Factory Workers Warholites Remember: Billy Name

Billy Name, né William Linich, was one of Andy Warhol’s most crucial co-conspirators. He painted the first Factory silver, helped name it “the Factory,” introduced Andy to many of his superstars, assisted on the films and the art and took many of the most famous Factory photos. One day he went into his darkroom and didn’t come out for a year. And then he left. In many ways he was the soul of the Factory scene at its most vital, and that soul lives on today in a most vibrant, articulate, and lovely fellow.

GLENN O’BRIEN: How did you meet Andy?

BILLY NAME: I was a waiter at Serendipity 3 on the Upper East Side, which was the very chic part of Manhattan at that time, and Andy was a customer. He would come in the evenings as a friend of the owner, Stephen Bruce. Andy even did some of his first book exhibits there — the books that were signed by his mother. He was a successful commercial artist and was doing the I. Miller shoe ads. He wasn’t known as a painter yet. He said, “Hi, Billy” to me and I said “Hi, Andy.” Nothing special happened other than that nice friendship.

O’BRIEN: And then?

NAME: Nothing happened until 1959. I was 19 then, working at the restaurant just to make money. But I was living on the Lower East Side and started to do theatrical lighting design for the Judson Dance Theater. One day Ray Johnson, the collage artist who was my mentor at the time, took me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see a show. Ray met Andy there. They were like artist pals. Andy and I recognized each other. I started hanging out with Andy up at his house on Lexington Avenue. We’d go to movies or art openings. I was sort of like Andy’s boyfriend. And while I was the lighting designer at the Judson, I also sometimes trimmed people’s hair. I did it at my apartment on 5th Street in Alphabet City, where I had covered the whole place with aluminum foil and sprayed everything with silver aluminum spray paint. The whole apartment was silver. Ray brought Andy over one night to one of my haircutting salons, and Andy said how so spectacularly brilliant the place looked. He said, “Wow. Oh, Billy, I just got a new loft space. Would you come and do this to my new loft?” This is how the 47th Street Silver Factory began. The original place was really dreary, crumbling concrete with no lighting fixtures or outlets and Andy was doing his silk screening up by the front windows, which faced 47th Street. I decided I would do it.

O’BRIEN: How did you get the idea to paint your apartment silver?

NAME: Oh, it was an interior inspiration. It was long before graffiti. I went into a corner hardware store that sold spray paint cans and decided to try to use them experimentally to see what it looked like when I would spray things. It was in the sense of minimalist art, of making something a single color. I was so struck by the result of the silver aluminum color, I decided not to use any other colors. I started painting the telephone and the refrigerator and eventually the walls, the toilet, and the silverware. Because it was not really expedient to spray a whole wall with a single spray can, I decided to cover the walls with silver foil to keep the color on them.

O’BRIEN: Did you tape that down like wallpaper?

NAME: No. I used a staple gun. I would staple it to the top of the ceiling and let the foil drop down the side of the wall. That’s the same way I did it at the Factory, too. I guess you might say it turned out to be an installation. And I feel that possibly my inspiration came from Mid-Hudson Bridge near my hometown of Poughkeepsie [New York], which they repainted silver every seven years. I was always taken by it. Now, many art institutions over the years have attempted to do a recreation of the Warhol Silver Factory, and they always seem to think that the foil on the walls was crumpled. You know? They would crumple it up and try to stick it on the wall and they don’t realize that I had simply draped it from the ceiling. The crinkling came after years of being bumped into by everybody. It started out like a brilliant rectangle or cube of cascading aluminum foil falls. And it was very brilliant. That was what the first year was like at the Factory, because Andy and I were there together most of the time alone. Sometimes Gerard would come in the afternoons and help with the silk-screening, to clean the screens after they were used. They were big, heavy wooden frames, and ones like Elvis were 50 pounds. So Andy couldn’t do all of that alone. But I was like Andy’s boyfriend, so I moved into the Factory, left my apartment and moved my stuff up there into the back. I used sheets of plywood to section off areas of space and I sprayed them all silver. The floor was concrete and cracked, so I even did that silver. I did everything silver — the sink and the refrigerator and the toilets. 

