You Only Get One Shot…
by Tobe Damit
A little after 4 pm on Monday, June the 3rd, 1968,Valerie Solanas marched into The Factory and fired 3 bullets at Warhol. Just one of them missed, but when Billy Names rushed over to cradle Warhol’s head in his lap while blinking away tears, Warhol only words where ”Please don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much”.
I always was curious to know who she was and what were the exact reasons that led to that tragic day that would have many ramifications in the way it affected modern arts, cinema, music, theatre, live performances, and so many other forms of art as Warhol was most definitely involved in so many projects. Warhol was never the same after that and there is no way to precisely mesure the importance this had but it sure did modify the face of what was happening in the late sixties and early seventies. Let’s have a closer look at the sad life of Valerie Solanas and the events that led to the day she got her 15 minutes of Fame.
On April 9, 1936 in Ventor, New Jersey, Valerie Jean Solanas was born to Louis and Dorothy Bondo Solanas. Her father sexually molested her; sometime in the 1940’s her parents divorced, and Valerie moved with her mother to Washington, D.C.. In 1949 Valerie’s mother married Red Moran. Rebellious and stubborn, Valerie disobeyed her parents and refused to stay in Catholic high school; in response her grandfather whipped her.
At the age of 15 in 1951, Valerie ended up on her own. She dated a sailor and may have gotten pregnant by him but still managed to graduate from high school in 1954. She was a good student at the University of Maryland at College Park, supporting herself by working in the psycology department’s animal laboratory. She did nearly a year of graduate work in psychology at University of Minnesota.
After college, Solanas panhandled and worked as a prostitute to support herself. She traveled around the country and ended up in Greenwich Village in 1966. There she wrote “Up Your Ass”, a play ” about a man-hating hustler and a panhandler. In one version, the woman kills the man. In another, a mother strangles her son.”
Early in 1967 Solanas approached Andy Warhol at his studio, the Factory, about producing “Up Your Ass“, as a play and gave him her copy of the script. At the time Warhol told the journalist Grechen Berg: ” I thought the title was so wonderful and I’m so friendly that I invited her to come up with it, but it was so dirty that I think she must have been a lady cop…. We haven’t seen her since and I’m not surprised. I guess she thought that was the perfect thing for Andy Warhol.”
Also in 1967 Solanas wrote and self published the Scum Manifesto. While selling mimeographed copies on the streets, she meant Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press (French publisher of Lolita, Candy and Tropic of Cancer) who gave her an advance for a novel based on the manifesto. (With this $600 cash she visited San Francisco.)During this time Ultra Violet read the Manifesto to Warhol who commented, “She’s a hot water bottle with tits. You know, she’s writing a script for us. She has a lot of ideas.”
Later, in May 1967, after Warhol had returned from a trip to France and England, Solanas demanded her script back; Warhol informed her he had lost it. Apparently, Warhol had never any intention to produce Up Your Ass as either a play or a movie; the script was simply lost in the shuffle, thrown into one of the Factory’s many stacks of unsolicited manuscripts and papers. Solanas began telephoning insistently, ordering Warhol to give her money for the play.
In July 1967 Warhol paid Solanas twenty-five dollars for performing in “I, a Man,” a feature-length film he was making with Paul Morrissey. Valerie appeared as herself, a tough lesbian who rejects the advances of a male stud with the line that she has instincts that “tell me to dig chicks—- why should my standards be lower than yours?” Solanas also appeared in a nonspeaking role in “Bikeboy,” another 1967 Warhol film. Warhol was pleased with her frank and funny performance; Solanas also was satisfied enough that she brought Girodias to the studio to see a rough cut of the film. Girodias noted that Solanas “seemed very relaxed and friendly with Warhol, whose conversation consisted of protracted silences.”
In the fall of 1967 at the New York cafe, Max’s Kansas City, Warhol spotted Solanas sitting at a nearby table. He instigated Viva’s insult of Solanas; “You dyke! You’re disgusting!” Valerie answered with the story of her sexual abuse at the hands of her father.“No wonder your a lesbian,” Viva callously replied.
