A Daughter of a Warhol Superstar Tells Her Story at Last

PHILADELPHIA — Alexandra Auder was almost born in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel, then a febrile bohemian enclave on Manhattan’s West 23rd Street, but her mother, Viva, a Warhol superstar, managed to make it to the hospital as the staff egged her on. “A girl! I want a girl!” a bellman declared, helping her into a taxi.

That scene was captured on videotape by Ms. Auder’s father, Michel Auder, a French filmmaker who kept his camera running day and night. Ms. Auder was also the star of her mother’s 1975 book, “The Baby,” which Rolling Stone described as a female rendition of “On the Road,” but better written and funnier.

At 52, Ms. Auder has finally pieced together her own version of events. Her decades-in-the-making memoir, “Don’t Call Me Home,” with a title inspired by a Thomas Wolfe novel and a line from a Nico song, began as a roman à clef called “Frogs” that was her senior thesis at Bard College in Red Hook, N.Y.

She was raised in bohemian mayhem, as her parents careered from film sets and exotic locales to the homes of jet set friends like Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda. Her mother was known for her turns in Warhol’s deadpan soft porn films of the late ’60s and became a darling of talk show hosts. Born Janet Susan Mary Hoffmann, she was christened Viva by Paul Morrissey, the director and cinematographer of many Warhol films, as they headed out to a party thrown by Shelley Winters.

It might have been on “The Dick Cavett Show” that Viva joked that she’d named herself after the paper towel (the company later sent her a carton, as well as a pink dress for her daughter). Her husband was a handsome practitioner of extreme cinéma vérité with a modest heroin habit and a predilection for beautiful women. He and Viva parted ways when Alexandra was 5, after which, as she writes in her memoir, she and her mother fused.

“Don’t Call Me Home,” which comes out Tuesday, is an ode to a vanished world — the feral, slightly squalid world of downtown New York in the 1980s — and to her mercurial, charismatic mother. Viva was given to dressing down cops, taxi drivers, neighbors, badly behaved children, Ms. Auder’s boyfriends and Stanley Bard, the aggrieved manager of the Chelsea, when he cornered her for unpaid rent.

Bohemia is not a lucrative state, and mother and daughter survived on welfare, the largess of friends and family and the meager earnings from Viva’s freelance articles and occasional bit parts in films. There was a tiny windfall after Viva and Ms. Auder appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” in 1983 and Viva asked the audience to send her cash. Mr. Letterman, annoyed, cut their segment short while Viva was still yelling out her address. For some time afterward, envelopes containing dollar bills made their way to “Viva Superstar, c/o The Chelsea Hotel.”

“I’m certain that if she and the Dalai Lama were locked in a cell together,” Ms. Auder writes of her mother, “and she turned the screw on him, he would crack within the hour. He might even try to kill her because he has been kowtowed to his whole life and never forced to contend with a Viva.”

Growing up with a Viva meant catering to her whims, like inveigling Chelsea staff members into running across the street to the deli for Petit Ecolier chocolate biscuits and sweet-talking them into a loan if Ms. Auder couldn’t find any cash. It meant managing Viva’s darkening moods — “Mom, you seem a little nervous. You should go on vacation,” Ms. Auder, age about 10, might say, and off Viva would go to Mexico or Argentina. And it meant sometimes avoiding her mother altogether by spending the night with Squat Theater, the collective of exiled Hungarian performers who lived above their performance space in a storefront near the Chelsea.

Viva’s domestic style was haphazard at best and could veer into chaos if left unchecked, so Ms. Auder also learned to be an excellent, if slightly disgruntled, housekeeper. When her sister, Gaby, was born — that would be Gaby Hoffmann, the actor who found fame as Kevin Costner’s daughter in “Field of Dreams” — Ms. Auder, age 11, took her on as well, parading along 23rd Street with the baby in the English pram favored by her mother. She doted on Gaby, and kept a list of her first words: Hot. Penis. Bitch. I love you.

Mother and daughters slept in one room, the girls in bunk beds and Viva in a bed wedged between the bunks and a wall. From a top bunk, Ms. Auder could hear her mother flossing her teeth, the swish of her feet and her breathing. Close quarters, indeed.

These days Ms. Auder lives far from the Chelsea, in a century-old stone house in Philadelphia with her husband, Nick Nehéz, a filmmaker and artist she met in college, and their two children, Lui and Miko. She is also far from Viva, who resides in Palm Springs, Calif. Tall and lanky, Ms. Auder resembles her father, but her sense of mischief is all her mother’s. She is comedic and expressive, a profane close talker.

