Callie Angell

Posted on | May 14, 2010 | 7 Comments

I don’t know if I remember rightly that Callie’s cat was called Clara back in the 1970s, when Callie and I were closest, but I do know that Clara had an unusual meow.

“What’s your favorite kind of computer?” Callie would ask.

“Wang,” Clara would say.

The news of Callie’s death by suicide has brought much comment about her dedication to avant garde film, Warhol in particular, the most beautiful by Jim Hoberman in the Village Voice. But the Callie I knew had a life outside of screening rooms.

This born New Yorker loved a small lake and family lakehouse just outside the city. There were snapping turtles, which she would watch snare unaware birds. Sitting on the porch on humid evenings was never dull. Lightning storms could cast freakish bolts that would come in through the porch and zizzle through the house until they raced out of a door. When rabies infected the local racoons, her letter bearing a description of the animals emerging froth-mouthed from the woods was terrifying and beautiful.

Callie was a singular story-teller. Her account of a family fight, held in the pantry between her mother (was it her mother?) and stepfather, consisted entirely of the moments in which they shouted the labels of jam jars back and forth at one another.

Callie was every inch the product of old New York and its recreational environs. She hated Woody Allen films and the Pottery Barn approximations of a world of tortured New York intellectuals that she understood all too well. She loved good crockery, and quilts, and had a magical touch decorating her too dark apartment on the Upper West Side. How the shelves holding up her massive collection of books stayed up I don’t know. After my then boyfriend and I put them up for her in 1978 or so, and I left New York City, every visit back I would look at the books, think of the shelf-bolts and thank them.

Callie and I met when we both worked at a film distribution company called Cinema 5 in the 1970s, a phase that didn’t make her obituaries but that was remarkable all the same because of the endlessly fascinating eccentricities of the company owner, Donald Rugoff. When Rugoff took out an enormous ad in the New York Times for his young second wife’s chocolate chip cookies, it was Callie’s office where the stunned employees gathered.

When Callie became my boss and actually pounded my desk one day for emphasis to do with increasing rentals of art films to colleges, our friendship might have ended, but I quit for other reasons. I moved briefly to an equally artsy distribution outfit, where the infinitely sweet and funny man who would become Callie’s brother-in-law handled all the prints and whose shorthand for the Japanese film Woman in the Dunes was “Dunessucker.” “I’ve got three Dunessuckers ready to ship!” Richie would yell as UPS arrived. But that job, too, was short-lived. I never shared Callie’s dedication to the world inside the screening room. It was always Callie who, after a movie, would have latched onto a moment and needed to talk about it the way I needed to find a restaurant or bar. And it wasn’t all Jonas Mekas territory, either. She was very taken by the way Jane Fonda was reduced to wheedling her boss for more serious assignments in the China Syndrome. She loved the Honeymooners and once leapt from her chair to act out Art Carney showing Jackie Gleason how to “address the ball” (“Hello ball!”) in the episode where the bus driver needs to learn how to golf to impress his boss.

She was eight years older than me, but seemed older because of a fabulous head of grey hair acquired in her thirties, which she’d talk about rarely in terms of color but instead in believe-it-or-not terms about how, soaked with sweat, it froze when she removed her hat after power-walking around the Central Park reservoir.

We were so close during the brief window that I lived in New York in the late 70s that I was the one she rang in the middle of the night after finding motel receipts in her boyfriend’s pocket. I remember taking 3am subways from Williamsburg to the Upper West Side that appalling night that she discovered her then live-in partner was a cheat.

But, as time passed, she expected more, things I didn’t deliver. I had a brief history with **Ondine, a star of Chelsea Girls, who back in the 1970s might well have had one of the last extant prints of the film under his bed at his mother’s house in Queens. That was the state of Warhol’s film legacy when Callie began tracking down the films, cataloguing them and writing about them. Of all people, I should have understood her passion, and supported it. But I didn’t. Looking back, my response to her announcement of a screening of the eight-hour-long “Empire” in its entirety (“Is this a promise or a threat?”) might have been the coup de grace for our friendship. Or the fact that I used phrases like coup de grace. Callie couldn’t bear Miss Piggyisms.

