"In the End", the memory of a sister by Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol

AS IT TURNS OUT Thinking of Edie and Andy By Alice Sedgwick Wohl Illustrated. 259 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28. Growing u...


AS IT TURNS OUT
Thinking of Edie and Andy
By Alice Sedgwick Wohl
Illustrated. 259 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $28.

Growing up in the first half of the last century, Alice Sedgwick Wohl learned, among many other draconian rules of WASP etiquette, that “it was wrong to begin a letter or even a paragraph with the pronoun ‘I’. even paragraphs can now be as threatened as the arctic ice caps, Wohl defiantly wrote an entire book in the first person singular. Her end-of-life memoir, “As It Turns Out” – published just before its author’s 91st birthday – is beautiful, if not downright joyous.

Wohl was the first child of eight children in a family of distinguished birth and unequal mental health, the Sedgwicks, who moved from Cold Spring Harbor, NY, to a ranch estate in California. On one of these properties they found oil, fortifying their attenuated fortunes. Their rich ancestry included Theodore Sedgwick, a House Speaker under Thomas Jefferson; Ellery Sedgwick, longtime editor of The Atlantic Monthly; and Ellery’s brother, Henry Dwight Sedgwick, a prolific popular historian who “knew and did not particularly like” Henry James. Raised “not to talk about anything personal,” Wohl writes, “I am uncomfortably aware that the mere recitation of facts like these can amount to bragging.”

The seventh child, Edie, would become Andy Warhol’s famous – and doomed – muse as the ’60s turned sour (she died of a barbiturate overdose in 1971, aged 28). Wohl’s book lassos around the couple’s double star, but returns in a touching way to second child Bobby, whom Alice was close to and who in 1965, aged 31, fatally collided with a city bus while that he was riding his motorcycle. Another younger brother, known as Minty after his middle name, Minturn, had committed suicide the previous year.

Silly nicknames were another WASP custom (Henry Dwight was called Babbo), and often they stung. Minty hated her nickname, according to “Edie: An American Biography” (1982), the oral history edited by Sedgwick’s intimates John Stein and George Plimpton, to which “As It Turns Out” serves as something of a sidecar volume. (There have been several other books, documentaries, and a feature film centered on Edie, but none have the clout of the Stein-Plimpton collaboration.) Alice herself was called Saucie because her father, Francis Sedgwick, believed that ‘she looked like a sausage at birth; Francis, a sculptor with a carefully maintained Charles Atlas physique, continually worried about Alice’s weight. To his friends, he was known as Duke, which hints at his self-esteem, a facade after nervous breakdowns that torched banking and military careers. Before his marriage to the patient Alice Delano de Forest, a psychiatrist had advised him not to procreate.

For the Von Trapp-style brood he stubbornly spawned anyway, baptized “en groupe sur la terrasse”, Francis was not dad but Fuzzy, a nickname borrowed from the nickname of his well-born stepfather. He “wasn’t fuzzy, was he” as the old nursery rhyme goes, but cruel and abusive, spanking with a hairbrush, calling Minty “an old woman and a sissy” and writing a hurtful key novel, “The Rim,” about her own bravery. Edie said she not only encountered Fuzzy in the act, which led to him slapping and shooting her with tranquilizers, but that she had experienced his sexual advances herself when she was just 7. Hard to believe doesn’t mean some of them couldn’t have been true,” writes Wohl, who has herself witnessed Fuzzy’s jealous and seductive behavior and shocking racism.

A translator of art books, an understandable choice of profession given the strange codes she was forced to interpret growing up, Wohl adds sensitive nuance and texture to the group portrait of the Sedgwicks that emerged in “Edie.” – and a flash of light. She describes lying on haystacks watching meteors in the night sky, carrying a trout that she and Bobby brought home in his moccasin for her father’s enjoyment, and riding a beloved gray gelding called Grenadier . “Only the music, only a symphony by Brahms, comes close” to the sensation of these prelapsary gallops, she writes.

Credit…Ralph Liberman

With its primitive and sometimes barbaric rituals (branding of cattle, etc.), the isolated ranch was Duke’s elaborately constructed duchy – opposed to and yet parallel in some respects to the hypermodern tin kingdom of Warhol’s Factory: “Each of the two worlds was dominated by a powerful male figure, one gregarious and priapic, the other shy and deliberately ‘swish’,” Wohl points out. Each was obsessed with appearances; each was fogged up with narcotics. Warhol, the Byzantine Catholic of the class Pittsburgh worker, also handed out amusing nicknames.

“As It Turns Out” offers an opportunity for Wohl, with a decades-long perspective, to revisit some of the comments she made to Stein about the artist, to recognize his creative and emotional breadth and his prescience. . “I’m ashamed to see the superficial things I said,” she wrote. “I just didn’t understand.” She finds her trick of dismissing personal issues with a simple “so what?” particularly practical.

Wohl is also determined to refine the popular impression that her little sister was an innocent victim of Warhol’s Svengali. “She wasn’t Miranda in ‘The Tempest,'” Wohl writes, “she was more like a wild creature emerging from captivity,” who was carrying a copy of “A Tale of Two Cities” for show and mistaking her for first with her. the project of the silver-haired look-alike under the name “Pop Tart”. In this tale, Edie, blessed or cursed with exceptional beauty, is spoiled by her parents and develops an overbearing personality, becomes a reckless shopaholic with few skills other than ordering stuff over the phone, a “naughty and totally kinetic (or “everything zoom zoom zoom”, as the eighth child, Suky, liked to say) – really a kind of pain, whose enduring mystique is only due to the rise of image culture .

Wohl maintained what sounds cool with this difficult sister, learning her precise date of birth from a 2015 Vogue article and expressing surprise that the magazine is still celebrating Edie. A few of his passages land with a stubborn, perhaps self-protective naivete. “I knew about the drugs, but I didn’t know she was drinking,” she remarks of Edie after seeing her order vodka in a Warhol movie. In a breath, Wohl wonders why no one found Edie’s bulimia and purging in fancy restaurants disgusting; in the next, she notes – bingo – that her sister always paid the bill.

The Sedgwick children’s grandmother, a member of the Colony Club so stratospherically snobbish that she found the Social Register vulgar and the Vanderbilts too much, once boasted that her bare feet had never touched the ground. Luckily for Wohl and her readers, she managed to dig deep into the dirt, wiggle her toes, and then run the full distance.

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Newsrust - US Top News: "In the End", the memory of a sister by Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol
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