Andy Warhol's Home Is Kids' Book's Background

Scrambling around an eccentric uncle's tall, skinny row house would be a treat for any kid — all the more so if your uncle were Andy Warhol, and the house, his art studio. James Warhola is just that nephew, and in a new book, called Uncle Andy's Cats, Mr. Warhola writes of the fun he had visiting his Uncle Andy. Host Scott Simon speaks with Weekend Edition's ambassador to the world of kiddie literature, Daniel Pinkwater, about a new book for children called Uncle Andy's Cats.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Scrambling around an eccentric uncle's tall, skinny row house in New York would seem to be a treat for any child. All the more so if your uncle were Andy Warhol and the house, his art studio. James Warhola is just that nephew, and a new book called "Uncle Andy's Cats," he writes of the fun he had visiting his Uncle Andy.

Daniel Pinkwater is our ambassador to the world of children's literature. He joins us from his home in upstate New York. Daniel, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. DANIEL PINKWATER (Author): Scott, I am speaking from dog camp.

SIMON: Dog camp?

Mr. PINKWATER: I'll explain in a moment. But first I have to share sad news.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: Our Lulu is no more.

SIMON: I'm sorry, Daniel. This was a dog who was on our show and, well, several other programs because you taught her out to read.

Mr. PINKWATER: Our Canadian Inuit sled dog, known to listeners of this program and others. She was certainly the most remarkable dog and my dear friend.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: But we are experienced dog people, and while we will never know another dog like Lulu, we know we will know other dogs. And in her fifth day with us is Kee(ph), a formerly horribly-abused - we're calling her a Georgian Shepherd. That's a German Shepherd mixed from the Atlanta area.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: She was in bad shape as recently as May but she's healthy now. And we've dropped everything and we're devoting two solid weeks. And we are -it's an intensive training program for her and for us. It's sort of like boot camp, only we're 67 and she's like a teenager. I hurt in a lot of places. So, it's a business.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. PINKWATER: As you mentioned, James Warhola is the nephew of Andy Warhol, and "Uncle Andy's Cats," which we want to talk about today, is a companion book to "Uncle Andy's: A Fabulous Visit to Andy Warhol." Now, you don't have to read the first book to enjoy this one, but read it - it's brilliant.

So, in "Uncle Andy's Cats," we're back in the brownstone where Warhol lived with his mother and a cat. Let's read it and talk about the pictures.

SIMON: Okay. Uncle Andy said it all started with a little blue pussycat named Hester. She was just a kitty when I got her from a fabulous movie star called Gloria.

Mr. PINKWATER: I think it's fabulous.

SIMON: Oh, okay. She was just a kitty when I got her from a fabulous move star called Gloria. And, by the way, if that's not Gloria Swanson that's illustrated…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: Little Hester just loved Uncle Andy's house. It was tall and skinny and perfect for dashing up and down stairs and hiding among the antiques. The only time Hester was still was when she was staring at Grandma Bubba's mina bird, Echo.

SIMON: On our visits to Uncle Andy's, we would look and look but still couldn't find little Hester.

Mr. PINKWATER: And this is an illustration shows the nephews and nieces prowling around amongst the avjedart(ph) antiques, Warhol works and junk.

Little Hester grew and grew and grew and became Baby Hester.

SIMON: Uncle Andy and Bubba thought Hester was lonely. That's when they decided to get Sam. It was love at first sight.

Mr. PINKWATER: A montage of the cast: eating together, chasing a mouse together, playing with a ball of yarn and the mouse together, chasing the mouse again and the cats and the mouse sharing a cushion.

Uncle Andy enjoyed Sam and Hester's company when he painted late at night in his studio. When it was bedtime, the cats' favorite spot was Uncle Andy's wig drawer.

SIMON: On one visit, there were kittens - lots and lots of kittens. Uncle Andy said, it's so marvelous; Hester is now a mommy. Bubba said, they all look like their papa, so let's name them each Sam.

Mr. PINKWATER: The little Sams loved their tall, skinny house too.

SIMON: The only time we ever saw all the Sams was when Bubba called them for their favorite meal - oatmeal and liver.

Mr. PINKWATER: And we see the kids peering in the door and saying, holy smoke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: Uncle Andy said that the Sams liked us best when we were sleeping - and I think Uncle Andy did too. Here's the kids camped out on improvised beds amongst the art works and plenty of cats, Andy Warhol standing there avuncular watching the whole scene.

SIMON: What have you've - I've never seen Andy Warhol in my imagination, let's put it that way.

We always loved snooping around at Uncle Andy's, and one day we got another surprise - Hester and Sam were a mommy and daddy again.

Mr. PINKWATER: The kids say holy macaroni.

The kittens all look just like their daddy, so they were also named Sam and that made for a whole lot of Sams.

SIMON: Uncle Andy was sometimes interrupted when a herd of Sams would stampede through his studio, and the neighbors were interrupted when the Sams would sneak up to the roof.

Mr. PINKWATER: I love the stampede picture.

SIMON: Oh my, there must be 25 cats there.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: The Sams loved to rumble amongst my uncle's soapboxes. At the end of a long day, they found that sleeping in Uncle Andy's room was very comfortable.

SIMON: Now, Bubba and Echo had a little bit too much company. Andy, there are just too many Sams, Bubba told him. But Uncle Andy didn't know what to do.

Mr. PINKWATER: We brought three Sams home with us, but that didn't work out too well when they wouldn't come down from the roof.

SIMON: Finally, Uncle Andy had a plan.

Mr. PINKWATER: Uncle Andy and Bubba drew and painted the most marvelous portrait of Hester and the Sams. After many days of working, the art was finally ready to be sent to the printer.

SIMON: And this is such a busy two pages, isn't it, between the cat pictures and the rocking horse and, you know, Andy Warhol and Bubba, his mother, also at the drawing board.

Mr. PINKWATER: Yes. And he's taped his sketches up on top of his Marilyn Monroe portraits.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PINKWATER: And there's plenty of detail. You can just study this one for a long time.

SIMON: Yeah.

Uncle Andy and Bubba each created a fabulous book. Uncle Andy's was called "25 Cats Named Sam and One Blue Pussy," and Bubba named hers "Holy Cats."

Mr. PINKWATER: By Andy Warhol's mother. The books were a huge hit, and the Sams became famous overnight. Everybody wanted a Sam. They came from uptown and downtown to get a Sam.

SIMON: Now, the house is quiet. In no time at all, things were just about back to normal, and that made Uncle Andy and Bubba very, very pleased.

Mr. PINKWATER: As it turned out, Hester and Sam were just the right amount of cats for their tall, skinny house.

Now, James Warhola is a pretty good illustrator.

SIMON: He's a wonderful illustrator.

Mr. PINKWATER: There are wonderful, wonderful drawings. And, you know, I hit New York just when Andy Warhol was stealing the show. Pop art was just happening and he was the star. And I just assumed he was, you know, some guy who paid his dues and hit it lucky.

I imagined a lot has been written about him, but I would not be surprised if the best inside look at Warhol the artist comes from this childhood reminiscence of Warhol the uncle. And although I was never a fan before, now I am.

SIMON: Yeah. Daniel, thanks so much for bringing this to our attention. The book is called "Uncle Andy's Cats" by James Warhola. Daniel Pinkwater has written many fine books for children and for adults. His latest novel is now serialized for free on pinkwater.com. It's "Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl."

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I haven't seen this yet. All right, Daniel, thanks so much.

Mr. PINKWATER: It was a complete pleasure.

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