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