Over the winter of 1967-68, Solanas was interviewed by the Robert Mamorstein of the Village Voice. The article,“Scum Goddess: a Winter Memory of Valerie Solanas” was not published until June 13, 1968, after the shooting. Solanas commented on the men interested S.C.U.M.:“… creeps. Masochists. Probably would love me to spit on them. I wouldn’t give them the pleasure…. The men want to kiss my feet and all that crap.” Her comment on women and sex: ” The girls are okay. They’re willing to help any way they can. Some of them are interested in nothing but sex though. Sex with me, I mean. I can’t be bothered …. I’m no lesbian. I haven’t got time for sex of any kind. That’s a hang–up.” She told Mamorstein that Warhol was a son of a bitch: ” A snake couldn’t eat a meal off what he paid out.” Solanas also talked about her life; she had surfed as a little girl. She panhandled and even sold an article on panhandling to a magazine.” I’ve had some funny experiences with strange guys in cars.”
According to the interview, she wrote a few sex novels and was paid $500 for one. (Could this have been the novel that was to have been based on the S.C.U.M. Manifesto?) She was interviewed on Alan Burke”s TV talk show; when she refused to censor herself, he walked off the set. The interview was never aired. According to Paul Morrissey in a 1996 interview with Taylor Meade,the contract that Solanas signed with Olympia Press “this stupid piece of paper”, two sentences, tiny little letter. On it Maurice Girodias said: ” I will give you five hundred dollars, and you will give me your next writing, and other writings.” Solanas had interpreted it to mean that Girodias would own every thing she ever wrote. She told Morrissey: ” Oh no, everything I write will be his. He’s done this to me, He’s screwed me!” Morrissey believed Solanas couldn’t write the novel based on the SCUM Manifesto she had promised to Girodias and used this idea that Girodias owned all that she wrote as an excuse. In Solanas’ mind, Warhol, having appropriated Up Your Ass, wanted Girodias to steal her work for Warhol’s use and never pay her so he got Girodias to sign this contract with her.
In early 1968 Solanas went to writer Paul Krassner to ask him for $50. According to Krassner, writing in 2009 and rejecting part of Morrissey’s account, she asked Krassner for the money for food and he loaned it to her. Krassner also speculated in 2009 that she could have used the money to buy the gun as the shooting was a few days later. According to Freddie Baer, when she asked Krassner for money in 1968, she told him she wanted to shoot Girodias and she used the $50 Krassner gave her to buy a .32automatic pistol . In any event, in 2009 Krassner denied that he knew in 1968 that Solanas intended to kill Warhol.
But in 2009, Margo Feiden said in an interview with James Barron of The New York Times that she did know that Solanas intended to kill Warhol, but could not prevent it. (A New York Times assistant Metro editor responded to an online comment regarding the story, saying that the Times “does not present the account as definitive.”)
According to an unquoted source in The Outlaw Bible of American Literature, on June 3, 1968, at 9:00 am, Solanas arrived at the Chelsea Hotel, where Girodias lived. She asked for him at the desk but was told he was gone for the weekend. She remained for three hours before heading to the Grove Press, where she asked for Barney Rosset, who was also not available.
Noted Solanas scholar Breanne Fahs, in her 2014 biography, Valerie Solanas, rejects as unlikely that Solanas appeared at the Chelsea Hotel looking for Maurice Girodias. Professor Fahs states that Girodias may have fabricated the account in order to boost sales of the SCUM Manifesto, which he had published. Dr. Fahs states that “the more likely story…places Valerie at the Actor’s Studio at 432 West Forty-Fourth Street early that morning.” Actress Sylvia Miles states that Valerie appeared at the Actor’s Studio looking for Lee Strasberg, asking to leave her play for him. Miles said that Valerie “had a different look, a bit tousled, like somebody whose appearance is the last thing on her mind.” Miles told Valerie that Strasberg would not be in until the afternoon. Miles said that she accepted a copy of the play from Valerie and then “I shut the door because I knew she was trouble. I didn’t know what sort of trouble, but I knew she was trouble.”
Fahs records that Valerie then traveled to producer Margo Feiden’s (then Margo Eden) residence in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, as Valerie believed that Feiden would be willing to produce her play. As related to Fahs, Valerie talked to Feiden for almost four hours, trying to convince her to produce the play and discussing her vision for a world without men. Throughout this time, Feiden repeatedly refused to produce Valerie’s play. According to Feiden, Valerie then pulled out her gun, and when Feiden again refused to commit to producing the play, Valerie responded, “Yes, you will produce the play because I’ll shoot Andy Warhol and that will make me famous and the play famous, and then you’ll produce it.” As she was leaving Feiden’s residence, Valerie handed Feiden a copy of her play and other personal papers.
