Pop Culture
10:04 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

'Baby Jane' Holzer's Flight From High Society To Warhol Superstar

Originally published on Wed May 7, 2014 11:21 am

In the mid-1960s, society was changing; shaking off old ideas and trying on new ones for size. There were changes on the political front, like the civil rights movement and the looming war in Vietnam, as well as on the cultural front, with new celebrities popping up on TV every night.

One of those celebrities was "Baby Jane" Holzer, who in the '60s was bigger than Paris Hilton, had far more elegance than Kim Kardashian and was on tons of magazine covers. Vogue editor Diana Vreeland called her "the most contemporary girl I know."

Nicky Haslam, the British interior designer, was doing the layout for Vogue when he met Holzer in New York.

"She had that mane of glorious hair ... and she made me laugh so much," Haslam says. "We became firm friends and then I introduced Andy to her."

That was Andy Warhol, the outsider-as-insider artist with a silver wig and sunglasses, who was puzzling people with his ideas about what was art.

"Andy was actually mesmerized by Jane," Haslam says. "It was a great bond made in heaven, or made in Chanel. He pretty soon asked her to make her one of his superstars."

Life With Andy

Holzer had been modeling in England and Paris since she was a teenager, and much-photographed though she was, she was still living a pretty traditional life as young society wife in 1964, when she met Andy Warhol.

"The first thing Andy said was: 'Do you want to be in the movies?'" Holzer says. "And my thoughts were, 'Well it beats the s - - - out of shopping at Bloomingdales every day.'"

To Andy, Holzer epitomized Park Avenue and haute couture. She was high society, yet she had edge. Profiling her for New York Magazine, author Tom Wolfe wrote an essay about Holzer called "The Girl of the Year." In his rippling stream-of-consciousness style, he begins on the night the Rolling Stones first played the Academy of Music in New York:

"The show hasn't even started yet, the Rolling Stones aren't even on the stage, the place is full of great shabby mouldering dimness, and these flaming little buds.

Girls are reeling this way and that way in the aisle and through their huge black decal eyes, sagging with Tiger Tongue Lick Me brush-on eyelashes and black appliqués, sagging like display window Christmas trees, they keep staring at — her — Baby Jane — on the aisle."

Wolfe says the idea of the girl of the year was part of a whole change that was taking place in the mid-'60s. Some of that change was due to the post-war economic boom, and with that freedom came an itch for everything that was new.

"Suddenly high art become very boring, such as grand opera and things of that sort," Wolfe says. "Andy Warhol used to like to take the old virtues and turn them upside down, [and] somebody like Jane Holzer is a perfect example in the area of society with a capital 'S.'

"She was a lovely young woman, but her loveliness came from excitement rather than perfect features or things of that sort. She thrived on excitement, she loved excitement and that just happened to fit the tenor of the age."

Holzer's family had made its money in Florida real estate, a lot of it in West Palm Beach and Miami. But Holzer was a restless young woman who wanted her own place in the world.

"I flunked out of college on purpose to become a model," she says. "I wouldn't recommend that today to anybody."

Holzer and Warhol, the top model with the world-class wardrobe and the former fashion illustrator from Pittsburgh. Their friendship was born in a time of generosity and optimism, when Warhol started making movies.

"We were having fun ... I was showing up to be in his screen tests and we would go out to lots of parties," she says. "I totally trusted him ... there was no reason not to."

Warhol And The Art World

Warhol had grown up with immigrant parents who barely eked out a living. He liked money and Jane knew a lot of people who had it; from Rockefellers to Rothschilds.

Former Interview Magazine Editor Bob Colacello, who wrote a memoir of Andy Warhol called Holy Terror, says Warhol really never left the world of fashion. He was far more comfortable there than in the art world. Warhol's paintings of popular culture — everyday objects like Campbell's Soup cans, dollar bills and Brillo boxes — provoked hostility from the abstract artists who were on top of the art world heap.

