Andy Warhol was so in love with his tape recorder that he sometimes called it “my wife.” He took it everywhere he went, taping pretty much every phone call he made.
So when he founded inter/VIEW in 1969 – as it was called then for a short time – it was only natural that Warhol’s obsession materialized in the magazine’s pages, too.
“It’s no coincidence that Interview came out at the same time as the small cassette recorder,” the magazine’s former editor, Glenn O’Brien, told the Independent in 2008.
The interviews ran in their raw, unvarnished form, never polished for clarity or brevity, with every “uhm” and “well” preserved. They featured cult-favorite celebrities, who were asked what they ate for breakfast and whether they wore underwear to bed and wanted to live forever. They “read just like conversations, sometimes boring and trivial,” wrote Mary Harron in Pop Art/Art Pop, “but with the fascination of eavesdropping.”
John Lennon talked in his interview about the time he thought he saw a UFO from his window in Manhattan. Salvador Dali spoke of his moist sofa; David Bowie, about his brother’s mental illness.
But just shy of its 50th anniversary, the magazine that pioneered the celebrity question-and-answer, that for decades gave readers a peek into both the ordinariness and extravagance of some of the flashiest personalities, is no more. On Monday, employees at Andy Warhol’s Interview announced via Twitter that its owner, billionaire art collector Peter M. Brant, was shutting it down amid financial difficulties and lawsuits. The company itself did not issue any formal statement and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Brant, described as Warhol’s friend in a 1989 New York Times article, took over ownership of the magazine under Brant Publications, Inc. two years after Warhol died at 58, in 1987. In recent months, the editorial director, art director and stylist have all left, and in fact the editorial director, Fabien Baron, reportedly sued the magazine earlier this month, claiming Brant owed him $600,000 in unpaid invoices.
An editor at the magazine, Ezra Marcus, confirmed to The Washington Post via email that the company’s president, Kelly Brant, called an all-hands meeting on Monday to inform the staff that the company has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and “would be folding effective immediately.”
Marcus called it the “end of an era.”
At the time that Warhol founded the magazine in 1969, he was fresh off recovering from the 1968 assassination attempt by Valerie Solanas, who shot him at his famed studio, “The Factory.” He was fresh off publishing a book called a, A Novel that was almost exclusively a transcription of hours of tape-recorded conversation with the actor Ondine, which wasn’t a hit. And he was fresh off getting turned down by the New York Film Festival, which declined to give Warhol free tickets that year.
His friend Gerard Malanga said this was the immediate reason Warhol, together with several Factory mainstays, thought up inter/VIEW – so he could get free press passes to the film fest, as former Interview editor Bob Colacello recounted in his biography of Warhol, Holy Terror. Warhol himself has said it was because he just wanted to give the “Factory kids” something productive to do.
In any case, the magazine started out as a film journal, featuring nude avant-garde film stars on the cover of its first issue. But by 1970, the year Colacello became editor, Warhol was heading a different direction. Seeking Warhol’s approval, Colacello asked Warhol what he thought of an article Colacello had written in the first issue he produced as editor.
“I think you should write less and tape record more,” Warhol told him, as Colacello recounted in the biography. “It’s more modern.”
Those recorded interviews became the magazine’s staple over the next 48 years.
“The most crucial decision that we made was to try to make (the set piece interview) mostly question-and-answer, to really go into a format which nobody had done before,” O’Brien, who worked with Colacello in the early 1970s, told the Independent. “Playboy interviews, probably the form people knew of before Interview magazine, were highly edited. They would meet with somebody over the course of several days and tape hours and hours and edit it down to something that read in a very cogent, proper copy-edited way. Interview magazine’s were much more verbatim and gave you a feeling of what it was like to be there, like a fly on the wall in the room.”
Over the years, celebrities ranging from a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio to a glowing Stevie Wonder, Jack White with a Scissorhands-like haircut to Kiera Knightly with a cigarette, have graced the covers of the magazine. Interview also became known for its celebrities-interview-celebrities features. In February, Will Ferrell talked to Joaquin Phoenix about how much Phoenix hates interviews, and about his social anxiety. In 2013, Erykah Badu asked Kendrick Lamar about growing up in Compton. In 2017, Elton John interviewed Eminem, bonding over their favorite hip-hop.
Perhaps the magazine’s most famous interview subject was Warhol himself, in 1977.
Glenn O’Brien did the honors, asking him what his first work of art was (paper doll cutouts as a 7-year-old), the first artist to influence him (Walt Disney and Snow White) and about the Campbell’s Soup cans (he ate it for lunch every day for 20 years).
O’Brien asked him what happens when he gets drunk, and Warhol teased with a reference to his 15-minutes-of-fame quote.
“Nothing,” Warhol said. “I tell everyone they can be on the cover of Interview.”