Valerie Solanas, the M1935 Beretta, and the Protracted Murder of Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was a generation-defining artist. His penchant for befriending strange people was ultimately his undoing.

Valerie Solanas was born in 1936 to Louis Solanas and Dorothy Marie Biondo. Valerie’s dad was a bartender who sexually abused her. Her mom was a dental assistant. Her parents divorced when she was young. Valerie subsequently found her new stepfather repugnant.

Like most of the shooters we have profiled in this series, Valerie Solanas was the product of a fairly horrible childhood.

As a child, Valerie wrote insults and sold then for a dime apiece to other kids at school. At age 13 she left to live with her grandparents, but her grandfather was a violent alcoholic who beat her. By age 15 she was homeless. Two years later she became pregnant by a married sailor and gave the child up for adoption.

In every photograph I could find of Valerie Solanas she appeared angry.

Amazingly Valerie nonetheless finished high school on time and even earned a degree in psychology from the University of Maryland. She was in the Psi Chi honor society. While in college she hosted a radio call-in show where she dispensed advice on how to combat men. Along the way, she came out as a lesbian, something that was fairly groundbreaking at the time.

Valerie’s SCUM Manifesto eventually acquired a feminist following. It is taught in some universities today.

Soon thereafter Valerie started an organization called S.C.U.M., short for the “Society for Cutting Up Men.” She was the sole member. She eventually penned her SCUM Manifesto, a steaming sexist screed that outlined her plans for a world without men. Her masterwork begins thusly—

“Life” in this “society” being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of “society” being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.

Meeting Warhol

Andy Warhol was a popular figure. His celebrity status attracted attention.

Valerie gravitated toward outlying personalities. In 1967 she met a successful artist named Andy Warhol while living in New York City. Valerie had penned a play with the catchy minimalist title, “Up Your Ass.” Convinced that this piece of Haute literature was destined for success most incalculable, she presented Warhol with a copy of the script. Warhol was known to produce quirky short plays and films, and Valerie saw him as her golden ticket to success.

Warhol’s art was quirky. He was known to produce fringe productions that others might not.

Warhol, for his part, was apparently kind and respectful. He pointed out that the manuscript was “well-typed.” Many of Warhol’s previous film works had been so heavily pornographic that the police had intervened. Once he appreciated the unbridled vulgarity of Valerie’s play he became convinced it was part of a Law Enforcement sting. Warhol subsequently discarded the document in a trunk filled with lighting equipment and pondered it no further. Valerie, by contrast, was just warming up.

Warhol treated Solanas kindly, but her profound mental illness drove her to ever-more bizarre extremes of behavior.

Valerie hounded Warhol mercilessly over the manuscript. Warhol attempted to placate her by paying her $25 to take a bit part in one of his movies titled “I, a Man.” Valerie was not to be dissuaded, however. As time passed she became more and more convinced that Andy Warhol was stealing her intellectual property, intending to produce her remarkable play as his own. She borrowed $50 from a writer friend named Paul Krassner and purchased a pair of handguns. One was a .22-caliber revolver. The other was a Beretta M1935 automatic in .32ACP.

The Shooting

On the day Warhol was shot, Valerie Solanas first approached Margo Eden in an effort at getting her nonsensical play produced.

Solanas tracked down producer Margo Eden at her home and badgered her for four hours about producing her wretched play. When Eden adamantly refused, Solanas produced a handgun. Apparently the play was so bad that Eden preferred death. In frustration, Valerie announced that she would, therefore, shoot Andy Warhol, earn her fifteen minutes of fame, and get her play produced by that means. She then stormed out in a huff.

Ms. Eden tried desperately to alert the authorities to Solanas’ nefarious intent but could not get Law Enforcement officials to believer her. One officer told her, “How would you know what a gun looks like?”

Eden frantically contacted her local police station, the station in Warhol’s precinct, and the NYPD headquarters in addition to the Mayor, John Lindsay’s office as well as that of New York Governor, Nelson Rockefeller. No one believed her. Meanwhile, Solanas made her way to Warhol’s studio, The Factory, and inquired as to Warhol’s whereabouts. When she was told he was not there she simply rode the elevator up and down until he returned.

Andy Warhol’s studio, The Factory, was as eclectic and quirky as was he.

Warhol finally boarded the lift with Solanas and accompanied her upstairs along with his manager, Fred Hughes, art critic Mario Amaya, and an American film director named Paul Morrissey. Upon their arrival, Morrissey retired to the bathroom and Warhol turned around to answer the phone. Valerie used the distraction to retrieve her diminutive Beretta.