Unlike Callie, I did not last long in New York and the remarkable thing is how long our friendship persisted with me living in London and she in New York. Somewhere I have a picture of Callie looking very like the distressed cat lover she was with my two dogs in Kensington Gardens. In the same album there is a shot of her cat checking out a stuffed gorilla that, during a visit to her in the mid-1980s, I bought at FAO Schwarz after a boozy lunch at the Grand Central Oyster Bar.

It was Callie, some time in the early 1990s, who after a meal observed that I was becoming judgmental. By that time, I’d been the restaurant critic for the Independent newspaper long enough to effortlessly ruin meals perfectly acceptable to those not paid to sneer. “You were never so opinionated before,” she said, squinting accusingly. In part because of that remark, not long after it, I quit. It is torture to look back on the reviews in which I complain about my soup.

In 1998, a friendship that had lasted twenty-two years finally snapped. In a visit to New York, the old Callie was still evident. I still remember her telling me about the Jon Benet Ramsey case; all I know about it and will ever need to know came from her captivating account. But she was also angry, restless and sad. When I couldn’t agree with her that things only got worse, or validate her darkening views, on my last night there, she threw a tantrum so bad, so personal, that I packed my bags in the middle of the night. She stopped me and we made up, but the reconciliation didn’t stick. We spoke only once after that, in 2001, shortly after the World Trade Center bombings, when I rang to ask if she was OK. She was OK, she said.

I chose to believe that until I learned about her suicide.

Callie Angell looked at the world differently than most. I will never know what she saw in Warhol, but I was lucky enough to know what she saw in many other things. No matter the event, when something happened, anyone who knew her would always thirst for her take, the Callie take.

* pays tribute to Callie and offers links to other obituaries and remembrances.

**At my behest, sometime in the mid-seventies, Ondine brought his copy of Chelsea Girls to the University of Maryland for a showing. He arrived with his then partner, Roger Jacoby. At the time, openly gay couples were rarely if ever seen in Prince George’s County, Maryland and would have had compelling reasons to fear for their lives. My roommates and I were awestruck. The screening did not go well, and would have been a disaster had, after the crowd yelled, “You suck!”, Ondine not yelled back, “Thank you! Do you?” His wit and ready refunds disarmed the worst bullies. As a kind of twofer, we had also arranged for Roger to give a film class the next day. There was no money for a hotel, so I gave my bedroom in a shared student house to Ondine and Roger. Ondine, revved up on speed and vodka, found a Jakob Burkhardt text, read all night and spent the next day extolling medieval iconography while he, Roger and Roger’s three or so students rode around College Park filming the town’s formidable continuum of strip malls and whatever strayed into their path. I have no idea what happened to the footage. I saw Ondine one other time, at a cinematheque in New York, for a showing of one of Roger’s films. He arrived wearing a cape and dominated the event. We probably spoke — I’m sure that he was as polite as a Sheridan Whiteside figure could be after being followed back to New York by an awe-struck provincial.


7 Responses to “Callie Angell”

  1. delbert grady
    May 15th, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

    A strong but tormented personality. Your description of her rang true of several people I’ve known.

    I fully agree about Andy Warhol.

    Thanks for sharing this story.


  2. Christopher Toy
    May 16th, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    The cats’ name was indeed Clara, who as a kitten we once borrowed to scare a mouse out of our apartment, leading us to become fervent cat supporters ouselves.

