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The World of Warhol

That fall, Warhol moved to an abandoned factory on 47th Street off Third Avenue. He allowed Billy Name to live there, a decision with more consequences than anyone could have anticipated. Name not only decorated the crumbling loft in silver foil and dragged in a couch large enough for an orgy, he attracted Rotten Rita, the Duchess, Ondine, and the rest of that crew—freaks who turned the Factory into the city's ultimate freak hangout. The hustlers, transvestites, and other exhibitionists attracted the obligatory second wave: society kids like Edie Sedgwick and Susan Bottomly.

Warhol, who collected many things but loved most to collect people, soon mastered the trick that became his greatest source of power. "Now and then, someone would accuse me of being evil—of letting people destroy themselves while I watched, just so I could film them and tape-record them," he said. "But I didn't think of myself as evil—just realistic. I learned when I was little that whenever I got aggressive and tried to tell someone what to do, nothing happened—I just couldn't carry it off. I learned that you actually have more power when you shut up."

So Warhol became a mirror, his conversation limited to "Oh, gee" and "Gosh" and—rarely honestly—"That's great." The more passive he became, the more outrageously the crowd at the Factory performed for him.

What was Warhol's role in this massively decadent scene? It's doubtful that he was an active participant. From the beginning, he hated drugs, and those who used them on a regular basis took care to do so out of his sight. And as for sex, in that department he claimed to be already committed. In the late fifties, he said, he started an affair with his television set; in 1964, he married his tape recorder. He had no time for others. He lived with his mother, lounged around the house, watching TV in the morning, then worked with his assistants—or just watched them make his art—until eight at night, when it was time to go out.

The more passive Warhol became, the more outrageously the crowd at the Factory performed for him.

That Warhol was a voyeur was first suggested by Ondine, who made him leave an orgy in the early sixties because all he did was watch. But that Warhol had crushes is undeniable. They started with Capote and probably included most major male film stars of the last four decades. (A few crushes were closer to home. In the early eighties, Warhol lived with a handsome and talented young man who chafed at life in the artist's shadow, left New York, and subsequently died of complications from AIDS—but no one who saw them together believes the relationship was consummated.) Why did Warhol flinch from all human contact? Because, as he once quipped, "sex is nostalgia for sex." Although one of his longstanding fantasies was to open a house of prostitution, the fantasy role he chose for himself was that of cashier.

Inevitably, Warhol's harmless early experiments as a filmmaker—such as the one of Robert Indiana eating mushrooms—were followed by more voyeuristic efforts that showed, with clinical detachment, would-be "superstars" having sex and delivering stoned monologues. But the content was all the same to Warhol, who could bring the same appreciation to eight hours of film of the Empire State Building as he could to a 30-minute reel of an actor being sexually serviced. The purpose of filmmaking, for him, was partly social—"a way of getting to meet and know more people," says Paul Morrissey. And, of course, there was the economic angle. "Andy always thought," Morrissey says, "that films would be where we'd make money."

With Chelsea Girls, a 1966 movie about people who hung out in the Chelsea hotel, they made the Variety charts—and, according to Morrissey, a profit of $100,000. They also struck the deepest nerve to date. "It has come time to wag a warning finger at Andy Warhol and his underground friends and tell them, politely but firmly, that they are pushing a reckless thing too far," Bosley Crowther wrote in the Times. "A silly review," Warhol said. It turned out to be prophetic.

By 1967, the Factory was becoming, in Jackie Curtis's phrase, "the desert of destroyed egos." Warhol moved his enterprises to Union Square West that year, but the ambience didn't change: In his passive way, Warhol was power-mad. He pretended to be unobservant, but he knew what was going on and spread malicious rumors to exacerbate the tension.

The tension began to flash back at him. An associate who pressed him on some matter became enraged when Warhol responded, as he invariably did when confronted directly, by becoming more evasive. "Look at me when I talk to you!" the man said. And then he did the unthinkable—he touched Warhol's shoulder.