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Interview with Laura Rubin
by Gary Comenas (2005)

Laura Rubin

Laura Rubin (1967)

Laura Rubin's photographs of Candy Darling, Holly Woodlawn and other Warhol stars have been widely exhibited and reproduced in books on the era, including My Face for the World to See: the Diaries, Letters and Drawings of Candy Darling and Holly Woodlawn's autobiography, A Low Life in High Heels. Her work can be seen/ordered at: http://laurarubinphotography.com. For "commercial purposes" all inquiries should go the Artists Rights Society. (http://www.arsny.com) Laura Rubin's photos have the certificate of registration under the seal of the U.S. Copyright Office (effective date 3/07, registration #720-379).

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GARY:

Hi Laura, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions. First question: Where were you born and raised and how did you come to live in New York? What part of New York did you live in? When did you start doing photography and who was the first Warhol star that you met in New York? How did that meeting come about? Did you ever meet Andy Warhol? Where, when and why? What was your first impression of him?

LAURA:

This is like 10 questions. I was born in New York - that's how I came to live in New York.

GARY:

Where did you grow up?

LAURA:

I grew up in Brooklyn - a place where many superstars are from. I lived in Midwood - Woody Allen's house was behind mine - his real name was Allen Konigberg. I studied at the Art Students League on West 57th Street. I went there in the late afternoons when my last class in high school was finished, or saturday morning. I took the BMT train and attended the School of Visual Arts after high school. I lived in Manhattan after Brooklyn - all over - from the upper east side to the east village - from the upper west side to the west village.

GARY:

When did you actually start photographing the superstars?

LAURA:

I never set out to photograph "superstars." Now I wish I had. I had no idea Mario Montez was an early Warhol star - who knew? Penny Arcade hadn't yet done films for Andy. These were people I met at La Mama. Geraldine [Smith], and Andrea [Feldman] were friends from years before. Candy came about through Jeremiah, by chance. My body of work was about the New York underground and anyone else I found interesting. I was a student when I did this work - and it turned out that many of the portraits were of Warhol's "superstars." I did my website under the heading of "Andy Warhol Superstars." I put up the photos I knew would sell - Candy always sells - it's a given. The close-up head shots are the most popular. We also did postcards and magnets for the Warhol Store.

GARY:

Who was the first Warhol star you met?

LAURA:

Do you mean who was the first Warhol star I met who actually was a superstar at the time? Or who did I ride the trains with? Your question sounds like it comes from an out-of-towner.

GARY:

Well, I guess I am an out-of-towner. I live in London.

LAURA:

I meant that a Warhol star was another person with another name before they became a "superstar." A lot were from Brooklyn - so I knew them before this "super" business. I mean an out-of-towner would not see that if you grow up someplace you see it differently.

GARY:

OK. Well, who was the first superstar you met who either was or wasn't a superstar at the time?

LAURA:

Actually, the first Warhol star I met was Gerard Malanga.

GARY:

Where did you meet him?

LAURA:

At the Paradox Restaurant on East 7th Street in the East Village. It was like the Spring of 1966. I also remember meeting Vincent Fremont at the Paradox.

GARY:

What was the Paradox?

LAURA:

The Paradox was the first Zen macrobiotic restaurant in New York. I remember entering and seeing a little structure built in the middle of the room. I don't remember if it was wood, but inside there were big black cloth bags on the floor. You were supposed to climb in the bag and close the top. The installation was called STONE. The artist was there. Her name was Yoko Ono. This was, I think, in 1965.

GARY:

Did any other artists hang out there?

LAURA:

The Paradox was not an artist's hangout really. It was in the middle of the East Village so a lot of different people would go there - hippies, weird people, some art types, and neighborhood people. I think Gerard was sitting alone. He saw me sitting nearby, introduced himself, said he remembered me from Izzy Young's Folklore Center. I asked him about painting and when did he start working for Andy. Gerard took my phone number and called me at home in Brooklyn a few days later. I was really embarrassed as my mother answered the phone. No one lived with their mother - except Andy. Gerard was in Cambridge but would be back on the weekend - would I be at the Dom? I showed up and saw the show, but declined his after-hours invitation. No, we didn't remain friends. We were never friends - although he did say hello to me at the Warhol Circle show at Audart in 1997.

