We asked the legendary journalist about his days rubbing shoulders with the stars
By 1983, Brooklyn-born writer, editor and socialite Bob Colacello had had enough. As one of Andy Warhol’s trusted lieutenants, the preceding decade had catapulted him from obscurity to one of New York society’s most influential figures. As editor of Interview magazine, owned and published by Warhol, he was out every night, holding court at Studio 54, making the scene at downtown art openings, packing a tape recorder and camera, to capture the world’s jet-set at play. Interview, he says now, was the ‘school newspaper’ for the social elite of the day – and he was the school newspaper editor.
But, as 1982 drew to a close, Colacello was grinding to a halt. Worn down by the demands of running a magazine, dealing with the Byzantine politics that governed the Warhol clique and realising his career was in danger of becoming forever entwined with the artist, he finally broke from the artist’s world for the relatively sane environs of Vanity Fair, where he has remained ever since.
Today, more than 25 years later, Bob Colacello is sitting at Dubai’s 360° bar. Copies of his latest book, Bob Colacello’s Out, a revealing photo diary of that candescent period from 1975 to ’82, sit in a rapidly diminishing pile on a table, as Dubai’s party mavens queue to get their copies signed.
From Mick and Bianca to the Kennedys, Truman Capote to Debbie Harry, Calvin Klein to Jimmy Carter, Out is a document of the pinnacle of New York’s social scene. Warhol himself is in many of the shots, his strange, slab-like face creased with joy at finding himself caught in a corner with Liz Taylor or plainly awed at being introduced to Henry Kissinger. The parade of dramas, scandals and gossip is joyous, yet tinged with poignancy – so many faces here, frozen in a monochrome moment of immortality, were to succumb to illness, drugs, Aids or other tragedies within the next few years. But, for the moment, looking at these pictures plunges the viewer into a lost world of innocent exuberance.
‘I think it happened because of several factors,’ Colacello says of the era vividly captured in Out. ‘The Vietnam war had just ended. Nixon had been driven out of office, there was a lifting of this heaviness.
And then came along this great new black music, disco. You’d go to Studio 54, which was a symbol of the era – it was in the middle of New York, it was large, it was gay and straight, it was black and white, it was uptown and downtown, old and young…’
But, amid the glamour and revels, a typical night at 54 for Colacello and Warhol was always work. The artist was notorious for his constantly ‘on’ attitude, never missing a beat or wasting an opportunity to score some advertising for Interview, or perhaps bagging a lucrative portrait commission or two.
‘If Andy could have interviewed every single person alive, every single day and photographed and videoed them – then maybe he would have been satisfied!’ Bob remembers. Warhol urged Colacello to begin writing a regular column, detailing their nightly exploits and packing in as much name-dropping as possible. Not only did this reflect their unparalleled access to the rich and famous when tired and emotional (and off-guard), but, with his indefatigable hustling, Warhol made sure that everyone who got a mention was aware of his portrait services, or at the very least, the Interview ad rate.
Bob Colacello first came to work for Andy Warhol in 1970. As the ’60s came to an end, Warhol was actively seeking to exchange the chaotic underground of the New York art scene, which had nurtured and fuelled his early creativity, into a world of wealthy, sleek, jet-setting glamour. Colacello, a bright, talkative and smart kid, who had little sympathy for the posturing of the art world, joined up as a writer. Within a matter of months he found himself editing Interview, a magazine almost casually started some months previously.
‘I became editor very quickly, within six months. But then, soon, Andy started wanting me to travel everywhere with him and [business manager] Fred Hughes, who basically wanted me to help with babysitting Andy between the parties. I said, “I can’t travel all the time and get the magazine out,” so I suggested my assistant, Glenn O’Brien come in as editor.
Glenn was editor for a year, but that didn’t work out. Then we brought in an editor from Women’s Wear Daily who was just too professional… so, finally, Andy said, “Well, you have to be editor and travel and help me write my book.” And by that time I guess I was ready and able to take it all on. About ’75 to ’82, that was the time I ran the magazine.’
For Colacello, life during the ’70s was demanding, stimulating and frequently vexing. Touring the world with Warhol and the temperamental Fred Hughes, Colacello experienced the complex layers of personality beneath the artist’s blank countenance.
‘Andy was very voyeuristic and mean, but he was also very touching, and sad and sweet. He had different sides. Out of this enormous ambition and selfishness came someone who really told us what we were about. He continues to have increasing relevance, because he understood so much about fame. Because fame is killing us now! All we do now is look at ourselves, as a culture, and we are spending 90 per cent of our time on narcissistic activities. Andy saw all that coming.’
Following his defection from the Warhol camp in ’83, Colacello says he found it hard to reminisce about the era. Yet, over the years, his attitude to his former employer has mellowed, helped no doubt by the publication of Holy Terror, a memoir of his time at Warhol’s side, and the Out project. ‘At first, I didn’t really want to write Holy Terror, but I kind of got pushed into it. Now I am sort of glad I did. I was writing it for everyone who had ever collaborated with Andy – he had so many close collaborators.
I felt my story was the story of all these people; nearly all these relationships turned love/hate, with the emphasis on the ‘hate’ at the end. ‘You know, I once witnessed Fred Hughes trying to strangle Andy on the way home from a party in Paris. That was one of the reasons I left,’ Colacello considers. ‘But I think that always – when you run away from your past it actually controls you more. For me, talking about Andy now is fun. I was very privileged to have had this experience.’ Out by Bob Colacello published by Edition 7L/ www.steidlville.com.