A Farewell to Dapper Fred Hughes: He Oversaw Andy’s Factory Empire

The memorial at the Frank E. Campbell funeral home on Tuesday, Jan. 16, was strangely ungrand for a man as grand and theatrical as Frederick W. Hughes. For whatever reasons, Mr. Hughes’ Texan mother, Jennie Hughes, his brother Thomas, and his sister Mary-Beth Hansard, had decided to very quickly and quietly call viewing hours for between 7 and 9 p.m., two days after Mr. Hughes, at age 57, died at home from complications resulting from an 18-year battle with multiple sclerosis. Mr. Hughes, who had served for a quarter century as Andy Warhol’s business manager and as the executor of his estate, had been bedridden by his disease for the past seven years and had grown so angry in his final years that he’d grown estranged from many of his friends.

Still, gathering that evening in the Frank E. Campbell Orleans Room were François and Adelaide de Menil, members of the Texas-based family of art philanthropists who had played a key role in Mr. Hughes’ life and career; writers Dominick Dunne and Fran Lebowitz; jeweler Kenneth Jay Lane; actress Sylvia Miles; real-estate broker Linda Stein; socialite Whitney Tower Jr.; and a number of the “Superstars” who had worked and played with Fred Hughes at the various incarnations of Warhol’s Factory.

“It was a parade of Fred’s life,” said Vincent Fremont, who toiled at the Factory and now functions as the exclusive agent of the Warhol Foundation. “The English friends were too far away [to come], but everyone who came that night … it was his life in New York.”

Those who did come found a photo album depicting him in healthier days and a closed casket that was constructed of an elegant, highly polished light mahogany and topped with a lid that was unusually angled rather than rounded. It was an appropriate resting place for someone who had done a remarkable job of burnishing his appearance, his mind and, occasionally, his history until they shone with a dazzling gloss that effectively obscured the man beneath. “I bumped into Cornelia Guest the other day,” said Jane (Baby Jane) Holzer, the former Factory star who’s now a socialite, “and she said, ‘You know, he was the best dancer.’

“We used to go to the Rothschild balls in Paris and stay at the Hotel Meurice and it was so much fun. Everything was possible with Fred.”

The son of a furniture salesman, Fred Hughes was raised in the cultural wilds of Dallas and Houston. But with the help of the de Menils and, later, through his complicated but close association with Warhol, Mr. Hughes fashioned himself into a grand, dandyish world traveler with impeccable taste and a sharp tongue. Dressed in bespoke Everall Brothers suits and John Lobb shoes, his dark hair slicked back Gatsby-style, he was a New York character in the last years when New York characters brazenly roamed this metropolis.

But though Fred Hughes certainly benefited from his association with Andy Warhol, the argument could certainly be made that Warhol, who died after gall bladder surgery in 1987, benefited even more from his association with Fred Hughes.

“Fred was a hugely important character in the creation of Andy Warhol as an artist of international importance and as a portraitist,” said the art historian and biographer John Richardson, who was a friend of Mr. Hughes.

Even attorney Ed Hayes, who had a falling out with Mr. Hughes, agreed with this assessment. Mr. Hughes, who was the godfather of Mr. Hayes’ daughter Avery, hired Mr. Hayes to be the lawyer for the Warhol estate; but in the midst of a bitter legal dispute over Mr. Hayes’ fee and the valuation of the estate, Mr. Hughes fired him. Not surprisingly, Mr. Hayes contends that Mr. Hughes betrayed him; even so, he said, “If Andy Warhol was the most significant American artist of the second half of the 20th century, then Fred Hughes was certainly material to that success, if not the most important person in Warhol’s life. He was largely responsible for Warhol’s tremendous commercial success. He had a brilliant eye and a great sense of art history.”

Friends of Fred Hughes said that he seemed to have been born with an innate sense of taste, but his metamorphosis in fact began when he was an art history student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, a small Catholic college occupying several green blocks in what passes for that city’s genteel neighborhood. The art department at St. Thomas was funded by Jean and Dominique de Menil, who in the 1980’s would build the De Menil Collection virtually across the street from St. Thomas’ campus and the Rothko Chapel, a small, austere rotunda lined with Rothko’s somber works. The equally somber (and strong-willed) Mrs. de Menil was an heir to the Schlumberger oil-equipment fortune, and she and her flamboyant husband enjoyed international status as avid art patrons and collectors. The de Menils’ oil business was based in Houston, and it was during Mr. Hughes’ freshman year at St. Thomas that he befriended the family and gained the nickname “Le Dauphin ” because the de Menils took such good care of him.

