(aka Freddy or Freddie Herko)
Although known primarily as a dancer, Herko had actually trained as a pianist. He did not start taking dance lessons until the age of nineteen. He grew up in Ossining, New York where he lived with his parents. He majored in piano at the Julliard School of Music which he was attending on a scholarship. After taking a single dance class as part of the required curriculum at Julliard, he changed his major to dance, but left the school before graduating.
In 1954, while he was still at Julliard (and still living with his family in Ossining), he met poet Diane di Prima. Di Prima saw him sitting on a park bench in Washington Square and noticed he was crying. She started a conversation with him and Freddy told her that he was crying because "Autumn always made him sad." (DP120) Diane and Freddy went to Rienzi's for a coffee and ended up becoming lifelong friends.
At the time, Diane Di Prima lived in an apartment on Fifth Street between Avenue A & B where she had moved after dropping out of Swarthmore College - after having grown up with her family in Brooklyn. Diane was impressed by Herko because, "he was the first dancer I'd met who knew other arts, and knew them well... We soon had a language and viewpoint all our own. 'Treat it', he would say of something we'd do better to leave alone. 'Treat it with ignortion'. He was... closer than any lover, and remained so for ten years. We bonded rapidly and utterly." (DP113)
When, in the autumn of 1955, Di Prima moved into a new apartment in Hell's Kitchen on 59th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Freddy "more or less" moved in. He had left Julliard by then and was dancing full-time, taking two or three classes a day at the American Ballet Theatre School, supporting himself by doing temporary filing jobs at offices in Manhattan.
Di Prima had already started taking "speed" in the form of Dexedrine by that time. Like Warhol stars Edie Sedgwick, Mary Woronov and Brigid Berlin, she had been turned on to it by her own family in the early fifties:
Diane di Prima:
"Dexedrine had always been around, had been in my life since college. Early on it was supplied by the family; my mother's sisters who worked in hospitals brought it home to us, so eager were they for our future achievements.. I can remember to this day the bottle of a thousand little orange triangles in my brother's study, the gift of one of the aunts. Dexedrine, they said, wasn't a drug, not in that bad sense. It was an aide, an ally: something to help us get even more things done." (DP200)
"Speed" didn't just suddenly happen in the sixties - it had its origins in the medicine cabinets of the middle-class parents of the fifties.
By 1960, Di Prima had moved back downtown to an apartment on Houston and Avenue B and Herko was living in the apartment above her. In spite of the fact that Freddy's parents were sending him to psychiatrist Maria Rolling to cure him of his homosexuality, Freddy regularly had an assortment of lovers and one night stands. Diane would usually go up to Freddy's in the morning for a coffee and would often see different men leaving his apartment. Usually he would get rid of the previous night's one night stand before Diane arrived - but on one occasion a stranger from the night before was still sitting at Herko's kitchen table when di Prima arrived in the morning.
Herko had picked up the stranger at a party at Jean Claude van Itallie's house. He was a struggling actor named Alan Marlowe. Marlowe moved in with Freddy on that same day, leaving Di Prima feeling that "There was no point anymore to our morning coffees, no room for that camaraderie that Freddie and I had nourished each other with for six or seven years..." (DP250). Despite her negative reaction to him, Diane would actually marry Alan Marlowe several years later and have his child. When she first met him, however, she was still having a long-standing on/off affair with author Le Roi Jones who was already married to someone else.
Both LeRoi Jones and Alan Marlowe, along with Diane di Prima, were amongst the founders of the New York Poet's Theater in 1961. Other founding members included James Waring, John Herbert McDowell and Nick Cernovitch. James Waring would later appear (in 1963) with Freddy Herko and Billy Name in Warhol's film, Haircut (No. 1).
Diane wanted the theatre group to be "one in which John's music, Jimmy's choreography and plays, Freddie's dances, my own and LeRoi's plays, all would have a place. A theatre where Alan would direct and manage the fund-raising (he had been a gay hustler in Europe, and demimonde/society personality in New York and seemed to know some of the ropes)... " (DP256)
Their first production opened at the Off-Bowery Theatre on East 10th Street on October 29, 1961. The evening included a play written by di Prima called The Discontent of the Russian Prince in which Herko and Diane were the only performers. She "tromped about the stage with tousled hair and in dumpy pyjamas, and scolded Freddie, who sadly embraced his image in a mirror," then she "pulled blackened wet sheets off and on a clothesline, and sat on the stage with Freddie while we brushed our teeth together, dipping our brushes in a glass of water which slowly turned green." Diane remembers that during rehearsals for the play "Freddie and Alan fought painfully; actors and directors and backstage folks became more and more hysterical..." (DP277-8)
According to di Prima, part of the problem with the relationship was that Alan wanted to be the passive sexual partner - and so did Freddy.
