warhol superstar joe dallessandro never once gave it away...

Drag queens, studs, hustlers, popstars, superstars, heiresses, artists, art tits; anything went at Andy Warhol’s Factory and as today marks the day one of his fabled Time Capsules is opened at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, we remember the original...

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May 30 2014, 11:15am

Jack Mitchell

Most actors who've worked with Directors Steven Soderbergh, Louis Malle and Jacques Rivette don't spend their life being asked questions about a guy who was too cheap to shoot movies with a proper camera, decent lights or a script. But when that guy is Andy Warhol, it changes the rules.

Joe Dallesandro was looking for a dealer when he wandered into Warhol's New York hangout at the age of nineteen. Unknowingly he walked through the door straight into a frame of rolling film for The Loves of Ondine, Warhol cast him on the spot, and just like that a Superstar was born. The year was 1967. Open about his bisexuality Joe became an icon for gay men, women and straight men everywhere, America's most famous underground male sex symbol, name-checked in Lou Reed's Walk On The Wild Side, his large crotch bulge of his tight blue jeans adorned the cover of Rolling Stone's 1971 album Sticky Fingers and his rippled abs on The Smiths debut album.To put it bluntly he established a large cult following, or as Warhol once astutely pointed out, "everyone's in love with Joe Dallesandro".

Yet his life hadn't always been so rosy. His father, working in the Navy put Joe and his brother into an adoption facility when Joe was only five-years-old. He ran away countless times, getting into trouble that became more serious with age. As a teenager he was caught stealing cars, until a police chase ended with a 15-year-old Joe taking a bullet in the leg. Juvenile detention was where he picked up the nickname and iconic tattoo 'Little Joe' on his upper right arm. Escaping from the detention centre, he hitchhiked to Mexico then back to LA. It was here that his magnificent physique caught the attention of mens' mags like Physical Pictorial and Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild. Through shoots like these and other low budget pornography flicks Joe saved the money to return to New York, got married, settled down next door to a methadone clinic and eventually found his way to The Factory. By the age of nineteen Joe was anything but innocent, yet amongst the screaming divas attached to Warhol's magic circus he offered something pure. As a young hustler in Flesh (1968) and sequels Trash (1970) and Heat (1972) (both directed by Paul Morrissey rather than Warhol), Joe became the first ever-male nude on film, and enraptured men and women alike. Like sculpted marble, Joe's gift was his angular, asexual perfection and enigmatic smile. This made him a perfect icon of the silver screen, someone the audience, regardless of age, sex or sexual preference could project a million fantasies on to.

Having once been such a seductive symbol of youthful beauty it's difficult to imagine him getting old. However Joe's pushing sixty now, and when you talk to him, much about the man today can catch you off guard. A mass of contradictions, Joe is an icon of freewheeling sexuality who says he has no interest in people's sexual preferences - "I never looked at people for their sexual preference, and I didn't expect people to look at me and ask me what my sexual preference was. If I wasn't sharing that with you it means I wasn't interested in you, and it would be none of your business." A recovered heroin addict who won't admit that he was ever around serious drugs - "I wasn't involved with it, didn't know about it, didn't socialise or hang out with people that did it. It wasn't a part of my life. "A Factory legend who didn't really care for the people or the place - "I never hung out with the Factory people. I was a separate entity there"; and an actor resentful of his limited opportunities but defensive about his work - "I know a lot of people think I started off as a young kid looking to become an actor, but I wasn't that at all. I never had a desire to become an actor until they pointed out that I was good at what I was doing".

But it's his relationship with Warhol and Morrissey that's the most difficult subject to decipher. In past interviews Joe described Andy as, "kind and considerate to a lot of people. He wasn't cruel at all." But when Francis Ford Coppola came calling to see if Joe could audition for the part of Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Warhol told the director that Joe was on drugs, thus killing his chances. Likewise, Joe is quick to deny he had a falling out with Paul Morrissey, yet is on record saying they fell out for seven years because Paul "fucked me over" on a percentage of the take from their hit films. It is all these contradictions that make him such an effective flag carrier for The Factory era: never straightforward, never black-and-white, and most of all, never boring.

Credits


Text Matt Bochenski
Photography Jack Mitchell

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