"[Artists] Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg kind of looked their noses down at Andy," Colacello says. "People in the serious art world in this country in America would dismiss Andy as basically a glorified fashion illustrator who was turning photographs into silkscreen paintings that didn't have that much painting in them."

But still, everything was possible then. Society was opening up and Warhol and Holzer embraced and embodied that. And Warhol wanted everyone to have their 15 minutes of fame. At one point, he declared he wasn't going to paint any more and would just make movies.

"Movies were being made constantly and almost like a reality TV way," Colacello says. "Some of the young beautiful girls who were in these movies, Andy would call them girl of the year or superstars. ... Some of the superstars were from wealthy families, they were essentially socialites gone wrong. Jane Holzer was probably the most normal."

In one of Warhol's short films, called Screen Test, Holzer brushes her teeth for three-and-a-half minutes. Warhol didn't want her to blink.

"Not blinking for three minutes was hard," Holzer says.

Stepping Away From Warhol's World

But by 1966, Holzer was withdrawing from Warhol's world. "There were a lot of very unsettling people around Andy, there just were too many," she says.

One of those unsettling people was a woman named Valerie Solanas. Solanas had quarreled with people at Warhol's studio, the Factory, over a film script she'd written. On June 3, 1968, she came to the Factory and shot him. Warhol nearly died, and after that he moved the factory and installed bulletproof doors and security cameras.

"After he got shot, it was business, business, business," Holzer says.

It was business; Warhol's prices and recognition soared. He was on his way to becoming one of the most important artists of the 20th century. The 32 Campbell's Soup can paintings, which the Museum of Modern Art had once refused to hang, were purchased by MOMA for $15 million in 1996.

Holzer is now a leading collector of modern art and a real estate mogul. She lives in a six-story townhouse in New York, amid her collection of Warhol and his contemporaries, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.

And then there are her clothes. Though she's given a lot away or donated them to museums, she still has some fabulous things, like a zebra coat she wore when Warhol photographed her in front of prints of most-wanted men.

Every time Holzer gives an interview about her friend, she recalls his humanity. She's helping the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh curate its 20th anniversary in May, and she's pushing a real estate deal downtown which will have the first Warhol Museum in New York.

What would Andy Warhol say if he could see "Baby Jane" Holzer today?

"I think Andy would love the fact that Jane Holzer has evolved into a very important collector, has this fabulous house filled with some of the most important and interesting contemporary artists," Colacello says.

Holzer — still with a brilliant smile and blond mane — is herself the subject of a new show at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. It's called "To Jane, Love Andy," and it runs through May. It's a tribute to her and the man who made her his superstar.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is about a moment in time, the mid-1960s, when society was changing, shaking off old ideas and trying on new ones for size. There were changes on the political front: the civil rights movements, the looming war in Vietnam. And on the cultural front, new celebrities were popping up and you could turn on your TV every night to see them. There you could meet Baby Jane Holzer on "Hullabaloo."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYDEN: Holzer's wearing ankle-length bellbottoms and go-go boots. She sways from side to side, barely moving her lips while a male dancer crawls down the runway in front of her like a panther. It's pretty groovy.

JANE HOLZER: (Singing) I love you, just you, it's true, ooh, true...

LYDEN: In the mid-1960s, Jane Holzer was bigger than Paris Hilton, had far more elegance than Kim Kardashian and was on tons of magazine covers. Vogue editor Diana Vreeland called her the most contemporary girl I know. The British interior designer then doing the layout for Vogue, Nicky Haslam, met Jane in New York.

NICKY HASLAM: Well, she had the most wonderful figure and, of course, that mane of glorious hair. I first ever saw her, she was covered in Chanel from head to toe with all the necklaces and shoes and bag and everything. It was in Bonwit Teller. And I said what on Earth is that? And she just said (unintelligible) so much, Jane. She's so giggly and upfront and fun. And then I introduced Andy to her.