Valerie fired at Warhol from behind, eventually connecting after he fell to the floor. This is a still taken from an FX movie about the shooting. Note that the gun appears to be a Spanish Astra rather than the Beretta she actually used.

Solanas fired three rounds at Warhol from behind, two of which missed. The third, however, struck him in the back and followed a circuitous route, perforating his spleen, stomach, liver, esophagus, and both lungs. Valerie then indexed to Amaya and shot him in the hip. She attempted to shoot Hughes in the head, but her gun jammed.

Warhol was rushed to a nearby hospital clinging tenuously to life.

Hughes apparently then requested that Solanas leave and she did, abandoning a paper bag containing her address book. Warhol was rushed to the Columbus-Mother Cabrini Hospital where he underwent a five-hour surgery. At one point he arrested on the table. Surgeons opened Warhol’s chest and conducted a manual cardiac massage to restore his heart function. Warhol spent two months in the hospital and was forced to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life. He was forever after terrified of hospitals.

Warhol was grievously injured in the shooting. His injuries necessitated a medical garment to compensate for his damaged abdominal muscles.

Solanas later that day approached a random New York police officer, handed over her two firearms, and confessed to the crime. She said she had done it because Warhol “had too much control in my life.”

Valerie took umbrage with the headline describing her crime the following day.

The following day the New York Daily News ran the headline, “Actress Shoots Andy Warhol.” Solanas demanded a retraction claiming that she was a writer, not an actress.

The Gun

The Beretta Model 1935 was a fairly anemic WW2-era service pistol.

The M1934 Beretta was the standard-issue military handgun for the Italian armed forces starting in 1937. Chambered in 9mm Corto (.380ACP), the M1934 was Beretta’s answer to the Walther PPK. Valerie Solanas’ M1935 was the same gun chambered in .32ACP.

Though the slide locks to the rear on the last shot fired, this actually slows down reloads.

The M1935 sports a heel-mounted magazine release after the European fashion and an 8-round single stack box magazine. The gun has an exposed hammer and a single-action trigger. The safety on the left side of the frame rotates through 180 degrees and can be used to lock the slide to the rear manually. The slide locks back over an empty magazine but flies forward of its own accord when the magazine is subsequently removed.

The Beretta M1935 is a simple gun that is easy to use.

The M1935 included the Beretta open-topped slide and an unlocked straight blowback action. The gun was considered reliable and was made from completely interchangeable parts, a radical concept for its era. Beretta produced just over half a million copies.

Italian weapons like this Beretta 38A were popular among German Fallschirmjagers.

The M1935 was widely issued to Italian forces and saw extensive service in the German military as well. The Germans never could get enough handguns to serve their needs, so they ended up using a wide variety of foreign designs. This was particularly the case with the Waffen SS, Fallschirmjagers, and Kriegsmarine. The M1935 was also widely sold on the civilian market.

The Rest of the Story

Valerie’s story was tragic from birth to the grave. While incarcerated she was formally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

Valerie became even more unhinged after her trial and incarceration. During her arraignment she denied that Warhol’s refusal to produce her play was the motive behind her crime, claiming rather that, “it was for the opposite reason,” whatever that means. She told the judge, “It’s not often I shoot somebody. I didn’t do it for nothing.” She insisted on representing herself in court and claimed she, “was right in what I did! I have nothing to regret!” The judge had her incoherent commentary stricken from the court record and remanded her to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

Valerie Solanas spent three years behind bars for the attempted murder of Andy Warhol.

She later stated, “I consider that a moral act. And I consider it immoral that I missed. I should have done target practice.” She spent three years in the Matteawan Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The month she began serving her sentence her SCUM Manifesto indeed saw publication. She was released in 1971.

Andy Warhol’s shooting had a dampening effect on his art. Afterward, his work became darker and more brooding.

Andy Warhol was never quite the same after the shooting. He wrote in his diary, “I said that I wasn’t creative after I was shot, because after that I stopped seeing creepy people.”

Warhol’s preoccupation with death manifests in his work.
Warhol had acquaintances bring guns by his studio so he could use them in his artistic projects.

After the shooting, Warhol became somewhat obsessed with violence and death, painting a series of skulls and guns. More than that, however, he developed an intense aversion to hospitals. It was this phobia that eventually killed him.

Warhol’s reluctance to seek medical attention ultimately claimed his life.

