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I wasn't to blame for heiress murder,
says art expert depicted on screen in
'incest threesome' - by Sam Green

There's a scene in the controversial new movie Savage Grace that the audience finds especially uncomfortable. The beautiful and exciting socialite Barbara Baekeland, played by Julianne Moore, is in bed with her handsome young lover, the art curator Sam Green, and another good-looking young man: Tony, her own son.

The three kiss and caress each other passionately. They make love and, as they writhe ecstatically, the viewers squirm unhappily. It is a shocking depiction of incest. I was more disturbed than most. I am Sam Green.

Barbara was subsequently murdered in London by Tony - a crime that made headlines all over the world in 1972.

Savage Grace
Deadly depravity: Hugh Dancy, centre, as Sam Green in the film's shocking sex scene with Julianne Moore as Barbara and Eddie Redmayne as her son, Tony

It is true that almost 40 years ago I did have an affair with Barbara, but I certainly never slept with her son, and nor did she, to the best of my knowledge. Nor am I bisexual. The movie producers have changed my sexual orientation but couldn't be bothered to change my name. I'm taking legal advice because the film has damaged me and distorted a life that certainly needs no exaggeration.

By the time I met Barbara, who was married to the heir of the Bakelite plastics fortune, in the late Sixties, I was already well known in my own right. I had become a close friend of Hollywood legend Greta Garbo and I had launched Andy Warhol's career. Later, I became so close to John Lennon that in his will I was named guardian of his son Sean.

I was born in a small town in Connecticut in 1941. My parents were university professors, so while my friends went to baseball games with their dads, mine would take me to see houses of architectural interest. He instilled in me a lifelong love of art and architecture. After studying at art school, I moved to New York and sought whatever work I could get in galleries. In 1962, the year after my arrival, I was managing the well respected Green Gallery when an unprepossessing man came in one day and introduced himself.

Barbara Baekeland
The real Barbara Baekeland in Hollywood in 1941

'Hi, I'm Andy. Andy Warhol. I'm an artist.' I shook his extended hand. 'Sam Green.' 'Really? OK. Hi, Sam. I wonder if I could interest you in seeing my work.' Later, after we had become firm friends, Andy confided that he had assumed by my surname that I was the gallery owner's son, so he'd made a point of cultivating me. At that time he had been working as an illustrator and was not yet famous as an artist. He was a few years older than me but we started to hang out together and got on really well. He was very funny, with amazingly original ideas. When I was 24, I put on an exhibition of established artists, such as Roy Lichtenstein, but included some of Andy's stuff. He and I were ambitious and determined to insinuate ourselves into the elevated social circles that the art world attracts.

We spent one summer persuading wealthy socialites to let us film naked models in their bathrooms. Attractive young women - and men - fell over themselves to show how liberated they were by stripping for us, and the well-to-do were happy to have naked young people cavorting in their homes. This was the Sixties: such behaviour wasn't really considered so bizarre then. By this time I was regularly appearing in magazines and gossip columns, and I became director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia where, in 1965, I arranged a retrospective of Andy's work. It was that event that launched him to international stardom and I remained part of his inner circle until the day he died. One of my favourite photographs shows Andy kneeling with one of his acolytes, Bridget Berlin, leaning over him topless. I appear wearing a suit, photographing them. The picture was actually taken by Cecil Beaton.

Cecil later championed me socially and in his celebrated diaries, published in 1972, I get as many mentions as the Queen Mother. It was Cecil who introduced me to Baroness Cecile de Rothschild, who in turn introduced me to one of Hollywood's most reclusive legends, Greta Garbo.

Sam Green with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Washington in 1977
Sam with John and Yoko in Washington in 1977

Cecile acted as Garbo's protector in Europe. I often stayed with Cecile at her huge house in the South of France but usually I was asked to leave a day or two before Garbo arrived. Eventually, I was asked to stay. Cecile went to pick her up at the airport while I got more and more nervous at the prospect of meeting one of the world's most famous women. Then the butler told me we would meet in the living room for drinks. There was no sign of Garbo yet but Cecile asked me to make her a drink.