The de Menils clearly saw something in the young Mr. Hughes and helped him land a job at the Iolas Gallery in Paris, which represented Max Ernst and René Magritte. But he also continued to help out the family, and this often involved spending time at their Manhattan townhouse. In Bob Colacello’s Holy Terror , a memoir of his days with the Warhol Factory, Mr. Colacello recalls that it was during one of these stopovers that Fred Hughes encountered Andy Warhol, who was hanging out at the 60’s discotheque hot spot Arthur with doomed socialite Edie Sedgwick. Mr. Hughes, who had purchased his first Warhol while still in college, went up and shook the artist’s hand.

But, as Mr. Colacello also reports, Warhol and Mr. Hughes were formally introduced in 1967 at architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Conn. The setting was a benefit for Merce Cunningham’s dance company that was sponsored by the de Menils. Providing entertainment for the evening were the Velvet Underground. “Fred came with a de Menil daughter,” Mr. Colacello wrote. “Andy came with the band.” The two men were introduced by curator Henry Geldzahler, who says he never saw either of them again: “They waltzed off into the empyrean.”

Fred Hughes began working at the Factory, which had moved from East 47th Street to Union Square, by literally sweeping the floors. But he soon made himself indispensable to Warhol. Rather than immediately hit up the de Menils to buy one of Warhol’s portraits, Mr. Hughes first convinced them to commission the artist to immortalize their private curator, Germaine McConaghty. Soon enough, Dominique de Menil sat for her own portrait, as did Philip Johnson and other friends of the family.

“Fred was a catalyst, somebody who is at the center of things, who enlivens things, makes things happen, somebody who is full of ideas, who sparks things. It was just what Andy needed in a way,” said the art historian and biographer John Richardson, who knew Mr. Hughes from their days together at the Factory. “Fred turned out to be this very cool, competent, albeit quite eccentric guy. All of us who were part of the Warhol world loved Fred. He kept things on a very even keel.”

Mr. Colacello agreed with Mr. Richardson’s assessment, and took it a step further. “In a few years, Fred engineered the rise of Andy Warhol from the demimonde to the beau monde and set him on the road to real riches,” he writes in Holy Terror . Although Leo Castelli was Warhol’s dealer, it was Fred Hughes who “launched the commissioned portraits gold mine, drove up the sales and prices of the sixties paintings, expanded the limited edition print biz, cultivated important news collectors and dealers, especially in Europe.” In 1971, Mr. Hughes also rescued Interview from financial ruin by lining up new backers.

At the time, Fred Hughes was only 27 years old.

Mr. Hughes’ influence on Warhol was not limited to business. “Before Fred came along,” recalled Mr. Richardson, “Andy tended to see–I’m talking socially, not in terms of the artists–he saw a lot of lowlifes.”

One early member of Warhol’s circle, Valerie Solanis, was phased out the hard way–prison–after she shot and wounded Warhol and curator Mario Amaya, and reportedly pointed her .32-caliber pistol at Mr. Hughes. Lucky for him, the gun jammed.

“In the early 70’s, Fred was welcome in every social circle,” said art mogul and film producer Peter Brant, who knew Mr. Hughes and was an investor and onetime owner of Interview . And Fred Hughes was instrumental in introducing Warhol to a group of friends and acquaintances that included the designer Halston, writer Truman Capote, Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and his then wife Bianca, actor Jack Nicholson, fashion illustrator Joe Eula, Diane von Furstenberg and fashion maven Diana Vreeland, with whom Fred Hughes had an extremely close relationship. So close that, as a number of his friends pointed out, he began to talk in Vreeland’s dramatic and imperious tone whenever he’d had too much to drink.

