She became a born again punk in the 1970s, is an expressionist painter, an author and writer of screenplays and has directed soft-porn for TV. King Campster John Waters considers her scarier and funnier than Harry Crews and Hubert Selby Jr... Just like her nursery rhyme namesake, this Mary really is quite contrary.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in the Breakers Hotel, which was a very posh hotel, in Palm Beach, Florida. It was during World War II and they'd changed it into a hospital. I was very premature. They didn't think I was going to live. I was born with a tail. Well, it was a cyst - which was very dangerous for a 'pre-me' [premature baby] - and I had long natal hair too. I was really unattractive - as a matter of fact, my grandmother told them to send me back. I left Florida at a very early age and was raised in Brooklyn, New York.
How did you get involved with Andy Warhol and The Factory?
Well, I knew all these drug addicts at Cornell and they were outsiders too. They were the poets and they were not well thought of by the fraternity kids -and I knew I wasn't part of that. One of them had a band, and he was friends with Gerard [Malanga], who wrote poetry. Gerard came to Cornell to read and I met him and he sort of came on to me. But nothing really happened. And then Cornell sent the whole class to New York to visit artists' studios, and I arrived at Warhol's studio - The Factory - and Gerard was there. He said, "Hi!" And then he said, "Do you wanna do this movie later on?" And I said yes. Then he started going up to Cornell and getting me, and bringing me down for movies. Pretty soon I started coming down myself, and then I just never went back.
What happened during Warhol's screen tests at The Factory?
Andy put you on a stool, then puts the camera in front of you. There are lots of people around usually. And then he turns the camera on, and he walks away, and all the people walk away too, but you're standing there in front of this camera.
I saw Salvador Dali do one, it was really funny. It's a very interesting film, because it's a way of cracking open your personality and showing what's underneath - only in a visual way, because there's no talking, nothing. You just look at the camera. Salvador made this gigantic pose with his moustache blaring and everything, and he couldn't hold the pose. Not for five minutes. And so at about minute four, he suddenly started looking very, very real.
The whole purpose is to shoot people for five minutes and see what happens. What invariably happens is somebody either tries to put on a pose, but they end up being more themselves later, they drop everything because the length of time is absurd. Finally, you see the real person behind the facade.
Returning to Gerard, you developed a non-sexual soul link with Malanga during the Exploding Plastic Inevitable days.
That was impossible to deal with. Gerard was a sexual animal. Of course I had sex with him. I mean, you know, he just pushed it until I did. But I was not a lover of his. So I would say that we had a friendship, which he didn't want. He wanted an affair. But he was sensitive enough to understand me, and we ended up having this bizarre relationship, although I had sex with him a couple of times - and both of them were just insanely intense because I normally didn't have sex ever.
But that was by choice, right?
Yes, yes, yes. I drove him nuts, I was just adamant about these things. I don't know why... what a fool!
No, I don't have any regrets. It's just bizarre though. I mean in a time when everybody was fucking everything that moved.
Fucking everything, taking everything... but you did a bunch of routines with Gerard as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable.
Yes, and when we danced together we were very, very sexually intense.
That's because you'd got a link that created incredible energy.
Exactly... and it was interesting because it was generated by not fucking. Also, the Warhol thing was not really about, there was not a lot of fucking going on. Most of the TVs didn't have sex. Warhol certainly didn't have sex. There was a lot of posing about sex. But all in all, the sex that I remember is not a romantic coupling. It would be weird sex. It would be like, I don't wanna name names, but all of a sudden somebody would gangbang everybody, or somebody would have sex in front of everybody... all this S&M kind of stuff. It was this bizarre, taking sex and making something sensational of it.
The other person you were particularly close to was Ondine.
Ondine for me is somebody who embodied the truth, and not in a very human way. I mean, if you said something that was fake or hypocritical, he would blow a fuse - like when he slapped Rhona in Chelsea Girls - and it would be a diabolical fuse. Nobody could come against him, he was feared throughout The Factory for his tongue. The man never fought physically, it was verbal violence. But it was so intense, and it would all of a sudden come down in a Freudian way, in a transcendental way, in a religious way. I mean, he was very, very smart. He would use everything to back up his argument, and just completely decimate you in front of everyone.
I, of course, was attracted to him, because when he had these vitriolic attacks, his stage presence was monumental. I couldn't believe it, I've never seen anything like that. And I, of course, have a big thing about stage presence. I have a lot myself, so I was attracted to him. He also was attracted to me. I was just a bizarre anachronism, a beautiful girl trying to be a guy, and not having sex, and completely stoned on speed. He thought I was very funny. So we became close, and then I realised that this man was closer to the truth than anybody I've ever known.