In November 1961, Diane moved to playwright Michael McClure's apartment on East Fourth Street when McClure vacated the premises, leaving Alan, who was still living with Freddy, to take her old apartment to use as an office. She felt pressured to move by Marlowe and when she returned to collect her journals from her old apartment, she was horrified to be told by Alan "with some satisfaction" that he'd thrown them out. When she ran out to retrieve them they had already disappeared. She remembers Alan's response: "Wasn't it a shame, Alan said, just that morning he'd seen some local teenager sitting on the stoop, reading a volume of the journals. And he said it with something like a sneer."(285)
Diane di Prima's application for a decrease in rent showing that she moved into the 4th Street property in November 1961.
Soon after di Prima moved to East Fourth Street, Herko broke up with Marlowe and came to stay on her couch. He had what di Prima refers to as a breakdown - "completely distraught and given to sobbing loudly at all hours of the night." (DP297). Although she blamed Alan for Freddy's state, when Freddy did finally leave the couch and find his own place, she let Alan stay with her.
Freddy also appeared in the second set of plays at the theatre in December 1961 in James Waring's Nights at the Tango Palace. Herko played a mute janitor at a dance palace who knew everything that was going on but couldn't tell anyone else. The stage managers for the production were Nick Cernovitch and Billy Name. Billy Name would later go on to design the original Factory in 1964 and become the "official" Factory photographer as well as appearing in several Warhol films, including Haircut, Couch, Lupe and a Screen Test.
"Nick Cernovich and I were the stage managers for the Jimmy Waring play, Tango Palace. Nick was one of the co-founders of the New York Poets' Theater with di Prima and Roi Jones. Nick was a master of stage lighting, setting and directing and was my 'sugar-daddy' previous to Andy. He was straight from the Black Mountain college group and did the lighting and stage managing for all of the avant garde dance groups including Merce Cunningham, through James Waring. I took over the Waring chores after being trained by Nick. I also did a Freddie Herko concert and the Judson dance concerts. Nick also trained Johnnie Dodd in stage lighting and Johnny took over the Judson Theatre and concerts when I went up to the factory and left the village area." (B)
Eventually, Alan and Diane became lovers and they were married in California on November 30, 1962. Unknown to her, she was carrying Alan's child at the time.
Diane and Alan had gone to California to retrieve Alan's car which had been stolen by Tony Cox - a friend of Yoko Ono at the time who later went on to marry her in 1963 after her divorce from composer Toshi Ichiyanagi. According to di Prima, Cox "allegedly did some drug dealing on the side" (DP300). Alan was friends with Yoko and Diane knew her from hanging out at a health food restaurant on East Seventh Street (which later became The Paradox macrobiotic restaurant) where Yoko had done some art "happenings".
After retrieving the car from the California police, Alan and Diane decided to settle down in California, buying a home in Topanga Canyon. They returned temporarily to New York in December 1962 so that Diane's parents could formally meet her new husband. They had also promised Diane that they would pay for the down payment on her new home in California and wanted to give her the payment in person. While in New York Diane made contact with Freddy Herko again, but didn't like what she saw.
Diane Di Prima:
"I did see a lot of Freddie and what I saw I didn't like very much. There was all that tension, unspoken stuff between us, of my having in his eyes 'stolen' Alan from him, but there was something else too, and it was definitely something new. After a while he told me that he had upped the ante: he was snorting a lot of speed, and shooting a little. We had, as I've said, all done plenty of dexedrine and dexamyl by then, but crystal methedrine was a whole different story. It seemed to 'get' you in a way that the pills didn't. You kept increasing the dosage, for one thing. There were a whole lot of stories already out there about what crystal amphetamines did to your liver, your brain - you name it. And Freddie was really into it. He told me he needed speed to push his body so he could dance the way he wanted to. He felt otherwise he didn't have a chance; he had come to dance too late in life to make it work for him." (DP329)
After getting the down payment for their new house from Diane's parents, Diane and Alan went back to California. A month or so later, in mid-February of 1963, a friend of theirs arrived from New York. It was:
aka Billy Linich
Left: Screen Test (1964)/Right: Photo: Michael Polito c. 2004
When Billy arrived at Di Prima's in 1963, he looked "ashen and gaunt - no doubt the effect of months of speed - and immediately took up residence on the living room couch." (DP337)
Diane and Alan felt it was their "mission" to bring Billy back to health. They had an account with Altadena Dairy which was paid by Diane's mother and they used it to buy food for Billy. After recuperating, he spent much of his time entertaining Diane's two children from previous relationships. Then, in Spring 1963, Freddy Herko showed up "ready for adventure" and "Billy was ready too." (DP338)
Freddy had arrived with a friend named Michael Malce - they had been traveling together in Mexico and were on their way to San Francisco. Diane, her two kids, and Billy Name joined them, leaving Alan behind in Southern California to pursue an unsuccessful acting career.
