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!:
Since she couldn’t get into bars for a long time, she took all her friends out to lunches at The Ritz.
Her friend Ed Hennessy (who also stated that the reason he and Edie became friends was that they “never read newspapers, ever” – unless their names were in them, or their mother’s) remembers going with her to the Ritz once and her inviting people from other tables over. At one point she got a senator over, who got them all champagne. Then the bill came, and it was for $250, which was quite a lot in the early 60’s. Edie tipped 100%.
Ed said, “the next day, I realized that Edie really didn’t know what a tip should be. Probably it had never come up in her life before. She thought 100% was about right. I chatted with her about it the next day. “Edie, did you really mean to leave all that?I mean, did you like them so much you wanted sort of to go overboard?” She said she didn’t. I don’t think she knew.”
She did, however, sometimes like to stand up on the table at the Ritz and sing her favorite Rogers & Hart songs, so that was something she knew how to do.
She also stole their silverware.
Oh, I just like Edie so much.
Would you like to know what she and Ed looked like? This is what they looked like:
After Cambridge, Edie moved to New York to try modeling. She applied to be Miss Teenager in a teen magazine, and they accepted her with great enthusiasm, until they found out she was no longer a teenager. So, she lived in her Grandmother’s apartment on 71st and Park and she began to seriously spend her inheritance.
She became immersed in the world of nightlife, and she soon met Bob Dylan and his friend Bob Neuwirth.
Neuwirth said “Edie went through limousine companies the way people go through cigarettes. She never paid her bills, so the limousine people would shut off her credit, and she’d switch to another company. The drivers loved her madly, because she’d dole out these twenty-five and thirty-five dollar tips….”
It’s worth pointing out that Edie was a terrible driver, who smashed up cars left and right, so I think this was really responsible of her, and not practically retarded at all. Except for the part about not paying her bills. She should have done that. There’s a wonderful picture of her at Ondine dancing the twist, even though she had just crushed her knee in a car accident and was wearing a cast.
Neuwirth continues, “She had an ability to relate on all levels, with chauffeurs and ranch hands… yet at the same time, because of that upbringing of hers, rejecting anything less than numero uno. She would order fish and invariably ask the waiter “is this fish fresh?” Of course, in New York, there’s hardly any fresh fish, but whether it was a sleazy little downtown restaurant or Le Pavillion she would invariably ask that question. “Is this fish fresh?” And invariably the waiter would say “Of course it is, Mademoiselle.”When the fish arrived from the kitchen Edie would test it with her fork and say, “I’m sorry, but this fish is not fresh. Please take it back.” It was so crazy because she’d do this in these pop places where the fish was obviously fish cakes… she could do this sort of thing without really pushing it. It’s something you learn very early to be able to get away with – a real patrician royalty trip. People would knock themselves out to do what she asked. She was being really ungracious, but she was graceful about it. Waiters would see to it about the fish.”
I think about this every single time I eat fish in New York. I somehow feel that Edie Sedgwick is single handedly responsible for all the good fresh fish in Manhattan. Because somebody saw to it as a result of her.
And then she met Andy.
Almost immediately, Andy decided to put her in his movies. He also decided she was going to be really, really famous. And Edie took to him immediately. Why? Other than the fact that he was a famous artist and at the epicenter of a kind of nightlife?
Truman Capote once described Andy as someone who was “very, very good at getting other people to do things for him.” I suppose Edie and he had that in common.
People wanted to do things for him. It’s hard to say why – he wasn’t terribly witty or glamorous himself, he was the pockmarked son of a coal miner with a severe skin condition. But they did and, debatably, Andy really took advantage of that. I mean, it’s somewhat ridiculous that Truman Capote was judging Andy Warhol for that, but, unlike Truman, who also cozied up to all number of famous people, betrayed them, and died reciting Babe Paley’s name, Andy didn’t seem to particularly like any of his friends.
Though Andy did seem to feel something for Edie. Truman – Truman is always a player in these shelved dolls stories, I sometimes think he is their nucleus – anyhow, Truman said “Andy Warhol would like to have been Edie Sedgwick. He would like to have been a charming, well born debutante from Boston. He would like to have been anybody except Andy Warhol.”
Edie first appeared in his movie Horse, shortly after which Andy decided she was going to be the queen of the factory. He told his scriptwriter to write a script especially for her. “Something in a kitchen. White and clean and plastic.”
Maybe, considering Edie’s difficulties with food, that was a kind of cruel joke, or maybe Andy was trying to recontexualize kitchens for her in some beautiful gesture, or maybe he was just practically retarded himself. You never really know with Andy. Maybe he just loved things that were clean and white and plastic.
The result was Kitchen, after which she went on to star in Beauty no. 2. Her appearances in this films meant she was likened to Marilyn Monroe.
Her career took off.
Edie wasn’t some little brunette debutante anymore, she was now the queen of Warhol’s underground scene. And she was an It Girl! She was in Vogue! Diana Vreeland, the famous Vogue editor, loved her. Look at how amazing she looks in Vogue!
She was 22. Life magazine said she was “doing more for black tights than anybody since Hamlet.” Andy Warhol’s factory revolved around her. And there were a lot of drugs at the factory. In the tapes for Ciao Manhattan, Edie said that she thought that drugs were like strawberries, which I guess is apt and comparable if you like strawberries and live in a strawberry field.
