Billy Name vs. Nat Finkelstein

The current exhibition of photographs by Nat Finkelstein of Andy Warhol’s Factory reminded me of an earlier squabble between Nat and Billy Name that I found myself in the centre of.

The current show of Nat Finkelstein’s photos at Proud Central in London reminds me of a argument between Nat and Billy Name (b. William Linich) that took place in 2005 over an exhibition of photographs of the Warhol star, Edie Sedgwick, at Gallagher’s in New York. It wasn’t an argument as much as a series of accusations that Nat made against Billy in regard to the Warhol ‘60s.

I had posted an announcement about the Gallagher’s show on my website, warholstars.org, without mentioning Nat. He sent me an email in the form of an “open letter” complaining that I hadn’t mentioned him, saying that he had previously avoided exhibiting his work “with these poor creatures,” (meaning Billy and the other photographers in the show) because he wanted to avoid “the jealousy, back biting, vituperative bitchiness which seemed to commence from the time Andy told Billy to haul his sorry, but well-used arse out of the Factory so that I could complete my assignments and get back to participating in my involvements with the Civil Rights and Anti War movements…”¹

I had never heard of Warhol kicking Billy out of the Factory for any reason, let alone so Nat could finish his work. I sent a copy of Nat’s email to Billy who responded, “thanks, gary, this guy is psychotic and makes up all this crap. doesn’t bother me; he’s sick!”²

It wasn’t the first time that Nat had been in touch with me. He had originally contacted me in 2003, about a year after my website went up, with this cryptic message: “Hi. Who are you? If you want to talk to me, I will be in London this month on the 27th-30th. Best, Nat.”³ The same day he posted the following on the noticeboard of my site:

Many of the images of the Velvet Underground which Gerard merchandizes as the Malanga archives were taken at the time of the Velvet’s appearance at the Trip in LA. Malanga was there, and certainly knows the photographer who took them. For history, for posterity, can Gerard explain how he got them? Signed, Nat L. Finkelstein”⁴

And a couple of minutes after that, I got this email from his wife:

Hello. My husband Nat Finkelstein asked me to contact you once more to ask that you note in the description of the Cinemateque show in Nov 1965 that Nat exhibited the first documented show of large format contact sheets, which featured Warhol & his bunch. Your site is extremely authoritative & we’ve enjoyed looking at it. Good luck to you, feel free to contact us. All the best, Elizabeth Murray⁵

I didn’t know what Nat’s comment about Gerard Malanga meant and didn’t want to know. That was between Nat and Gerard. (Malanga was Warhol’s art assistant during the sixties.)

The information about the Cinematheque show that was mentioned by Nat came from David Bourdon’s biography of Warhol. It had been referred to in Popism and other accounts of the era as the Expanded Cinema Festival but it was actually advertised as the “New Cinema Festival 1” in the Village Voice at the time.⁶ Popism gave the impression that Warhol’s contribution to the festival was originally going to be an Edie Sedgwick retrospective but was replaced by “something with the Velvet Underground instead.”⁷ I asked Nat and his wife if they knew if the event I mentioned on my timeline was originally supposed to be an Edie Sedgwick retrospective and whether there were any photographs of the large format contact sheets. I never got an answer. I didn’t hear from Nat again until a couple of months before his “open letter” when he sent me this:

hey Gary…
I’m working on the proposed Edie movie as well as a new book about her.I’m looking for Edie look alikes and wanabees who would agree to be interviewed and photographed.Could you post this and link to my website natfinkelstein.com.
cheers Nat⁸

The new movie about Edie was Factory Girl, starring Sienna Miller, which presumably was in the pre-production stage at that time. I’d heard stories about the difficulties they were having with it. The filmmakers’ were apparently claiming that Bob Dylan’s song “Lay, Lady, Lay,” was inspired by a relationship he had with Edie Sedgwick; Dylan insisted the song was written about his wife Sara Lowndes.⁹ Although claims had been made in the past about Bob Dylan having an affair with Edie Sedgwick, there was no evidence to back it up and she wasn’t mentioned in his autobiography.

I posted Nat’s notice reluctantly about the search for look-alikes, referring people to his website. I say reluctantly because, although I had heard that film was being made, I hadn’t heard that Nat was involved.

The Edie Sedgwick look-alike contest, or whatever it was, never happened as far as I was aware. The next time I heard from Nat was the “open letter” he sent me criticising Billy Name. I had got to know Billy fairly well by that time and knew him to be a trustworthy individual, so I responded to Nat’s with the following:

Nat,
What are you like! I hope you’re not expecting me to put that on my site. When Billy left the Factory he did so to pursue anti-war activities etc… so you have something in common. Will you be going to the opening party of the exhibit? I don’t know if he will be there, but maybe you can talk about it then. The only reason I mentioned his participation in the exhibit was because I knew he was participating and couldn’t find anything on the net or on Gallagher’s site about who else was participating. But I’m happy to add your name to the news item on the site, of course…
How is the Edie film coming along?¹⁰

He didn’t answer my question about the Edie film. Instead, he accused Billy of milking “his association with Andy to the point of absurdity” (original grammar intact):

Gary;;
Possibly the reason you didnt see other photographers names is because there are 10 of us participating and none of us consider themselves more important than anyone else: unlike Linich who has milked his association with Andy to the point of absurdity…
As far as his involvement with the anti war movement, maybe after 1967, when it became some what popular but prior to that lets be journalistic: who, what, when, where? lets see some photos… He was a photographer, wasnt he?
Publish or dont publish my letter I am more interested in making art than self promotion.¹¹

I didn’t publish anything about the rift between him and Billy; it all seemed a bit silly. I did add him to the announcement about the Gallagher’s show and told him as much. He replied with a clarification of his “open letter,” much of which was taken up with a complaint that he still had about his role as a contributor to Andy Warhol’s Index book, published in 1967, which he believed had been sabotaged by Billy. Nat wrote (again, with original grammar intact):

Andy was contracted to work with me on a project which I initiated, outlined and sold to Chris Serf of Random House.The contract specified that Andy and I were coauthors and that Andy and I would receive equal credit (but unequal pay). After I completed the interviews plus the principal photography: ending with the Velvets gig in L.A and their recording sessions I left the Warhol scene in order to continue my work with ,what at that time was called “The New Left”, The Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War crusade. At this point Andy turned the project over to Paul Morrissey for completion.

