“Valerie used to stay with me quite a bit as she was fairly homeless and always on the move,” Ben Morea remembers. “There was a lot of parody and irony in her writing, but she was also, and I don’t mean this in a bad sense, a fairly crazy person.”
Valerie Solanas (1936-1988) moved to New York from Berkeley, California, in the mid-1960s. An extremely radical feminist, she was in the midst of writing her best known work, The Scum Manifesto, which urged women to “overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.” She claimed Andy Warhol had lost a play that she’d written that she’d asked him to produce, and then became convinced Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias was trying to steal the Manifesto from her.
During the time Morea and other members of the Family (which no longer called themselves Black Mask, but which hadn’t yet started to refer to themselves as the Motherfuckers) were among those protesting at Columbia University during the student strike. “What would happen if I shot somebody?” Solanis asked Morea, who replied that it depended upon who they were and whether or not they died. A week later, unable to find Girodias, she shot Andy Warhol at The Factory, shooting him once, afterward turning herself in to the police. She was charged with attempted murder, assault, and illegal possession of a gun.
“After she shot him I wrote a pamphlet supporting her,” says Morea. “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.”
Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, Solanas pleaded guilty to reckless assault with intent to harm. She served a three-year prison sentence, including psychiatric hospital time. She died in San Francisco in 1988 of pneumonia.
“The attack on Andy was met with silence on the Left and I think that was because it raised issues that no one could deal with,” Ben concludes. “This wasn’t violence occurring in some far off place. Also Andy had become a star, almost an honored image, and here she was striking at it. Even the people who liked her feminist approach couldn’t deal with the fact that she would harm Andy. Black Mask and The Family drove the political people nuts because we didn’t fit into any of their blueprints, because we were loose cannons, so you can imagine how they looked upon Valerie.”