She started to feed them to her maid, Genevive, who recalled that “my first image of the day was this little voice saying “Genevive, here’s your breakfast.” I’d look up and see Edie with her hair all upside down, in a dirty negligee, with that funny little bird walk, holding a tray with an impeccable breakfast on it… and a little pill on it, right next to the coffee and the orange juice, so you’d be sure to get it right away.
Andy Warhol, who, interestingly, never did drugs himself was somewhat indignant. He claimed “Whatever anyone may have thought, the truth is I never gave Edie a drug, ever. Not even one diet pill. Nothing. She certainly was taking a lot of amphetamine and downs, but she certainly wasn’t getting them from me. She was getting them from that doctor who was shooting up every Society lady in town.”
As she became more and more noticeably messy – Edie started being on everything, pretty much all the time – Vogue turned its back on her. Gloria Schiff, a senior editor at the magazine said “She was identified by the gossip columnists with the drug scene, and back then there was a certain apprehension about being involved with that scene… drugs had done so much damage to young, creative, brilliant people that we were just anti that scene as a policy. Not that we weren’t sympathetic… God!”
So did Andy Warhol and the other members of his factory. In a particularly cruel move they just plain replaced her. Rene Ricard said, “The Warhol people felt Edie was giving them trouble… They were furious with her because she wasn’t cooperating. So they went to a 42nd Street bar and found Ingrid Von Scheflin. They had noticed: ‘Doesn’t this girl look like an ugly Edie? Let’s teach Edie a lesson. Let’s make a movie with her and tell Edie she’s the big new star.’ They cut her hair like Edie’s. They made her up like Edie. Her name became Ingrid Superstar… just an invention to make Edie feel horrible.”
I mean, presumably it did make Edie feel horrible.
And then things got worse.
I really hate this part of the story.
By her mid-twenties, Edie was completely ravaged by her drug use. Her friend Bobby Andersen recalls that “Edith took so many! That’s why she had so many fires, because she was in such a barbiturate fog that it would cause a roller-coaster reaction and eventually she would nod off with cigarettes… it was incredible how fast she could set a bed on fire with a cigarette.”
She burnt her apartment down.
She started overdosing.
Finally, after one major overdose she was committed to the Manhattan State Hospital (the same one her brother Bobby had been in) her brother Jonathan came to get her. He said, “She couldn’t walk. She’d just fall over… like she had no motor control left at all. The doctor did a dye test of some sort and it showed the blood wasn’t reaching certain parts of the brain. She couldn’t talk. I’d say, “Edie, goddamn it, get your head together… She’d say, ‘I… I… I… know… know… know… I… I… can but it’s ha… ha… hard…’ ”
She fell in with a group of bikers afterwards, one of whom said, “She’d say her parents were so fantastically upper-class… she was condescending. It was really ludicrous, because she’d ball half the dudes in town for a snort of junk.”
She started getting shock treatments. The exact number is unknown, but it’s estimated to be around 20. Her friend Nan recalls visiting her afterwards and helping her do thing like sew buttons onto her clothes. Nan notes:
“Every now and then she’d stop and ask, “Is this right?”
I’d say, “of course it’s right, look at it!”
“I don’t know how to tie a knot.”
I said, “Edie, tie a knot, man. You know how to tie a knot.”
She’d do it… very proud… very proud of that button.
She got married, though, shortly afterwards, to a devoted 20 year old man named Michael Post who she called “Daddy”. By his account she “always seemed kind of disgusted” around him. He notes that after they were married “she stayed in bed a lot of the time and I read children’s books to her – Winnie the Pooh.”
And maybe she should have known better. Maybe she was, as Cat mentioned, practically retarded, but I mostly think maybe she was just very, very young. And this, was, after all, before Edie Sedgwick, so parents could not tell their children “look what happened to Edie.”
The last night of her life she attended a fashion show that filmed on This American Life, which is commonly thought of as the first reality show. Afterwards she went to a party, from which Michael picked her up. It was their first anniversary. Then she went home, took her medication, and suffocated in her sleep.
When Andy heard that Edie was dead, reportedly the first thing he said was “Edie who?”
Bruce Williamson said that “I went to see Brigid Berlin… Brigid played a tape for me on which she phoned Andy to tell him about Edie’s death… Brigid told Andy that Edie had suffocated, and Andy asked “when?” not sounding particularly surprised or shaken. But then, that’s Andy. Brigid pointed out to him that Edie hadn’t died of drugs, she had suffocated in her sleep. And Andy asked how she could do a thing like that. Brigid didn’t know. Then Andy asked whether he would inherit all the money? (I took he as a reference to Edie’s young husband at the time of Edie’s death.) Brigid said that Edie didn’t have any money. Then, after a pause, Andy continued with something like “well, what have you been doing?” Then Brigid started talking about going to the dentist.”
I love Andy Warhol’s paintings, and I really think he ushered in the 21st century, but I can never come close to forgiving him for this.
Well, poor Edie, poor Edie. She was such a lovely kid. I don’t think she was practically retarded, but I don’t think you an say anyone that young was practically retarded.
All others via “Edie an American Biography”