingly grim and frightening mental hospitals, in the last of which she was made to scrub the lavatories, she returned, in 1968, to the ranch. But her drug habit had not ended, and she took up with a motorcycle gang, trading sex for heroin. “She’d ball half the dudes in town for a snort of junk,” a friend said. “But she was always very ladylike about the whole thing.” She did get married to a man she met in California in the rehabilitation program.

*** CIAO MANHATTAN

In Edie’s last film, Ciao! Manhattan, whose scenario was even more formless and bizarre than her 
own, she played a topless hitchhiker living in a tent in an empty swimming pool. There was a non-simulated orgy in a (full) swimming pool, fueled by amphetamines and tequila. Not just Edie but the whole cast were on speed; the film-makers had to find a co-operative doctor and set up a charge account.

Edie showed off her new implants, but ascribed her larger breasts to diet and exercise. She pretended to undergo electroshock treatments – to which she was soon after subjected for real, in the hospital used for the filming. She also recreated being given a shot of amphetamine by one of the swinging doctors of the period, having to lie down because she was too thin to take it standing up.
Roger Vadim and Allen Ginsberg, the latter naked and chanting, turned up for some reason, and Isabel Jewell, the tough girl of such Thirties films as Times Square Lady and I’ve Been Around, played her mother. Edie would sometimes have convulsions from all the drugs she was taking. The director of the film ordered his assistant: “Tie her down if you have to.”
In July 1971, in white lace, Edie married Michael Post, a student eight years younger, whom she had turned from his vow to remain a virgin until he was 21. Some guests threw confetti; one threw gravel. Edie could not live alone, she said, and would not live with a nurse. Post’s job was to dole out her pills.

*** DEATH

On 14 November, she went to a fashion show where she headed for the cameras like a woman dying of thirst to an oasis. A man she met that evening said she asked to come and see him the next day for a chat, but they would need to have sex first, otherwise she’d be too nervous to talk. The next morning, her husband woke to find her dead beside him. Whether her death was accident or suicide, the coroner was unable to determine.
When Edie first crashed and burned, such stories of a misguided search for freedom and self-expression were rare. By the time she died, they were becoming common. Now, of course, there are too many to count. But the carefree innocence and optimism of the early Edie’s photographs and films still resonate. “She was after life,” said Diana Vreeland, “and sometimes life doesn’t come fast enough.”
 
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s