They spent Easter of 1963 in San Francisco, where Freddy fell in love with Dee Dee Doyle, much to the displeasure of her partner Kirby Doyle. During an Easter party, Freddy and Dee Dee started dancing with each other and "couldn't stop". They ended up hitchhiking back to New York without any of the others. Later, when Kirby eventually made it to New York and found Freddy (who by this time had finished with Dee Dee), sleeping on a couch of a friend's apartment, he started messaging Freddy's shoulders. When Freddy woke up and asked what he was doing in New York, Kirby "half-jokingly" replied, "I've come to fuck you and kill you." (DP340)
Billy Name stayed with di Prima and Marlowe in Topanga Canyon when he and Diane returned from San Francisco. In the summer of 1963 he went back to New York with them when they decided to leave California after Alan's acting career flopped. Diane's baby by Alan was due in August. Back in New York, Alan and Diane moved into a new apartment at 35 Cooper Square. At various times, "Herbert Huncke and/or William Burroughs would come by to shoot smack" with Alan. (DP354)
Di Prima later recalled that it was during that summer of 1963 that Jack Smith filmed Normal Love in Old Lyme Connecticut.
Diane di Prima:
"Besides the large and elegant house, Wynn [Chamberlain's] 's place boasted a three story barn, and it was in the barn... that the various drag queens, ballet dancers, performance artists, painters and what-not were hard at work: sewing costumes, hammering at props... In the mid-August heat they were all in various stages of make-up and bits of jewelry... Claes Oldenburg had constructed a huge many-tiered wedding cake for Jack Smith on the edge of the woods, and my part in this particular shoot was to dance vigorously on the lowest tier of said cake, a print skirt tied under my huge belly (my baby was due any day now...) and tiny pasties on my nipples. I danced. We danced - there were many of us dancing on all levels of this multicolored wedding cake. Andy Warhol was twisting rather tentatively and stiffly behind me, there was some scratchy rhythm and blues on a phonograph egging us on and on... We all fell off the cake in any case, feigning various campy approximations of terror." (DP359)
Warhol continued with various film projects, including a series of films that featured the dancer Freddy Herko toward the end of the year (1963).
Andy Warhol (via Pat Hackett):
"I filmed Freddy three times. The first time was just a short dance thing on a roof... The second was a segment for The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys where Freddy sat nervously in a chair for three minutes, smoking a cigarette. And the third was called Rollerskate, and Freddy was the star of it. He put a skate on one foot and we filmed him rolling on it all over town and over in Brooklyn Heights, day and night, gliding in dance attitudes and looking as perfect as the ornament on the hood of a car. We filmed glide after glide of him, keeping the camera going. When it came time to take the skate off, his foot was bleeding, but he'd been smiling the whole while and he was still smiling, wearing a WMCA Good Guys sweatshirt."(POP84)
At least one of the locations used for the Rollerskate was the apartment of ex-fashion illustrator Jackson Champlin who lived on Bond Street with his mother and his partner - the artist Dale Joe. Champlin's mother was out one afternoon in 1963 when Herko arrived with Warhol and his movie camera. Freddy put on a blue knit dress that Champlin's mother had knitted and Warhol filmed him roller skating in it around the apartment. When Champlin's mother returned and saw Herko in the dress, she commented, "Freddy, you look better in that dress than I do". (NYT2)
Other Warhol films that Herko appeared in included Haircut (No. 1), and a thirty minute film called Samson And Delilah with his friend Deborah Lee - although this film footage may have been lost. Freddy also made a Kiss movie with Johnny Dodd. (DB) It was at Johnny Dodd's apartment that Herko would later kill himself, shortly after being thrown out of Deborah Lee's apartment where he had been staying.
In mid-February 1964, Herko performed in Love's Lab or by Frank O'Hara as part of the New York Poets Theatre season at the New Bowery Theatre on St. Marks Place. The cast also included John Vaccaro (the founder of the Playhouse of the Ridiculous), and drag queen Frankie (Frances) Francine (Lonesome Cowboys). The New Bowery Theatre was a new location for the Poets Theatre group. They performed plays on the weekends while, during the week, the venue was handed over to other events. Jonas Mekas' Cinematheque showed short experimental films there on Monday nights.
