• Thu, Jun 21 2012

Shelved Dolls: Edie Sedgwick – Was She Practically Retarded?

edie sedgwick

Oh, Edie Sedgwick. Edie Sedgwick has been dead for 40 years, and in spite of that, I feel as protective of her as if she were a kid sister. There are a lot of beautiful doe-eyed women out there who end up lost to drugs (Marilyn Monroe, Billie Holiday, Gia) but Edie somehow seems like the saddest of them all. Maybe because, despite her Vogue photoshoots, and her millions, Edie always did seem like a spunky kid who might have grown up down the street from you, and not, like Marilyn or Gia or Dorothy, a super-talented glamour goddess.

It’s funny, in her New York magazine article, Cat Marnell – who is often grouped with Edie insofar as they were blonde drug addicts who seem destined to die young despite their beauty and talent – talks about Edie. Cat mentioned that Edie was “practically retarded”. I tried to think of any incident I knew about Edie that indicated that she was intelligent, and the best thing I could think of was that, during college (she went to Radcliffe, the Harvard women’s college), it was a thing to be seen reading a “big book” so Edie constantly carried around a copy of A Tale of Two Cities.

She lost the book constantly.

I guess that wasn’t much proof, huh? Well, she had a hard time growing up. Though she came from a prominent family, Edie was kept mostly apart. Her family built their own school on the property, so Edie never had much chance to mingle with other children. Her brother, Minty, with whom Edie was very close committed suicide days before his 25th birthday. Before his death, Minty said that Edie was “the only Sedgwick he could ever hope for.” His words proved all too correct. Edie’s other brother, Bobby, suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to the Manhattan State Hospital. After being released he drove his motorcycle into an oncoming bus.

So, the family members Edie was closest to were dead before she hit 20. In that way, Edie’s childhood is all very Virgin Suicides, except more gruesome and horrible, less fun Sofia Coppola stuff.

Edie herself was institutionalized during her teen years herself for anorexia – at her worst she weighed only 90 pounds. During a leave from the hospital she got pregnant, and had to get an abortion, before returning to Cambridge MA for school.

She made friends at Radcliffe, though it was mostly with an older crowd. Jack Reilly, the bartender at the Casablanca bar in Cambridge remembered Edie constantly begging to be let into the bar, saying that all her friends were in there. He remarked “She wanted to be let in there with her crowd, but she was under 21… she pleaded as if it was everything in life to her. It was very disturbing that anybody would put that much importance on a bar.”

This does not sound like the behavior of the world’s coolest girl. That sounds like the behavior of a puppy dog who really, really wants the other puppy dogs to like them. I’m sorry I started imagining Edie as a tiny defenseless animal, it’s just her eyes were so big. Look!:

And she can finally drink! With her friends!

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  • Denise

    wow, I enjoyed this. thanks!

    • Theodora D. Abazis

      Theodora/Loganville, GA
      The poor girl had no values so to speak of She was a rebel Very confused as to what was proper and what was not proper Her choice of lifestyle and her choice of friends and the mere fact that she also was risque in everything and a narcomaniac makes her to be an undesirable. Her poor family and I feel so sorry for her and her life. RIP Edie … I know someone who I think idolizes you and idolized you who you knew when you were young and he was young. He has your pictures in his website. I feel so sorry for you and very worried if he thinks you were terrific especially since he is a Liberal but rather on the conservative side He probably loved the goodness he saw in you once upon a time, I think your innocence until you threw caution to the wind… Again, RIP and May your memory be eternal …

  • Andrea

    I think it’s safer to say that drugs can make anyone practically retarded

  • Ewa

    I really, really like this series.

  • Sam

    For a second, I got really bummed out that The Gloss had used the word “retarded” derogatorily and I got so sad; then I realized it was actually just quoted from somebody who…totally would use that word.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Me too! I was going to put it in quotes, but then I realized “no, surely if I do not put it in quotes someone will click on this article specifically to be offended by it.”

    • Lisa

      But I didn’t think Marnell meant it derogatorily. I think she meant it literally. It’s not a dirty word if it’s used accurately.

