Andy Warhol was at the white-hot apex of his career when he and his posse arrived in Tucson to make a movie in January 1968.
"Lonesome Cowboys," destined to be Warhol's last film as a director, was shot mostly at Rancho Linda Vista after plans to use Old Tucson failed to pan out.
The former cattle ranch near Oracle, north of Tucson, was home to about 50 artist types who embraced the controversial, shock-haired Pop artist and his sampling "superstars" from the Factory, Warhol's New York studio.
"I was 10 years old at the time," said Selina Littler, who remembers that half the town of Oracle turned out to watch the first day of filming.
"I don't know what they were expecting to see - probably some sort of traditional Western," said Littler, whose father, Charles, taught art at the University of Arizona and had just bought the ranch in partnership with fellow artists and professors.
"When it came time to shoot the scene, it became apparent that it was a nude, kind of a gang-rape scene," she said. "Viva (a cast member) was pulled off a horse and . . . her private parts were exposed. . . . Somebody probably called the cops."
Indeed, the FBI investigated Warhol for the possible crime of transporting obscene material (the film) across state lines. He was never charged.
What Littler remembers most about Warhol was how he looked:
"He had skunk-colored hair, and he was always sitting in sunglasses with people surrounding him, attending to his needs. He was really pale with pasty-looking skin, and he was really skinny."
"He was scary to me," said Littler, 51, a sculptor who lives at Rancho Linda Vista with her artist husband, Imo Baird, and their 17-year-old son, Nic.
"I left for about 15 years but came back after my father died in November 1991," she said during a phone interview last weekend. "It's still a very arts-focused community, home to about 35 people, including some of the original members from the 1960s."
Littler imagines that her father would be surprised to learn that people are still talking about when Warhol was here.
"It's now history," she said.
Like other kids who watched the filming of "Lonesome Cowboys," Littler got an education and an eyeful (one scene featured half-naked "cowboys all humping each other," she said). But she never got around to seeing the finished movie, an underground spoof of Hollywood Westerns, until about a year and a half ago.
"It was really long and didn't really hold together," she said. "It jumped around a lot. It was very odd. It didn't really have a story line."
The 109-minute "Lonesome Cowboys" was a big deal for Warhol, who had shot most of his previous films at the Factory.
But just four months after Warhol returned to New York, everything changed: He was nearly killed at the Factory by Valerie Solnas, a mentally ill radical whose story was told in "I Shot Andy Warhol."
The workaholic Warhol continued to churn out a constant stream of artwork until his death in 1987, but he never directed another movie.
"Lonesome Cowboys" will be screened next Thursday night as the opening film in "Pop Goes the Loft! The Films of Andy Warhol."
And if you can't make it to the nonprofit Loft Cinema - the series is set for every Thursday in March - don't bother trying to add the flicks to your Netflix queue.
"None of these movies or any of the movies that he himself directed are available on DVD," said Jeff Yanc, program director at the Loft Cinema.
"All of the films have a real hipster mystique around them, but not too many people have actually seen them."
Incredibly, this is the first time that the Loft has put together a Warhol program.
"We've wanted to do it for a long time, but I had to wait until there was a local exhibition of his art," said Yanc, explaining that the 16-millimeter prints are owned by the Museum of Modern Art.
"The prints are rare, and they are careful with them," he said. "In order to maximize control, the prints arrive just before the screening, and we have to send them back immediately after."
Yanc said he started putting together the Warhol celebration as soon as he heard about the Tucson Museum of Art's exhibition "Andy Warhol Portfolios: Life & Legends."
The second night of the series, on March 11, is an Edie Sedgwick double feature: "Poor Little Rich Girl" and "Kitchen," both from 1965 and both 66 minutes.
"I think some people might have seen 'Factory Girl,' which was about her," said Yanc, referring to perhaps the biggest and most tragic superstar in Warhol's firmament. "But here's a rare chance to see the real Edie Sedgwick on film."
"Couch," screening along with "Vinyl" on March 18, should be another highlight of the series.
In this 1964 effort, the camera finds literary superstars Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac ad-libbing on the Factory's famous red sofa, which is also the setting for scenes both steamy and mundane featuring Ondine and other Factory hotties.
The final night of "Pop Goes the Loft!" - March 25 - will open with a live performance of Velvet Underground songs by the Tucson band Monster Pussy. The main event will be the 67-minute "My Hustler" (1965), followed by "Blow Job," a notorious 1963 short that focuses on a man's face for 35 minutes. The camera never pans down, and titillation doesn't seem to be the film's intent.
"The guy is really bored, so it's not exactly a turn-on if that's what you're going for," said Yanc, who said that Warhol films are "kind of about testing people's tolerance."
Not screening at the Loft: "Empire," in which Warhol aimed his camera at the Empire State Building for more than eight hours.
Although Warhol's films have not been screened previously at the Loft, the Pittsburgh native who revolutionized modern art watched dailies of "Lonesome Cowboys" at the Loft's old location on East Sixth Street.
"Or so the legend goes," said Yanc, who added to the local lore by revealing this Warholian fact:
The Loft recently discovered that it had a 35-millimeter print of "Lonesome Cowboys."
"They were using it as a training reel for new projectionists," Yanc said. "They didn't know what they had. It was just trashed, completely ruined. We keep it as a really cool artifact."
Bring soup with you
Bring a can of Campbell's soup to any of the Loft's Thursday night screenings of Andy Warhol movies in March and you'll be entered into a raffle for a Warhol- oriented prize package.
All soup will be donated to the Community Food Bank.
If you go
• What: "Pop Goes the Loft! The Films of Andy Warhol," a monthlong series of films screened in 16 millimeter.
• When: 8 p.m. every Thursday in March, starting with "Lonesome Cowboys" next Thursday, followed by "Poor Little Rich Girl" and "Kitchen" on March 11, "Vinyl" and "Couch" on March 18, and "My Hustler" and "Blow Job" on March 25.
• Where: The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.
• Admission: $10 each night.
• More information: loftcinema.com
Read the FBI files
After receiving a complaint about unwholesome acts on the Rancho Linda Vista set of "Lonesome Cowboys," the FBI investigated Warhol on suspicion that he transporting obscenity. After G-men watched the movie, no charges were filed.
Go to thesmokinggun.com to read statements taken from several Oracle residents, including an 18-year-old who said he and his 15-year-old sister saw six or seven naked men in a wash.