She has made a living as a yoga teacher, though she doesn’t really like teaching and has a penchant for skewering the pieties of her profession in Instagram parodies filmed by her husband. She has appeared in videos as a clueless self-care influencer, sometimes wrapped in a shearling rug, hawking tinctures with names like One Per Scent and Abundance, thanking Mercedes-Benz for ferrying her to ayahuasca ceremonies, and browbeating a pair of “students” played by naked American Girl dolls marked up with Sharpies.

Yoga was an accident that paid the bills. “I had moved back to the city after college and was living with a friend on Ludlow Street,” Ms. Auder said. “I was depressed on the couch, trying to sell my book.” That was her senior thesis, her first pass at a story about life with Viva.

“I was like, ‘What the hell? I’m not prepared for this,’” she continued. “I didn’t know how to have a job. I’d never seen that. I’d only seen these weird artists. I could have been a waitress, but I had this rarefied idea of being a famous actress or selling this book without doing the actual work.”

Yoga, she said, got her off the couch. She started teaching and moved in with Mr. Nehéz, who was finishing up at Bard. He built her a studio in nearby Tivoli, which for a time was the only yoga game in town, and her sideways career commenced. “In my mind I was like, ‘I’ll just do this for a couple of years,’” she said.

The book mostly languished. She’d often drag out the manuscript and read passages to her husband, until he made her stop. Her mother read it early on, too, and at some point began calling it the “Mommie Dearest” book. Ms. Auder and her husband also tackled Viva cinematically in a 2004 short, “Viva Viva,” which followed her as she prepared for an art show. But it wasn’t until 2019, when Ms. Auder’s yoga satires began to get some notice, that she thought she might try to sell the book one last time.

Viva hasn’t read the final version. Nonetheless, she is proud of her elder daughter, she said in an interview, for finally getting her story published. Mr. Auder has read the book, and he said he had to pause in his reading to catch his breath as he took in his daughter’s experience, marveling, with a bit of guilt, at how she coped with her complicated upbringing and at “her finely chiseled prose expertly laid on paper.”

“Don’t Call Me Home” is fully cooked, wicked in its humor and often heartbreaking. “I always fear that trying to not be like Viva has made me remote,” Ms. Auder writes. One day in family therapy, as she writes, her daughter, Lui, accused her of just that. The session spurs a memory of the night before Ms. Auder’s college graduation, when Viva paced the streets of Tivoli, howling like a character in a Greek tragedy as Ms. Auder hid in Mr. Nehéz’s closet.

“Daughters!” Viva cried. “If you ever have a daughter, keep trying to have a son. The girls will end up hating you.” There was much more, and the performance ended with this kicker: “Did Jesus Christ ask to be crucified?”

Sitting in the therapist’s office with her own angry daughter years later, Ms. Auder writes, “I had vowed to never say words like this to my own daughter, but I can’t escape the thoughts. Raising daughters is like a crucifixion. Shut up, Viva.”

Ms. Auder said she didn’t quite know why she had written the memoir. “Maybe it was some storytelling gene,” she said, “or the knowledge that there was something both distinctly idiosyncratic and universal about my life with Viva. I wanted to describe the burning love I felt for her and the maddening frustration and fury. As time passed, I began to see our story as a love story. One that falls apart. I see the story, now, as a feminist story. It’s about women! Strong women, crazy women, women in love, women in rage, women in despair, birth, desire, sex, single mothers, friendships only women can have, women trying to make art and raise a family at the same time, women trying to do it all and failing. Women enduring … each other.”

Today, there are few traces of the artists and eccentrics who once stalked the Chelsea’s halls. There are some notable Viva touches in the recently renovated building, however: A laminated, framed New York Times story from 1993 featuring Viva and Ms. Hoffmann is hanging on a wall, though not in the spot Mr. Bard, the hotel manager, had originally put it. At the time, Viva had angrily marked up the section about herself with a pen because she didn’t want Mr. Bard to use her to publicize the place without remunerating her. In the decades since, the pen markings have turned bright pink. And in the Lobby Bar, the fancy new canteen on the ground floor, you can order a Viva Superstar cocktail, a dizzying mix of gin, cachaça and other exotic ingredients, like whey. It is $32.

“She was a trailblazer,” Ms. Auder said. “Ahead of her time in many respects. Too ahead of her time in the sense that she was considered crazy before she was revered. She was outspoken when being outspoken was not hip. Nude, when nudity was not hip. Raging against the machine before the machine created a platform, the internet, from which to be raged about. On top of all that, she was, and is, a difficult person with no money.”

For her part, Ms. Hoffmann, in a telephone interview, described her mother’s legacy in terms of what she bequeathed to her daughters.

“Radical truth-telling,” she said. “Incredible confidence. A sense of justice. An appreciation of beauty. Empathy. Irreverence. I think my sister and I have both benefited from the ferocity that is Viva.”

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