  3. Kariska
    May 19th, 2010 @ 5:51 am

    thank you thank you for your vivid description of the evolution of your friendship with Callie. I’ve known her since childhood, and could not get near to understanding her Warhol fascination, but I loved her ability to watch events in nature- she brought her binoculars to the Maine island we enjoyed together, so she could keep track of the ospreys in their nest (from New York she watched a web cam of an osprey nest). I enjoyed her stories, I kept her letters -one comes to mind of a description she wrote of her grandmother- a bit terrifying in bed with her hair down.
    I too found Callie to be more and more angry, and had planned to not stay with her if I went to New york again. I love Callie, and I’m broken by the pain she turned in on herself.

  4. Callie Angell, R.I.P. | Bad Lit
    May 19th, 2010 @ 6:02 am

    […] of an obscure Warhol film, Since (1966). Also, the writer Emily Green wrote at length about her long, tempestuous friendship with Angell. Lastly, “dan” at the Orphan Film Symposium also wrote a brief […]

  5. Melody Todd Heaton
    May 20th, 2010 @ 8:18 pm


    I am so happy to find your post here. I too am struggling with finding some meaning in Callie’s death as are some of our Solebury classmates.

    If you would like to chat, kindly send me an e-mail. While we have never met, our mutual friendship with Callie means I feel I know you already and you were, after the family, the first person I thought of after I heard about Callie’s death.


  6. Francene Keery
    July 29th, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    I deeply appreciated your recollections of Callie, she was also a cherished friend of mine for years, from the late 70’s until the mid-nineties. Callie was an enormously witty and gifted story teller. We shared many wonderful hours going birding, to museums, visiting her house on the lake and in Maine, visiting EB at “cocktail hour” and getting drunk with him on martinis, listening to his hilarious stories and going sailing. We both loved animals and nature. We once went to see a 12 hour play of Robert Wilson’s and took LSD to stay awake, everyone else was suffering but we were thoroughly amused.
    When I was living most of the time in Mexico she came down to visit and stayed with me in a dear artist friend’s house. Antonio saw Callie’s anger and told her his image of her was a woman trapped in a box with only her arms outside, free to move. He told her to work on getting out of the box and experience the wonderous world. She was struck by his declaration but accepted it without quarreling because she respected Antonio.
    Over the years Callie’s anger and need to control started to get into the way of our friendship as I began to rebel against her manipulation. Especially when I began therapy and then married. We had one last argument and never did see each other after.
    Callie told wonderful recounts of her family and I remember her thinking of Roger as a cruel father. She told me when she was a girl and he was teaching her to sail he became annoyed and swung his arm throwing her into the Maine sea. She was terrified. Whenever she was to have an encounter with Roger she mumbled her extreme hostility towards him.
    I was not surprised at hearing of her death, only deeply sad, partly because I would never have the opportunity to be in her presence again. Also because I realized she was never capable of confronting her demons and conquering them. Dear Callie you remain in my heart and life history as a very special friend. Thank you for all the delightful experiences we shared. Francene

  7. mitchell kriegman
    August 30th, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

    i knew callie intensely in the seventies and eighties (i think) when i was a video artist, performance artist and audio artist (whatever that is)and she worked with john hanhardt at the whitney. before the warhol stuff. and somehow she was altogether very supportive (very much so of my work) and totally saracastic and utterly vulnerable (laid bare) all at the same time.

    this is my little bit of tribute to callie. and i have to say she was always depressed even when happy in “that way” the way of someone who would commit suicide. we talked about it. i have no basis other than the time we spent together but my intuition is that if she hadn’t found something like wharhol or other stuff to do – she needed something to do – she would not have lived as long as she did. she was the only person i knew who examplified the noble struggle to live versus the strongest desire to die. the circles around her eyes. i don’t know and someone might read this and be very angry at me – but i think callie waged an enormous difficult war to stay alive and i think (in my contrarian way i suppose) that she did a damn good job lasting as long as she did. i thought she was the coolest girl. the deepest soul i knew. anyway callie you deserve to be happy once and for all – i hope you are! despite what all the catholics might say! here’s to you! mitchell (i never write into cyberspace i hope this is worth while – for ca)

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