GARY:

When did you first meet Candy Darling?

LAURA:

I first saw Candy in the West Village as a boy. I was walking with some gay boys and she passed us. They said "hello" and then they said "that's Candy Darling." I think it must have been the mid 1960s. I can't remember exactly who I was with. Then Jeremiah Newton asked me if i would shoot him and Candy whoever - I had forgotten who it was! It was 1971 - I was living in a loft across from the Chelsea Hotel - upstairs from a black beauty parlour, downstairs from photographer Peter Hujar. It was there that I got the telephone call from Jeremiah Newton. Never one to turn down a photo opportunity, I instructed them to bring 2 evening gowns - and a big make-up bag. We took the subway to Brighton Beach.

Candy Darling

Candy on the Rocks (#2)
(Photo: Laura Rubin)

GARY:

What was it like shooting on the beach?

LAURA:

The first time I went to see the beach while Candy changed but we couldn't find each other. By the time we met up, it was already too dark to shoot. So we all went back to the city.

The second time, I sat in the Jewish deli while Candy changed and put on her make-up. We walked to the beach and did the shoot. It was cold but Candy was a professional. She nearly froze in the gowns. She was very creative with lots of ideas. We were really good together. Despite the cold, the wind, we did those beautiful photographs. She wanted to do a lot more work with me in color. I didn't do it, but I wish I had.

GARY:

Did you already know Jeremiah when he asked you to do the pictures?

LAURA:

Jeremiah Newton and I briefly met in my school, when I was printing my photos. His so-called "girlfriend" was in my class. I thought he was very beautiful. In any event met with him a couple of years later through Lennie Baron. Lennie called me - he said he was starting an agency called Oddities. Would I be interested in working with the people? He needed photos to present to the ad agencies. Of course my work was not appropriate for this kind of head shot stuff, but it was a support system to continue shooting. Jeremiah was in it and Candy - so Jeremiah called me at my loft and said he wanted photos of him and Candy. For me it was just Lennie helping me with my body of work - nothing about charging money - at least that's how I saw it.

GARY:

Did Candy do drugs?

LAURA:

I don't think Candy did drugs or drank much. She was always a lady.

GARY:

Did you go to her funeral?

LAURA:

No, I didn't make an effort to go to the funeral. Jeremiah called me. He usually called to report a death as tradition goes. He's good with that kind of information. I was shooting but working like double time trying to make a living. It was, like, mental.

GARY:

What about Holly Woodlawn? How did you come to photograph her?

Holly Woodlawn

Holly Woodlawn - Close Up
(Photo: Laura Rubin)

LAURA:

Holly was a friend from Max's. I think it was Spring 1970. I showed her the photos of Mario [Montez]. She got very excited and said "these... these are... are.... they are S SU-SUPERFERLOUS!!!!!" - I think a cross between super and fabulas but it came out like the word for overdone - which is true too. So I made an appointment to meet at her Third Street apartment. I think she shared it with Rita Red. I also showed the photos to Danny Fields who was sitting with us. I did the shoot with Holly on the roof, like, May 1970. I did an entire series of Holly pictures during the time of Trash in the apartment on 3rd Street.

GARY:

Were you around when Dallas filmed Holly in Broken Goddess?

LAURA:

Peter Dallas was a friend of mine. I met him in May or June, 1971. He had moved in to Bette Midler's old apartment on West 75th Street. I was moving to West 79th Street. I called him in the Fall and set up a shoot. He was a good-looking Greek boy. My friend Kleo was staying there - Dallas was doing a silent film with her. I spent a lot of time at the apartment. Later Dallas met Holly. We spoke long on the phone about his vision. I was there everyday. He asked me to do the stills for him, but I don't do 5 a.m. I said I'd shoot Holly later in the day, like sunset. We shot with the doves - Holly in White (1973) - a head shot. We lost contact after I left the area. I was in Los Angeles in 1987 - I called him. I heard he had Aids. He was hurt that some other friends had not cared to call. I went to see him - his mother was there. He looked like a skeleton. The Holly photos were on the walls, even the old ones from the roof shoot. I think I spoke with him a few more times after that. I not sure exactly when he died, but it was a couple of months or weeks from then.