He was tremendously human. He could see if everybody said everything was blue, he could see maybe that there was yellow there. He was just so kind in such a weird way. And also, whenever anybody wanted to do one thing, he was always the opposite, and that was true with Warhol too, you know. If you said that was very, very ugly, Warhol would go: "Oh no, no, that's beautiful." Ondine was the same thing, only on more of an emotional level. Everybody would be really, really pissed off about something, and Ondine would think it was funny. He always had the opposite emotional reaction, and it balanced.
Also, he never thought about the consequences of anything... you want to shoot-up in your eye? Fine. Consequences meant nothing to him and he was not afraid of death.
Everyone has a personal nemesis - you had your stalker Vera Cruz.
Everything about her was peculiar. She stole cars. She lived between two floors in some kind of weird building that had a little living area between two floors, I swear to fucking God. There was nothing normal about this girl.
Did she really not have a vagina?
Yes. Some people are not formed, they have a place to urinate, but they do not have a vagina.
So how did she arrive on the scene? And why do you think she latched onto you?
I know exactly why she latched onto me. I'll never forget it. What happened was, I was doing a play with Gerard and it was a take off on A Clockwork Orange. This girl suddenly latched onto me from the audience, and she never, never let go. I actually didn't know that she was a lunatic so I talked to her and even let her drive me home to Brooklyn. The next day she was there, and the next day, and then I realised that she was crazy.
She would follow me home, she would annoy my parents, calling them incessantly. Then she started meeting all the people with Warhol, and that suddenly made my life hell. Those guys were so perverse. They knew I had been someone who never cracked. You could show me so-and-so carving up his dick and I'd go: "That's good," but they suddenly found someone, Vera, who upset me, and they embraced her.
They brought her in. They would show her to me, and I would completely go out of my mind because I was sick and tired of her. She was a fucking creature and I couldn't get rid of her. She would steal the hairs off my brush in the dressing room, and she would tell stories about me. So, as they embraced her, I had to move away from Warhol. It was really annoying. But Ondine never embraced her. And I think it was finally Ondine - he's dead now so I can say this - he took someone over to her house. She had very bad asthma and Ondine had him kick her breathalator around. She couldn't get to it, got over-excited, and popped her lung.
Anyway, she then went to the hospital and, while they were fixing her lung, they gave her a plastic vagina too. She came back and Warhol really liked her now, cos she had a plastic vagina, and he thought that was the funniest thing in the world. That's the day I walked into Max's - I thought I was being really, really cute - and there she was sitting with Warhol. And she pulls out this little yellow vial and says, "This is Mary's piss. I've been collecting it for years." Of course, that's a total lie. What am I supposed to do? It's the most insulting thing I think she could have said. And then [Paul] Morrissey says: "This is great. We're going to have a movie about her collecting everybody's." At that point, I'd had it. I really had.
In Snake, your novel, there appears to be some spillage from the Warhol years in the text. Are they conscious or unconscious references?
Yes, of course... but the S&M stuff, oddly enough, is not really from Warhol. I live in a court and one of the buildings in the court was taken over by a girlfriend of mine who was this mild-mannered Ohio girl. She was seduced by an S&M guy and she went so deeply into it that I really had no trouble writing all of those passages. She would invite me to these parties where they had someone hanging from a hoist, someone else in a jail-cell, and she would scream at people to take off all they wore. I'd walk into the place, right - I'm dressed - and there's some chips and dips on the table in the kitchen... I'm about to take an hors d'oeuvre and this naked guy comes up to me - and right where the hors d'oeuvre table is is about the level of his nuts and dick, and they're all tied up in this leather thong so that they're like beet-red and pulsating. That was it - I had to go home.
You seem a very spiritual person... what are your views on death?
I believe in synchronicity, I believe in archetypes, I'm very Jungian. I believe mostly in the spirit of the human race. I believe that we do have a spirit together. And I do believe it's on a crash course for destruction. I don't see any hope for this planet. I can see hope for it with maybe cockroaches as kings, but certainly not us, because we've been doing exactly the wrong things from what I can see. For some reason, we can't get it together. But I don't separate myself and say "bad people, bad people". I realise that I'm just part of a really tragic existence. This race is a tragedy and I'm part of it. When I came to that decision, I suddenly realised that people are good, and I really do love them, because I'm one of them.
But then again, when you say death, it's so tragic, and it's such a hideous mess to be born a human being. I was once told I had cancer and didn't have long to live, and so I do know this to be true... What I decided was that the good sleep would be good. No matter what happened in this life, it's the best way to be. The thing is, we're like this bird and we're flying around and everything's fine, and we suddenly fly into this room, and that's life. It's hideous and we try and get out. And once you're let out again, it's better.