Andy said, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s so funny. And then in the future everybody could be famous for 15 minutes. Billy Name

O’BRIEN: Did you work on Andy’s art?

NAME: Andy and I silk-screened the hundreds of Brillo boxes and all of the other grocery store boxes. Andy would go to grocery stores and get the empty cartons that they were throwing away the ones cans of ketchup came in. The silkscreen for the the Brillo boxes was produced from a real Brillo box that we got at the supermarket. And the same with the Del Montes and all the other box sculptures. My job was basically to paint. Andy had these boxes made by a local carpenter to the exact dimensions of the supermarket wholesale-type boxes. And then we covered the floor with long rolls of brown wrapping paper to protect the boxes. My task was to do the base coats — white for Brillo, cardboard brown for Del Monte. Andy had the silkscreen of each image made to fit the box, so you didn’t have to worry too much about registration. You just placed it at the edges, and the screen would sit right on top of the box. Gerard would hold it while Andy would put the ink on and then squeegee the silk screen. In Brillo, some of the letters are blue and some are red, so it required two screens — one for the blue color and one for the red color, so you had to wait for the blue to dry before you did the red. But by the time you got all the way down the line to the last of how many we did, it would be dry. It was in a cottage-industry manner, you know, but in a factory sense of being replicas of each other, clones cloning the supermarket carton. You could call them the first art clones maybe. [laughs]

O’BRIEN: How did the studio start being called the Factory?

NAME: I became good friends with this guy Ondine. I was the good-looking, silent type who would just stand there and be cool, and Ondine was this flamboyant, flaming thing who was a combination of Oscar Wilde and Laurence Olivier. He was really a professional actor and a brilliant intellect and knew everything about culture. But he was also a menacing dragon. I was having a very bad time health-wise, because I was in an automobile accident when I was 18 and fractured vertebrae in my neck and lower back, and it never really healed correctly. One day Ondine said, “Here, try some of this, it’ll make you feel a lot better. Just sniff it.” It was methamphetamine hydrochloride and when I did it all of a sudden I became alive again. I didn’t really get high, but I was able to work again and stand up and do things. It was sort of like a magic powder for me. That’s how I was able to really continue working. For a lot of people, speed kills, but for me speed lives. Ondine started to visit me at the Factory when I moved there. Andy liked Ondine. Ondine treated Andy as if he were this precious, magical, wonderful thing, and Andy thought Ondine was, like, the most fabulous creature ever from American culture. We all became pals and would brainstorm together — it would be more like aesthetic-storming. I remember where we were standing and exactly when it happened, between the elevator and Andy’s painting table. We decided we can’t call this place the loft. It can’t be Andy Warhol’s loft or his studio, because those things were so uninteresting-sounding and dry. I thought of “The Lodge.” We said no to “The Lodge.” Then the three of us almost simultaneously realized that this had been a factory — a hat factory. We all together just said “The Factory.” It sounded so perfect, as if the place itself were inspiring us to come up with that word. The old factory became the Factory. It named itself through me, Andy, and Ondine brainstorming in that crazy amphetamine way. Andy wasn’t taking amphetamine. Ondine and I were on meth. I never shot up, because I hate needles. But Ondine would shoot up. Andy was taking Obetrols, the diet pills, which are a softer form of amphetamine, not as intense as meth. He was very mellow. But it allowed him to become sociable and interact with people and be more playful. Andy wasn’t dumb like a lot of people said. He was sophisticated. He did go to art school at Carnegie Tech. He did associate with people in the art world and people who were hip philosophically, socially, and aesthetically. He was aware of things. But his personality was so vulnerable that it became a defense to put up the blank front. It saved him all the trouble of developing the skill of being articulate in an interview or confrontation with knowledgeable people. I would be the one sent to people who wanted to interview Andy Warhol. Andy would say, “Oh, ask Billy.” I would then explain to them in a well-articulated mode what Andy was doing. But they would say, “Yes, but we’re not interested in that.” They were really struck by the Andy façade, that know-nothing thing Andy would put up. There was this whole tantalizing thing about Andy that you couldn’t pin down.

