The incomparable Mary Woronov graduates from “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” “Deathrace 2000” and “Eating Raoul” to become herself again
By Michael Aushenker
Mary Woronov does not own a television set. She does not watch TV or movies. Nor does she care about them. Including her own.
These days, the 71-year-old semi-retired actress focuses on the two longtime passions that emerged once her acting career slowed down in the 1980s: writing and painting.
In the group show “Slightly Salacious” at West Los Angeles College in Culver City, four Woronov canvases are on display through Dec. 18 alongside work by Jim Morphesis, the late John Altoon, and Robert Williams — the Zap Comix contributor and creator of the banned original cover art for Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” album.
Woronov’s art fits into this milieu, said “Slightly Salacious” curator Molly Barnes.
“I love Mary’s ideas. They are like writings she has done where there is an obvious narrative and then a subplot about what is really happening,” Barnes said, likening Woronov’s cynical worldview to “German art of the 1920s and ‘30s.”
‘This hulking horror’
To reach Woronov’s secluded residence, one must travel through a veritable tunnel that connects a busy Koreatown sidewalk to a tranquil courtyard, at the far end of which is her multi-chambered cottage alive with quasi-abstract figurative paintings and vivid landscapes.
Canvas by canvas, one can feel her filmography being left behind; juicy roles, including what she considers her best project, Paul Bartel’s 1982 dark comedy “Eating Raoul”; her work as an Andy Warhol player; and her Roger Corman phase, when the Venice-based B-movie producer planted Woronov in “Sugar Cookies” and “Silent Night, Bloody Night.”
She also played in arguably Corman’s most famous movie, “Deathrace 2000.”
“David Carradine was out on a limb. He never would say anything to anyone around him. No one knew anything about what he was doing,” Woronov recalled of shooting the film.
Woronov also starred in Oliver Stone’s directorial debut, 1974’s “Seizure,” and in the 1989 Richard Dreyfuss-starring gambling comedy “Let It Ride.”
However, her tour de force was surely as the Ramones’ antagonist, Principal Togar, in “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” She enjoyed making Corman’s 1979 cult classic enough to return in a Ramones-free sequel.
When reminded of the obscure “Logan’s Run: The TV Series,” she knows she co-starred on an episode built around the “World’s Most Dangerous Game” trope (as hunter Horst Bulchoz’s wife), but “I don’t remember shooting it.”
Woronov may also be familiar to fans of “Taxi,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Murder She Wrote” and “Babylon 5,” but she doesn’t have much to say about those appearances either. Just gigs; bill-payers.
“I never got good roles,” Woronov said. “They didn’t have lesbians at the time. They never gave me a fierce role like a witch. Always this hulking horror.”
Life in The Factory
What Woronov really loves is music and art. In 1964, Woronov abandoned studying sculpture at Cornell University for New York City, where she fell into Andy Warhol’s flock, playing in “Snake,” “Niagra” and “Swimming Underground” (the latter became the title of her recent memoir).
While Warhol appeared bizarre to outsiders, Woronov adored the iconic pop artist.
“I had a lot of respect for him. He never did anything I thought was wrong. He was great,” she said. “The group chose him as a leader. At the time, he was not famous. He was weird when people were macho. I felt protective of him. I felt bad when he got shot because I wasn’t there. … We were all very protective.”
That “all” includes Warhol-backed rock pioneers The Velvet Underground and Nico.
“‘Heroin’ was like Jim Morrison’s ‘The End,’” Woronov told The Argonaut in October 2013, just three days after its author, Lou Reed, died. “He was never talkative. If he got cold on something, he would just leave. He was not into entertaining. Lou never entertained.”
As for Nico, “I never thought she could sing but she was his instrument.”
Woronov bonded with Reed the most: “We both loved fags. We loved transvestites. We also loved the absurdity. I just thought they were the sexiest things in the world. I couldn’t understand why horny women didn’t want a fag.”
Woronov has seen movies recreating the Warhol period, including “I Shot Andy Warhol.” However, “the only one that was any good [at depicting the Warhol Factory] was Oliver Stone’s movie [1991’s “The Doors”],” she said.
Of Julian Schnabel’s “Basquiat,” featuring David Bowie as Warhol, “I think Julian was imagining stuff,” she said. “They made it seem rinky-dink.”
Even though her deadpan sense of camp would perfectly suit John Waters’ films, the filmmaker never considered Woronov “because I was with Warhol.”
But she recalls Waters once telling her, “‘If I ever come back as a girl, I want to be Mary Woronov.’”
The artist reemerges
For years, life got in the way of Woronov’s painting. Namely, her husbands.
“Every time I got married, I stopped,” she said.
As an artist, Woronov draws inspiration from Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jim Dine.
Noticeably, Warhol is not on her short list.
“I didn’t understand how powerful he was,” she admitted. “He’s not interested in art the way I’m interested in art. He was interested in artificiality. He nailed it. I now know it’s true.”
Another dear friend: Mike Kelley, who committed suicide at 57 in 2012.
“He was really neurotic. He had a great sense of humor,” she said, thinking back and adding: “I’ve lost everybody. Just f***ing everybody.”
After making Corman’s Ramones vehicle, the freshly single 40-something, living in a loft near Melrose and Western avenues, fell into the punk scene through a boyfriend, frequenting Club Lingerie, Zero One, Anti-Club and the Starwood.
“I really loved the punk scene in L.A. [more than New York’s],” she said. “I liked the energy, the drugs. I only took uppers. In New York, it was amphetamines and cocaine.”
Thanks to her Otis Parsons-trained artist boyfriend, she resumed painting.
Honesty and ‘Bad Sex’
In the early 2000s, Woronov — who authored several books — taught a novel-writing class at Otis College of Art and Design, but the Westchester teaching gig didn’t last. Her frankness was not appreciated, she said of why she left Otis.
But that’s Woronov: blunt, honest, politically incorrect.
“Lying is much better than the truth, especially when writing novels,” she said.
The opposite may be true in painting, particularly Woronov’s work, where a strong narrative pulls the viewer into sex-and-death themes.
Typical of Woronov’s feminist-fortified subject matter is her post-coital painting, “Bad Sex”: “She’s gonna grin and bear it and get out the door as soon as she can. He’s OK, he got off,” she explained.
For “Salacious,” Barnes culled four story-driven canvases from three decades worth of psycho-sexual images chewing up large swaths of Woronov’s home scenery.
“This is an artist who has had many life experiences,” Barnes said.
“Attack” depicts a naked woman “who has the gall” to assault a clothed man, Woronov said.
Her just-completed “‘The Butler” is about a woman desiring the servant pouring her a drink.
“She has a sexy intuition for him,” Woronov continued.
The woman in “Drunk” stands naked, back to us, before “a crowd of lunatics,” said Woronov. “It’s the way I feel when I’m acting on stage.”
“Smile” depicts a woman painting a lipstick-drawn, clown-like grimace around her lips as her husband stands behind her, fist clenched.
“Molly chose [the paintings] and I was quite pleased with her choices because they all concern women’s points of view,” the
And, as to be expected from Woronov, they are strong ones.
“Slightly Salacious” runs through Dec. 18 at West Los Angeles College Fine Arts Gallery, 9000 Overland Ave., Culver City. Free. wlac.edu