by Gary Comenas (2015)
Valerie Solanas (1977): "I should have done target practice."
Valerie Solanas was born April 9, 1936 to a twenty-one year old bartender, Louis Solanas, and an eighteen year old dental assistant named Dorothy Biondo. A the time of Valerie's birth they were both living at 104 South Frankfort Avenue in Ventnor City, New Jersey. Valerie's last name on her birth certificate is spelled "Solanus." Her father's last name is also spelled "Solanus." (FAH9)
Valerie Solanas' birth certificate as reproduced in: Breanne Fahs, Valerie Solanas: The defiant life
of the woman who wrote SCUM (and shot Andy Warhol), (NY: The Feminist Press, 2014)
According to Solanas' biographer, Breanne Fahs in Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol), Valerie's last name was misspelled on her birth certificate, as was her father's. The spelling that was used on court papers after she shot Warhol was "Solanis." The spelling that Valerie used during her lifetime was "Solanas." When she published her version of the SCUM Manifesto in 1977, she used the "Solanas" spelling. (FAH197/338fn6)
Two years after Valerie was born, her sister, Judith, was born. Four years after Valerie was born, her parents separated and then divorced in 1947 when Valerie was eleven years old. Valerie lived with her mother who was married a second time two years after her divorce to a piano tuner named Red Moran. (FAH9/14)
Valerie had difficulties at school. She went to junior high at the Holy Cross Academy where she often skipped classes and at one point assaulted one of the nuns who taught there. Her parents then placed her in a public school. She was bullied in the public school, however, so she was sent to a boarding school in the autumn of 1950. She stayed in the boarding school for two years. It was at the boarding school that she had her first lesbian sex and her first child. She gave birth to Linda Moran in 1951. Valerie was fourteen years old at the time. Linda was raised as Valerie's sister and only discovered that she was actually her daughter in adulthood. (FAH21)
The identity of Linda's father is unknown. In her biography of Valerie, Breanne Fahs raised the possibility that either Valerie's father or step-father could have also been the father of her child. Her father had sexually abused her as a child although it's not known how long the abuse continued. If it was the case that either Valerie's father or step-father was also the father of her child, Fahs conjectures that it would have given "the family extra incentive to keep the pregnancy quiet and to raise Linda as a sister to Valerie rather than as a daughter." But there is no firm evidence that Linda's father was Valerie's father or step-father. (FAH18 22)
After leaving boarding school, Valerie gave birth to another child. She had become pregnant in the summer of 1952 after beginning a relationship with an older sailor. A baby boy, David, was born on 31 March 1953. He was handed over to the parents of the sailor, the Blackwells, to look after at their home in Washington, D.C. Valerie lived on and off with the Blackwells until she graduated from Oxon Hill High School in 1954. According to David, the Blackwells were allowed to keep him and raise him as their own as long as they paid Valerie's tuition at the University of Maryland. Valerie stopped visiting him when he was four and he did not learn he was her son until 1993, at the age of forty. (FAH23/24)
David is still alive. He takes underwater photographs of women in swimsuits and occasionally poses with them as "Mer-Man":
"Mer-Man and Olga Pose Together Underwater"
(Valerie Solanas' son and an underwater model)
Valerie graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1958 with a major in psychology. She entered a Master's program in psychology at the University of Minnesota in the autumn of 1958 but dropped out after almost a year. She hitchhiked around the country, ending up in Berkeley, California in the summer of 1960. She started writing her play, Up Your Ass, circa 1960-61. During 1961-2 she reportedly attended another graduate school - this time in New Jersey - for at least a year but the exact school is unknown. While living in New Jersey she would take the bus to visit New York and particularly Greenwich Village. She finally moved to New York in the summer of 1962, initially staying in a women's residence hotel. She listed its address on a postcard she sent to her father as 350 W. 88th Street. According to her biographer, Valerie "spent the next three years - from 1962 to 1965 - working, writing, and living in and around Greenwich Village... In a near-constant struggle to make ends meet and to feed herself, Valerie became a pro at bumming cigarettes, talking others into buying her a quick meal, and selling conversation." According to some accounts, she may have engaged in prostitution at this time, although this has been denied by her family. By late 1965 she was living in Room 606 at of the Chelsea Hotel. (FAH38/41-44)
Valerie finished Up Your Ass in 1965 and sent an unsolicited copy to Andy Warhol in late '65, never actually having met him at that point. On 9 February 1966 she wrote to Warhol "Dear Andy, Would you please return my script, Up Your Ass, that I left with you some time ago? Thanks. Valerie Solanas." By that time she may have already started writing her SCUM Manifesto. According to her biographer she wrote the Manifesto from 1965 to 1967, copyrighting it on 19 May 1967. Fahs notes that Valerie "published an outline" of the Manifesto "in the Voice in February 1967, likely finished an original draft of the book in May, and completed a revised version of it in late June 1967; in a postcard to her father dated June 14, 1967, she wrote that she was nearly finished writing it." (FAH43/53-54/61)
I've checked the February 1967 issues of the Village Voice and have been unable to find an outline of the manifesto. Valerie made the claim about the outline in a letter she sent to the magazine Majority Report which appeared in their 30 April - 13 May 1977 issue. Although there is no outline in the Voice, there are a number of ads in the February '67 issues in which the "Scum book" appears to have consisted of her play, Up Your Ass, and an article she wrote earlier for the men's magazine, Cavalier.
