Author: The JT LeRoy Story (2016) Movie Script

I first met JT years ago
years ago --
many years ago.
[ Cheers and applause ]
And a few years later...
you know, Sarah.
[ Laughs ]
And so I'm so excited
to be here tonight,
and I'm so excited all of you
came to celebrate his work,
his words, and his -- his, um...
just beautiful, beautiful voice.
So I just thank you
from the bottom of my heart.
And I thank JT from the bottom
of my heart and soul.
[ Laughs ]
[ Cheers and applause ]
I love you, JT.
You are an inspiration.
Thank you.
[ Cheers and applause ]
Thank you, JT!
Gross: My guest, JT LeRoy, is
a 21-year-old writer
with two books of fiction based
on his experiences
as the son
of a truck stop prostitute.
When LeRoy was 15,
his therapist, Dr. Terry Owens,
encouraged him to write.
Although LeRoy is forthcoming
about his life,
he doesn't like to show his face
to the press
and does most of his interviews
by phone.
This is Fresh Air.
So, um, so, why do you
still feel it's so important
to keep
your identity hidden?
Leroy: You know, I'm writing
about pretty personal stuff,
and, also,
the gender issues.
Sometimes I like to go out
as a girl.
Sometimes, I like to go out
as a boy.
So, I really never want someone
to come up to me
and say, "I know
what you really are,"
and be in that position
where they could hurt me.
Although your work is
really catching on,
some people think that
you might not really exist.
In other words, that JT LeRoy
might be a pen name,
or a hoax, or some kind
of extended performance piece.
-[ Chuckles ]
-I mean, do you run into this
a lot that people think
that this is just
some kind of hoax?
[ Answering machine beeps,
clicks ]
[ Beep ]
[ Beep ]
[ Beep ]
[ Beep ]
[ Click, whir ]
LeRoy: Hi.
I'm JT --
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy.
-[ Shouting indistinctly ]
-Jeremiah's from the Bible,
but I like it.
It makes me feel protected.
I was born in wild West Virginia
on Halloween.
[ Cat yowls ]
My mom is Sarah.
She had me when she was 14.
She was doing drugs
and didn't even know
how to change a diaper.
Sarah is a prostitute...
a lot lizard.
We live in cars, motels.
Every new town,
we change our names.
I can be a boy,
or I can be a girl.
But usually, we're sisters
because it's more allowed.
Sarah gets married
lots of times.
Men just love her.
She's beautiful.
I keep thinking...
if I can be
as pretty as her,
she would see
something in me.
[ Click ]
[ Telephone rings ]
Benderson: I remember
that first call very well.
A very soft female voice said,
"May I speak
to Bruce Benderson?"
Right away,
I was very suspicious
because it sounded like
a young girl
of maybe 13 -- 12, 13, 14.
She said, "Well, I'm
a great admirer of your work."
[ Click ]
[ Click ]
So, I said, "Are you a boy?"
And she answered, "Well,
last time I checked, I was."
[ Fax machine dials,
beeps, whirs ]
On the floor, there was
an incredible
curled pile of paper.
And I sighed,
and I tore it off.
[ Paper rips ]
And I started reading it,
getting ready to throw it away.
LeRoy: "The heroin inside
to tell you God's truth."
And I thought, "My God,
this is unbelievable.
This person is a genius."
He had given me
his telephone number,
and I immediately called
him back.
[ Telephone dials ]
[ Telephone rings ]
[ Receiver clicks ]
And then I said,
"This is amazing --
amazingly written."
[ Receiver clicks ]
LeRoy: It was something
I always knew.
Heroin coming in balloons was
a special message to me.
Yeah, I'll smoke,
shoot the dark,
tarry clump inside.
[ Inhales deeply ]
But the balloons are
the only thing
that's really gonna save me.
The heroin inside
to tell you God's truth is
just to tide me over
until it is the time.
[ Geese honk ]
It will be a clear day --
no clouds, no wind.
Crowds will gather,
smiling and joyous.
People will surround me
and slowly attach my silvers,
my blues, my greens, my yellows.
I feel myself getting lighter
as branches of balloons spring
from every limb.
I am the Lord's outcast coming
for their redemption
whether they like it or not.
Man: Tell me about the first
phone call you made as JT.
I would get to a point where
I would have to make a call,
and I remember calling
from the bathroom.
I was sitting on the floor
by the toilet.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
Geoff and I had just moved in
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
He was in the other room
playing guitar...
