One of the great unknown stories about Andy Warhol is that he hired someone to impersonate him on a tour of colleges throughout the United States in 1967. And Andy almost got away with it. Almost….
Allen Midgette was a gorgeous young actor who started his career with Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci in 1962, and by 1967 he had become a regular at Andy’s Factory and a featured player in Andy’s underground films, including Nude Restaurant, Lonesome Cowboys, and International Velvet.
Since Andy Warhol barely paid his actors, and was himself still scrounging around for money to finance his various art projects, he came up with the idea to hire an actor to impersonate him on a tour of college campuses. That way Andy could stay in New York working on his art while at the same time collecting money from “his” college appearances.
Allen Midgette was the guy who was hired to “play” Andy Warhol. Allen was approached by the notorious Paul Morrissey, an urbane huckster and Andy’s right-hand man, who would later direct Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula. Morrissey offered Allen six hundred bucks for the first college appearance, and Allen readily agreed since he wasn’t doing much else but hanging out in the back room at Max’s Kansas City.
Andy Warhol wasn’t much of a talker, so Allen didn’t have to do or say much—just show one of Andy’s underground movies, answer some questions, and then have dinner with the college professors. Allen just had to be as quixotic and vague as Andy, wear his hair like Andy’s silver wig, chew gum, and then move on to the next college. It should’ve have worked. Should have…
This is Allen’s story:
Allen Midgette: One night I was at Max’s Kansas City and I ran into Paul Morrissey and he said, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?”
I knew something was up because Paul Morrissey was so cheap, he never offered to buy me a drink before. Then he says, “You know Andy wants to know if you wanted to go to Rochester University tomorrow and be him. They’re having a lecture and he wants you to impersonate him… Is that something you’d be interested in?”
I said, “No. Why would I?”
He said, “Well, you’ll make $600…”
So I said, “When do I leave?”
Paul said, “We have to be at the airport at 10 o’clock in the morning. You’ll have to sleep at my house because I don’t trust you to get up in the morning….”
It was like 2:30 in the morning, so I said, “Oh, okay…”
So we go to 10th Street near Second Avenue, where Paul lived, and I sleep on this little Victorian sofa that he had in his living room. And Paul goes into his bedroom and we go to sleep. Fine. So I’m sleeping, and at about five in the morning, I woke up from this strange dream. I’m lying there, thinking over what I was about to do, like if it was really a good idea to impersonate Andy, and thought, “Maybe it’s not such a good idea; you know, money isn’t everything,” and then I heard a knock on the door. Somebody says, “Hey Paul, it’s your friends….”
It sounded ridiculous, like, who knocks on the door and says, “It’s your friends…”? What does that even mean?
So I thought, “Well I’m not answering the door, it’s not even my house.”
So I just lay there, and then Paul comes out of his bedroom, half asleep, and he opens the door, and three narcotics agents push their way into the room.
I’m pretending I’m still asleep, and they come over to me and start shaking me, saying, “Have you ever taken LSD or smoked marijuana?”
I was kind of like, “No sir, what are you talking about, what’s happening?”
The night before I went to sleep, I usually I just let my hair do whatever it wanted, that was my trip. But since I was going to try to be Andy Warhol in the morning, I decided I’d comb it in parts, and spray it with hair spray, and just really put it down. I thought, “Well, in the morning when I wake up, I’ll pull it out and make it look like Andy’s wig…”
So I’m lying there with my hair completely down, like it never would have been in a million years. And these narcotics agents are saying to Paul, “Why aren’t you well-groomed like your friend?”
And I’m thinking, “Boy, if they only knew!” Because Paul Morrissey was a much straighter person than me; Paul abhorred drugs. I mean, he called all of us at the Factory “drug trash”!
And the only reason the narcs came to his house was because Holly Woodlawn and her friends all got busted, and they got Paul’s address from them and decided, “Hey, we’ll bust him, he must be in on it too…”
Anyway, they looked all over the house for drugs and couldn’t find anything; all they could find was the first Velvet Underground album and they started going on about the song, “Heroin.”
And Paul tells them, “Yeah, okay, I know what I mean, but you can’t arrest us for that, it’s not a crime to own a record… and we’ve got things to do…”
So they finally left. But I thought, “Oh my God, is this a sign telling me I shouldn’t go? God, I could get arrested at the university; you’re not supposed to go to universities and impersonate people…”
Then I thought, “Well it was Andy’s idea, I have his permission, so he’s with me in some ways, so I should just try to relax with it a little bit…”
The First Time
I threw the I-Ching; I don’t remember what it said, but I decided to do it, to impersonate Andy, and I just said, “Oh, what the hell!”