Village Voice ad, 2 February 1967, p. 22
Village Voice ad, 9 February 1967, p. 6
Village Voice ad, 9 February 1967
Up From the Slime was another title for Valerie's play Up Your Ass that she had left with Warhol. (The full title was Up Your Ass or From the Cradle to the Boat or The Big Suck or Up from the Slime.) (FAH47) The ad for the reading that appeared in the next issue of the Voice, included a cast listing:
Village Voice, 16 February 1967, p. 22
"A Young Girl's Primer..." was the previously mentioned article that she wrote for the July 1966 issue of the men's magazine Cavalier. The title used in Cavalier, however, was "For 2c: Pain, The Survival Game Gets Pretty Ugly." The Cavalier editors added "How a nice young lady can survive in the city: The easiest way to be comfortable is flat on your back." In the article Valerie wrote about her life in the city, supporting herself by panhandling in order to free up her time for writing. (FAH45)
Before Valerie copyrighted the SCUM Manifesto in May 1967 she also held SCUM meetings. She advertised one of the meetings in an ad that appeared in Bulletin section of the April 27th issue of the Voice.
Village Voice ad, 27 April 1967, p. 2
Valerie continued to hassle Warhol and others in order to get her play produced. In addition to Warhol, the people she contacted included Louise Thompson who ran a theatre group; Gene Feist, founder of the Roundabout theatre; Paul Krassner, the editor of the avant-garde publication the Realist; Ralph Ginzburg at Avant-Garde magazine; Ed Sanders, owner of the Peace Eye Bookstore (and one of the founders of the Fugs) and Robert Marmorstein from the Village Voice. (FAH82-85)
According to Valerie's biographer, Breanne Fahs, it was the photographer Nat Finkelstein who "first brought Valerie to the Factory." Valerie reportedly met Brigid Berlin's sister Richie and Richie gave her Nat Finkelstein's number. Warhol would later comment that he thought her script was so dirty that she must have have been a cop. Fahs notes that Warhol "listened to Valerie's statements and put some of them into his movie which infuriated Valerie... Many of her lines appeared in Women in Revolt, clearly without her permission or approval." (FAH88-89/99)
Valerie contacted Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press about publishing her writings after seeing an ad in the back of an Olympia Press paperback asking for authors to submit their work. As it turned out, Girodias also lived in the Chelsea although Valerie had never come across him there. On 29 August 1967 she signed a contract with Girodias which specified that she would get $500 as an advance on royalties of a novel she agreed to write for him. The contract also included first refusal rights on her next two book-length works. She later claimed that Warhol had promised to produce her play and to make a film of her SCUM Manifesto (starring Valerie), but that her contract with Girodias prevented this. In January 1968 she sent Girodias a note giving him permission to publish the SCUM Manifesto as she did not intend to write the novel. (FAH111112/116/117/120)
With the $500 advance she received from Girodias Valerie travelled to California where her sister Judith and her friend Geoffrey LeGear were both living at the time. She was there from January to mid-February. While at her sister's she continued to write to Warhol. On January 25, 1968, she wrote "Dear Andy, You asked me twice where the unsigned 'SCUM Manifesto' contract is, would you like to have it? I'll sell it to you for $20,000. I'm dead serious." On February 1st she wrote "I really do believe that if you didn't have your lies + deception + notarized affidavits, you'd shrivel up + die." On February 7th she wrote, "Toad - If I had a million dollars, I'd have total control of the world within 2 wks; you + your fellow toad, Girodias, (2 multi-millionaires) working together control only bums in the gutter, + then only with relentless, desperate, compulsive effort." On February 10th she wrote, "you can shove your plane fare up your ass; I now have a little sum saved - enough for, not only planefare, but a few other things as well." On February 11th she wrote "Daddy, if I'm good, will you let Jonas Mekas write about me? Will you let me do a scene in one of your shit movies? Oh, thank you, thank you." (FAHS120-1)