Fahs describes how Feiden then “frantically called her local police precinct, Andy Warhol’s precinct, police headquarters in Lower Manhattan, and the offices of Mayor John V. Lindsay and Governor Nelson Rockafeller to report what happened and inform them that Valerie was on her way at that very moment to shoot Andy Warhol.” In some instances, the police responded that “You can’t arrest someone because you believe she is going to kill Andy Warhol,” and even asked Feiden “Listen lady, how would you know what a real gun looked like?”
Fahs additionally cites Assistant District Attorney Roderick Lankler’s handwritten notes on the case, written on June 4, 1968, which begin with Margo Feiden’s stage name, “Margo Eden”, address, and telephone numbers at the top of the page. So..In Short..Let’s just say that in the spring of 1968, Solanas approached underground newspaper publisher (The Realist) Paul Krassner for money, saying “I want to shoot Maurice Girodias.” He gave her $50, which was enough for her to buy a .32 automatic pistol.
On June 3, 1968 at 9 a.m. Solanas went to the Chelsea Hotel where Maurice Girodias lived: she asked at the desk for him and was told that he was gone for the weekend. Still, she remained there for three hours. Around noon she went to the new relocated Factory and waited outside for Warhol. Paul Morrissey met her in front and asked her what she was doing there. “I’m waiting for Andy to get money,” she replied. To get rid of her, Morrissey told her that Warhol wasn’t coming in that day. “Well that’s alright. I’ll wait,” she said.
About 2:00 she came up to the studio in the elevator. Once again Morrissey told her that Warhol wasn’t coming and that she couldn’t hang around so she left. She came up the elevator another seven times before she finally came up with Warhol at 4:15. She was dressed in a black turtleneck sweater and a raincoat, with her hair styled and wearing lipstick and make-up; she carried a brown paper bag. Warhol even commented “Look doesn’t Varlerie look good!” Morrissey told her to get out “. . . We got business, and if you don’t go I’m gonna beat the hell out of you and trow you out, and I don’t want . . . “ Then the phone rang; Morrissey answered— it was Viva, for Warhol. Morrissey then excused himself to go to the bathroom. As Warhol spoke on the phone, Solanas shot him three times. Between the first and second shot, both of which missed, Warhol screamed, “No! No! Valarie, don’t do it.” Her third shot sent a bullet through Warhol’s left lung, spleen, stomach, liver, esophagus and right lung.
As Warhol lay bleeding, Solanas then fired twice upon Mario Amaya, an art critic and curator who had been waiting to meet Warhol. She hit him above the right hip with her fifth shot; he ran from the room to the back studio and leaned against the door. Solanas then turned to Fred Hughes, Warhol’s manager, put her gun to his head and fired; the gun jammed. At that point the elevator door opened; there was no one on it. Hughes said to Solanas, “Oh, there’s the elevator. Why don’t you get on, Valerie?” She replied: “That’s a good idea” and left.
That evening at 8 p.m. Solanas turned herself in to a rookie traffic officer in Time Square; she said, “The police are looking for me and want me.” She then took the .32 automatic and a .22 pistol from the pockets of her raincoat, handing them to the cop. As she did so, she stated that she had shot Andy Warhol and in way of explanation offered, “He had too much control of my life.”
A mob of journalists and photographers shouting questions greeted Solanas as she was brought to the 13th Precinct booking room. When asked why she did it, her response was, “I have lots of reasons. Read my manifesto and it will tell you who I am.” Solanas was fingerprinted and charged with felonious assault and possession of a deadly weapon.
Later that night Valerie Solanas was brought before Manhattan Criminal Court Judge David Getzoff. She told the judge: “It’s not often that I shoot somebody. I didn’t do it for nothing. Warhol had me tied up, lock stock, and barrel. He was going to do something to me which would have ruined me.” When the judge asked if she could afford an attorney, she replied: “No, I can’t. I want to defend myself. This is going to stay in my own competent hands. I was right in what I did! I have nothing to regret!” The judge struck her comments from the court record, and Solanas was taken to the Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward for observation.
