Viva: A Warhol-Era Superstar Wants the Last Word


“You’re going to ask me a few things before I die, right?” she asked. And she in turn was going to set the record straight.

“Working with Andy, it was kind of fun sometimes,” she said. His films, after all, had given her the chance “to do what I was afraid of doing.” On the flip side, Warhol could be mean.

Photo

Viva (Janet Susan Mary Hoffmann) fielding questions after a screening of Warhol films at the Roxy Cinema in TriBeCa last week.

Credit
Yvonne Tnt/BFA

“He was always pitting everyone against each other,” Ms. Hoffmann said. “He was always creating division.”

As it happened, her recollections chimed with a late ’60s account in New York magazine, in which she told the writer Barbara Goldsmith, “Sometimes when I think about Andy, I think he is just like Satan.”

“In the Warhol films, most of them shot by Paul Morrissey, there were no scripts,” Ms. Hoffmann said. Her performances were unrehearsed. “They would just kind of glom onto me without a warning,” she said. “I was furious through most of it.”

Her terse assessment of the Warhol cinematic oeuvre: “The films were pretty boring.”

Her roles did get her noticed. Her lithe frame, Garbo-like bone structure and canny fashion sense prompted Women’s Wear Daily in the late ’60s to rhapsodize: “She is a presence.” Her approach to life, the publication wrote, “to clothes, to everything is individual.” In short: the prototypical fashion influencer.

Ms. Hoffmann courted notoriety. “The F.B.I. file, you should read that,” she said. She was referring to an episode during the filming of “Lonesome Cowboys” in which a bystander reported to the authorities having seen — here Ms. Hoffmann paraphrased — “a female actor having all her clothes ripped off in a huge orgy scene,” one in which she was sexually manhandled by cast members and masturbated with a cowboy hat.

Ms. Hoffmann, who aspired to a conventional Hollywood career, went on to play a version of herself in Agnès Varda’s 1969 art house movie, “Lions Love.” As she tells it, though, her ambitions were thwarted in the wake of the scandalous New York article. In the interview she was quoted as telling Ms. Goldsmith that during the filming of “Cowboys,” she had slept, off set, with no fewer than five cast members in quick succession.

But in an impromptu rant last week, Ms. Hoffmann dismissed Ms. Goldsmith’s account as “fake news.” “She made up the entire interview,” she said.

Aude White, a spokeswoman for the magazine, referred to an April 2016 post on The Cut, part of New York’s website, which stated that Ms. Goldsmith, who died in June 2016, “has always stood by the piece.”

Whatever she may have said, or not said, at that time, Ms. Hoffman did acknowledge last week that she had permitted Diane Arbus to photograph her for the story.

“I had just gotten out of bed, ” she said. “I was naked in a sheet, eating cereal. I told Diane, ‘Let me get dressed,’ but she insisted, ‘Oh, no, I’m just shooting your head.’”

“Oh, roll your eyes back like that,” she said Ms. Arbus had implored, and Ms. Hoffman obliged, performing on cue. “Looking back, I cannot believe how naïve I was,” she said.

In an effort, perhaps, to redeem herself, or to demonstrate her artist’s chops, she has since gone on to paint and write novels. Her first, “Superstar: A Novel,” was published in 1970, a fictionalized autobiography about a much-put-upon denizen of a Factory-like scene.

Her brief memoir, “Leaving the Chelsea With Egg,” was published in Germany and distributed at Art Basel in June. “It was basically about an abortion, mine,” Ms. Hoffman said. She was reluctant to write about it at first (far too intimate, she said), but reversed herself at the urging of her daughter Gaby Hoffmann, the actress and “Transparent” star.

“I said, ‘Gaby, before I die, I’m going through everything I wrote that’s really dark and depressing and burning it.’”

“‘You can’t, Ma,’ Gaby told me. ‘That’s the best stuff.’”

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