Bob Colacello: “From Warhol to Reagan”

Bob Colacello, former editor of ‘Interview’ magazine, appeared in Manhattan at Phillips de Pury & Company on Thursday evening, to auction off some of his private Warhol collection.  He gave a fascinating speech on the subject of his two biographies, ‘Ronnie and Nancy: Their Path to the White House–1911 to 1980′ and ‘Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up’.  What may seem like a strange comparison, in Bob’s world became sympathetic and amazingly similar parallel paths of two great American lives.

It’s funny, “Andy wore a white wig versus Reagan whose hair never turned grey,” said Bob as he went on to recount touching and very personal stories in the lives of these two men who came from poor families – Warhol from a Pennsylvania ghetto and Reagan from a little town in Illinois – rising up from what began as young men whose family had very low expectations of them.  Bob says neither Reagan nor Warhol were taken seriously at first, citing that Warhol’s obituary only emphasized his party-going and ignored his creativity, that he hadn’t even been given an exhibit at MoMA or the Metropolitan in his lifetime.  And Reagan was called an “amiable dunce” and a “B movie actor” more times than he would have cared to remember.

Bob related how both men were very much influenced by their religious mothers.  “Andy used a lot of gold leaf,” he said, which was his psychological way of responding to his religious mother and all the Catholic imagery by which he was surrounded as a youth.  He told us that out of humble beginnings came two simple men with two simple plans – a couple of very good ideas that they stuck with.  And yet both were somewhat “anti-intellectuals;” they kind of “liked to be underestimated and often played ignorant” to the bewilderment of their colleagues.

Of course, both men went on to achieve tremendous success in their lives – Warhol ranked with Picasso; and Reagan, one of the most popular presidents – great seminal figures of the 20th century.

At this event, Bob was relinquishing some of his coveted collection, including his prized Warhols – such as his Mick Jagger collection (I noted that the Warhols of Jagger were so far ahead of their time, when you consider photography and graphic manipulations of today).  He told the standing room only crowd that combining photography and art was revolutionary at the time and Warhol worshipped popular culture, while Reagan WAS popular culture.  They both were “prophets of fame and celebrity.”

“Think about it,” Bob said, “we live in a Warholian age even today,” he said, referring to the American obsession with the infamous and notorious.  “Andy would have loved what’s going on today, although I’m not too crazy about it.”  Bob admitted he’d become disenchanted with Warhol’s promiscuity (not sexual) and had bowed out of his circle of friends at one point in their friendship.  “I’m a real Republican – partially because it’s so not donein the art world,” he laughed, adding that he just grew weary of the way our culture was headed toward the gutter.

“I’m sure Andy would have Paris Hilton on the cover of ‘Interview’ (magazine) today, but I’d advise him against it.  There’s something wrong with our culture when little girls admire someone like Paris whose claim to fame is having released a porn tape.  There are too many famous people now who really haven’t done anything yet.  It’s out of control.”

Amazingly, Bob did try to get Warhol and Reagan together at one point, and was almost successful.  And he said both Reagan kids wouldn’t grant an interview for the magazine until they discovered they’d get to meet Warhol!

He told poignant stories about his good friend, Nancy Reagan – then and now – and how she would ask him, “Why does the press hate me so much?”  He understood that in an age of feminism, the young female journalists just couldn’t deal with a woman who was a Republican, not to mention one who lived by old-fashioned values.  One got the impression that his admiration for this woman grows with each passing day.

At the end of Bob’s speech, I said, “But, Bob, we want to hear about you!” and he laughed, saying, “I’m saving those stories for the big one.”  And we’re all looking forward to his memoirs, a future book of countless colourful anecdotes that is sure to awe and inspire generations to come, just as Bob’s sensitive telling of the lives of these two great Americans is doing so today.

Bob Colacello is a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, where he has written cover stories and profiles on Prince Charles, Doris Duke, and Liza Minnelli, among numerous others. He is the former Executive Editor of Interview magazine and is the author of ‘Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up’, which the New York Times praised as “by far the best book written on Warhol.” He is also the author of ‘Ronnie and Nancy: Their Path to the White House–1911 to 1980′.


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