So in the morning we got up and got into the car, we’re on our way the airport, and Paul says, “I gotta stop at the Factory first…”
And I said, “Yeah, I gotta get some makeup…”
Paul said, “Cool.”
So we stop at a pharmacy and I go in. I had to get this makeup that Max Factor made that erased the lines on my face, so I thought, “Well I’ll just get a lighter shade of that and just put it all over my face…”
Then I got silver hair spray, because I’d seen Andy do that before, and I thought, “Well, I’ll just put talcum powder in it…” So I buy all these things and I started making up in the car.
Then we went to the Factory to pick up the film that I was going to show at the university. And when we were there, Billie Name came out of the little dark room in the back, where he lived—he had just woken up—and he thought I was Andy!
So that was kinda cool.
Then we went to the airport and I bought a little Pan Am bag because I thought it might be a nice little accoutrement for Andy. And I bought a Vogue magazine that had Jacquelyn Kennedy on the cover and put that on the outside pocket, looking out.
We got on the airplane and I decided to wear a lot of patchouli and cedar oil. I wore it anyway, but I decided, “I’ll really pour it on, because that’ll keep people from getting too near me. It’ll distract them…”
And I started chewing gum, which I never did, and I wore Andy’s dark sunglasses and put my collar up and hunched my shoulders and just tried to be Andy.
We get to Rochester, and it’s, like, this very clear, autumn day and I’m thinking, “This is not good, it should be a little dark and overcast, but it’s gonna be one o’clock in the afternoon and I’ll be facing these people, they’re gonna see me in sunlight and know I’m not Andy!”
We’re walking around Rochester, and by now I’m already Andy and I’m thinking, “God, this is horrible, to have to walk around town like this….”
I’d never been to Rochester before, but I’m checking myself out in the mirrors of the shops to see if I’m gonna be able to get away with this. I’m looking and trying to get into it, thinking, “Well, I’m not too bad….”
Then Paul turns to me and says, “Andy, uh…”
And he catches himself and that’s when I realize, “Okay, you know, maybe we’re onto something here…”
But I can’t relax too much cause I gotta be like Andy: unrelaxed.
Then we walked over to the gymnasium and there’s all these students coming in to see the film and my lecture. Paul sets up the screen and the projector and I decide that while he’s showing the movie, I’m gonna go to the far side of the gymnasium, as far away from the people as possible. I’m gonna watch the movie from the other side of the gym ’cause I’ve never seen this movie that I’m supposed to be giving a lecture about. So I go over and while the lights are on, I just turn my back to the audience and sit in this chair.
The movie begins and I turn around and watch it.
Then the movie ends and then I go up and stand at the podium and suddenly one of the students comes up right up front and sits in the lotus position, looking like a revolutionary with his long hair and a beard and dark glasses. They had this other student up there, who’s pointing out the people who can ask questions.
So the first question was, “Mr. Warhol, are you homosexual?”
I said, “No.”
Then the room was silent; I thought everybody fainted, but they didn’t. But it did go silent for a long time. Then the next question was, “Mr. Warhol, why do you wear so much makeup?”
I said, “Oh, I don’t think about it…”
Then the long-haired revolutionary sitting in the lotus position says, “You know Mr. Warhol, when I looked at this movie, I really thought it was a piece of shit, but after hearing you talk about it, I really think it’s far out!”
I just said, “Ohhh, okay…”
I can’t remember any more of the questions because they just melted together. But my answers I just picked up from being around Andy. Things just came out of my mouth and people seemed to be satisfied. So after the lecture was over, they told me that the local TV station was there and wanted to interview me.
I said to Paul, “No way, man! Just get me outta here! The deal was for the lecture; there was nothing about local TV stations interviewing me!”
He said, “Oh no, come on, just do it…”
I couldn’t get out of it; there was nobody who was going to help me, so said, “Okay, I’ll do it…”
On the TV show, I was trying to hide and hardly talking, probably as good as they ever got out of Andy, because I don’t think they knew much about him anyways. So I did the show, and then Paul said, “Well, now we gotta go to a cocktail party….”
I said, “Wait a minute, this is getting to be too much…”
Paul was adamant though, and barked, “We gotta go!”
So, oh boy. We go to this guy’s house, he’s an art professor, and he presents me with a drawing of a beautiful high-fashion shoe, just like Andy used to do. I’m thinking, “How can an artist who does work like this not know that I’m not Andy? It’s not like I’m that convincing.” But the art professor did accept me as Andy. So I had a drink and there was a student who wanted to come into the party who hadn’t been invited, and they said, “Oh, we don’t want any more people…”
But I said, “No, it’s okay, let him come in…”
It just seemed more fun that saying, “No!”