GARY:

Is it true that the American folk singer, Laura Nyro, assisted him during the filming of Broken Goddess?

LAURA:

I never knew Laura Nyro. Dallas mentioned he knew her and something about lyrics - but she was never at the apartment. In that article on Broken Goddess, it says that the music was by Debussy with Laura Nyro lyrics as titles.

GARY:

I love that photo you did of Mario Montez putting on his make-up. When did you meet him?

Mario Montez

Mario Montez - Making Up
(Photo: Laura Rubin)

LAURA:

Mario was Fall of 1969. We did the shoot like December. I met him at the La Mama theater - I think it was during Son of Cockstrong, or one of those plays - maybe Glamour, Glory and Gold. Mario was a postman - you never know whose delivering the mail.

GARY:

Did you go to La Mama much?

LAURA:

No, I didn't go to La Mama a lot. I saw the name in underground newspapers. I had just started school again - full-time in the photography department. La Mama was around the block. from my apartment. It looked like a place to go. I walked into the 82 Club next door to the theater. The waiters were women dressed as men and there was a drag show. I did color. Then I went next door to La Mama and did some more color slides. I met Mario and Penny Arcade and some other cast members. I set up Mario first, then Penny during the following week. All this between November and December 1969.

GARY:

Where did you take the photos of Francis Francine?

LAURA:

Francis Francine was an elevator operator. We did the shoot at Beverly Grant and Tony Conrad's loft - I have photos of them too - with Francis. I first met Francis at Max's.

GARY:

Did you go to Max's much?

LAURA:

I went to Max's from September 1966 to May 1971 - all the time to be exact - like every night. I stopped during most of 1968. Actually that was when I started photography - during a break from Max's.

GARY:

What about Dorothy Dean - who worked the door at Max's for awhile. Do you remember her?

LAURA:

I have no memories of Dorothy except as a pathetic drunk. She got so bad that she couldn't pay her rent. Her Maine Coone cat died and she moved to Boulder to work in a bookshop. She died a few years later.

GARY:

Where else did you go besides Max's?

LAURA:

Where did we all go? Andy Warhol, the Warhol people, the friends, the friends of the friends? The Scene, Ondines, the Clique, Figaro, Un Deux Tois, Salvation, Arthur, the Pink Teacup, Macdougal Street and Bleecker, El Mio - that's where they filmed a scene for Ciao Manhattan, which I was in - wasn't everyone in Ciao Manhattan? I mean for a least two minutes? I rented it in the 90s. It was all cut out.

GARY:

At the beginning of this interview you referred to people who you shared the train with from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Who were they?

LAURA:

I took the train home a lot with Ronnie Cutrone. I knew him since I was 12 years old and met again with him at art school. I originally met him at a party, like, in the 6th grade - he was so gorgeous. He looked like Joey Dee - you know, from Joey Dee and the Starlighters. Once he asked me "Want to go to Uncle Sam's Umbrella?" I said "What's that?." He said, "everybody knows Uncle Sam's Umbrella Shop. It's on 42nd Street. That's where you get a bullwhip, silly." We took the subway and, lo and behold, with all those umbrellas was a bullwhip. Never a dull moment when you were with Ronnie. Ronnie and Eric - one was so dark - pitch black hair. The other was so light - platinum blond. They looked really good together. Like a domino. I wonder why no one did a shoot of them like that? It would have been very graphic.

GARY:

Do you mean Eric Emerson?

LAURA:

Yes, Eric was a friend - I knew him well - since, like, 1965 or 66. I tried to shoot him with Jane Forth when they had the baby, but I forgot my glasses like an idiot - so no shoot.

GARY:

Were you still friends with him when he died of an overdose?

LAURA:

I hadn't seen Eric since 1972 - he died in '77 or '78 - or '79. Eric was from Jersey. He designed dresses under the name Eric Love. He had a little shop on East 9th Street. He lived in the back. He had a girlfriend named Heather. She was a model. The three of us would go out. I would stay the night in the back of the store. Eric had a band that performed upstairs at Max's - like maybe 1970 or '71. I saw them but can't remember the name.

GARY:

Who else did you take the trains with?

