by Ronnie Berlin de Pascal
Brigid Berlin was in Andy Warhol’s inner circle. She starred in his film Chelsea Girls.
We met in the early ’60s, when I was working as the bouncer at Max’s Kansas City. An amusing, and often outrageous companion, she was a prolific and innovative multi-media artist.
Brigid gave me my first sketchbook. She introduced me to rapidographs. Brigid knitted. I crocheted. We swapped yarn.
I took her to my secret yarn store.
We went to Central Art Supply. Shopping with artists that hung out at Max’s and whose work hung in museums.
One afternoon in her small room at the Washington Square Hotel, Brigid played tapes of her phone conversations with Andy Warhol, with him rhapsodizing like a giddy high school girl about his latest crush.
Brigid showed me her polaroids. Always in creative mode, she was working on a series of nude polaroid photos of people in her bathtub. (The Wall Street Journal chronicled the collection of the photos here.)
I declined the honor, but many did not.
Peter Fonda was furious with her when she sold her photo of him to the New York Review of Sex.
Brigid usually had a sketch book with her; these were called trip books. The one dedicated to penises was named the cock book. Many well known artists that frequented Max’s contributed to this book. It was hilarious. Rauschenberg’s contribution was by far the most startling.
Brigid’s mother, Muriel (Johnson) “Honey,” was a socialite. Brigid’s father, Richard Berlin, was Chairman of Hearst publications for more than 50 years.
As a child, Brigid spent her summers at San Simeon. She rebelled against her parents’ lifestyle and the expectations they had for her. She was always looking to shock and disturb her parents. So……. she brought me to her parents’ home in Connecticut, not telling me I was to be a weapon to freak out Mummy.
Brigid’s mother sat in her throne like chair in a spacious room. Understatement?
There were two baby grand pianos, one at either end of the room. The pianos were dwarfed by the size of the room. There were vases of flowers that rivaled those seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Introducing me, Brigid said, “Mother, this is Ronnie Berlin. What do you think mother? She has the same last name as us, and you’ll never guess. . . . She’s a Jew.”
Her mother froze. It was then that I remembered the stories of William Randolph Hearst being a Nazi collaborator.
Walking towards the pool, I chided Brigid for not warning me of her scheme. As we stretched out on lounges in the middle of the pool, a uniformed maid floated lunch out to us. Brigid pointed out the six-room house in the distance that was dedicated to laundry. Before we headed back to the city, Brigid took me into the house, to the library.
One more thing to see. Hanging behind the bar, framed behind glass, was a piece of Hitler’s stationery and part of his comb. That was my first experience with anti-semitism.
Brigid and I remained friends. That day I learned of another thing we had in common. We had both rejected the poisons fed to us as children.
Ronnie Berlin de Pascal is a watercolorist, writer, fiber artist, mother, yogi. She grew up near the beaches of Far Rockaway
Words and Images is a column that features the work of students from Bill Batson’s sketch logging class at the Learning Collaborative.
Thanks to Editorial Assistance Bonnie Timm.