[ Guitar strumming ]
doing his music,
and I was just making calls...
[ Telephone dials ]
thinking about dying,
wanting to die.
And I called Child Crisis.
[ Telephone dials ]
It was a number
that you could call
when you were in pain.
[ Telephone ringing ]
I remember I didn't know
what was gonna come out of me.
I didn't know
who was going to bubble up.
[ Ringing continues,
receiver clicks ]
And this man answered.
I'm Dr. Terrence Owens.
I'm the clinical director
of the Masonic Center
for Youth and Families.
He asked what my name was.
And it was "Terminator,"
which I never would have chosen
because it was a stupid name.
But that was his name.
He was 13,
turning tricks,
living on the street.
And Dr. Owens, he says,
"Why don't you call back
And I didn't know
if Terminator would,
or if he would be there
or if it would work out.
A lot of other boys
who had been through me,
they didn't...
they didn't live.
But he did, and he was there.
[ Telephone dials ]
And slowly, my life began
to revolve around talking
to Dr. Owens that next day.
[ Telephone rings ]
So it's as if my world was
And then, for that half an hour,
Terminator would talk to him,
it was...
[ exhales sharply ]
a gasp of air,
and then I'd go under.
[ Click, whir ]
Okay, today's date is
January 8th,
and I'm Laura.
What happened was
my parents had gotten divorced
when I was in eighth grade,
and it just exploded for me.
[ Fireworks whistling, popping ]
I started dropping out
of different schools,
and my mom is going berserk.
[ Sizzling, girl screams ]
We'd had these fights,
and she'd lose control
and throw, like, heavy things.
[ Clatter ]
She was going, like, with
a different guy all the time,
a lot of sleaze bags
that would come on to me
that would, you know,
try shit --
Like, one would call me up
in the middle of the night
and tell me he loved me,
he wanted to be my father,
but he also wanted
to be my lover.
[ Telephone rings ]
And my mom's seeing
this shit, too.
She's seeing
how fucked up it is, too.
I called up my father.
My father said,
I was like, you know,
"Hey, fuck you."
So, I decided, one day,
"I have to act.
I have to do something."
[ Receiver clicks,
telephone dials ]
I pick up the phone.
I dial this hotline.
[ Telephone rings ]
And it never, ever occurred
to me to call as myself.
What reaction
would there be besides,
"You're fat and ugly
and disgusting and deserve it"?
So, I introduced myself
as a boy.
And I talked
about this situation at home,
that there was
physical abuse going on
and inappropriate
sexual relationships.
And they were
so supportive and caring.
When I hung up the phone,
I felt relief.
[ Voice breaking ]
I don't understand it.
[ Crying ] All I know is it
worked, it was like magic.
It was fucking incredible.
And I was very addicted to that.
Terminator had problems
with continuity,
so Dr. Owen suggested
that Terminator start to write.
What Terminator wrote was
completely different.
It really surprised me.
He wrote this piece called
LeRoy: When Jesus died,
angels cried,
and their tears turned
to stones.
My hands tremble
as I pull out my thing,
leading me to hell.
Albert: He sent it to Dr. Owens.
[ Fax machine dials ]
[ Fax machine beeps, whirs ]
And it was like...
a new world opened.
So, Dr. Owens and I found out
that Terminator's real name was
And one day,
I had to get Dr. Owens
some of Jeremy's work.
And I rode all the way over
to the hospital.
Terminator is driving.
I'm pedaling, but he's driving.
So I get there.
They page Dr. Owens.
-Dr. Owens.
I am so terrified.
I meet Dr. Owens,
and he asked me
what my name is.
And I just thought,
"How did I get here?
Really fast -- Speedie."
[ Laughs ]
That became my name.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
She was [British accent]
"Hello. I'm Speedie.
Nice to meet you."
[ Normal voice ]
She's British.
[ Click ]
[ Click ]
So Jeremy wanted
to be a better writer,
so I was reading everything,
I can get my hands on.
And it just resonated
with everything that...
-[ Grunts, groans ]
-...lived inside me.
Boy: [ Screams ]
And I used to pray not,
"God, please make me
a beautiful pretty girl."
It was, "Let me wake up
as a cute blond-haired,
blue-eyed boy --
a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy
that a man would love
and want to fuck."
[ Telephone rings ]
Silverberg: So,
this young person reached out.
There was a kooky factor.
