Thursday, April 16, 2009

and she aches just like a woman, but she breaks just like a little girl

Edie Sedgwick, Part One In an anticipatory celebration of this Monday (April 20), which would have been her 66th birthday, I will be doing a series of posts about the life of Edie Sedgwick. I have had a long-held fascination with her -- her iconic style and troubled life, her famous relationship with Andy Warhol and her sensationalized one with Bob Dylan. She was the odd combination of a vulnerable innocent and someone who has seen the ugliest ends of the Earth. The fact that despite how many people have published books, blogs, articles, and films around her, Edie Sedgwick can still remain a mystery is astonishing. Her life has been plagued by ugly lies and, at times, uglier truths. I hope that my entries can help you understand (even if only a little bit) her life, and, even if it doesn't, I hope that it at least piques your curiosity in her.
There have been many (false) stories spread about Edie that are considered truths in her life. One is that Andy Warhol was responsible for her drug addiction, introducing her to drugs and then disposing of her once she had served her purpose to him. Another is that she had an affair with Bob Dylan, who convinced her to leave Warhol and the Factory behind to become a Hollywood star and then proceeded to toss her aside just as Warhol had, telling her he would put her in a film with him that he was never really planning to make.
As opposed to the oft-told story of Warhol using-and-abusing Sedgwick, it seems that Sedgwick’s choice to break away from the drug-addled reputation of the Warhol group was closer to the truth. The length of their friendship is also over-exaggerated at times; their relationship, though probably very intense and connected, lasted only eleven months (March 1965 to February 1966). The reason for Andy’s later dismissive treatment of a mention of Edie was probably because he felt something akin to a jilted lover, still bitter from a partner leaving him. He said in his autobiography that what he felt for Sedgwick was “probably close to a certain kind of love.” He used the name “Taxi” for Edie, a name he had used for her previously in his 1968 novel “a, A novel,” but despite the guise his love for Edie still shines through. He describes how magnetic and wonderful she was, saying she was the “one person in the 60s [who] fascinated me more than anybody I had ever known,” but describes how she “drifted away from us after she started seeing a singer-musician who can only be described as The Definitive Pop Star – possibly of all time – who was then fast gaining recognition on both sides of the Atlantic as the thinking man’s Elvis Presley.” To Warhol, Bob Dylan stole Edie, his Edie, away. In the chapter entitled ‘Love (Prime) – The rise and fall of my favorite sixties girl’ Warhol admitted a humble but ultimately unsuccessful truth: “I missed having her around, but I told myself that it was probably a good thing that he was taking care of her now, because maybe he knew how to do it better than we had.”

The tragic story of Sedgwick’s short life has just compounded her “Poor Little Rich Girl” persona. Born the 7th of eight children into a mentally unstable, socially important family (her great-great-great grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence) in Santa Barbara, Edith Minturn Sedgwick was born on April 20, 1943. Because of her father Francis’s history of mental breakdowns, a doctor advised Francis (Fuzzy) and his wife Alice that they shouldn’t have children. Edie admitted during the 60s that as a child both her father and two of her brothers had tried to sleep with her but she turned all of them away. Her first real encounter with drugs of any form came after she found her father cheating on her mother with a neighbor. After she tried to tell her mother what she witnessed, her father told her that she was crazy and called a doctor who “gave me so many tranquilizers I lost all my feelings.” Edie was first institutionalized during the fall of 1962. She suffered from anorexia while in school (a disease which would plague her until the end of her life) and, like her brother Minty, was placed in the Silver Hill mental hospital (Minty would live there until the end of his life when in 1964 he committed suicide; another brother Bobby was institutionalized in Manhattan and died early January 1965 after a motorcycle accident left him in a coma since New Years Eve, 1964). Her anorexia persisted while she was at Silver Hill, getting to the point where she weighed a dangerously low ninety pounds, and she was moved to the far stricter Bloomingdale hospital. Toward the end of her stay at Bloomingdale, Sedgwick became pregnant and had to have an abortion.
In the fall of 1963 Edie was released from Bloomingdale and moved to Cambridge to attend Radcliffe College, where she began hanging out with Ed Hennessy, “a kind of deliberately outrageous dandy,” and Chuck Wein, a recent graduate of Harvard who had “come back to bum around.” She left Cambridge soon after her twenty-first birthday, moving into her grandmother’s Park Avenue apartment in 1964, with Chuck Wein also moving to Manhattan as well. Edie’s friend at the time recalled that in their early New York days Wein “would be plotting out the next move of their strategy, whom he was going to introduce to Edie that night, what they could do for her. Chuck had a real promoter’s vision about her; he knew that she had this quality but that she was totally disorganized and wouldn’t be able to pull it off herself…so he took over her life.”

*Stay tuned for the continuing story of Edie Sedgwick*

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