Around this time, a friend of Freddie's named Sergio Gallardo died in Rome from an overdose or suicide. Gallardo was also a friend of Alan Marlowe, Nick Cernovitch and Billy Name. After Gallardo died, Freddy performed a memorial - For Sergio - on one of the New York Poets Theatre's dance nights.
Diane Di Prima:
"He arrived in black tights and a leotard, with a fierce archaic face mask painted on his face, and whispered to us to kill all the lights: house lights, stage lights, everything. I noticed he was in toe shoes. Then I stood silent, in awe of what was about to happen... Freddie had an antique wall sconce with a mirror, the kind that used to hold a candle, and he lit the taper he had placed in it. And in that dark and suddenly silent theatre with his back to the audience, he began laboriously and slowly to go down one side aisle of the theatre, across's the front below the proscenium, and up the other side. En pointe. The only music was the sound of his deliberately exaggerated and laboured breathing. And the slow scraping of his toe shoes on the rough floor. The light, the flickering light of the candle reflected his painted face in the mirror in his hand... He was gone again before any of us could move. No doubt he grabbed another cab and went back to his loft..." (DP378)
In the beginning of 1964, Diane had also started doing poetry readings at her Cooper Square house which Herko would attend. In true sixties style, di Prima would start the evening by throwing the I Ching and then read a story by the Tibetan Yogi, Milarepa. According to her, "Freddie came every week but he hated Milarepa; he would rail against him while I was reading. He thought Milarepa was a terrible egoist. But by then Freddie was getting more and more out of control altogether. He was still using speed, and now that Kirby was in town they used it together. It was needles now, not snorting or drinking a little in coffee, and needles scared me, they still do... After For Sergio, Freddie wasn't around all that much. He came by... once or twice during afternoon rehearsals, but he was too jittery from speed and constantly misplacing props and breaking things..." (DP385/9)
Herko, however, did not stop dancing. He gave a dance concert in his loft at 28 Bond Street which was more like a party than a dance performance. Freddy would come out of his room for a bit, play hostess, then dance a bit, and then return to his room only to re-appear in a different costume - sometimes in drag.
He also performed The Palace of the Dragon Prince at the Judson Dance Theater. According to di Prima, "There were all sorts of trials and tribulations. At one point the dancers quit en masse. They were not on speed, thank you, and couldn't keep up with the hours, the physical demands, etc..." The performance did take place, but afterwards, "the audience didn't know what to think of it." (DP393)
Freddy's friend and drug-taking buddy, Kirby Doyle had an apartment on Ridge Street at this time, which people referred to as The Opulent Tower where Freddy lived at least part of the time. During the summer of 1964, they furnished the roof with carpets and old sofas. Freddy had a crush on a young actor and wanted to seduce him on the roof, but it rained and the actor never showed up.
Diane di Prima:
"I hung out at The Opulent Tower a lot; it was my refuge from all the busyness and hustle that Alan loved... So I hung, listened, talked, and watched folks come and go and sometimes I snorted a bit of speed or coke, whatever was around. I had tried snorting heroin once and hated it, so I stayed with the uppers and as always stayed away from needles... (DP394)
Freddie was getting pretty far out: wearing his black cape everywhere and black ballet shoes and carrying his flute in a black case. If somebody bugged him he would growl and snarl and raise the flute case as if to strike them, but as far as I know he never hit anybody. He never had to. The Puerto Rican hoods were afraid of him, or fond of him, or both, they called him Zorro, and many a diner on the Lower East Side gave him a free meal whenever he walked in. He had this set of Pan pipes too that someone gave him. I remember him walking down the middle of Third Avenue, playing them while the buses and cars went around him."(DP393-4)
In addition to speed, Freddy was also taking acid. After Kirby Doyle returned to the west coast, Freddy temporarily moved into the apartment of Deborah Lee. Warhol's recollection of Freddy at that time revealed the extent of Herko's drug problem.
"Freddy spent the months before he died with a girl dancer over in an apartment near St. Mark's Church, taking more and more amphetamine. He began staying inside, never going out. He never smiled anymore. He withdrew from the whole apartment into one single room, and then from the room to the end of the hall, and then from the end of the hall into a walk-in closet - he'd stay in there for days at a time in his mess of textiles and beads and records. Oh, he would occasionally come out to make a few ballets but then he'd go right back in. Finally the girl dancer asked him to leave, and he moved down to the Lower East Side." (POP85)
Diane Di Prima ran into Freddy on the street on the day that he died: October 27, 1964. He was sleeping on the street after being kicked out of Deborah Lee's apartment and was "using amphetamine and talking strange". He told Diane about one acid trip where he "had seen his dancer's body with acid eyes, and seen how he had ravaged it with speed and neglect. Or, as he put it, he had 'Destroyed his house'." (DP397) The next day Diane received a phone call from artist/performer Charles Stanley, telling her that Freddy was dead.
