Roy Halston Frowick may now be known for revolutionizing American fashion, but during his heyday, it was his merry band of misfits—a conglomerate of kooky creatives—that made a unique mark on the industry. As the new Netflix series Halston, which follows the rise and downfall of the designer, tells it, artists like Joe Eula and Victor Hugo (who was Halston’s lover for most of his time in the limelight), models including Elsa Peretti, the director Joel Schumacher, and, of course, Liza Minnelli were constantly in the designer’s orbit. They partied at Studio 54, collaborated, and created together—much like Andy Warhol’s Factory, or the crew that hung around with Yves Saint Laurent.
In the show, there’s plenty of drama from the Halston cohort. But there’s one character who doesn’t get nearly as much airtime as she should: Pat Ast, the model and actress who hung around both the Halston and Warhol gangs in the 1960s and ‘70s. Played in the limited series by Shawna Hamic, Ast was a pioneering, out-there muse who walked the runways for both Halston and YSL. Weighing in at over 200 pounds, Ast was certainly the exception, not the rule. But her larger-than-life personality and attitude was said to be infectious—leading her to a life of parties and fame. Here are the details on one of the most notable stars featured in the Halston biopic series—who shines just as brightly as she did 50 years ago.
Patricia Ann Ast: The Early Years
Pat Ast was born Patricia Ann Ast in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, in 1941. She spent most of her youth and teenage years in that borough, attending Erasmus Hall High School in Prospect Lefferts Garden, Brooklyn. (It’s been said that during her years at Erasmus Hall, she beat her classmate, one Barbra Streisand, in a singing competition).
In her twenties, she enjoyed partying on Fire Island. According to friends who spoke to The New York Times for a 2002 article, it’s difficult to nail down exactly what Ast’s history was during that era—most used drugs heavily, and the memories are murky. But most agree that it was on Fire Island—possibly at fashion designer Stephen Burrows’s home, though this fact cannot be confirmed—where Ast met the director John Schlesinger, who cast her in her first movie, Midnight Cowboy. (She played a guest at a party.) Around this time, Ast was working as a receptionist at a box factory. Still, she’d always had ambitions to act, sing, and model, and her personality was a perfect fit for a life on the stage. “I was sitting on the deck of the Boatel at the Pines on Fire Island, and suddenly a rowboat came around the bend,” Schumacher told the Times. “Pat was standing on the boat in a flowing caftan and holding a huge Japanese fan, singing ‘Un bel di’ at the top of her lungs. She stepped out, and the first thing she asked me was, ‘Do you know anyone who could lay some speed on me?’”
Halston and Pat
Halston noticed Ast early on in the Fire Island days, and was so taken with her that he offered her a job at his Madison Avenue boutique. She became a fixture at the store—but not necessarily for her work ethic. While she did occasionally tend to clients (including Jackie Kennedy,) she mostly brought her riotous personality to work, and that was plenty. In one scene of the Netflix series, Ast appears inside the shop wearing her signature Halston caftan, wielding a fan and crying out, “My secret is, I’m so fucking fat, if I look good in Halston’s clothes, anyone will!”
Ast also appeared on Halston’s runways, and was a major fixture in the group lovingly dubbed by André Leon Talley “The Halstonettes”—models and socialites like Pat Cleveland and Anjelica Huston. Her presence in the fashion world was a marked occurrence, especially given her weight, since there were only rail-thin women with tiny measurements on catwalks during that time. And then there was Ast, who looked like no one else, and whom Halston treated as a celebrity in her own right. In fact, he gave her the big finale at his 1972 Coty Awards runway show, where he wheeled out a huge cake—out of which Ast gleefully popped.
It was around this time that Andy Warhol started to recognize the star quality of Pat Ast. He tapped her for his film Heat, which costarred Joe Dallesandro and Sylvia Miles.
According to Bob Colacello, who spoke to the Times in 2002, Ast ended up going the way of many other Warhol actors: “They had a brief run of fame that didn't lead anywhere.” But alongside Factory stalwart waifs Nico and Edie Sedgwick, Ast emerged in her own lane—a total ham of devilish excess. “And I love it, every minute of it,” she once told the Los Angeles Times.
Life in Los Angeles
In 1975, Ast moved from New York City to Los Angeles in more serious pursuit of her acting career. She landed roles in B films like Foul Play, The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, The Possession of Joel Delaney and later, Reform School Girls, which became her cinematic claim to fame.
Her flatlining acting career compounded her dislike for Los Angeles, Peretti told the Times. “We would talk on the phone and she would go on about how much she missed the city and hated ‘that dump,’” she said. When Ast was presented with the opportunity to return to New York, she grabbed it—taking on a role in Nine, the Broadway musical based on Federico Fellini’s movie 8 1/2. (Three months into rehearsal, she was let go from the production.)
Her Final Years
Following the death of Halston in 1990, Ast was reportedly never the same. New York City had changed since her salad days running the streets of Manhattan. So, she made a home for herself in West Hollywood.
Still, she always kept in touch with her cohorts on the East Coast, clinging to any last memory of Halston that she could. Diabetes, which she struggled with throughout her life, became an increasing problem in her last decade—she had a couple toes amputated as a result. When she passed away in 2001, her friends and family accidentally scheduled two different memorial services—a testament to the widespread community she cultivated during her colorful life.