LAURA:

Ronna Page and I did the trains. Geraldine [Smith] sometimes but we went different routes. I used to hang out with Geraldine and Andrea "Whips'"Feldman at Ondine's and Max's. I love the photos I did of them together.

GARY:

When did you first meet Geraldine and Andrea?

Andrea Feldman

Andrea Feldman
(Photo: Laura Rubin)

LAURA:

I knew Geri and "crazy Andy Feldman" from the village, and the clubs. I didn't know Andrea very well. I saw them both enter Max's like in 1966. I was sitting in the middle section with Gino Piserchio, the model, and Philip Faron. In they walked, right to the back room. I thought oh no! There are those two girls from Brooklyn! From the disco! Do they belong here? What if they recognize me and talk to me? I thought Andrea was like a teeny bopper, maybe she's not a "cool" person. I didnt want to be associated. So I stayed in the middle in the booth, listened to Philip, who is also from Brooklyn. Later, Andrea was a regular. I saw her doing "showtime" like 50 times - the longest running show in Max's. Never boring. I took those fabulas pictures of them in Central Park at the end of 1970 on a freezing winter day. Sorry they are not on my websight. Andrea's mother married rich. They moved to Park Avenue - a good move - when I heard that I was jealous.

GARY:

Did you ever visit the Park Avenue apartment?

LAURA:

No, I was never there. Geraldine and Andrea used to go to places like the Pierre, meet older rich men. The men would take them to dinner. Then, after the dinner, before dessert, they would excuse themselves - go to the ladies room - then they would dissapear!

GARY:

Were you in New York when Andrea committed suicide?

LAURA:

No, I was staying in Beverly Hills the summer that Andrea died. I can't remember who told me - but it was on the phone. No reaction. After all, soooo many people o'd'ed or did suicide. It was not a big thing. I wasn't close with her like Geraldine was.

GARY:

And you knew Ronna Page as well. She was a friend of Jonas Mekas. Did she ever mention Mekas to you? Did she ever talk to you about that scene in The Chelsea Girls when Ondine slaps her?

LAURA:

Ronna took me to Jonas Mekas' place but no conversation about the Factory. I didn't know she was involved until I saw your site - or forgot. I had no special friendship with Ronna. All I remember was that she was a fag hag. She took me to a gay bar - she was in love with a gay boy. I think his name was Bruce. All she talked about was this gay boy. I think she also sent me to Woodstock to stay with a cult leader - Mel Lyman. All this is coming back to me.

GARY:

When did you actually meet Warhol?

LAURA:

I saw Andy around on different occasions. I spoke to him during the Velvet Underground show - I think it was 1966 at the Polish place [the Dom]. I asked him if he could use the Willard Maas rushes during the performance. We only spoke for a minute.

GARY:

What Willard Maas rushes?

LAURA:

It was a movie made by Willard in his apartment in Brooklyn Heights. It was called Midnight at the Maases. Gerard was in it and Marie Menken. I can't remember who else. All I know is that I was in it. It played at the Massachusetts College of Art in the early 90s. I met Willard at the Film-makers Cinematheque.

GARY:

Willard Maas was in Blow Job. Well, not exactly in it. He was off-screen giving the blow job to the actor who was being filmed. Yet, Maas was married to Marie Menken. Was he openly gay?

LAURA:

I don't know if Willard was openly gay, but there was a simulated blow job in Midnight at the Maases - between two men, but not involving Willard. But, figure it out, straight men don't usually have those kind of things filmed in their living rooms.

GARY:

Tell me more about Andy. When did you first become aware of him? Did you ever take photos of him?

LAURA:

Actually I first saw Andy on the cover of a magazine called Video. I didn't know who it was but I bought it anyway - a lot of talk about Bolex cameras. Then in a magazine called Show - started by Huntington Hartford - there was a spread of photos of Andy, Edie and Baby Jane, I think, and some stills of Sleep, Eat - you know. I was captivated. Drop dead chic.

GARY:

I didn't realize that Huntington Hartford started Show magazine.

LAURA:

I used to live near him. But that was later - about 1976 - 1977. I was on East 50th Street - one teensy block from Beekman Place - another very teensy half block to Mitchell Place. Huntington Hartford lived on the corner of Beekman and Mitchell. He had a duplex apartment with a swimming pool near the back yard - very convenient for me.