Johnny Dodd had also come across Freddy on the 27th. Dodd had seen him at Joe's Dinette on Jones Street in Greenwich Village. According to Dodd, "Freddy was covered with filth, and he was dancing on the counter... He said he hadn't had any drugs for three days, but he was whacked out and his body was quivering." (DB191)
Dodd took Freddy back to Dodd's apartment on Cornelia Street and Herko poured a bottle of Johnny's perfume into the bath and took a long bubble bath. Dodd knew that Freddy was a Mozart freak so he put the Coronation Mass on the phonograph. Finished with his bath, Freddy danced naked around the living room, occasionally making a run toward the windows. At the time Dodd wondered whether this was going to be the "suicide performance" that Herko had been promising his friends during the weeks prior - "it was obvious that Freddy had to do it now: the time and the place were right, the decor was right, the music was right." (DB191)
Herko made another long run and leaped out the window. Dodd later told Diane di Prima that he saw Freddy miraculously flying up through the air before his descent to the pavement. At the time of his death Herko was twenty nine years old. He had broken both ankles, his hip, both sides of his pelvis and both of his wrists.
The week before he died Freddy had planned to hold a party at The Opulent Tower. He told his friends that he was going to do a "flying dance" and had asked Diane di Prima to bring her recently completed manuscript of The Calculus of Variation so she could read some "flying poetry" while he danced. According to Warhol, Freddy had shown up at Diane's apartment to borrow a record and he invited everyone there to a performance where he was going to "leap off the top of his building downtown." (POP85) Diane had stayed away from The Opulent Tower on that night and so did most other people. There was no party and no "flying dance" on that particular evening. According to di Prima, "Freddie had gone on... to other adventures. Not sleeping, apparently, from that night until his death". (DP399)
Di Prima's husband and Freddy's ex-lover, Alan Marlowe, was one of the pallbearers at the funeral, along with several other male dancers and Bret Rohmer who would later provide the illustrations for di Prima's The Book of Hours: Poems in 1970. Later, in 1974, di Prima would also publish Freddie Poems in memory of her deceased friend, with photographs that George Herms had taken of Freddy on The Opulent Tower.
Diane di Prima:
"On the day of the burial, I stayed alone with Freddie for a minute, just before they closed the coffin. I put a ring and a lock of hair in his hands. His flesh had gone by then from quiescent to cold and waxen, so I figured his spirit was no longer there, but I whispered, 'Don't be afraid Freddie'." (DP399)
After the funeral di Prima went to Deborah Lee's apartment to collect some of Herko's possessions.
Diane di Prima:
"Freddie's stuff was still stored there from when he lived with her, and she and I went through it together. Black velvet was everywhere. Many shards of mirrors. Magick wands made out of old bedposts. Feathers. Lace. Broken statuary. Scraps of fabric, or carpet. Everything thick with some dark energy. There was one whole attache case of male pornography carefully cut out of magazines, as if for use in collage. On the floor in his room there was a book by Mary Renault open at the page where the king leaps into the sea. Where the ritual to renew the world is described. It was the closest we found to a suicide note." (DP402)
After Freddy's death there was also a memorial service for him at Judson Church, but according to Warhol, "so many people showed up that there was another one for him, at the Factory. We showed three films." (POP85)
"Freddy Herko... was the world's greatest dancer. Period. ...Herko wanted to fly, and, in fact, he did. That's how he met his death. He flew... I mean, a lot of people think he was an asshole. He wasn't an asshole...Warhol was able to get from Herko, and Herko was able to get from Warhol a sense of completion so that Herko could have actually died as he wanted to do all his life." (PS429)
According to some biographies, Warhol expressed regret that he was not there to film Freddy's dance of death. Warhol did not attend Freddy's funeral but about a month after Herko's death, on November 21, 1964, Warhol's first exhibition with his new art dealer, Leo Castelli, opened. The exhibition featured the Flower paintings and Warhol dedicated one of the paintings - of white flowers - to Freddy.
Sleep, Andy Warhol Films Jack Smith Filming Normal Love and Rollerskate/Dance Movie were among the films that Warhol made before starting the Factory. Moving into the Factory in early 1964 provided Warhol with an ad hoc film studio and movie set.