  • Martha Macias

    I love Edie Sedgwick. I was her for Halloween about 6 years ago and I also own a VHS (haha) copy of “Kitchen”. I dont think Edie was retarded. I feel like she was simply a very naive young woman. She lived a pretty sheltered life before going off to college. It’s as simple and as tragic as that.

  • Fabel

    Oh wow, this was informative but so sad!

  • Mike

    I truly question your use of the word retarded. Retarded doesn’t mean stupid unless of course you’re still in middle school. Do you use other slurs? N word? Spic? Kike? Bet not. Yet you think that what people with disabilities have been saying just doesn’t matter. How truly sad.

    • Jennifer Wright

      You did not read this article.

    • Holly J

      Did you read the first page of this article?

  • Holden

    I’m sorry, I must have misread – did pot just seriously call kettle retarded?

    • Holden

      (note: that was referring to Cat Marnell, not you Jennifer. loved the story, just a sad, sad ending.)

  • you suck!

    This is such a sick disgusting article that makes Edie sound like a social-climbing airhead! You obviously haven’t done your research or even listened to her speak!

  • wray serna

    This article is awesome and I ate up every word of it. I love Edie and always have and forever will be obsessed with her story. There is a strong possibility that Edie could possibly be stunted by all of her experiences/traumas/drugs and thus well….kind of retarded. I don’t think it is at all a stretch to suggest. Anyway, again I loved reading this thanks : )

  • Kay

    The “Edie who?” quote was apparently attributed to director paul Morrissey, not Andy. Clip at 1:05

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-lnz2MbPkw&feature=related

  • Holly J

    This was a fantastic article!! I am now going to find more of your work to see if all your stuff is like this. Love Edie. After watching the film Factory Girl I couldn’t think of Andy Warhol the same. Seriously, what a freaking vampire!!!

  • Phil

    I absolutely love Edie Sedgwick; being in my late 40s, and a loner all my life, her story is so like mine; and magically almost as if she was the angel chosen for me by God; even before I was born.

    My mother divorced my father, to move to NYC right around the time Edie Sedgwick, was here; I may of even remembered watching a commercial with Warhol in it, about experimental movies …………, right when I was watching that, my mother was a sort of socialite in her mind dating Ray Corbett, the President of a labor union called the AFL-CIO of New York State.

    My mother was, in a way, a socialite, she had dinner with Corbett, Jimmy Hoffa, met a Rockefeller when he was governor, she also went on a date with Hugh Hefner, whom wanted her to pose for Playboy…..

    My mothers persona, was something I think she learned, from reading fashion magazines.

    I am so like Edie; extremely fragile personality, a loner; but I can be sociable. About, the only thing I don’t have in common with her is I am guy.

    My cat recently died, and I have been in tears for weeks, I don’t do drugs or alcohol anymore; I have not done if for years.

    I even say the same things when I go out to eat here in New York City, asking about the food “is it fresh.”

    When, my cat died it was sort of a tragedy in my mind, because, my mother was so distant, and cruel; my only meaningful companions in life have been pets…. Gods creatures…. but I’m hoping that will change; because of one of Edie Sedgwick’s quotes, I read recently about how she interacts with living objects.

    Reading her story about her, her quotes…. and in fact…all of her quotes are things I would say, or would like to say, about my life.

    I don’t think she is “practically retarded” in any form, in fact , I think she is probably a real angel, and like all angels, are given the gift of intelligence.

    • Karly

      With all due respect, you need some new heroes guy. It sounds like you’re very lost and you really need to find YOURSELF rather than aligning yourself with someone who crashed and burned ages ago. Asking if your food is fresh, is hardly unique, in fact it kindof makes you an insufferable cunt and as a former waitress I can tell you that you aren’t alone in the practice. I’m sorry you’re depressed but it’s very nearly insulting watchign someone try to stroke their ego the way you are. You’re a 40 year old man who has very little in common with a dead woman. The fact that your mother possibly dated a couple of “names” hardly emphasizes any thing you would have had in common with her. I’m sorry if I come off as harsh but I find it disturbing and sad how badly you want to have something in common with her. And lastly, an angel? seriously? She may have been nice, possibly even interesting but when it comes down to it she had little going for her than her physcial appearance , which she squandered. There are people to emulate or idolize that actually did something besides appear in a few so-so films and do so many downers that they’re unrecognizable by the time they are in their early 20s-and I say this as a recovering addict. GOOD luck man.