While I was at the bar, I heard a door open behind me. I assumed it was the butler. When I turned around there was Garbo, about six inches away from me. My jaw dropped and I stood there speechless. Garbo smiled. 'Mr Green, I've been so looking forward to meeting you,' she said, in that throaty voice of hers. 'I'm sure we're going to have the most wonderful time together.'

She knew everybody became tongue-tied when they met her for the first time, and it amused her. When I later introduced her to people they would all lose their composure in a similiar way. Garbo was in her early 60s but still a beauty. Men, and not a few women, were smitten with her. We instantly became friends and the two women and I had some marvellous times on yacht trips around Greece and Corsica.

Savage Grace
Screen version: Julianne Moore as Barbara
with Barney Clark as the young Tony

Garbo called me Mr Green and I called her Miss G or G, but never Greta because she hated that name. Despite her reclusive image, she seemed to be comfortable in her skin. When she swam off yachts, she would just peel off her clothes and dive in naked, oblivious to, or possibly very aware of, the watching crew.

I helped her with all sorts of things. For example, she couldn't write her own cheques because people would never cash them: her signature was far more valuable than the amounts the cheques were for. The result was that she was forever having her phone or her electricity cut off because the recipient of her cheque had simply decided to keep it. Garbo was obsessive about keeping fit and we took long walks together. If we saw somebody approaching with that 'Oh my God, is that who I think it is?' look on their face, she would say: 'Uh-oh, we've got a customer.' We'd then slip into a well rehearsed routine where she would sidestep the approaching fan while I blocked the way as she made her escape. When we met up again she would imitate the walk of the 'customer'.

She loathed being recognised so she rarely went to restaurants and she hated being approached for autographs because she felt it was demeaning for another person to think she was better than them. I was her closest confidant for 20 years but she was not the only ravishing beauty in my life. I met Barbara Baekeland in 1969 during a private yacht cruise around the Greek Islands.

Barbara was a globetrotting socialite, separated from her husband Brooks, a man with matinee-idol looks and heir to the Bakelite plastics fortune. Her schizophrenic son, Tony, fancied himself as an artist.

Andy Warhol
Ally: Andy Warhol and Sam insinuated
themselves into New York's art circles together

Barbara was stunning to look at and had glorious red hair - and a wild spirit. She rapidly showed interest in me and I was extremely flattered: I was 29 and she was 47. We would go for long swims and one day we found ourselves on a deserted beach where the inevitable happened. She later took me to her castle in Majorca where I met Tony, then 23. She had spoken of him as a sort of messiah, the greatest child there ever was, but I found him very disappointing.

He was a poor little rich kid who couldn't decide if he wanted to be a poet or a musician or simply sit on the beach smoking pot all day. I didn't like him at all. Although there was no hint of sexual tension between them, Barbara and Tony's relationship was bizarre. Tony was very insulting to his mother and she seemed to do her best to provoke him. One night at dinner, Tony suddenly got up, walked around the table and yanked Barbara backwards off her chair by her hair, dragging her towards the door. She remained entirely passive.

I leapt up but she signalled to me not to intervene. I was totally unnerved and retreated to my room. Later in the evening, both behaved as if nothing had happened. I arranged to send myself a telegram saying I was urgently needed elsewhere and made my escape. My sexual relationship with Barbara had lasted for no more than four weeks. As far as I was concerned it was a fling, a holiday romance. But Barbara placed much more significance on our relationship. I think it is fair to say she was in love with me. I ended up keeping in touch with her although her behaviour became more and more difficult. At one point she went around telling everyone she was pregnant by me.

She bombarded me with letters and calls. She once walked barefoot across Central Park in the snow wearing a lynx coat with nothing underneath to call at my apartment - uninvited. She spent the night on my doorstep more than once when I wouldn't let her in. These days I think you would call her a stalker. Then she started telling people she had had an incestuous relationship with her son as a way of 'curing' him of homosexuality. One of her friends said: 'Sons and lovers - nobody knows the difference any more.' But I don't believe she had sex with Tony. I think she simply enjoyed shocking people. Barbara and Tony were staying in a penthouse in Cadogan Square, London - a flat I had found her - when he stabbed her with a kitchen knife and severed an artery.