Solanas appeared in front of State Surpreme Court Justice Thomas Dickens on June 13, 1968, represented by radical feminist lawyer Florynce Kennedy. Kennedy asked for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that Solanas was being held inappropriately at Bellevue. The judge denied the motion and sent Solanas back to Bellevue. On June 28, Solanas was indicted on charges of attempted murder, assault, and illegal possession of a gun. She was declared “incompetent” in August and sent to Wards Island to be hospitalized. That same month, Olympia Press published the SCUM Manifesto with essays by Girodias and Krassner.
The night before Christmas, 1968: Warhol answered the phone at the factory; it was Solanas calling. She demanded that Warhol pay $20,000 for her manuscripts that she would use for her legal defense.She wanted him to drop all criminal charges against her, put her in more of his movies and get her on the Johnny Carson Show. Solanas said if Warhol didn’t do this, she “could always do it again.”
In January, 1969, Solanas underwent psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia. In June, she was finally deemed fit to stand trial. She represented herself without an attorney and pleaded guilty to “reckless assault with intent to harm”.She was sentenced to three years in prison, with the year she spent in a psychiatric ward counted as time served. It has been suggested that Warhol’s refusal to testify against Solanas contributed to the short sentence.
According to Robert Marmorstein in 1968, “she has dedicated the remainder of her life to the avowed purpose of eliminating every single male from the face of the earth.” Feminist Robin Morgan (later editor of Ms. Magazine) demonstrated for Solanas’s release from prison. English professor Dana Heller argued that Solanas was “very much aware of feminist organizations and activism”, but that she “had no interest in participating in what she often described as a civil disobedience luncheon club.” Heller also stated that Solanas could “reject mainstream liberal feminism for its blind adherence to cultural codes of feminine politeness and decorum which the SCUM Manifesto identifies as the source of women’s debased social status.” After Solanas was released from the New York State Prison for Women in 1971, she stalked Warhol and others over the telephone and was arrested again in November 1971. She was subsequently institutionalized several times and then drifted into obscurity. In 1973 Solanas was in and out of mental institutions; she spent eight months in South Florida State Hospital in 1975.
The attack had a profound impact on Warhol and his art, and the Factory scene became much more tightly controlled afterward. 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.”
In the July 25, 1977 Village Voice, Howard Smith interviewed Valerie Solanas. She claimed to be working on a new book, about her life “bullshit,” titled Valerie Solanas. She was supposed to have received $ 100,000,000 in advance from “The Mob”, whom she describes as “the Money Men;” she talked at length about “the Contact Man” for this entity.
In the interview she discussed the Society for Cutting Up Men: “It’s hypothetical. No, hypothetical is the wrong word. It’s just a literary device. There’s no organization called SCUM. . . . Smith: “It’s just you.” Solanas: “It’s not even me . . . I mean, I thought of it as a state of mind. In other words, women who think a certain way are in SCUM. Men who think a certain way are in the men’s auxiliary of SCUM.”
She also protested a 1968 statement of Smith’s: “The part where she said, She’s a man-hater, not a lesbian . . . . I thought that was just totally unwarrented. Because I have been a lesbian . . . Although at the time time I wasn’t sexual, I was into all kinds of other things. . . . The way it was worded gave the impression that I’m a heterosexual, you know. . . . “
The next issue of the Village Voice on August 1, 1977 has another piece by Howard Smith,“Valerie Solanas Replies.” In it Solanas corrected misinterpretations from previous issue’s interview. Included are: 1) Olympia Press’s editions of the Manifesto were inaccurate, “words and even extended parts of sentences left out, rendering the passages they should have been incoherent;” and 2) The Voice refused to publish the address of the Contact Man, which she considered one of the important reasons for the interview. She called Smith journalistically immoral and said ” I go by an absolute moral standard.” . . . Smith: ” Valerie do you want to get into a discussion now about shooting people?” Solanas: “I consider that a moral act. And I consider it immoral that I missed. I should have done target practice.” Also in 1977 she mailed a rambling letter to a Play boy editor on the theory that he was a contact man for The Mob. Then there is no record of Solanas until November 1987 when Ultra Violet tracked her down in Northern California. When Ultra Violet, Ultra telephoned her for an interview, according to her somewhat unreliable report, Solanas was then known as Onz Loh. Solanas stated that the August 1968 version of the manifesto had many errors, unlike her own printed version of October 1967, and that the book had not sold well. She also said that, until told by Violet, she was unaware of Andy Warhol’s death.