O’BRIEN: Were any of Andy’s well-known lines actually something you said?

NAME: No, not really. Once we were preparing for an exhibit that was going to be in Stockholm and there would be a catalog. It turned out to be the famous flowers catalog that somebody is trying to reprint right now and it’s listed at Amazon.com. A whole strange thing is going on with it. So we all were standing at Andy’s work table and talking about the catalog, deciding how many times we would repeat the Marilyn image and what else to include. We were talking about the surreal aspect of the different images all laid out together. That’s when Andy said, “Oh, yeah. That’s so funny. And then in the future everybody could be famous for 15 minutes.” That was said right at that time when we were making that catalogue, so it went in the catalogue. They wrote it down, because it was so cool what Andy said. That catalog had such an impact. That catalogue and the silver.

O’BRIEN: It made a whole generation want to move to New York and be artists.

NAME: I was in Detroit several years ago, and this guy came up and said, “Oh, I just wanted to tell you, Billy, when I was a teenager my parents wanted me to go to college, and I wouldn’t go. I kept saying, ‘No, I want to go to New York and work at Andy Warhol’s Factory.'” It was such a radically infusive thing that touched a nerve and note in so many people, not only young people who realized you didn’t have to go through all this hierarchy stuff to be an artist, you know, but also all the avant-garde people that first sort of resented Andy because of the silk-screening thing. Eventually, they came around to his audacity and imagery and playfulness in Pop. America’s youth found their way of life or their expression or themselves through Andy Warhol and the Factory. But not like in rock ‘n’ roll. This was more for people who were “closeted,” a little more intellectual and intelligent, who found an opening that they felt was their own.

O’BRIEN: Did you see yourself as a photographer at that time?

NAME: No. I was just… I considered myself an artist. I did a lot of collage work. I participated with the burgeoning of all the experimental art, experimental music, happenings, and dance, intermixed with the musical performers, intermixed with painters, intermixed with everything. It was that great assemblage of the arts that was happening in Manhattan. I always considered myself an avant-garde artist. Now, this whole photography thing came when Andy got the Bolex, the 16mm black-and-white camera, and was so interested in making films. He wanted to make films, but he wanted to make them as art, fine art movies that everyone could see. The disappointment came when he realized that it took a lot more capital than the painting did. If you’re just a single underground artist, it takes up your total incoming revenue just to buy film and have it developed. That’s why we started working in black and white.

O’BRIEN: Have you seen the movies depicting that time — I Shot Andy Warhol [1996] and Factory Girl [2006]?

NAME: Well, if you look at the credits in I Shot Andy Warhol, you’ll see Billy Name is actually the artistic consultant. I was there on set a number of times. I worked with Mary Harron and I had worked with her previously when she was working on a documentary post-mortem about Andy and the Factory. I really liked the way the movie was made. I haven’t seen Factory Girl and I had some intercourse with them initially, but they ended up using Gerard and Nat Finkelstein as their advisors.

I was so struck by the silver aluminum color, I decided not to use any other colors. I started painting the phone and the refrigerator and eventually the wall, the toilet … Billy Name

O’BRIEN: Can you give us a typical day in the Factory? Because in films, it seems like a 24-hour party.

NAME: Okay, Andy’s fame was becoming more like notoriety and the glamour magazines were covering him and doing shoots at the Factory. Like, Vogue would do a shoot of Edie and the other Warhol girl superstars. It popped into the chic world of New York, no longer just the avant-garde. There would be interviews, and, if there was a photo shoot that day, Andy would participate in it. But otherwise he would just come in and go over to his worktable, which was a large worktable I had found in the basement and sprayed all silver. I would have already gotten the mail and brought it up. There was a mailbox down on the ground floor. This is before I was Billy Name, so the mailbox said Warhol/Linich. I would put the mail on Andy’s worktable, and he would come in, look through his mail, and then start working on a project — either selecting imagery to be made into silk screens or opening the silk screens that had come from the screen maker and getting his inks in order. Then he would start silk-screening. And this would go from maybe 11 to 2. Before 3, Andy would work by himself. By 3 — for instance, by the time Edie and her friends showed up it became superstar time with cohorts coming in. Then there would be talk about whether or not we were going to make a film that day. Nobody was usually there after 11 except me, because everyone would go out to whatever was Andy’s favorite place at that time.