LYDEN: Andy Warhol. The outsider-as-insider artist with a silver wig and sunglasses, who was puzzling people with his ideas about what art was. Jane had been modeling in England and Paris since she was a teenager, and much-photographed though she was, she was still living a pretty traditional life as a young society wife in 1964 when she met Andy.

HASLAM: Andy was actually mesmerized by Jane immediately. And you could see it was a great bond made in heaven really, or made in Chanel. He pretty soon asked to start making one of his superstars.

JANE HOLZER: The first thing Andy said is: Do you want to be in the movies? My thoughts, not my words, were gosh, it beats the shopping at Bloomingdales every day.

LYDEN: To Andy Warhol, Jane Holzer epitomized Park Avenue and haute couture. She was high society, yet she had edge.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

THE ROLLING STONES: (Singing) (Unintelligible) that late last night. Got everything a girl (unintelligible)...

LYDEN: Profiling her for New York Magazine, author Tom Wolfe wrote an essay about Holzer called "The Girl of the Year." In his rippling stream-of-consciousness style, Wolfe begins on the night the Rolling Stones first played the Academy of Music in New York.

TOM WOLFE: (Reading) Aren't they super-marvelous, says Baby Jane, and then, hi, Isabel, Isabel, you want to sit backstage with the Stones? Girls are reeling this way and that way in the aisle. And through their huge, black decal eyes, sagging with Tiger Tongue Lick Me brush-on eyelashes and black appliques, sagging like display window Christmas trees, they keep staring at her, Baby Jane, on the aisle. What the hell is this? She is gorgeous in the most outrageous way. Her hair rises up from her head in a huge, hairy corona, a huge tan mane around a narrow face had two eyes opened, swat like umbrellas with all that hair flowing down over a coat made of zebras.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WOLFE: The idea of the girl of the year was part of a whole change that was taking place in the mid-'60s.

LYDEN: Tom Wolfe says some of that change was due to the booming economy of the time.

WOLFE: It was the first period following the Great Depression in which people felt, gee, there's enough money around that we don't have to worry about not spending.

LYDEN: And with that freedom came an itch for everything that was new.

WOLFE: Suddenly high art become very boring, such as grand opera and things of that sort. Andy Warhol used to like to take the old virtues and turn them upside down, and somebody like Jane Holzer is a perfect example in the area of society with a capital S. She was a lovely young woman, but her loveliness came from excitement. She thrived on excitement, she loved excitement and that just happened to fit the tenor of the age.

LYDEN: Holzer's family had made its money in real estate - Florida real estate, lots of it - West Palm Beach, Miami. But Jane Holzer was a restless young woman who wanted her own place in the world.

HOLZER: I flunked out of college on purpose to become a model. I wouldn't recommend that today to anybody.

LYDEN: Andy Warhol had grown up with immigrant parents who barely eked out a living. He liked money. Jane knew a lot of people who had it; from Rockefellers to Rothschilds. They went to balls with crazy themes, like the surrealism ball.

HOLZER: I went with my head inside of a shark's tooth.

LYDEN: Former Interview Magazine Editor Bob Colacello, whose memoir of Andy is called "Holy Terror," says Warhol really never left the world of fashion. He was far more comfortable there than in the art world. Warhol's paintings of popular culture - everyday objects like Campbell's Soup cans, dollar bills, Brillo boxes - provoked hostility from the abstractionists who were on top of the art world heap.

BOB COLACELLO: Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg kind of looked their noses down at Andy. People in the serious art world in this country in America would dismiss Andy as basically a glorified fashion illustrator who was turning photographs into silkscreen paintings that didn't have that much painting in them.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DANCING IN THE STREET")

MARTHA AND THE VANDELLAS: (Singing) All we need is music, sweet music, there'll be music everywhere. There'll be swingers swaying and records playing, dancing in the street, oh...

LYDEN: But still, everything was possible then. Society was opening up and Warhol and Holzer embraced and embodied that.