  • David

    Edie at Radcliffe? You are seriously deficient in the reading-the-Stein-Plmpton-1982-Edie-biography-department before you sit down with a quill of attitude to write informed opinions about Edie Sedgwick and what her life was about. Correction: Edie never went to Radcliffe or any college or Universtity. She was basically home-schooled save a year at St Tomthy’s and a brief semester or two at a boarding school in SF. Edie was sent to Cambridge to study sculpture (emulating her dad, Francis Minturn “Fuzzy” Sedgwick) privately, with a distant cousin, the sculptress Lily Saarinen. The obvious subtext was, in addition to advanced art lessons, to nail a proper Harvard match. Check photos her pert Edie with Bartle Bull in the book Edie: Girl On Fire (2006) to get the picture. Sadly my dear, you’ve missed the perennially evasive Miss S by a kilometer or two. That’s why people keep aiming clueless potshots at her 40 years later. She was a hard lady to figure out, especially when she was at her prime. At which time she had other books (beside Tale Of Two Cities) she carried around btw. All of which she read. Some of which she memorized and could quote to impress the greek scholars amongst her erudite circle. In other words, yeah she was that smart, she could do any magic trick you wanted. Hard act to follow and she did pull it off – and in so doing she never tripped once; until the time came when she did nothing but trip. Even that was a high wire act that dazzled those below who followed in her wake. Believe me, I know.

    • TheIcePrincess

      Oh yay, a self proclaimed Edie expert.

      Every person who knew Edie had a different view of her. She was undoubtedly intelligent but to claim she was well read is laughable. Most people who knew her agree that she was not intellectual and she rarely read, let along memorized, a book. She did, in fact, carry books around because others did. In the Edie biography by Jean Stein (which is where all of this information is culled), Ed H. said she didn’t even get past the first sentence of A Tale of Two Cities. Where you’re pulling this quote business crap is beyond me. Ed H. stated in the Edie bio that her group of Cambridge friends liked her because she was charming, beautiful, and rich – no where did any of her Cambridge friends say that they were impressed with her encyclopedic knowledge of anything. She had none. In fact, I think the only Greek Edie likely knew was Greek salad dressing or perhaps Greek food. That’s the truth and I think Edie would have been the first to agree.

      As intelligent as she was, she was also quite stupid and weak. Letting the tide sweep you away isn’t an intelligent choice. For the most part, she chose to succumb to the bad things in life instead of working against them. She chose to not take advantage of the numerous gifts and opportunities she had. She chose to not work at anything in life and she also chose to take the easy way out by escaping from reality with drugs. That doesn’t mean she was terrible or unworthy of our attention or empathy (well, those of us who possess such emotions), but let’s not make her out to be some beacon of intelligence and power because she wasn’t. She also wasn’t a complete and utter waste of space – like all human beings, she complex and complicated.

      And really, the Radcliffe thing is a common mistake. People see she went to school in Boston, hung with Harvard boys and assume she went to Radcliffe. The Edie bio is quite sparse with those details so people connect the dots. You could have pointed that mistake out without being such a dick about it. I guess being a non-dick would have made the rest of your condescending post moot however which would have spoiled your lovely “I’m a self proclaimed Edie expert and you’re not” tone. Pity.

  • Kayte CookWatts

    Beautiful article,thanks.

  • Nessy

    1. Shelved Dolls is one of my favorite series running.
    2. There is not much in the way of reading comprehension left in this world.

  • Juli

    What a fantastic article, as well as the follow up comments!

  • H.

    Interesting article, but I still don’t know WHY you “love her so much”.
    I mean, it’s not self-evident.

    She had an unhappy childhood? Tough. Many do. In fact, I’d say that people with happy childhoods are a minority. A very minor one.
    At least she had the money to indulge herself. She could have helped others, too. It’s not her duty, but it would have been love-able.

    And she was feeding drugs to her maid?
    No comment on that?
    Wow.