Paul Morrissey worked for Warhol and directed some of the films that were billed as “Warhol” films – like Andy Warhol’s Trash and Flesh. Nat continued:

Now you have to remember that Morrissey ,who is an extreme right wing (fascist) ideologue and I were and still are mortal enemies .Paul and Billy then formed ,what could be called and antinat campaign and used my and Andy’s further nonparticipation to highjack the book .Hence; “with photographs by Nat Finkelstein and Billy Name”) was crossed out and replaced by “ factory fotos by Billy Name” and “several photographs by Nat Finkelstein”, penciled in.
If you will notice on the far left hand of the title page is the insert “Well Andy loves mistakes,this wasnt rehearsed”a quote taken from an interview I did with Ingrid (non attributed) and possibly was an attempt to avoid a breach of contract suite.Nowheres is Billy credited with any participation other than the post facto alteration of “factory fotos by Billy Name”.The design of the book was done (I believe ) by Akihito Shirakawa and Andy:not Billy. However now that Andy is dead Billy is claiming that he designed the book.¹²

Billy had never claimed that he designed the whole book to me. The Index book has always been credited to Andy Warhol as far as I was concerned. Despite the fact that the book had been published more than three decades ago and was out of print, Nat was still complaining about it. His complaints didn’t stop with Paul Morrissey and Billy Name. He went after Warhol as well:

You appear to have some misconception about ‘The Factory”s meister and its ambience.Warhol was a master manipulator who exploited the creative genius and emotional weaknesses of a group of young accolytes [sic], discarding them….
Remember, Gary, that these were very bright articulate speed freaks, mainly gay at a time when to be gay was to be shunned and expulsion from this ‘elite group was like getting tossed from The Garden or 86ed from Maxes. Andy would set his pack against them and stand back to watch the victim torn apart…¹³

Nat’s characterisation of Andy Warhol as a “a master manipulator” wasn’t particularly unique. Warhol was often portrayed that way but I had my doubts. I doubted that he had “exploited the creative genius” of his “young accolytes” because I didn’t think most of his young acolytes were creative geniuses to begin with. Most of his “superstars” – the people who appeared in Warhol’s films – seemed more like drug-fuelled egomaniacs than creative geniuses. That was part of their charm. If Warhol hadn’t put them in his films, it’s doubtful that people would still be talking about them today. Billy and Nat were exceptions. They were both talented photographers. Nat did some stunning photographs during the years he visited the Factory, but Billy was the only person who actually lived at the Factory.

In regard to the Gallagher’s exhibition, all the controversy that Nat tried to drum up ultimately ended up as nothing. After the opening party, Nat wrote that the “opening was incredible…….Billy and i shook hands and made up……frankly the fact that he didnt deny my allegations was the clincher and he puts the onus on Morrissey and i tend to believe him…he is a good guy and Morrissey is a sneaky fascist scum. nat”¹⁴

I didn’t agree with Nat’s criticism about Paul, but I’d had enough of Nat’s view of the world of Warhol; I didn’t want to get into an extended conversation about it. I was just glad that Billy and Nat had resolved their differences. Billy Name’s diplomacy may have saved the day at Gallagher’s, but I don’t think that Billy felt particularly friendly toward Nat; when I notified him in October 2009 that Nat had died, Billy’s reaction was “sorry to hear about nat, but we all gotta go sometime. thanks for the notice.”¹⁵

[end]

Notes

  1. Nat Finkelstein to GC, “Edie,” 8 January 2005
  2. Billy Name to GC, “Re: Nat Finkelstein on the warpath!!!,” 13 January 2005.
  3. Nat Finkelstein to GC, “Nat Finkelstein,” 17 February 2003.
  4. Nat Finkelstein, “Gerard Malanga is a thief!,” Warholstars message board, 17 February 2003 at 20:03:13, accessed 27 March 2019).
  5. EM to GC, “Nat Finkelstein 2,” 17 February 2003.
  6. Gary Comenas, “Expanded Cinema?,” warholstars (2014), accessed 4 April 2019.
  7. Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, Popism: The Warhol Sixties (NY: Harcourt Brace, 1980), p. 146.
  8. Nat Finkelstein to GC, “nat finkelstein,” 18 November 2004.
  9. WENN, “Dylan’s Concerns Over Factory Girl,” 17 November 2004, accessed 27 March 2019

10. GC to Nat Finkelstein, 8 January 2005.

11. Nat Finkelstein to GC, 8 January 2005.

12. Nat Finkelstein to GC, “Re: Edie,” 17 January 2005.

13. Nat Finkelstein to Billy Name, 28 January 2005 in BN to GC, “FW,” 28 January 2005.

14. Nat Finkelstein to GC, “edie-billy-nat,” 3 February 2005.

15. Billy Name to GC, “Re: Nat Finkelstein,” 6 October 2009.