April 26, 1988: broke and alone, Valerie Solanas died of emphysema and pneumonia in a welfare hotel in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. When she died at the age of 52, she had a drug problem and continued to turn tricks to support her habit. Prostitutes who knew her from that time said that she looked elegant and slender, and she always wore a silver lame’ dress when she worked the street.
She was buried in Virginia, near the home of her mother.
Solanas’s role as a cult figure was solidified with the publication of the SCUM Manifesto and her shooting of Andy Warhol. Harding explained that, by declaring herself independent from Andy Warhol, after her arrest she “aligned herself with the historical avant-garde’s rejection of the traditional structures of bourgeois theater”, and Harding explained that her anti-patriarchal “militant hostility … pushed the avant-garde in radically new directions.” Harding believed that Solanas’ assassination attempt on Warhol was its own theatrical performance. At the shooting, she left on a table at the Factory a paper bag in which she carried a gun, her address book, and a sanitary napkin. Harding stated that leaving behind the sanitary napkin was part of the performance, and called “attention to basic feminine experiences that were publically [sic] taboo and tacitly elided within avant-garde circles.”
Feminist philosopher Avital Ronell compared Solanas to an array of people: Lorena Bobbitt, a “girl Nietzsche”, Medusa, the Unabomber, and Medea. Ronell believed that Solanas was threatened by the hyper-feminine women of the Factory that Warhol liked and felt lonely because of the rejection she felt due to her own butch androgyny. She believed that Solanas was ahead of her time, living in a period before feminist and lesbian revolutionaries such as the Guerilla Girls and the Lesbian Avengers. Solanas has also been credited as instigating radical feminism, according to Harding and Victor Bockris feminist revolutionaries supported her, and Catherine Lord wrote that “the feminist movement would not have happened without Valerie Solanas.” Lord believed that the reissuing of the SCUM Manifesto and the disowning of Solanas by “women’s liberation politicos” triggered a wave of radical feminist publications. As women’s liberation activists denied hating men, Vivian Gornick said that a year later the same women would change their stories, developing the first wave of radical feminism. At the same time, perceptions of Warhol were transformed from largely nonpolitical into political martyrdom because the motive for the shooting was political, according to Harding and Bockris.
However, writer Breanne Fahs describes Solanas as a contradiction which “alienates her from the feminist movement.” Fahs argues that Solanas never wanted to be “in movement” but she nevertheless fractured the feminist movement by provoking N.O.W. members to disagree about her case. Many contradictions are seen in her lifestyle (a lesbian who sexually serviced men, claim of being asexual, confusion), a rejection of queer culture, and a non-interest in working with others despite a co-dependency on others. Fahs also brings into question the contradictory stories of Solanas’ life. Solanas’ life is described as one of a victim, a rebel, a desperate loner, yet Solanas’ cousin says she worked as a waitress in her late 20s and 30s, not primarily as a prostitute, and friend Geoffrey LaGear said she had a “groovy childhood.” Solanas also kept in touch with her father throughout her life, which makes one question and complicate the notion that Solanas hated her father and acted out this hatred in the shooting/manifesto. Fahs believes that Solanas embraced these contradictions as a key part of her identity.
Whatever people say, she probably wouldn’t even be remembered today if she wouldn’t have shot Andy Warhol. Of course this is my perswonnal opinion but I stand by it. I think it is very lame to use someone to make a name for yourself. She was obviously totally disoriented, schizophrenic and narcissic. She makes me think in a way of Charles Manson, ruining the Summer of Love or maybe more Mark David Chapman, breaking down a movement that was obviously depending a lot on Warhol’s influence helping and stimulating whoever he thought had a talent on an artistic level. Warhol never forced anyone under a contract, never used brutality or blackmail to to do so. I’m even sorry now that I know the whole story I gave her some importance. She deserves none. Plus she is such a loser cuz she missed almost at point blank distance!!!! And I’m glad she did… Warhol went on with his life and is still remembered and revered today as one of the most modern artist, that’s no secret of course…