Tales of Tuscaloosa: 15 Minutes of Fame (February 19, 1968) Featured

Pop art often featured multiple manipulated images. A photograph by the author of a blue iris was modified so it appears in the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) and the three secondary colors (orange, green and violet). Pop art often featured multiple manipulated images. A photograph by the author of a blue iris was modified so it appears in the three primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) and the three secondary colors (orange, green and violet). Jim Ezell

A capacity crowd of about 700 filled Morgan Auditorium at the University of Alabama. It was Monday evening, February 19, 1968. After watching about an hour of a seemingly pointless and confusing movie, three people appeared on stage. 

The audience had viewed an hour-long excerpt of “****” or Four Stars, an avant-garde work 25-hours in length. It documented life at the Factory, a multi-media New York art studio and production facility. The three people on stage were artist Andy Warhol, actress Viva, and film director Paul Morrissey.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was the best-known artist of the Pop Art genre. His work included drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, music, and film. Much of his work explored the relationship of advertising, celebrity, and art. Some of his iconic images depicted people such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Farrah Fawcett. He also produced scores of avant-garde movies, including “****.” Warhol is also credited with creating the expression “15 minutes of fame” in 1968. This phrase is still used nearly a half-century later to describe a brief period of publicity for an individual or phenomenon in popular culture, such as YouTube or reality television. 

Actress Viva (real name Janet Hoffman) appeared with a movie camera and briefly filmed the audience.  She had roles in a number of Warhol films, including The Nude Restaurant (1967), Tub Girls (1967), and Blue Movie (1969). She is also considered to be an early pioneer of video art. 

Andy Warhol about 1969. Photo by Jack Mitchell, Wikimedia Commons.

During a career that extended from 1964 until 2010, Paul Morrissey directed 26 films. Among these were several Warhol productions, such as Chelsea Girls (1966), Women in Revolt (1971), and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1973). Three of these films, Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Heat (1972) have achieved an almost cult status as examples of the mores of urban street life. They are sometimes referred to as the “Paul Morrissey Trilogy.” 

The Tuscaloosa News published articles on February 17 and 20, 1968, concerning Warhol’s appearance. The first speculated whether the real Andy Warhol would show up, since an impersonator was used at some earlier performances. The second detailed the Morgan Hall event. It questioned Warhol’s identity and if his work was really “art.” Based upon photographs in the 1968 Corolla, the University’s yearbook, it appears the “real” Andy Warhol did indeed show up. However, the article noted that he was tight-lipped and said little if anything.

Future Pulitzer Prize winner Howell Raines, then a reporter for The Tuscaloosa News, penned these articles. Ironically, he was forced to resign in 2002 as editor of the New York Times after a major scandal concerning fabricated reporting by a writer on his staff.

Works by Andy Warhol have commanded some of the highest prices ever paid for art. A 1963 painting, Eight Elvises, reportedly fetched $100-million in a private 2009 sale. Many of his films are still screened at the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, and other venues. 

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Jim Ezell

Local author and historian Jim Ezell is busily writing a collection of historical stories about the Druid City and surrounding areas, in hopes of publishing a book ahead of Tuscaloosa’s bicentennial celebration in 2019. What began as genealogy search in 1992 quickly turned into a much larger project. As Ezell searched through over a century of newspapers on microfilm at the University of Alabama’s Hoole Special Collections Library, he became fascinated by other articles about Tuscaloosa’s rich history.

Ezell was recently named Writer of the Year for 2015 by the Tuscaloosa Writers and Illustrators Guild. 

Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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