Author Bob Colacello remembers a starry 1974 night with the king of pop (art) and the queen of consumption—a title that, as he discovered, Ms. Marcos refused to cop to
As the former editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, Bob Colacello regularly found himself surrounded by a who’s who of actors, musicians, aristocrats, and political figures—and often at The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel. “I have many memories of picking up fancy friends who were staying there, including Sao Schlumberger, Thomas Ammann, and Lynn Wyatt,” he recalls. “I also visited Nancy Reagan there.” But perhaps his most vivid memory of visiting the storied New York hotel was the time he accompanied Warhol to tea in Imelda Marcos’s suite—a humorous and somewhat harrowing encounter, colorfully recounted in Colacello’s dishy memoir Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up (Knopf/Vintage Books). Here, an excerpt.
In November 1974, after a year of not-so-subtle hinting by us, Franco Rossellini had finally arranged for Andy to get together with the wife of the President of the Philippines, over tea in her suite at The Carlyle. The year before, she had electrified the art world by asking for prices at the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum. When told that the Met paintings were actually not for sale but that there was a Bacon show on at the Marlborough Gallery, Imelda immediately motorcaded down to 57th Street, and, the buzz was, snapped up twenty large canvases at $200,000 each. She was really bringing home the Bacon—and also, that same trip, according to a Bulgari associate, a million-dollar diamond…
Andy was always in a rush to pin down a potential portrait, but he was particularly anxious about this one. It could be the big break in his campaign to become the official portraitist to the leaders of the world. And, unlike President Ford, or any other leader of a democratic nation, Imelda Marcos really could order up scores of her silk-screened likeness for every cabinet member’s office, governor’s mansion, and ambassador’s residence, fulfilling one of Andy’s fondest fantasies: the single commission that miraculously multiplied ad infinitum.
And then, wouldn’t President Marcos want his portrait too, to hang side by side with the First Lady’s in every post office, train station, and national-bank branch in the land? And once the Marcoses set the trend for official portraits by Andy Warhol—so flattering, so easily reproduced—wouldn’t the Pahlavis and the Saudis, Hassan and Hussein, the King and Queen of Thailand, all follow? And how about Imelda’s best friend, Mrs. Mao Tse-tung? Why, Andy had her husband’s portraits in every size and color, just sitting there at the Factory, waiting to be shipped to China the minute the check came in the diplomatic pouch…
The one thing that worried Andy about hanging out with this group, aside from losing his limousine-liberal clients, was their tendency to attract assassins. Mrs. Marcos, for example, had already been stabbed in the arm by one of her Filipino subjects. Andy didn’t want to be there, popping Polaroids, when the bullets sprayed... As Jerry Zipkin had advised Andy a few nights before, “Never get in an elevator with Imelda. And if you have to, always let her out first.”
When we got off the elevator on the 34th floor of The Carlyle, we were confronted by a U.S Secret Service post, set up between Imelda’s suite, 34b—the one where President Kennedy had always stayed, noted Fred [Hughes, Warhol's manager]—and suite 34a, which was owned by Henry Ford II, whose second wife, an Italian jet-setter named Christina, was one of Imelda’s most intimate friends. The Secret Service men checked our passports and then announced us—by walkie-talkie—to their Filipino counterparts, who were standing a few feet away. “Gee,” whispered Andy, “this is glamorous. And scary. I better not tape, right?”
The Filipinos checked our passports again and opened the door to Imelda’s suite, where a video crew was waiting, with its bright lights on, to record our entrance. “They’ve got us on film now,” whispered Andy. “We’re linked with her for good, so we better get her portrait, Bob.” Still being videotaped, we moved into the center of the sitting room and admired the view of Manhattan, Queens, and New Jersey...
Then Mrs. Marcos swept in from the bedroom, tall, dark, and handsome, with her soft Oriental features and hard jet-black pompadour, a cross between the middle-aged Merle Oberon and the juvenile Elvis Presley. She was wearing a simple black dress, set off by a big Bulgari diamond pin, which immediately caught Andy’s eye. She waved away the camera crew imperiously. “Please. Let us get to know each other first.” She turned to Andy and explained, “It’s the Filipino TV. They are making a documentary of my trip to America and Mexico, where I have to go to buy some oil.” She made it sound like cooking oil, ordinary, as if she were a housewife dashing to a corner bodega in Mexico. “What can I do?” she went on in a voice that was simultaneously very feminine and very strong. “They follow me everywhere I go with their cameras and their lights, because the Filipino people can’t get enough of me. They want to know everything I do, everyone I see... I am their star. Their star and their slave.”
“Oh, gee,” said Andy. “We brought you a magazine.”
“But you won’t write in it that I’m extravagant,” said Imelda, “will you? I don’t know why the American press always writes that I’m extravagant. Do I look extravagant?” She had conveniently covered her diamond pin, all twenty karats of it, with a copy of Interview