Tuesday night’s new episode of American Horror Story: Cult (read our recap here), featured Valerie Solanas, the would-be assassin of legendary pop artist Andy Warhol, as wonderfully portrayed by Girls actress and creator Lena Dunham. Of course, while Solanas did not have anything to do with the Zodiac murders that anyone is aware of, and no such lover named Bebe Babbitt existed to help her carry out these alleged murders, she was indeed a real person — and a tragic, tortured one, at that.
As a teenager in the early 1950s, Solanas was kicked out of her New Jersey home due to a volatile relationship with her mother and stepfather (she also claimed to have been sexually abused by her birth father, as was insinuated in the episode) and was sent to live with her grandparents, where her grandfather physically abused her. Solanas did bear one child in 1953, but not to her father or stepfather, but to a married sailor she had an affair with. (The child was taken from her and she never saw him again.) Sometime in the 1950s, Solanas did come out as a lesbian, which was highly risque for the times.
After running away and a brief stint of homelessness, Solanas ended up attending and graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in psychology. From there she relocated to Berkeley, California where she began working on the SCUM Manifesto, which was basically an instruction manual on how to “overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.”
What the episode did get correct was the assassination attempt itself. It’s true that Solanas met Warhol while working as a writer after having moved back to New York City in the 1960s, where she did support herself in part through prostitution and begging, as depicted in uncomfortable detail in the episode. It’s also true that motivation for the murder was Warhol refusing to return her play, Up Your Ass, which she had given to him to read in hopes he would produce. Warhol supposedly later said that the play — about a woman who was a man-hating hustler and panhandler, who ends up killing a man — was so pornographic he thought it was part of a police sting. At the time, Warhol’s films were regularly shut down by police for obscenity.