When the police arrived she was lying dead on the kitchen floor and he was on the phone ordering a Chinese takeaway. I found out about her death when I got a call from Interpol telling me I was the executor of her estate and asking what my instructions were for her body. I can't say I was shocked to hear of the murder, given what I had seen of her relationship with her son, but I was surprised to learn I was her executor. It revealed her dependency on me, how she thought I was financially capable and, saddest of all, how few close friends she had. At Tony's Old Bailey trial he was defended by Rumpole creator John Mortimer. Tony spent eight years in Broadmoor after being found guilty of manslaughter through diminished responsibility.

When he was released after pressure from do-gooders, he returned to New York without any supervision. Almost the first thing he did was call me. He spoke to my secretary, who asked who he was.

He said: 'I'm the guy who killed his mother.' I told my secretary to say I wasn't there. He went back to his grandmother's apartment and stabbed her eight times - miraculously, she survived. It was in 1981, while he was in Rikers Island prison awaiting trial, that he committed suicide by suffocating himself with a plastic bag. He was 35. I have to admit I felt nothing but relief when I heard the news.

Of course I had moved on with my life by then, and once again the art world had brought me into contact with high-profile personalities. I had met Yoko Ono before I met John Lennon. She shared an apartment with a Japanese artist I admired called Yayoi Kusama. Yoko fancied herself an artist and whenever I went to see Yayoi, Yoko would say: 'Sam, you have to see my new work. It is so fantastic.' After about the sixth time I said to her, quite bluntly: 'Yoko, I'm not interested.'

Then in 1974, she and John came to New York as a couple. A few days after they arrived, I got a call from Andy Warhol. 'Sam, you've got to help me,' he said. 'John and Yoko are insisting I introduce them to everybody in New York.'

So Andy and I put together a party for them. John and Yoko sat in the corner, not saying much to anyone. Every night after that they wanted Andy to arrange something for them. After about five days of this he called and said: 'I just can't do it any more. They are so boring.' So I took up the cause and gradually we became good friends. They regularly invited me over to their apartment in the Dakota building, and I had them over to my place, just four blocks away.

I also accompanied them to Japan and Egypt, where I assembled a collection of ancient Egyptian art for them, including a sarcophagus containing the remains of a princess whom Yoko decided she had been in a previous life. It was when John made his will in November 1979 - just over a year before he was murdered - that he named me as Sean's guardian if he and Yoko died together. I discovered this only after his death. It was a total shock.

I spent much of my career helping artists with theirs, and travelling around the world as an adviser to collectors. On the back of this, I was able to buy a 16th Century mansion in Cartagena, Spain, as well as my own place in New York.

These days, I devote much of my time to the Landmarks Foundation, of which I am founder and director. Its task is to restore and protect sacred sites around the world. One of my proudest achievements was saving Easter Island when the airlines tried to turn it into a jet-refuelling station 40 years ago.

The work I do now is not a reaction against a life spent mixing with the rich, it is a continuation of it. I put all the contacts I have made in my career to good use as I raise Foundation funds from the wealthy and the well connected. I had put the Barbara and Tony Baekeland episode behind me - until I saw Savage Grace. Of course, film-makers always embellish the truth, but that is very different from pure invention.

In the film you hear Tony Baekeland, played by Eddie Redmayne, talking about me: 'He's a homosexual walker who spends his time tending to the needs of very rich women.' Although I never married, this is untrue and a slur. I think this element of the film may have come from an unpublished piece of fiction written by Barbara in which the heroine seduces her own son, then her son's male friend and then discovers her son and the friend having sex. I read Barbara's manuscript in 1970 and wrote to her: 'I cannot think why anyone would be interested in the self-indulgent ramblings of a mad international wastrel.'

To watch the Sam Green in the movie, played by British actor Hugh Dancy, passionately kiss Tony turned my stomach. There is also an implication that I am somehow responsible for Barbara's murder because Tony becomes confused and unbalanced after the three-in-a-bed incest scene. It is an outrageous suggestion. I will concede that I am brilliantly portrayed by Hugh Dancy. He is stunningly well dressed, and looks exactly as I did. It is as if he raided my wardrobe from those days. He even talks likes me. But that only serves to make the whole experience more profoundly unsettling. I admit I may have led a life that is worthy of a movie. But not this one.

 As told to Janet Midwinter.


from:   Daily Mail ,        ???
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