COLACELLO: The '60s was a time of great cultural revolution and sexual revolution. When Society, with a capital S, became much more democratic and open - gay, straight, black, white, uptown, downtown - there was a much more conscious will to have fun, which started in the '60s and just mixed and mingle.

LYDEN: In all that comingling, Colacello calls Warhol a religious artist for a secular time, hence the silk screens of Liz, Marilyn, Mano, secular saints. And Warhol wanted everyone to have their 15 minutes of fame.

COLACELLO: Andy had this incredible curiosity about people, all sorts of people. If Andy could have tape recorded and interviewed every single person he met, every single person in the world, he would have. He had this omnivorous need to record his times.

LYDEN: Andy Warhol's studio is painted silver on the inside and famously called the Factory. At one point, he declared he wasn't going to paint anymore and would just make movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLACELLO: Movies were being made constantly, I mean, and almost like a reality TV way. Some of the young beautiful girls who were in these movies, Andy would call the girl of the year or superstars. And some of the superstars were from wealthy families, they were essentially socialites gone wrong. Jane Holzer was probably the most normal.

LYDEN: In one of Warhol's short films called "Screen Test," Holzer brushes her teeth for three-and-a-half minutes. Warhol didn't want her to blink.

HOLZER: Not blinking for three minutes was hard.

LYDEN: But by 1966, Jane Holzer was withdrawing from Warhol's world at The Factory.

HOLZER: There were a lot of very unsettling people around Andy. They just were too many.

LYDEN: One of those unsettling people was a woman named Valerie Solanas. Solanas had quarreled with people at the Factory over a film script she'd written. On June 3rd of 1968, she came to the Factory and shot him. Warhol nearly died. After that, he moved the factory and installed bulletproof doors and security cameras.

HOLZER: Oh, my gosh. After he got shot in the Factory, it was business, business, business.

LYDEN: It was business; Andy Warhol's prices and recognition soared. He was on his way to becoming one of the most important artists of the 20th century. The 32 Campbell's Soup can paintings, which the Museum of Modern Art had once refused to hang, were purchased by MOMA later for $15 million. Jane Holzer is now a leading collector of modern art and she's a real estate mogul. She lives in a six-story townhouse in New York, amid her collection of Warhol and his contemporaries, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. And then there are her clothes. Though she's given a lot away or donated them to major museums, she still has some fabulous things.

HOLZER: Andy actually photographed me in this coat with black jeans and boots in front of the most wanted men.

LYDEN: You mean down at the post office?

HOLZER: No. Andy actually did screen prints of the most wanted men in some of the group of things that he did. And this coat, it's zebra.

LYDEN: Every time she gives an interview about her friend, she recalls his humanity. She's supporting the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh's 20th anniversary gala in May. She's pushing a real estate deal downtown, which will have the first Warhol Museum in New York. What would Andy Warhol say if he could see "Baby Jane" Holzer five decades on? Bob Colacello.

COLACELLO: I think Andy would love the fact that Jane Holzer has evolved into a very important collector, has this fabulous house filled with some of the most important and interesting contemporary artists. He would just say, oh, Jane's really up there now, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLZER: (Singing) I love you, just you, it's true, ooh, true. But how much more do...

LYDEN: And Holzer herself, still with a brilliant smile and blond mane, is the subject of a new show at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. It's called "To Jane, Love Andy," and it runs through May. It's a tribute to her and the man who made her his superstar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOLZER: (Singing) Oh boy, you know you're gonna hurt yourself, yeah. You know you're gonna hurt yourself...

LYDEN: And to see a video of Andy Warhol's first superstar, go to npr.org. We've posted Warhol's short film of "Baby Jane" Holzer brushing her teeth for three and a half minutes, but doesn't feel all that short, but you don't have to watch it all. While you're there, check out our coverage of the South by Southwest Music Festival. You can listen to the performances by some of the best artists there at npr.org/Music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.