So he came in and wanted to talk and I said, “Fine.” And he had this poster; it was kinda like Romeo and Juliet thing and he said, “You know my girlfriend’s madly in love with you and she sees this poster as you and her and…”
I said, “How romantic.”
The guy said, “Oh, would you sign it?”
I said, “Oh, sure….”
And while I was signing it, I said to him, “So, does your girlfriend suck your dick?”
The guy just stared at me wide-eyed, and fumbled out some words. I thought it was hysterical, ya know?
Bored With Haight Ashbury
So that was the kind of thing that happened, and that was the first time I impersonated Andy. Afterward I went to Haight Ashbury and I hung out there for, like, two months and took acid. And then I sorta started collecting these friends that didn’t have a place to live. The place where I was staying was a very small apartment, but it had two stories and on the top floor there was a small bedroom with a bath and downstairs was a kitchen with another small room, like a living room.
I said to the people I collected, “You guys can live down here, I’m living upstairs by myself, just don’t fight, and no disturbance with the neighbors, and everything will be cool…”
So they did, and they had their girlfriends come over and spend the night. Everything was cool. And then Andy arrived with Ondine and Nico, and they came over to this house, and they were hanging out and it was fine. Then Andy said, “I’d really like to make a movie here…”
None of these people knew I”d ever been in a movie, we were just friends, so I said, “Well, Andy, these people don’t really wanna act or anything…”
Andy said, “Well, that’s cool, they can just do what they do…”
My roommates had no idea who Andy Warhol was, so I said, “Look, a person I know from New York City is here and he wants to make a movie of you guys, just doing whatever you’re doing… Is it okay?”
They said, “Oh, yeah, it’s okay.”
They just did what they did and Andy got bored, which I figured he would, becaus everyone always said if people didn’t know who Andy was, then they weren’t going to do anything outrageous, and of course, they didn’t. They just hung out and did nothing.
Andy had come out to San Francisco to show his new film, Chelsea Girls, and have an art opening and get interviewed by Gypsy Rose Lee, who had a popular daytime talk show at the time. Nico was with them because she was representing Chelsea Girls and was going to make an appearance at the art opening, but they didn’t invite me because I didn’t wear shoes anymore.
But Ondine insisted that I go, so I wore this shabby fur coat with no shoes, and they wouldn’t let me in! I didn’t really care, but Ondine made a big stink about it, and anyway, I just went on my way…
So that was that, and then they left.
And a few weeks later, I started getting bored with being in Haight-Ashbury. Not bored, but I just felt like I needed to do something else. So I called up the Factory and Paul Morrissey said, “Oh my God, I can’t believe you called! We’ve been trying to get in touch with you! We’ve got a whole tour of colleges for you to do, are you ready?”
And I said, “Sure.”
So I flew back to New York and began this college tour across America, impersonating Andy. The first one was in Salt Lake City, after that was Missoula, Montana, and then to Eugene, Oregon.
“Do You Know You Look Like Marcello Mastroianni?”
One time, I think it was in Missoula, Montana, I decided that I was gonna pull a fast one on everybody, and I pretended to be kinda drunk. So I just kind of slumped over on the table, like I had passed out, ha, ha! Paul had to grab the microphone and start talking; I just thought it was real funny.
At each place I’d have dinner with the president of the university and members of the faculty, but I still hadn’t read the promotional brochure Paul would send them to get the college bookings. So I still didn’t know anything about Warhol. And because they didn’t know anything about Andy either, and had only read this little brochure, they started asking all the questions from the brochure. Like, “Oh, didn’t you win the Cody Award in 1957?”
I didn’t even know what the Cody Award was, so I said, “Oh, yeah, I think so….”
I just had to answer in a way where I wouldn’t commit to anything, but they didn’t really care either. They could’ve cared less about Andy Warhol, believe me. I doubt they were into art at all. But in Salt Lake City, Utah, they scheduled a video interview with me, and for the interview, I decided I wouldn’t wear the white makeup and just made my hair white and wore the dark glasses.
So I’m watching the monitor and thought, “Oh boy, this does not look like Andy at all!”
I was trying to hide my face and while I’m staring at the monitor, I’m thinking, “It’s very weird, because I look just like Marcello Mastroianni! I just can’t imagine how I came out looking that way!?”
Paul and I couldn’t really talk ever in front of all these people, so we left and when we get to the parking lot, he looked at me and said, “Do you know who you look like?”
