As American Horror Story: Cult continues to unfold, it will introduce a number of ripped-from-real-life characters: Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and David Koresh are among those slated to be played by Evan Peters alone. But one of the first to actually arrive comes courtesy of Episode 7, when Lena Dunham finally makes her highly anticipated appearance as Valerie Solanas in AHS: Cult.
For those unfamiliar, Solanas is a now-infamous figure most widely recognized for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968. According to Rolling Stone, she lingered outside of Warhol's New York studio, The Factory, for three hours until the art icon arrived, despite being told he wouldn't be coming in that day. She then entered the building with Warhol, waited until he was distracted by a phone call, pulled out a gun, and fired at him three times: Her first two rounds missed, but the third punctured his spleen, stomach, liver, esophagus, and both lungs. He was taken to the hospital, where he underwent a lengthy surgery but ultimately survived. She also shot Warhol's associate, Mario Amaya, in the hip, and attempted to shoot his manager, Fred Hughes, but the gun jammed. She fled the scene, but turned herself in to police later that day, reportedly telling the officer she approached that Warhol "had too much control in [her] life," per Rolling Stone.
The outlet goes on to report that Solanas was charged with attempted murder, assault, and possession of a deadly weapon, but was determined mentally unstable prior to her trial; She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. When deemed competent one year later, she pled guilty to assault and was sentenced to three years in prison, with one already served. Following her release in 1971, Solanas stalked Warhol and others over the phone, and was arrested once more that November. She was institutionalized several times before fading out of the public eye, and died of pneumonia in 1988; Warhol had died the previous year while recovering from gallbladder surgery.
Outside of her attack on Warhol, Solanas did have some positive influence. As noted by Rolling Stone, she came out as a lesbian in the 1950s, at a time when those in the LGBT community were still heavily discriminated against. And in some circles, her manifesto, S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men), is regarded as a pioneering feminist effort — though it's not without contention. While some view it as a satirical work, others see it as troubling and hateful, and have distanced themselves from its rhetoric. An impassioned 21-page document, it proclaims men have ruined the world, and calls for women to rise up and eliminate them from society. Per Northeastern University, it begins:
"Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex."
It was this agenda, in part, that is said to have served as the impetus for Solanas' animosity toward Warhol. Other accounts point to rejection as a potential factor — alleging that Solanas resented Warhol because he'd refused to produce a play she'd written — but Margo Feiden, a noted director and playwright, refuted that idea during a 2009 interview with The New York Times. She claimed Solanas had visited her the morning of the shooting asking her to stage the play (or some version of it). When she declined, Solanas allegedly said, "Oh, yes you will, because I’m going to shoot Andy Warhol.” After Solanas left, Feiden claimed she phoned the police and tried to reach Warhol's associates to warn him, but that no one called her back. To this day, it's difficult to say definitively what Solanas' motivations were.
As for American Horror Story, it's unclear what part Solanas will play in the cult theme, though showrunner Ryan Murphy told Deadline that the role ties back to the "female rage" currently present in the country — something that's already begun to shine through this season in Beverly Hope's (Adina Porter) frustration at her misogynistic boss, as well as Ivy's (Alison Pill) outrage at her wife for voting for Jill Stein. Beyond that, though, viewers will just have to tune in to the Oct. 17 episode to see how things shake out.