John Wilcock, writer

John Wilcock in 2004.
John Wilcock in 2004.
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John Wilcock, who has died at 91, was a Sheffield-born journalist who worked with the artist Andy Warhol and was a significant force in the American counterculture that took root during the Vietnam draft protests of the 1960s.

Originally a travel writer, he had posted a notice in the window of a bookshop in New York City’s Greenwich Village, seeking expressions of interest in setting up a newspaper there, Shortly afterwards, with the novelist Norman Mailer on board, the Village Voice was born. It was a publication that would thrive for six decades until finally ceasing publication just last month.

Mr Wilcock had grown up in Ecclesall, and worked for the Morning Telegraph, then a Sheffield daily, before going on to write for the Daily Mail and the Mirror. He emigrated to North America in 1952, on a £19 ticket to Canada. A move to New York followed two years later.

There, his magazine commissions included an interview with Marilyn Monroe, who appeared to be in a flirtatious mood, for which he was paid $150. He also interviewed Rock Hudson and Marlene Dietrich.

It was a vintage time to be in America’s largest city. The Voice was a bible for an arts community that included Woody Allen and Leonard Cohen. He loaned the outspoken comedian Lenny Bruce his apartment, put up Bob Dylan and declined the offer of marijuana from Mailer, though he later changed his views, dabbling in magic mushrooms and LSD as recreational drugs entered the Greenwich Village mainstream.

He was a familiar face at Warhol’s Factory studio, a hub for the city’s most outrageous parties, and partnered him in the launch of Interview magazine, for which Warhol sketched him. He later became travel editor of the New York Times and wrote guidebooks.

“I’ve been lucky to be in weird places at the right time,” he told the resurrected version of his old Sheffield paper, in 2004.

He had, re recalled, left Rishworth school near Halifax, at 16. He was a boarder there and he was lonely and unhappy.

Longing to support himself, he took a job in the Telegraph’s Barnsley office, later transferring to its York Street base in the city centre, where he learned the basics of funeral and court reporting.

“The thing I most learned from those early days was the ability to collect information and put it a coherent form,” he said. “I remember going to a mining accident in Rotherham and everyone was vying to get to the one phone at the time.”

He was the Mail’s man in Newcastle, but after a couple of years on the Mirror realised he was never going to get to Fleet Street. 

“I saw a Time magazine story about Canada and I was off,” he said.

His 1955 conversation with Ms Monroe was a one-on-one chat in a bar on Lexington Avenue, the sort of encounter that would be unthinkable in today’s PR-controlled culture.

“She leaned across the table confidentially, grabbed my arm with her right hand and looked directly into my eyes as if about to convey a secret known only to the two of us,” he recalled in his book, Memories of Marilyn.

“‘I like men who are poets,’ she declared, squeezing my wrist with her fingers for emphasis. ‘But that doesn’t mean they have to write poetry. Do you know what I mean?’” 

Greenwich Village had surprised him, he said, for not already having a newspaper it could call its own. Mailer dreamed up the title, and the Voice became first alternative paper in America. It “ broke new ground in writing about culture,” Mr Wilcock said.

Interview was established in 1969, and two years later, he compiled The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol, a collection of talks with friends and associates.

In 2001, Mr Wilcock settled in Ojai, north-west of Los Angeles, and began an online monthly magazine, The Ojai Orange. His autobiography, Manhattan Memories, was published in 2010 and his Warhol volume re-released the same year.

He married Amber Nomi Lamann in 1967 and they divorced in 1972.