Billy Name, who died aged 76 on July 18, was “William Linich” when he met Andy Warhol in the late ’50s.
It was at Serendipity 3, a seething spot in the East 60s where regulars included such future Warhol-stars as Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy, but Warhol was still a highly successful commercial artist and Linich, a lighting designer and performer of 20 or so, was a waiter.
Robert Heide, the playwright and collector of Mickey Mouse memorabilia, who appears in a couple of Warhol movies, remembers him well.
“I met him at the San Remo Café on Bleecker,” he says, referring to what was one of the totemic art bars in what was still part of Little Italy. “Jack Kerouac, Edward Albee, Allen Ginsberg, [the actress] Judith Malina and [her husband] Julian Beck might all be there. He was incredibly good-looking and he had an aura I would compare to Edie Sedgwick, Andy was very smitten.”
Warhol and Linich had a fling but it was short-lived. Linich had been a relatively recent arrival from upstate, the son of a Poughkeepsie barber.
He was living in Greenwich Village, fully immersed in the intense downtown bohemia of the period, performing with the Judson Memorial Dance Theater, which operated out of the church on Washington Square, and with the minimalist composer, La Monte Young.
Also, Linich was getting known for an appropriately Fluxus-era enterprise, his Haircut Parties, where you could actually get a haircut—so known indeed that the artist Ray Johnson brought Warhol to one.
Warhol was enormously impressed to find the apartment swathed in silver foil, with its accoutrements silver-painted, so much so that he asked Linich to come and make over his new space, a fifth floor loft at 231 East 47th Street.
This Linich duly did. Thus the first Factory became the Silver Factory. And Linich fixed the electricity too, because by his own later account there hadn’t been any and Warhol had been working in natural light beside a window. He also moved into a cubicle there, which has usually been described as crashing, but Linich’s own believable account is that he felt that he was needed.
Tim Hunt, formerly an agent for prints and photographs at the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, agrees. “He was Andy’s favorite at the Factory,” Hunt says. “He was a steadying force, the gatekeeper, and Andy really valued him for that.” Oh, yes, and he acquired his superstar identity. While he was filling in an official form, his pen hovered… Name… Billy… He wrote. He had become Billy Name.
He also found a role. In the early ’60s Warhol was increasingly focused on becoming a moviemaker, so handed his Honeywell Pentax 35 mm over to Billy and told him he was now the house photographer.
Name procured the manual, studied it, turned one of the bathrooms into a darkroom and became a remarkable documentarian of the amphetamine-laced tragi-comedians that flowed through the Silver Factory.
Warhol shot 21 films in 1963 and Billy Name was in three of them: Haircut I, 2 and 3. He also appeared in The Nude Restaurant, along with the Warhol superstars Viva and Taylor Mead. By the time this was released on November 1967 the Factory had moved to a new space on Union Square.
On June 3, 1968, Billy Name was in his cubicle when he heard odd popping sounds. He walked out to see Warhol lying puddled in blood. He rushed to him, gathered him into his arms and began weeping. He later reported that Warhol said “Oh Billy, don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.”
Valerie Solanas, the shooter, author of the SCUM Manifesto—for The Society for Cutting Up Men—had failed to kill Warhol but had effected huge changes. “Obviously I shall avoid unstable people,” Warhol later wrote in Popism], but he fretted that “without the crazy, druggy people around jabbering away and doing their insane things I would lose my creativity.”
But the ’60s Factory was a goner. Billy Fame complained about what he called the new “Cardboard Andy” and the more businesslike culture. Then suddenly he was gone, leaving only a note pinned to his door. It read: “Dear Andy, I am not here anymore, but I am fine really. With Love, Billy.”
His departure was not brushed off. “He was a very special person,” says Vincent Fremont, former manager of Warhol’s studio and a co-founder of the Warhol Foundation.
