I've always had a soft spot in my heart for pranksters, practical jokers and professional outrages, people who would upset the apple cart, drop a f-bomb on an unsuspecting dinner party, trip a little light fantastic maybe. Thus I was sorry to hear of the passing of Dorothy Podber this week at the age of 75...in a town full of eccentrics, she certainly upheld the reputation of " wild children" everywhere:
NEW YORK - Dorothy Podber, a wild child of the New York art scene in the 1950s and '60s who is probably best known for brandishing a pistol and putting a bullet through the forehead of Marilyn Monroe's likenesses on a stack of Andy Warhol's paintings, died at her apartment in Manhattan on Feb. 9. She was 75.
The artist Herndon Ely, her friend and caretaker, said she died of natural causes.
Ms. Podber was an artist and helped run the Nonagon Gallery in Manhattan in the late '50s and early '60s, which showed the work of a young Yoko Ono and was known for jazz concerts by performers such as Charles Mingus. But she became famous, and infamous, in the art world mostly as a muse and a coconspirator of more prominent artists such as Ray Johnson, with whom she staged impromptu happenings on Manhattan streets.
In one, she and Johnson persuaded people they had just met to allow them into their apartments, where they would play records used by speech therapists that contained samples of stuttering.
"She said people were pretty nonplussed, as you'd expect," Ely said. "She and Ray would also do another bit where they'd reenact the shower scene from 'Psycho.' "
In a 2006 interview with the writer Joy Bergmann, Ms. Podber said: "I've been bad all my life. Playing dirty tricks on people is my specialty."
Certainly the most outrageous was her unsolicited contribution to a few of Warhol's "Marilyn" silk-screen paintings. In fall 1964 Ms. Podber, a friend of the photographer and significant Warhol collaborator Billy Name, visited Warhol's Factory in midtown Manhattan with her Great Dane (named Carmen Miranda or Yvonne De Carlo, depending on the account). Ms. Podber asked Warhol whether she could shoot a stack of the "Marilyn" paintings; he apparently thought that she wanted to take pictures of them and consented.
But she produced a pistol and fired at them, penetrating three or four. One of them, "Shot Red Marilyn," with a repaired bullet hole over the left eyebrow, sold for $4 million in 1989, at the time setting a record at auction for a Warhol work.
"After she left," Name told Bergmann, "Andy came over to me and said: 'Please make sure Dorothy doesn't come over here anymore. She's too scary.' "
Ms. Podber told Bergmann that when money was low, as it often was, she generally found unorthodox ways to make it. She once ran a service that dispatched maids to doctors' offices, primarily as a way to get the keys to the doctors' drug cabinets. "I never worked much," she said.
No doubt New York will be the poorer without Podber and her prankstering...