Although Mr. Hughes and Warhol did not always get along, those who witnessed their relationship said it was amazingly synergistic, particularly given that both were strong-willed. “They were two Leos, and I believe in astrology because every male Leo I’ve known has to be king of the jungle,” Mr. Colacello told The Observer . “Fred pretended he hated publicity. He would always step out of Andy’s photos because his grandmother told him you were only in the press when you were born, when you were married and when you died. Andy pretended he was weak. But they were both classic, dominant, domineering, egotistical personalities, and each, in their own way, geniuses.”

But as Mr. Richardson put it, Mr. Hughes “was by no means a kind of stooge figure” in Warhol’s court. He had his own distinct style. “All the kids at the Factory, everyone who was younger than Fred wanted to dress like Fred,” Mr. Colacello said, adding that Mr. Hughes kept photographs of the Duke of Windsor, King Umberto of Italy and Fred Astaire in his home, from which he seemed to draw inspiration for his dandyish look. Mr. Brant said that Mr. Hughes first had his suits made by Pat Fiori at Everall Brothers, then graduated to Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row. His Lobb shoes and Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet cologne were also British. Mr. Hughes also favored small collars and skinny ties, which flattered his slim-shouldered frame. “It was Fred who started the trend, which was credited to Andy, of wearing Brooks Brothers blazers with pressed jeans,” Mr. Colacello said.

Mr. Colacello recalls nights at Manhattan nightclubs of yore, such as Sanctuary and Tambourlaine and Ondine, watching Mr. Hughes tear up the dance floor with his latest girlfriend, “who always called him ‘Fritzie.'” And then there was the time at Stage 45 when Mr. Colacello watched Fred Hughes pair up with Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti, “the old European and young American in identical double-breasted black gabardine suits, elegantly waltzing to some melancholy Motown wail.”

When it came to relationships, Mr. Hughes’ infatuations were many. He was briefly married to jeweler Marina Schiano, who was working for Yves St. Laurent at the time, and he was engaged to a series of women, including Catherine Guinness and actress Lady Anne Lambton. Lady Lambton told The Observer that she met Mr. Hughes in England “a long time ago. I was a 16-year-old delinquent that he spotted and basically said, ‘You can come and work in the Factory.’ He intercepted me and put me on the straight and narrow.”

Of her engagement to Mr. Hughes in the early 70’s, Lady Lambton said: “I was given an engagement ring and I accepted it, but I don’t know if I ever knew when [the engagement] started or ended.” She lived with Mr. Hughes at the Westbury Hotel and then later at the ivy-covered townhouse at 89th Street and Lexington Avenue that he first rented, then bought from Warhol when the artist moved to East 66th Street. “It was a very old-fashioned relationship,” Lady Lambton said. “A very courtly relationship.”

She chuckled a bit, then added: “He just fell completely head over heels in love with people. Whatever sex or age, he fell in love. I would say that Diana Vreeland was someone he fell in love with. I think when he met me he just fell in love with me. And then when he met someone else it was a new passion and he just doubled up his love. He didn’t stop being in love with the other person.” But then Lady Lambton added: “It wasn’t not discerning. He was an aesthete.”

When he wasn’t collecting people, Fred Hughes was collecting antiques and other objects of beauty. If there is one thing about him with which everyone seems to agree, it’s that he had a great eye for beauty, and not necessarily the expensive kind. “Fred had taste and he could find beauty in a flea market or the best furniture stores. High to low,” Mr. Fremont said. “Anybody can buy the best but Fred had the knack.” And that knack showed in the eclectic antiques and knickknacks and fabrics that decorated Mr. Hughes’ homes. At his townhouse he managed to mix Native American art with 19th-century Continental furniture, Tudor paintings and his Warhol portraits of Jacqueline Onassis, which were mounted in ornate gilded wood frames.

“He had his own personal version of feng shui,” said Sasha Chermayeff, an artist who worked between 1991 and last fall to catalog his vast collection of artwork, and who is writing a book about Mr. Hughes’ life. When he was bedridden, said Ms. Chermayeff, Mr. Hughes “would spend 45 minutes telling you how he wanted a bedside table to look.” Fred Hughes could be as grand as some of the treasures in his collection, and in addition to talking like Diana Vreeland, he would occasionally claim, as Mr. Colacello noted in Holy Terror , that billionaire Howard Hughes was his cousin, or that his grandfather had once owned much of downtown Houston but sold it before the oil boom.

