Andy Warhol and the Road Trip That Made Him Famous
Back in 1963, Warhol brought three friends out to Los Angeles on a wacky road trip. Along the way Warhol encountered Dennis Hopper, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor (among others). This brush with fame was so meaningful, according to Deborah Davis — author of the new book The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure — that it changed the whole course of Warhol’s career.
Andrew Warhola Jr. (born on August 6, 1928) was the sickly child of poor Eastern European immigrants. He spent most of his youth in bed with various serious ailments. He made it through, of course, studied commercial art in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon and then moved to New York, where he altered his last name and became one of the most celebrated figures of the twentieth century.
Known for harvesting a wide social circle of outcasts and addicts, Warhol’s paintings of soup cans and screenprints of Marilyn Monroe are as instantly recognizable as the artist’s iconic floppy haircut and big sunglasses. His work has sold in the high eight-digit range, which is rare, and the museum in Pittsburgh bearing his name carries seven stories of art.
The Trip, released just in time for Andy’s birthday this month, focuses on a cross-country road trip that Warhol took shortly before his mid-sixties New York heyday. Cruising down Route 66 in a Ford Falcon station wagon, Warhol and company were en route to the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles for Warhol’s first big west coast show. His traveling companions were the actor Taylor Mead, who had the driver’s license; the artist Wynn Chamberlain, who owned the station wagon, and the poet Gerard Melanga, at that time Warhol’s most faithful companion.
There’s bound to be tension when any four people are cooped up in a car, let alone when one of them has a wacky personality as dominant as Andy Warhol’s. The quirky Taylor Mead, described in the book as a “flamboyant raconteur,” picked random men up at rest stops but later accused Warhol and Chamberlain of pressuring him into giving them blowjobs. Melanga brought a woman back to a hotel in Santa Monica and Warhol was so jealous that upon their return to New York he wouldn’t even give her cab fare.
Davis, a historian who previously worked in the film industry, has previously written books about key events in the lives of Truman Capote and Booker T. Washington. In The Trip, she argues that Los Angeles changed Andy. Dennis Hopper and his wife threw Warhol a party attended by celebrities like gay actor Sal Mineo, heartthrob Troy Donahue and sculptor Claes Oldenberg, and that’s when Andy realized decided fame itself should be his primary goal. Two or three years later, with celebrity fully achieved, who knows which friends he would have packed into that station wagon?
(featured image via Lynn Friedman)