Nineteen years after the attack, Warhol was suffering from a severe protracted case of gallbladder disease, something that in the modern era is a fairly easy surgical fix. However, he chose to try to treat this mechanical problem over several years with healing crystals. When he finally reported to a hospital he was grievously ill. By the time he actually submitted to surgery, he was severely weakened and died from cardiac arrest post-op.

Solanas never was quite right, wandering the country homeless before settling in San Francisco. She died of pneumonia in 1988, fifteen months after Warhol’s passing. Her landlord discovered her while inquiring about past-due rent.

Valerie Solanas continued harassing Warhol after her release but nonetheless became a heroine to many in the radical feminist movement. She was homeless for a time and died destitute in San Francisco at age 52. Up Your Ass was indeed produced as a stage production by the George Coates Performance Works in San Francisco in 2000. I haven’t seen it.

This Warhol print with appropriate provenance sold at auction for 220,000 British pounds. Apparently I’m in the wrong line of work.

In shooting the avant-garde artist, Andy Warhol, a mentally ill aspiring writer named Valerie Solanas did indeed achieve her fifteen minutes of fame.

Warhol was obsessed with popular culture, building a thriving art empire around it.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Kane August 18, 2020, 2:30 am

    If de Blasio were mayor back then, Valarie would have got time served and a stern warning to avoid any more mischief for awhile.

  • John August 18, 2020, 2:12 am

    totally off subject, but metallica’s first album was going to be called metal up your ass, but they changed it to kill ’em all. They are based out of San Francisco too

  • John Boutwell August 17, 2020, 8:59 pm

    Truth is indeed, stranger than fiction.

  • JCitizen August 17, 2020, 3:58 pm

    Wow! I didn’t even know Andy was shot! I do vaguely recognize the crazy perpetrator though; you don’t forget such a mean face once you see it in the papers. I probably never put two and two together.

    Great article and very educational for us ignorant folks who only watch the news occasionally. It is all so disgusting I miss most or it for lack of interest! I really should maintain my awareness though; too bad Andy’s friend didn’t get a hold of him instead of the worthless authorities she did contact! And yet they are the same troop that blame everything on gun owners; and just look at the mess they have in NYC! I agree that it is a political problem more than anything else; and this story is just more proof of that. The police need to take threat seriously; no one can afford not to now days!

  • Reticent Rogue August 17, 2020, 2:04 pm

    Anyone who claims to understand Warhol art and the ‘Warhol fame syndrome’ knows little about art and even less about human nature. The whole raison d’etre of either is that they are to be the exclusive purview of the perverse and not to be understood by ordinary folk. As a phenomena it still infests our culture today on a steroidal level. It is akin to what I call the ‘Gertrude Stein effect.’ Stein had a marginal reputation as an art collecting critic, but, it was useful enough for her to create a persona of art and artist that was Pablo Picasso. She essentially funded Picasso while he painted ‘stuff’ nobody understood, acquired virtually everything he painted and then began visiting every gallery in Paris, approaching the owner when it was full of patrons and asking to see what he had in Picasso’s; when he had to declare, “Picasso? Who is that?” She would then leave in a huff, loudly exclaiming over her shoulder, “What kind of an art gallery has no Picasso’s?” She caused such a stir the local galleries began to beat the bushes for Picasso and his art—all or most of which she herself owned—and thus began the phenomenon, the hauteur of creating fame for the sake of art for the sake of manipulating culture for the sake of self aggrandizement and making money. Warhol, who gloried in perversion, was little more than a screen printer who printed billboard quality prints of ordinary objects, who created his own avant-garde, culturally anarchist persona and fame by intimidating people who thought they were smart but, as a matter of pride, did not want to admit they did not understand his art. Better to cling to the famous-for-being famous than to remain unknown and ordinary.

    As for the Beretta and .32 acp, I think most gun enthusiasts might be surprised to find just how many high-profile assassinations and attempts have been made with this ‘mousy cartridge,’ some of them successful. It was perhaps the go-to for those who wanted their victims to suffer first.

    Anyway, thanks, Will, for another gem. He who offers up history with our favorite subject does the finest work. The firearm, truly, is the implement which has most stirred our history and culture.