I said, “Yeah, Marcello Mastroianni…”
Paul asked, “How did you know?”
I told him, “I’ve been looking at the monitor and that’s who I see…”
Weird, right? So then I’m supposed to have a luncheon with the Underground Filmmaking Department and I was a vegetarian at that time. I was hungry, and I wanted to make sure I ate something before I went there, because I might not be able to eat anything at their offering. So I saw this Carvel, a frozen custard stand, and they had bananas.
I said to the guy behind the counter, “Listen will you please sell me a banana?”
So he did, for a quarter, and I ate it. Then I go in and talk to this professor, and he’s Chinese. And he takes me into his office and says, “Mr. Warhol, I love Blow Job!”
And I’m sitting there going, “Oh yeah, I love blowjobs too!”
I’m thinking, “What’s he talking about? Is he really interested in Andy’s movie, Blow Job? Or does he want a blow job? Or does he wanna give me one?”
It was bizarre, but the whole thing was so bizarre that I just went with it.
Then he says, “Well, Mr. Warhol, we have a big surprise for you today, a luncheon in your honor!”
I said, “Well, I just ate at the Carvel…”
And he had this very sad look on his face; I couldn’t imagine why, ha, ha! So then we walk into this little luncheon area where we’re gonna eat, and on the table was a stack of bananas. It was kind of cute way of saying hi to Andy. And all the students were there, and we sit down for lunch and they start asking questions.
One guys asks me, “Well, Mr. Warhol, how would you, in one sentence, describe an underground film?”
I just took a banana off the table and very slowly peeled it back, and by now a bunch of students had gathered around me, and once the banana was completely peeled, I shoved the entire thing in my mouth, chewed it up and swallowed it down.
Then I said, “Uh, that’s what I, uh, think underground filmmaking is about….”
And all the kids applauded, so I thought I was doing a good job.
“It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…”
When we got to Eugene, Oregon, that’s when the trouble started. There was a young man there that had worked with Andy in some films and he was in the audience. We knew he went to this school and we were like, “Oh boy, we’re in for it now!”
But the guy was spaced out on some pills or something, and he couldn’t really see me from the audience, but then he came backstage. He still didn’t know I wasn’t Andy, maybe he would have never known, but we were so afraid that he was going to say something. So Paul and I took him aside and said, “Don’t blow our cover!”
Well, the guy didn’t say anything at that moment, but the next day there was a quote from the guy in some paper: “That wasn’t Andy Warhol! He didn’t even look like Andy, he looked more like Marcello Mastroianni!”
There was a big uproar and that’s the way everyone found out that Andy Warhol hired someone to impersonate him on his tour of college campuses. And the school called Andy and said, “Hey, that wasn’t you!”
Andy said, “Yeah, that’s right,” and then he promised to give the money back and come again at another time. But it made Time and Newsweek and became this huge story for a couple of weeks.
So I hid out in Mexico, where they couldn’t find me. I was never able to be found, but The New Yorker did get in touch with me and wanted to do the story. So I taped my version for them, but they never did print the article.
On the tape, I said Paul Morrissey was the worst person I ever traveled with in my life, because he just didn’t know how to have any fun. He didn’t see the humor of it; he was just doing it for Andy or the money. I mean, it was very boring to be with somebody that was such a drag when it was just such a funny situation!
I mean, I was young, I was stoned, and I thought it was hysterical. I thought I was doing performance art. I mean, I had grass and would invite students to roll joints and smoke them with me, as Andy. Paul would be freaking out, he couldn’t believe this image of Andy Warhol rolling joints and giving them to students, ya know? I mean, Andy couldn’t a roll joint if his life depended upon it, but this wasn’t going down too good with Paul, and he’d say later, “You can’t give these kids drugs!”
I’d say, “Why not? Sure I can…”
I guess we coulda gotten into trouble, but what the hell, it was 1967.
I mean, in Eugene, Oregon, I was taken to a party and I signed draft cards for all these kids—and they genuinely liked me. It was pretty bizarre, because these kinds of situations Andy would never have gotten himself into, ya know? I actually made contact with people that he never would’ve connected with. I’d keep at a distance, to a certain degree, but I would still break through when Andy never would have.
I was so busy doing what I was doing and making sure that even though I was doing things like rolling joints and giving them out, I was still pretty careful, ha, ha! Not so much conscientious of being Andy, but of not getting caught, ha, ha! I just didn’t want to get caught!
But unfortunately, Andy never got to see me impersonating him. He was shot a year later, and then everything changed….