Overlooked is a sequence of obituaries about exceptional folks whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Times. This month we’re including the tales of essential L.G.B.T.Q. figures.
On June three, 1968, Valerie Solanas walked into Andy Warhol’s studio, the Factory, with a gun and a plan to enact vengeance. What occurred subsequent got here to outline her life and legacy: She fired at Warhol, almost killing him. But the incident, which lowered her to a tabloid headline, was hardly her most significant second in historical past.
Solanas was a radical feminist (although she would say she loathed most feminists), a pioneering queer theorist and the writer of “SCUM Manifesto,” during which she argued for the wholesale extermination of males.
The manifesto, self-published in 1967, reads as satire, although Solanas defended it as severe. Its opening line is directly absurd and a name to arms for the coalition she was forming, the Society for Cutting Up Men:
Life on this society being, at finest, an utter bore and no facet of society being in any respect related to girls, there stays to civic-minded, accountable, thrill-seeking females solely to overthrow the federal government, remove the cash system, institute full automation and destroy the male intercourse.
On the topic of replica, she wrote: “We should produce only whole, complete beings, not physical defects or deficiencies, including emotional deficiencies, such as maleness.”
She offered copies in leftist bookstores and on the streets of Greenwich Village for $1 ($2 if the client was a person).
The textual content distilled the anger and craving that Solanas had exhibited all through her life. In school, as a recently-out lesbian, she rallied in opposition to the concept educated girls needs to be outlined as wives and moms, whilst she acknowledged that, in a society dominated by males, such fates had been in all probability inevitable. Her concepts about gender and energy calcified within the early 1960s, when she hitchhiked throughout the nation and again once more. She arrived in New York City in 1962 with the beginning of a play she was writing and a number of other variations of “SCUM Manifesto.”
Then, as now, Warhol was probably the most well-known artists in America, and Solanas discovered her means onto the fringes of his social circle. She shared with him a replica of her play, “Up Your Ass” (1965), with the hope that he would produce it. Its central character is Bongi Perez, a bantering, panhandling prostitute who’s continuously homeless — very similar to Solanas was herself. Auditions and rehearsals came about within the basement of the Chelsea Hotel, the bohemian enclave from which Solanas was evicted on a number of events. Warhol discovered the manuscript objectionable and finally misplaced it, however he did solid her in his erotic movie “I, a Man” (1967). (“Up Your Ass” wouldn’t be staged till lengthy after her dying, in 2000 in San Francisco.)
Over time, Solanas became convinced that Warhol and Girodias were conspiring to suppress, censor or steal her voice.
On that day in June, when she walked into Warhol’s studio, newly located at 33 Union Square West, Warhold wasn’t there. Solanas left and returned several times, until she spotted him on the sidewalk. Together they rode the building’s elevator up to the sixth floor.
Soon, there were gunshots. Warhol was taken to Columbus Hospital. Solanas’s bullets had punctured his stomach, liver, spleen, esophagus and lungs. At one point, the doctors pronounced him dead. (He would live for 19 more years, wearing a surgical corset to support his abdomen.)
That evening, Solanas turned herself in to an officer in Times Square. “He had too much control over my life,” she told the officer, referring to Warhol.
Valerie Jean Solanas was born on April 9, 1936, in Ventnor City, N.J., just off the Atlantic City boardwalk, one of two girls to Louis Solanas, a bartender, and Dorothy Biondo, a dental assistant. Her parents separated when Valerie was 4 and divorced in 1947; both remarried. Her father, she would later say, had sexually abused her from a young age. Still, she retained a correspondence with him for most of her life.
Valerie was by some accounts a precocious child, but in middle school she began to show signs of disobedience, skipping class and even assaulting a teacher. By 15 she had given birth to two children: Linda, who was raised as her sister, and David, whom she placed for adoption. At the time, it was not unusual for pregnancies to be concealed by such means.
In 1954, she enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she studied psychology. She then pursued a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Minnesota but dropped out after two semesters because, she said, she felt that her ideas and research were not very likely to be funded as well as men’s.
She spent the next decade putting her ideas to paper. She moved frequently as a result of eviction, always with her typewriter in tow.
In 1966, her short story “A Young Girl’s Primer” appeared in Cavalier, a Playboy-style magazine that also published Ray Bradbury, Thomas Pynchon and Stephen King. The tale centers on a woman who sells sex and conversation for the freedom to be creative. The next year, she began selling mimeographed copies of “SCUM” around the city and seeking a producer for her play.
The shooting, in June of 1968, brought national attention to her name and work. The story of the incident was splashed across the front pages of papers like The Daily News in New York and The New York Times, which misspelled her name as Solanis. Copies of “SCUM” quickly sold out.
Her attack on Warhol fractured mainstream feminist groups, including the National Organization for Women, whose members were split on whether to defend or condemn her. Those who defended her, including the writer Ti-Grace Atkinson and the lawyer Flo Kennedy, formed the bedrock of radical feminism and presented Solanas as a symbol of female rage. The shooting became wrapped up in a larger narrative on gun violence when Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot the next day.
Girodias published an edition of “SCUM Manifesto” after the shooting; Solanas had unwittingly sold him the rights for $500 the previous year. Later editions were printed by AK Press and Verso. Today, the text is read in some women’s and gender studies courses.
During her arraignment, Solanas was charged with attempted murder, assault and possession of a dangerous weapon.
She was deemed unable to stand trial and was sent for a psychiatric evaluation at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, where she received a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. The evaluators also noted her intelligence-test scores, which placed her in the 98th percentile.
On June 13, Solanas was ruled insane by the Supreme Court of the State of New York and spent months in psychiatric hospitals. When she was released in December, she began calling Warhol, Girodias and others in a group that she referred to as “the mob” with threatening messages. They led to her arrest in January 1969.
Solanas was held at the Women’s House of Detention in Manhattan, then at Bellevue Hospital, before being sentenced to three years in prison in June.
After her release, she worked for a year and a half as an editor for Majority Report: The Women’s Liberation Newsletter, a biweekly feminist publication, and began writing a book, her name as the title. She spent her final years destitute in Phoenix and living in welfare hotels in San Francisco.
“I keep thinking what a shame it is that she’s mad, utterly mad,” Ultra Violet wrote in her 1988 memoir, “Famous for 15 Minutes: My Years With Andy Warhol.” “For in the beginning, beyond her overheated rhetoric, she had a truly revolutionary vision of a better world run by and for the benefit of women.”
On April 25, 1988, Solanas was found dead in her room at the Bristol Hotel, in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. She was 52. The police report, which also misspelled her name, described the room as clean, with papers neatly stacked on a desk. Solanas was kneeling next to the bed, covered in maggots, and had apparently been dead for five days. The cited cause was pneumonia.
In 1996, her story was theatrically depicted in Mary Harron’s film “I Shot Andy Warhol.” Lili Taylor was widely praised for her leading role.
Solanas inspired fictional works, including an episode of “American Horror Story: Cult,” where she is played by Lena Dunham, and a 2019 novel by the Swedish author Sara Stridsberg, “Valerie,” which won the Nordic Council Literature Prize and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. By Stridsberg’s account, Solanas was not erratic but measured, not murderous but tender, not insane but idealistic, even admirably so.
But it was with the 2014 biography “Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol)” that a fuller picture of her life came to light.
In it, the author, Breanne Fahs, writes about an exchange between Solanas and her friend Jeremiah Newton. Newton asked Solanas if her manifesto was to be taken literally. “I don’t want to kill all men,” she replied. But, using an expletive, she added: “I think males should be neutered or castrated so they can’t mess up any more women’s lives.”