The Palm Beach native and Warhol muse reminisces on acting for Andy.

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With Andy Warhol at an AIDS benefit in Beverly Hills in 1986

It’s tough to pin down the exact moment a new cultural era begins. But if you’re looking to make sense of the uptown crowd’s embrace of the downtown whirl in the ’60s, focus on one afternoon in the fall of 1963. Then zero in on the Manhattan corner of Lexington Avenue and 59th Street. Fashion model and Palm Beach native Jane Holzer, already that season’s premier It girl, was accompanying Show magazine Art Director Nick Haslam to yet another cover shoot. The pair bumped into a pal of Haslam’s—Andy Warhol, then a commercial illustrator in the process of re-creating himself as an avant-garde artist. Dispensing with the pleasantries, Warhol was quick to spot a golden PR opportunity.

“Andy said to me, ‘Do you want to be in the movies?’” Holzer recalls, raising her voice into a spot-on Warhol imitation. Her response? “It beats the shit out of shopping at Bloomingdale’s every day.”

Of course, Holzer imagined she’d be starring in something akin to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the recently released camp thriller that a Women’s Wear Daily writer invoked for her media nickname. However, Warhol’s films were anything but Hollywood-bound. “There never was a script. Some of them were quite weird,” Holzer explains.

Indeed, weird is a good starting point in describing these black-and-white shorts: Narrative structure is tossed aside, with Holzer alternately mugging for the camera alongside a revolving crew of Warhol’s Factory regulars or pouting sexily in a close-up to hypnotizing effect. Five decades on, these films retain their otherworldly intensity—in full evidence throughout “To Jane, Love Andy: Warhol’s First Superstar,” an exhibition at West Palm Beach’s Norton Museum of Art. The show chronicles the duo’s collaboration on and off the screen, not only capturing Holzer’s role as Warhol’s muse but also the larger world unfolding around—and in turn being influenced by—that seminal moment in art history.

It’s not hard to imagine what riveted Warhol on that Manhattan street corner in late 1963—or what drew him to bask in Holzer’s public afterglow during the following year. “Her style of life has created her fame,” observed Tom Wolfe in his celebrated 1964 New York Herald Tribune profile of Holzer, “The Girl of the Year,” raising an appreciative eyebrow as she evoked “rock and roll, underground movies, decaying lofts, models, photographers, Living Pop Art, the twist, the frug, the mashed potatoes, stretch pants, pre-Raphaelite hair, Le Style Camp.”

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Holzer on the November 1964 cover of Show: The Magazine of the Arts, shot by David Bailey

Holzer herself seemed nonplussed by the media attention: “Some people look at my pictures and say I look very mature and sophisticated,” she told Wolfe. “Some people say I look like a child, you know, Baby Jane. And, I mean, I don’t know what I look like, I guess it’s just 1964 Jewish.”

Yet by 1965, both Warhol and Holzer had moved on. Edie Sedgwick was the new queen of the scene, replacing Holzer as both screen star and party-hopping sidekick. Which suited Holzer just fine. Though she remained good friends with Warhol, she says she had little interest in the dark, druggy atmosphere that had overtaken the Factory: “I just wanted to get the hell out of there. It gave me a bad feeling, so I left. It wasn’t Andy, it was just everybody around him.”

Warhol’s own posthumously published diaries detail Holzer’s second act: a move behind the camera producing the 1985 Academy Award-winning Kiss of the Spider Woman (recent projects include the 2012 headline-grabbing Spring Breakers) and her emergence as a savvy real estate developer, managing her family’s impressive chunk of Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue as well as flipping seven-figure townhouses in New York. Yet Holzer is as conflicted as ever in trying to analyze her larger-than-life persona. “I’m thrilled the Norton is doing it,” she says of the museum’s exhibition, “but I’m frozen inside when I think about the idea of being so publicly intimate…. it’s terrifying! It’s one thing to be in a movie or to produce a movie. If I’m in it, I’m just a pawn. Or if I produce it, I’m just a check. It’s not about me.” And then there’s the odd sight of seeing her image up on the museum’s walls. “It’s like an epitaph,” she quips.

Such a sense of abashment seems odd coming from a figure whose initial fame was so firmly tied to living her life in the public eye. So what does Holzer see when she looks back at her 23-year-old self in one of Warhol’s iconic screen tests? “All I was doing was having fun. I was in the moment,” Holzer chuckles. “I didn’t realize what a genius Andy was. Now, in retrospect, you say, ‘Oh my god!’” The Norton Museum of Art features “To Jane, Love Andy” through May 25. For more information, call 561-832-5196 or visit norton.org. E-mail: brett@oceandrive.com

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