  • JT August 17, 2020, 12:24 pm

    Will – A little off topic but I didn’t know how to get this to you otherwise. I realize that you have taken an interest in the case of George Floyd and the actions of the Minneapolis officers on the scene that day, including Derek Chauvin. You should take a look at this. The evidence against Chauvin and the others isn’t quite what people thought it was. From the looks of things he did exactly as he was trained to do. That’s a Chief and Mayor problem, not an officer problem. Perhaps one reason they fired and supported charging him so quickly, before the investigation was even completed. I would rather have been in the Soviet Army
    during WWII than the Minneapolis PD. The only difference is that the political commissars in the Soviet Army had guns while the ones in Minneapolis are armed with lawyers. Based on what I’ve seen it looks like Chauvin has a real chance of being acquitted. I don’t take a position either way on that potential outcome, but its important to understand how it might happen. Check this out:

    https://spectator.org/george-floyd-police-training-minneapolis/

    • Will August 17, 2020, 2:16 pm

      JT, thanks for the note, bro. Here’s my take on Chauvin and Floyd–Floyd wasn’t a good guy at all. Neither was Michael Brown. Nothing about those dudes was heroic, altruistic, or redeeming. I’ve since watched the video leading up to Floyd’s demise. He was weird and combative consistent with the kinds of drugs he was on and was a convicted criminal. That he got arrested seems fully justified. I also looked over the link you attached and you’re right, that restraint does look quite familiar. The condemning bit for me is that Chauvin kept his knee on the guy’s neck for so long after Floyd was undeniably restrained and subsequently after he was unresponsive. That’s just a really bad optic. You’ll never find a more pro-cop guy than me, but that just looks bad. The interesting thing to me is that Chauvin’s been charged with murder. I’m no lawyer but that seems unconvictable. Negligent homicide maybe, but I suspect Chauvin could walk if nothing else because the prosecutors got over-zealous. If department SOP was to keep your knee on the guy’s neck until EMS tells you to stop then he needs to be fully exonerated. There’s been ample knee-jerk stupid throughout the chain of command, and my rank-and-file cop buddies across the country are struggling. Lord help us all.

      • Reticent Rogue August 18, 2020, 9:58 am

        It’s all about local police. The only time ‘federal’ and ‘police’ occur in criticism of authority from the left is because the Trump Administration sent them. If you want to begin to understand what is going on, you have to think consolidation of power. What kind of force best serves a totalitarian regime? Answer: a nationalized police force that answers only to the central government. And that’s what this is all about—nationalizing the police. [Research Rand MG819, REX84, Agenda 21, Obama’s Community Policing Program, Operation Jade Helm and follow stories in Army Times and other military trades about police techniques being taught to military line troops. All evidence considered objectively, someone in our government is attempting to identify the best configuration for a singular force that can be sent anywhere, anytime to quash rebellion and leave behind an occupying nationalized cadre that reports directly to Washington, D. C. This is not conspiracy. It is pragmatic rationalization.]

  • Mike in a Truck August 17, 2020, 10:22 am

    I never did “get” Warhol. I think I first saw his stupid soup can painting in Stars and Stripes or Army Times I cant remember.Home on leave, I borrowed- no swiped my kid sisters water color paints figuring if that weirdo can be famous so can I. I painted what I knew- a jungle boot with a pungi stake in it. The fact that everyone knows Warhol and not me shows that art wasn’t in my future.As far as Solanas- goes to show that we never get over being children. That’s why happy childhoods are so important. What an Effed up world man.

    • perlcat August 17, 2020, 1:47 pm

      Do you still have that painting of a jungle boot with a punji stake?

  • Roy August 17, 2020, 10:10 am

    Valerie’s statements were looked upon as lunacy by the people of her time. Her statements today are similar to rhetoric spewed on from universities, high schools, antifa blue hairs, many politicians, and millenial kids next door. This is the age of idiocracy. Above this all, Valerie settled things with the gun. The gun is being produced against Americans more and more by BLM/Antifa members, under the hypnosis of their communist lords.

    • perlcat August 17, 2020, 1:52 pm

      I used to think the cultish worship of homicidal lunatics was a feature of outliers on the Left; I now think it’s a requirement for the mainstream leftwaffe. These are the people that want to control us, and they can’t even control themselves.

  • mike August 17, 2020, 10:08 am

    ” Up Your Ass was indeed produced as a stage production by the George Coates Performance Works in San Francisco in 2000. I haven’t seen it.”

    Haha very funny…

  • Earl August 17, 2020, 8:33 am

    This reads like a love story. Not a “chance meeting” when Valerie Solanas met Andy Warhol, but destiny. A match made in hell. Reading this gave me creeps. These two are the same types that are worshiped in modern day liberal America.

    • Jerald Koester August 17, 2020, 5:09 pm

      I noticed the pistol used to shoot A.W., That the slide, exposed hammer looks like the M92, 9 mm service pistol.

      I enjoy reading the authors articles.

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