O’BRIEN: Did you go out?

NAME: Occasionally. But not until we moved down to Union Square and we were across the park from Max’s. I could just walk over. But I usually didn’t go to other places with Andy, because then I would be dependent on taxis and all that stuff and I couldn’t just get home. But down there it was so easy, and also I had arranged with Andy that I could sign for my meals at Max’s. Only a few people could sign for the tab at Max’s.

O’BRIEN: Why the new studio at Union Square?

NAME: The building on 47th Street was sold, and so we had to vacate. There was then a search for a new place. I remember going around with Andy to look. The place I favored most was next door to the Academy of Music on 14th Street. It was this three-story building that had these huge plate-glass windows and would have made the perfect Factory. But Paul [Morrissey] overrode me. He didn’t like the idea of being on the ground floor and so accessible to the public, which, as far as I can see at that period, was wrong, because it would have been the right move to further develop the Warhol phenomenon. Paul chose this building at 33 Union Square West, which had a beautiful terracotta façade. That was the first time that Paul’s decision really overrode mine. It was the point where Paul really started taking over as the director. I was the inspirational type of avant-garde, synchronistic with Andy. He and I had a really nice, loving relationship. But when it started to become more Paul-oriented and business-oriented, that’s when I left the Factory. I didn’t feel it was like an art place anymore. It became too much like a business place. And the trauma people don’t realize the depth of the trauma of Andy being shot. When Andy came back and he was like a stand-up cardboard Andy. He had been so injured and he was so, so sensitive and so vulnerable. I was just so traumatized, because I had a love relationship with Andy. I knew the pain he was going through. I held him in my arms when he was bleeding on the floor. When Andy became the cardboard Andy, he couldn’t be loved anymore, because you couldn’t hug him. He would just shrink away from anybody who tried to touch him.

O’BRIEN: I came to work for Andy in 1970, and you were locked up in the back room there, and we never saw you. And then one day you were gone.

NAME: Well, that’s the year I left. Yes. And I left a note on their door. “Dear Andy, I am not here anymore, but I am fine really. With love, Billy.” I always loved Andy. He was a wizard. I mean, just sitting there with his finger on his chin, his legs or his arms crossed, and everything happens. [laughs] Everything goes on. In the mid-’60s, when we became the epitome of New York culture, when we were the top of the culture, we could feel the power we had.

O’BRIEN: How did you become Billy Name from Billy Linich?

NAME: Well, Billy Name is not a real person. He’s a cartoon character that I made up to fulfill sort of an identity role in the Factory theme. It came about one day when we were doing tours with the Velvet Underground. Before the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” there was the “Andy Warhol Uptight” show and we were doing a poster, like “Andy Warhol presents the Velvet Underground” and then it said, “Featuring Edith Sedgwick, Billy Linich.” And I said, “These are such strange ways to spell names, you know?” I said, “I don’t think Billy Linich really sounds like a star name to be on a billing on a poster.” So, I said, “I have to come up with something else.” At the front desk by the telephone there was just some form there, or an application or something, whatever, and it said, “name, address” you know. So on the line where it said name I put Billy and then I said, “Wait a minute, Billy . . . Name. That’s it.” You know? And it just had that sound to it that would be fine on that poster or an ad for one of our events, that it could be a Warhol Factory character. It was a superstar-type name. So, that’s when I became Billy Name. And it was never really me, it was always my cartoon façade, a way to relate to all the attention that came to the Warhol Factory without having to be a real person. Because I’m not that you know, I’m an avant-garde person. I’m an anarchist in that sense. I don’t believe in society and all that stuff, so it was my way — my way of doing a Warhol. You know? I just became that ubiquitous name — Billy Name.