He says that Warhol had asked him to pack all Name’s leavings into a chest. “There were so many books I put into that silver chest. Astrology books, God knows what. We never opened it again. After Andy died we gave it to Billy.” Some of its contents are now on loan to the Andy Warhol Museum.
And Billy Name? Not long before his death he gave Dagon James, who edited Billy Name: The Silver Age, some details of his departure from the Factory.
It had been night when he walked out, but he had been in a dark closet for so long that the street lamp he looked up at looked like sunlight to him.
He stayed for a week with an ambassador he knew, then fell in with some people he didn’t know, and went down to Georgia with them and picked fruit for a week.
He then went on to New Orleans, then to California and stayed for a while with the poet Diane Prima in Topanga Canyon, where he hung out with a group of Californian artists and writers, like George Herms and Wallace Berman. He then settled for a year in San Francisco, studying Buddhism and taking no photographs.
And in the 1980s he headed back to his hometown, Poughkeepsie. Billy Name became pretty well-known there and in such neighboring towns as Woodstock. “I never saw his eyes,” says the artist, Paul McMahon. “He always wore wraparound sunglasses.”
John Adams, a Poughkeepsie based artist, met him at the Mid-Hudson Arts and Science Center and became his closest friend.
“We would go to art shows and poetry readings,” Adams says. “Nothing was too small. Sometimes we would just drive until we saw something that interested us.”
Name’s own working days were behind him, but he would sometimes do readings. He is never known to have taken more photographs.
His connection with Adams strengthened after Adams and his wife separated. “Sometimes we would go to New York and stay in the Gershwin Hotel,” Adams says. And occasionally they would run into characters from Name’s past, like Wayne aka Jayne County. The painter reunited with his wife, but his friendship with Name continued.
The first Warhol generation, alumni of the Silver Factory, such as Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, became very liable to lay into Warhol, both before and after his death.
Paul Morrissey indeed insisted to me that there was no such thing as a Factory, that it was a media invention.
But not Billy Name, his barbs at the later “Cardboard Andy” aside. “All the others from the 60s group would beat up on Andy a bit,” says Hunt. “Or magnify their roles. Billy was always gracious. He would never talk about his contribution. He would say he was privileged to have been around a genius.”
Fremont says, “Billy never attacked Andy. He and Brigid Berlin were the only ones.”
Billy Fame would also occasionally attend various Warhol-related events, such as the 20th anniversary of the Warhol Museum.
In October 2014 there was a show at Milk Studios in West Chelsea of photographs from Billy Name: The Silver Age. We spoke. He was larger than life, apparently hale. But not.
It was widely known that Billy Name had been increasingly ill for several years, but nobody seems to know anything more precise. Years of amphetamine addiction might have played a part, but there are also rumors of a bad fall, and he is said to have had several small recent strokes.
Shiv Mirabito was well aware of this. Mirabito, a Woodstock-based publisher, had been originally introduced to Name in 1900 by Allen Midgette, a denizen of the Silver Factory who Warhol had sent out to impersonate him on a notorious 1967 college tour.
Recently Mirabito made an edition of prints of photographs Name had taken of Midgette that same year, and which Warhol had stamped with his own name.
Mirabito had asked Midgette to sign them and asked Name to sign a few too. Which he did. Mirabito wrote me: “Soon he wasn’t feeling well and pronounced that he was going home… a few days later he was gone.”
There’s an irony here. Billy Name had had it with Poughkeepsie, where he was in an assisted living facility. He wanted to go back to San Francisco.
“I was in the process of moving him out,” Dagon James says.
So what now? Well, one horror of Billy Fame’s last years was the disappearance of a trusted agent, Kevin Kushel, to Hawaii with the bulk of his negatives.
James, who is the designated heir to Billy Name’s estate, is currently building a website to display Name’s photography. He believes that he has managed to reconstitute about 30 per cent of his work. As for the rest, he believes these negatives exist. So the remarkable story of Billy Fame is very far from over.