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Valerie Solanas

Valerie Jean Solanas (April 9, 1936April 25, 1988) was an American radical feminist writer best known for shooting the artist Andy Warhol in 1968. She wrote the SCUM Manifesto, an essay on patriarchal culture advocating the creation of an all-female society.

Early life

Born in Ventnor City, New Jersey to Louis Solanas and Dorothy Biondi, Solanas was regularly sexually abused by her father. Her parents divorced during the 1940s, and by the age of 15 she was homeless. In spite of this, she completed high school and earned a degree in psychology from the University of Maryland. She did nearly a year of graduate work in psychology at University of Minnesota. In 1953, her son David was born. Other details of her life until 1966 are unclear, but it is believed she traveled the country as an itinerant, supporting herself by begging and prostitution.

New York City and The Factory

Solanas arrived in Greenwich Village in 1966, where she wrote a play titled Up Your Ass about a man-hating prostitute and a panhandler. In 1967, she encountered Andy Warhol outside his studio, The Factory, and asked him to produce her play. Intrigued by the title, he accepted the script for review. According to Factory lore, Warhol, whose films were often shut down by the police for obscenity, thought the script was so pornographic that it must be a police trap. He never returned it to Solanas. The script was later found in the bottom of one of Warhol's lighting trunks.

Warhol did give Solanas a role in a scene in his film I, A Man (1968-1969). In that film, she and the film's title character (played by Tom Baker) haggle in an apartment building hallway over whether they should go into her apartment. Solanas dominates the improvised conversation, leading the bewildered actor through a dialogue about everything from "squishy asses," "men's tits," and lesbian "instinct." Ultimately, she leaves him to fend for himself, explaining "I gotta go beat my meat" as she exits the scene.

During this period (the late 1960s), Solanas wrote and self-published the work for which she is best known — a call for destruction of men and men-loving women, as well as the liberation of women, called the SCUM Manifesto. SCUM is generally held to be an acronym of "Society for Cutting Up Men," although this acronym does not appear in the manifesto itself. SCUM gained Solanas a following among some feminists.

Later in 1967, Solanas began to telephone Warhol, demanding he return the script of Up Your Ass. When Warhol admitted he had lost it, she began demanding money as payment. Warhol ignored these demands but offered her a role in I, A Man perhaps as compensation. In his book Popism: The Warhol Sixties, Warhol would write that before she shot him, he thought Solanas was an interesting and funny person. However, her constant hassling (bordering on stalking) made her difficult to deal with and ultimately drove him away.

Attempted assassination of Andy Warhol

On June 3, 1968, she arrived at The Factory and waited for Warhol in the lobby area. When he arrived with a couple of friends, she fired three shots from a handgun at Warhol. She then shot art critic Mario Amaya and also tried to shoot Warhol's manager, Fred Hughes, but her gun jammed. Just then, the elevator arrived. Hughes suggested she take it, and she did, leaving the Factory. Warhol barely survived. He never fully recovered and for the rest of his life had to wear a corset to prevent his injuries from worsening. Years later, his wounds would still occasionally bleed after he overexerted himself.

That evening, Solanas turned herself in to the police and was charged with attempted murder and other offenses. Solanas made statements to the arresting officer and at the arraignment hearing that Warhol had "too much control" over her and that Warhol was planning to steal her work. Pleading guilty, she received a three-year sentence. Warhol refused to testify against her. The attack had a profound impact on Warhol and his art, and The Factory scene became much more tightly controlled afterwards. For the rest of his life, Warhol lived in fear that Solanas would attack him again. "It was the Cardboard Andy, not the Andy I could love and play with," said close friend and collaborator Billy Name. "He was so sensitized you couldn't put your hand on him without him jumping. I couldn't even love him anymore, because it hurt him to touch him. While his friends were actively hostile towards Solanas, Warhol himself preferred not to discuss her.

One of the few public pronouncements in her favor was distributed by Ben Morea, of Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers / Black Mask fame. It was later re-printed as an appendix in the Olympia Press edition of her manifesto.

It is widely believed that Solanas suffered from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the shooting. A psychiatrist who evaluated her shortly thereafter concluded that she was "a Schizophrenic Reaction, paranoid type with marked depression and potential for acting out. As a result, many of her detractors derided her as a "crazed lesbian".

Release from prison

Feminist Robin Morgan (later editor of Ms. magazine) demonstrated for Solanas' release from prison. Ti-Grace Atkinson, the New York chapter president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), described Solanas as "the first outstanding champion of women's rights. Another member, Florynce Kennedy, represented Solanas at her trial, calling her "one of the most important spokeswomen of the feminist movement.

After her release from prison in 1971, she was regarded by some as a martyr. When she persisted in stalking Warhol and others over the telephone, however, she was arrested again. An interview with her was published in the Village Voice in 1977. She denied that the SCUM Manifesto was ever meant to be taken seriously. Solanas drifted into obscurity and was in and out of mental hospitals.

Death

In 1988, at the age of 52, Solanas died of emphysema and pneumonia in a welfare hotel in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.

More than 30 years after the loss of Up Your Ass, it was re-discovered. In 2000, the play premiered in San Francisco, only blocks from the hotel where she died.

Legacy

Selected works

References

External links

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