  • BTW

    Love these thoughtful, well written articles.

  • sarah

    people need to wake up and stop idolising and feeling sorry for drug addicts. Regardless of her bad childhood, let’s be serious. How many girls don’t have a miserable childhood and yet they are able to discern right from wrong once they grow up. No one forced drugs on Edie, she chose that lifestyle. she did it to herself. now stop feeling sorry for all of these stupid women who did nothing but spend money and snort cocaine

    • TheIcePrincess

      Ten months or no, I felt compelled to create an account just to comment on this phony moralizing post.

      First, do you see anyone here – the author OR commenters – saying that they idolize Edie? Bear in mind, there’s a vast difference between liking someone’s fashion sense, being interested in their life (for whatever reason) and idolizing a person. Do you see any of that going on here? Do you see anyone here saying that Edie was “forced” to take drugs because her of terrible childhood? Do you even see anyone here saying that Edie is some sort of role model? If you don’t (and I know you didn’t because there are no comments like this here or made by the author), keep you “wake up and stop doing X because I don’t like it” bullshit to yourself. Yes, it’s bullshit. Pure and utter.

      It is possible to learn about someone’s life and even admire some of their qualities (be they superficial by your standards or not) in spite of the fact that the person has other qualities that are less than favorable. You seem to hold the view that if a person is an addict, (s)he is a complete throwaway because of that virtue and no one anywhere should like, feel compassion or even pay attention to that person. Wow, that’s a hell of a lot of empathy you have there. Thank goodness you’re around to tell the rest of us what we should think and do. You’re obviously the epitome of a well rounded, thoughtful and intelligent person who advice should be heeded.

      In the future, be aware that most people who read this site and/or comment on stories that are written for adults are ADULTS. None of us need or particularly want some anonymous asshole telling us whom we should or should not like or “feel sorry for”. Just like it’s your choice to be an asshole, it’s OUR choice to think what we want.

      Oh, and Edie’s drug of choice was speed, not cocaine. And yes, you’re still an asshole.

  • Kelly

    I am the same way. I have been utterly fascinated by her since the first time I read “Edie: An American Girl”. I thought then and still think to this day she is one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen – I am a woman and if I could look like anyone I chose, it would be Edie Sedgwick. My reasons for “loving her so much” are no doubt the same reasons anyone has for their own icons/idols and have nothing to do with feeling sorry for her or her “tough childhood”, although I have no doubt her that her upbringing contributed immensely to her fragile sense of self-worth. I don’t know “why” I love Edie other than the fact that her story only affected me deeply on a personal level, despite the fact that I never knew her. Presumably the same reason “why” anyone “loves” a celebrity figure.

  • lame article

    your use of the word “retarded” comes across as extremely hateful and bigoted. there is nothing wrong or shameful about mental impairment, and whether your realize it or not, your use of this hateful word encourages that misconception. either change the title, or, when you’re done sharing half-baked and irresponsible research, go trip up a “cripple” or lead a blind man into a wall.
    and your treatment of poor Edie could use some serious compassion (there is a hint of jealousy throughout this whole mess which is so typical of underachievers who idolize but secretly hate successful women)

  • not impressed

    Oh, I see, you think you’re being “clever” by quoting someone who uses “that word.” no. sorry. that doesn’t hold water. you’re still entertaining the concept: you engage with it throughout the article without challenging or refuting it (you only refute the idea that Edie belongs to this category) even worse, you exploit the term as a headline. shame on you.

  • Nobody Special

    Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it. I’m far from an expert on her, but instinctively I feel the way you do: she was young, give her a break. I hate people who think being judgmental and unsympathetic makes them sound tough. There’s a reason “young and foolish” is such a common expression, people do dumb things when they’re young (the frontal lobe doesn’t stop developing until you’re 25), especially when they’re unhappy, low on self-esteem, desperate for approval, looking for a father figure, etc. By all accounts she had lousy parents, she was both spoiled and abused, no wonder she was messed up. Girls don’t develop eating disorders because they’re happy and feel wonderful about themselves. I wish I could go back in time and convince her to get her shit together and become a badass, award-winning actress with a long career.