“He had an innate elegance, mixed with a certain sense of fantasy,” said Mr. Lane. But Mr. Hughes could also poke fun at himself. “I’m deeply superficial,” was apparently one of his favorite bon mots. And Ms. Chermayeff said that he once told her that he wanted his tombstone to read, in perhaps an ironic salute to himself and all the society ladies he walked over the years, “Deb’s Delight.” Mr. Colacello also remembered how, on slow afternoons at the Factory, Mr. Hughes would “take Scotch tape and give himself a facelift. He’d say, ‘I am Frederick of Union Square and I am going to give you a facelift.'” Mr. Colacello added that back in the early days, Mr. Hughes would use the same moniker and identify himself as Warhol’s hairdresser whenever clueless journalists asked him what he did at the Factory. Even after the M.S. began to take its toll, Mr. Hughes kept his “gut-wrenchingly funny” sense of humor, Ms. Chermayeff said. She recalled that back in the 90’s when he ended up spending several weeks in an institution called The Hospital for Joint Diseases on East 17th Street, he nicknamed it “The Joint” and insisted that everyone who visited him refer to it in the same manner. “He said, ‘When you’ve smoked as many joints as I have and you’ve hung out in as many joints as I have, you end up in the joint.'”

By the late 70’s Mr. Hughes seemed to be tiring of constantly acting as the conduit between Warhol and the world. He seemed angry and began to alienate a number of his friends, including Vreeland. Some thought he drank too much and perhaps had begun showing the early signs of M.S. When Warhol died, some recalled that Mr. Hughes seemed shocked, but also a little relieved. In Holy Terror , Mr. Colacello wrote that Mr. Hughes once told the artist Adriana Jackson “that what he really wanted in life was to make a lot of money. And to be a millionaire by age 30. By 40 he wanted to be as rich as Howard Hughes and as important a collector and patron as Jean de Menil.”

When Mr. Hughes took over as the executor of Warhol’s estate, he was poised to realize his wish, but by then, he knew that the M.S. would eventually rob him of the dream. “Had he not been sick, he would have been one of the most powerful men in the art world,” Ms. Chermayeff said. “The combination of being on top and knowing that he wasn’t going to be able to stop this disease that destroys your body while your mind stays active, it was just too much.” Still, Mr. Hughes oversaw the extremely successful sale of Warhol’s furnishings, art and tchotchkes at Sotheby’s in 1988 and then the opening of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in 1994. He also started the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which became the focus of Mr. Hayes’ legal battle.

In 1992, Mr. Hughes was forced out as chairman of the foundation. Friends say that the stress of all the litigation seemed to exacerbate his condition. The Texas aesthete who loved exploring the world and its treasures was steadily becoming a prisoner of his bed, kept from the stimulation that he craved. Friends continued to come to visit him, to talk to him or read to him, anything to keep him informed and up-to-date. Though he could not speak, “it was clear he took in everything,” Mr. Richardson said. “Sometimes the tears would pour down his face.”

“People who knew Fred in his prime were always grief-stricken after seeing him,” Ms. Chermayeff said. And sometimes Mr. Hughes helped them along. “He was in a rage,” she said. “For many reasons … the primary one was his frustration at the disease …. He just went down with a self-destructive fervor that was really hard to understand. It was as if he decided there would be no fizzling out.” But Ms. Chermayeff said that she suspects he may have been difficult for a reason. “He made it so I had a certain kind of freedom from him,” she said. “He freed us all from the suffering that everybody would have felt at seeing him suffer. I don’t know if it was conscious or subconscious.”

But maybe there was a precedent.

Vincent Fremont remembered that the summer after Warhol died, he and his family spent some time with Mr. Hughes in a house he had rented on Shelter Island. “I remember one time we found a dead squirrel or something like that,” Mr. Fremont said. “My daughters were pretty young and they got upset. Fred did this whole elaborate funeral procession.” Mr. Fremont paused a moment, as if he were trying to reconcile the Fred Hughes whom he’d accompanied from party to party until the sun came up in Paris with the man in this anecdote. “We went in a little line and dug a hole.” Mr. Fremont paused once more, perhaps wondering why Mr. Hughes, the New York Character, did not get a procession of his own. His voice grew faint, then recovered.

“I found him really charming,” he said. “And he wasn’t wearing a tie.”