Warhol's Press Pass to the Stars

By Burrell, Ian | The Independent (London, England), November 24, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Warhol's Press Pass to the Stars


Burrell, Ian, The Independent (London, England)


Andy Warhol, as one might expect, was no ordinary magazine publisher. He purportedly founded the iconic title Interview merely in order to justify his application for a press pass to give him free access to the New York Film Festival.

But as his reputation as an artist grew, so too did the influence of his magazine. It was nothing for him to secure an on-the-record audience with John and Yoko, as the couple reclined in their bed in Manhattan. And when Interview was granted access to Salvador Dal, Warhol assigned the story to the flamboyant pre-operative transsexual and film star Candy Darling, simply because he was intrigued by the chemistry the pair would create.

Interview, which will be 40 years old next year, was way ahead of its time in being a magazine devoted to the cult of celebrity, defining the emerging stars of film, fashion, music and literature. It was also the pioneer of the Q&A style of interview, which has become a staple of publishing in the past four decades. And now Glenn O'Brien, who ran the magazine for Warhol in its early years after joining fresh from film school, is back in the editor's chair.

O'Brien's latest edition of Interview includes pieces with Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman, some of the most influential artists alive, and the editor hopes it becomes a collector's item for years to come. "I feel like people are going to keep it on the bookshelf for 10 or 20 years because it's comprehensive and authoritative," he says. "It's not something you throw out it's a periodical that has the qualities of a book."

O'Brien came to Interview back in 1970, eight issues after it started. Along with his friend and fellow film student at Columbia University Bob Colcello, he was summoned by Warhol to bring some sense to an editorial operation previously assigned to his acolytes in the wild surroundings of the artist's studios 'The Factory'.

"I guess Andy felt that the people who had been editing Interview couldn't get it done. They wanted more normal people - they used to say 'nice, clean cut college kids'," he says. "We really went to work on it and started producing it in a more or less professional manner. It was kind of a dream come true because in undergraduate school we were big Warhol fans, we would be the only people in an audience in Washington DC watching a Warhol film."

The pair decided to broaden the magazine's appeal from its origins as an underground film title. "We had the idea of making it more commercial, a bigger and more successful magazine. We decided it should be more a generally cultural magazine and also cover music, art and fashion and other things."

The early years of the magazine coincided with the emergence of the cassette recorder, a factor which directly influenced the writing in Interview. "It's no coincidence that Interview came out at the same time as the small cassette recorder. Interview was very much the function of the technology. The most crucial decision that we made was to try to make [the set piece interview] mostly Question and Answer, to really go into a format which nobody had done before," says O'Brien.

"Playboy interviews, probably the form people knew of before Interview magazine, were highly edited. They would meet with somebody over the course of several days and tape hours and hours and edit it down to something that read in a very cogent, proper copy-edited way. Interview magazine's interviews were much more verbatim and gave you a feeling of what it was like to be there, like a fly on the wall in the room. It was a lot more free form and a lot less concerned with proprieties."

The magazine became famed for its covers, which many readers assumed to have been produced by Warhol himself, though, in fact, they were made by his fellow artist and friend Richard Bernstein. "Richard would take the photographs that we selected for the cover and paint them to enhance them.

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