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Breakfast with: Joe Dallesandro

Underground film sex symbol of the 60s and 70s

Monday, October 05, 1998

Marylynn Uricchio, Post-Gazette Society Editor

Joe Dallesandro was the biggest sex symbol of underground films in the '60s and '70s through roles in such Andy Warhol movies as "Flesh" and "Trash." Lou Reed wrote the song "Walk on the Wild Side" about Dallesandro, and he was named one of the 10 most photogenic men in the world by photographer Francesco Scavullo. Dallesandro has been acting for 30 years, 10 of them in European films directed by Louis Malle and others. His Hollywood credits include "The Cotton Club" and "Theodore Rex." He is the subject of a new book, "Little Joe Superstar" by Michael Ferguson. Dallesandro will make an appearance at the Andy Warhol Museum on Oct. 17.

Q Did your association with Warhol help or hurt you professionally?

A Since doing the Warhol films, I've never stopped working, and when I went to Europe, I had two films signed before I finished my last two movies with the Warhol people, so I guess it helped. I had a big audience in England and Germany for my films. They were appreciated in a different way than they were in America. They were accepted as real films, not as part of an underground movie movement.

Q What do you remember most about Andy Warhol?

A I was with the Warhol company for five years, and Andy and I had a very quiet relationship. We never said more than good morning when I came into work and thank you for my check when I got paid, and that was about it. I worked as a kind of doorman besides making movies there. I was a projectionist and kept track of rentals, and it was just kind of a fun job at the Factory. My brother worked as his chauffeur, and they would have these long conversations all day long, which I couldn't believe because I never heard Andy speak very much, but there were certain people he talked to and other people he didn't talk to at all, and I was one he didn't talk to.

Q You were the first sex symbol to openly appeal to gay as well as straight audiences.

A I was real proud to have such an audience, and we went for the audience, and I captured it, and it was good. The attention part - you couldn't start to believe everything people would say about you, or you would lose yourself to an ego that would kind of separate you from other people. I watched it with other Warhol members who thought they were big superstars and nobody wanted to have anything to do with them. I did films a few times out of the year, and the films would play for a long time, and my picture was in the paper every day, but that had nothing to do with the different type of work I did with the Factory and showing up at work every day as a regular guy. I kept my head on straight.

Q The image is that everyone at the Factory did drugs, had sex all the time and was a drag queen or something. What was it really like?

A We had Interview magazine that started after we had a couple of successes with the films, and we had the whole film company thing right there at 33 Union Square. We had painting that we did upstairs on another level of the Factory, and we had another floor where we did paintings of Andy's. A lot of that image was just invented from the old silver factory that went before with Edie Sedgwick and all those people, but they were all gone when I started in 1967.

Q When you look around today, do you see any film-making as innovative as what the Factory did?

A I find that there's subject matter that wasn't spoken about when I was a kid, and we were the people who frontiered those kinds of topics. But now anybody can use that subject matter in movies and have a large audience, films like "My Private Idaho."

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