In late May Valerie left a message at Ed Sanders' bookshop Peace Eye saying that she wanted her manifesto returned to her. She also approached Paul Krassner at the Realist again in order to try and get them to publish the SCUM Manifesto, but they declined. She also contacted Cavalier magazine in late May with the idea of writing a "Lesbian at Large" column, with no success. She clearly felt ignored by Warhol and the others - all of whom were men. She would later say that she shot Warhol in order to get his attention, that talking to him was like talking to a chair. (FAH133/BC32)
Valerie shot Warhol on June 3rd - not long after the series of rejections she received from the people she was trying to get interested in her work. She had kept a gun at the artist May Wilson's house who lived next door to the Chelsea at 208 West 23rd Street. According to May Wilson's son, the writer William S. Wilson, "Valerie asked to keep her laundry, not her gun, under my mother's bed, but believe me, May Wilson not only knew that the cloth bag did not contain laundry, she sometimes pulled it out to show people, the gunshipness of the gun being obvious when the cloth of the laundry bag was pressed against it." (Email 22/12/2003)
The details in Breanne Fahs' biography of Valerie's activities before she got to Warhol is different from others. Some accounts have Valerie first showing up at Maurice Girodias' office before making her way to Warhol's offices. Fahs notes "The more likely story - one that kept Up Your Ass and SCUM Manifesto at the center of her thoughts - places Valerie at the Actor's Studio at 432 West Fourty-Fourth Street early that morning. Play in hand and gun in her carpet bag, she arrived at the studio eager to secure a producer for Up Your Ass, hell-bent on finding a rightful place for her play." (FAH133) According to Fahs, Sylvia Miles was at the studio at the time and Valerie gave her a copy of the play before heading to the apartment of Margo Feiden, a playwright, to seek assistance in publishing Up Your Ass. Feiden had produced Peter Pan on Broadway. She showed Feiden the gun and said she was going to shoot Warhol. Feiden rang the police after Valerie left but was told she was wasting police time. (FAHS 134-137)
Valerie shot Warhol at 4:05. She gave herself up to a policeman in Times Square between 7-8 pm. (FAH144/147)Not everyone was devastated by the news of the shooting. Artist Ben Morea who was a co-founder of the Black Mask group that later became the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers group was a friend of Valerie. After the shooting he distributed a pamphlet in support of her.
"After she shot him I wrote a pamphlet supporting her. I may have been the only person who did that publicly. I went up to MOMA and handed it out there. Everybody I met was very negative about it, but, hey, I disliked Andy Warhol immensely and I loved Valerie. I felt she was right in her anger and that he was way more destructive than she was because he was helping to destroy the whole idea of creativity in art. Some people dislike the term, but I feel that creativity is a kind of spiritual act, a profound thing for people to do. Warhol was the exact opposite, he tried to deny and purge the core of creativity and put it on a commercial basis."
Ti-Grace Atkinson, the head of the New York chapter of the National Organization of Women also took an interest in Valerie's case after the shooting, as did the civil rights lawyer Florynce Kennedy who volunteered to represent Valerie. She had previously represented members of the Black Panthers. Valerie, however, eventually rejected their support. On August 5, 1968 she wrote to Ti-Grace, "I know you, along with all the other professional parasites with nothing of their own going for them, are eagerly awaiting my commitment to the bughouse, so you can then go on t.v. + write press releases for your key people defending me + deploring my being committed because of my views; remember, I want to make perfectly clear that I am not being committed because of my views of the "SCUM Manifesto"... Nor do I want you to continue to mouthe [sic] your cultivated banalities about my motive for shooting Warhol. Your gall in presuming to be competent to discourse on such a matter is beyond belief. In short do not ever publicly discuss me, SCUM, or any aspect at all of my care. Just DON'T." (FAH170-1) When Valerie also refused to cooperate with Florynce Kennedy, Florynce resigned.