GARY:

Were you friends with him?

LAURA:

We were good friends. He was especially vulnerable at that time as his 25 year old blond wife left and was nowhere to be found. I think she was a go-go dancer or something. Since we were neighbors I would visit often. He would call me - we were great phone friends. He felt like a loser as his father was the "greatest business man of the 20th century" as he would say - founder of the Atlantic and Pacific company - A&P. So I'd say "Hunt, you are an intellectual, you have other interests and talents. Come on. You're 68 years old- get over it!" Someone told me he was infatuated with anyone who was from Brooklyn. Especially if you were an artist.

GARY:

Did you ever go to any social events with him?

LAURA:

Sometimes we would go to dinner at Doubles in the Sherry Netherland hotel. Once he called in the middle of the blackout - I think this was in 1977. I said "Hunt, if you can't walk down the stairs, how can I get up? No I can't come over." Even though he was 68, he seemed older than his years. His housekeeper was very concerned about him. She'd ask me to talk to him about it. She was concerned about his possessions. There were many people coming and going from the apartment - kind of like the old Andy scene, but not at all interesting. He'd invite everybody and anybody there. There were suitcases all over the upstairs rooms. A lot of bimbo girls would come. There was a has-been French photographer who was staying there - Jean Paul. He would see girls on the street and bring them over. They would send their friends. Eventually Hunt lost the Co-op as they voted him out of the building. I have a photo of him drinking milk in the Mitchell Place apartment on my website.

GARY:

But you didn't know him at the time that you saw Andy Warhol on the cover of Show magazine?

LAURA:

No, it was much later. I was still in high school when that issue of Show came out. In fact, I really didn't know who the people were in the Show article - but right after that, my friend in gym class - we were sitting on the floor with our uniforms on - asked if I saw Merv Griffin last night - or maybe it was Johnny Carson. Well, anyway, she went on to say that Andy Warhol was on with his superstar, Edie - and how they looked alike with silver hair and whatever - how he [Andy] wouldn't say anything. I started to think these were the people. Now, sometime later - like a few weeks or so - I was down in Figaro's on MacDougal and Bleecker Street. They turned the basement level into a little disco for the kids, like, I think on weekends and sunday afternoons. I would go and dance to the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Rolling Stones - 45 speed records. Now, that particular day, Andy was sitting at a table with some of the kids. Some pretty boys and, you know, the kind of girls who always look good. Very glam - always thin - great bones. I'm not completely sure exactly who was there, but I remember one or two blonds - could have been Patti D'Arbanville, Bibi [Hansen], Francisca Overman - a black girl was there - could have been Pat Hartley or my friend Pixie. It was hard to believe he was sitting right there.

Somehow, after that night Andy was everywhere - art openings, event promos, private parties, after-hour clubs, restaurants, every bad party - you know what they say - Andy would go to the "opening of an envelope" - so true. On my birthday, some years later, my friend Miguel Wicca took me to lunch. We went to Brownie's on Union Square - the old health food restaurant. After we finished he said "let's go up to see Andy." It was the July 4th holiday week. No one was in town. The Factory was empty. Andy was sitting at his desk. I was formally introduced. Then Miguel took me to the bathroom which was painted silver - at least I think it was. I picked up a coke bottle which definitely was silver. Miguel took a photo of me holding the bottle. I didn't have my camera, so no photos of Andy.

GARY:

Ok. Last question: Where were you when Warhol died? What effect did it have on you?

LAURA:

I found out Warhol died in Boston. I was living in Boston - not in touch with many people. I was told during lunch - somebody gave me the Boston Herald. It had no effect on me. I did go down to Sotheby's in New York for his collectibles auction - the one with the cookie jars. There were hundreds of people in the line to get in - news reporters from all over the world doing interviews, asking stupid questions. I got carried away as well, bidded on some ashtrays - junk. It was then that I realized the magnitude of his fame.

GARY:

Well, Laura, many thanks for answering my questions. I appreciate it.

LAURA:

Gary, it's been great talking with you.

GARY:

You too.

LAURA:

But you still sound like an out-of-towner.

[End]

Gary Comenas
Warholstars.org/2005

 

Andy Warhol