...And it went further: Occasionally, during a magazine shoot with a nervous subject, Diane would lie outright about what she was photographing. “Oh no, never,” she told one suburban housewife when she asked if pictures of her family would ever be sold (it became one of her best-known portraits of family dysfunction). “No, nothing shows,” she told the feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson, who believed Diane had been taking head shots (the resulting photo was of Atkinson topless). Most notoriously, there was the shoot for the fourth-ever issue of New York at the East Side apartment of Viva. The Warhol “superstar” claimed that Diane used the head-shots-only line on her as well — but in the published image her breasts were exposed, her head thrown back, a look on her face as if she were having an orgasm; she’d likely been caught mid-eye-roll. (Diane would later tell Allan that another feminist subject, Germaine Greer, was “terrific looking, but I managed to make [her] otherwise.”) When the issue hit newsstands, Viva threatened to sue. That never happened — Warhol advised against it — but founding editor Clay Felker watched advertisers run off in droves. He believed that one too-edgy image ultimately scared off about half a million dollars in revenue, nearly sinking the magazine.
...And then there were the photos, by Diane Arbus. One is a full-length nude of Viva, laughing. In the other (above), she looks stoned out of her mind, an impression doubled by the text (“I’ve tried everything except heroin and opium”). Viva has since said she wasn’t really much of a drug user and that she was sober during the session.
...How on earth did Arbus make such a picture? “Despite my degree from Marymount College and my one year at the Sorbonne and all the art schools in Paris,” Viva says, “I didn’t have any brains.” She had also, she notes, been an artist’s model and was blasé about nudity. “I had slept on the couch the night before, on a white sheet,” she says, and had forgotten about the shoot until Arbus showed up during breakfast. “I went to the door wrapped in the sheet — I was on the phone with Richard Avedon, and he said, ‘You’d better let her in!’ So I let her in, and she said, No, no, don’t get dressed, I’m just shooting your head, and I was so stupid I believed her. So I sat there and laughed and talked with no clothes on!” According to Arthur Lubow’s forthcoming book Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, that was in character: Arbus had made and broken such promises before. Viva has also said that Arbus directed her to roll her eyes, although Lubow says Arbus usually avoided giving such direct instruction.
...Viva was appalled. “I was getting dressed to go on The Merv Griffin Show — my first time on TV! — and this kid walked in and dumped this thing on me as I was putting on my ten separate clumps of eyelashes. And I said, I’m sorry, I have to cancel, and [the booker] asked why. And I said, because this horrible pack of lies has just appeared in New York, and my parents are going to see it — oh my God, I’m ruined. He said, no, no, go on the show, and we’ll talk about it.” On the air, she said she planned to sue, and, by chance, that very night, “I go into Max’s, and there’s Diane. And she begged me, please, please, don’t sue. And Andy and Paul [Morrissey] convinced me not to.” In fact, the story left marks on everyone, not just Viva. Lubow says that Arbus had trouble getting magazine work after it ran. Even Felker had regrets: “I made a terrible mistake publishing [the photos],” he told the Times in 1984. “They were too strong.”