[ Southern accent ] I mean,
when someone's talking like that
on the phone saying,
"I'm homeless,
and I need to get through
to Dennis Cooper.
and I'm walking around
with a fax machine."
It seemed perfect for Dennis,
and Dennis went for it.
[ Telephone rings ]
[ Receiver clicks, dial tone ]
Well I mean it was all, like,
you know,
"I love your book 'Try'."
It's my bible,
and I totally relate
to the character
who lets guys sexually use him.
[ Click ]
He would say
he was calling from --
he said a public phone.
[ Coin rattles ]
Sometimes, he said
he was at a friend's,
and then eventually
the friend became Speedie.
There wasn't that much time
where Jeremy was homeless,
and eventually he got
this boyfriend, Astor.
So, you have
this cast of characters,
and suddenly I need Astor
to be Geoff.
[ Ding! ]
Because Astor didn't exist.
Astor was just
on the astral plane.
So, it came to pass
that Jeremy is now living
with Speedie and Astor
as a family.
[ Click ]
Being with my Barbies,
I controlled,
and it ordered the universe.
And my Barbie world was not
a happy world.
There's actually a photo
where I have them all lined up
naked with their butts
in the air.
And they're going
to be disciplined.
I'd make these really intense,
very intense stories.
My Barbies committed crimes
of rape
and assault
and child abuse.
They were injured,
and I could make them bleed.
They were given black eyes.
I had no idea
that the way I played
Barbie dolls wasn't normal.
[ Click ]
Gradually, the story
of Terminator began to come out.
[ Click, whir ]
He said that he was from
a Southern Baptist background
with sadistic,
fundamentalist grandparents.
[ Liquid splashes, boy screams ]
One of whom had made him bathe
in a bathtub of bleach.
It more gradually came out
that the AIDS that he had
was probably caught from
one of his mother's boyfriends
who had abused him.
And his high voice was
probably due to the fact
that his genitals
had been mutilated
so that he never went
into puberty.
[ Telephone rings ]
He finally succumbed
to my constant questions
by offering to send me photos.
They showed a rather attractive
blond boy of about 15.
And I actually framed them and
put them on my bookcase
with the pictures of my family
and of my lover.
At that point,
helping him develop as a writer
became a mission for me.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
There's not a lot of discovery
in publishing anymore.
To hear a new voice
was exciting.
William Burroughs, Genet,
Allen Ginsberg --
all these people provided voices
to an alternative culture
and suddenly it seemed like
there was a torchbearer.
This was a homeless teenager
who was dealing with HIV,
just getting off the streets.
Someone, whose work spoke to
an aspect of American culture
I hadn't heard about before.
And it fucking shouldn't.
I knew I still needed to write.
I still wanted to write.
But I wasn't gonna
fucking write that shit.
And I didn't let them
publish the work.
You sure as fuck don't walk
away from a book deal.
And I did.
[ Page turns ]
I'm 32 years old,
and I'm pregnant.
And I'm still
talking to Dr. Owens,
but everything's shifting.
But Jeremy is still there.
And my body
has just betrayed him
in the ultimate fucking way.
I am completely female.
I have given birth to
a baby boy who I'm nursing.
There is no hope in hell
that I'm ever gonna give
Jeremy the body
that he really, really wants.
'Cause my focus,
my number one priority,
is this baby.
Not him.
And then one day,
the door of willingness opened.
It was exactly
like watching a movie.
It was like a 1940's serial,
a cliff hanger.
I would only see
to the next road sign.
I was in the fog.
I'd get right up to that point.
Then I'd end it.
I didn't know where
it was going to go ever,
but it kept leading me,
and I would just
watch it unfold,
and it was so much fun.
[ Air brakes blow ]
[ Engine revs ]
[ Moaning ]
LeRoy: I look up
and see the glowing aura
of the Holy Jackalope Shrine.
[ Gong sounds ]
[ Footsteps ]
Everyone closes their eyes
and makes their prayer for
a newfound libidinous powers.
[ Boing! ]
I reach down into my tube top,
grab my raccoon penis bone,
and clutch it tight.
Please, oh, divine jackalope.
I want to be a real lizard.
I want to earn a huge bone.
I finished writing the story,
and I don't know what it is.
I speak to the editor,
and he comes back to me
and he says,
"You wrote a novel."
Sarah came in
and it felt fully formed.
It was like Athena
emerging from Zeus' head.
It sounded like a vision sounds.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
The book is very different
than the other
Terminator writing.
So we need a different name.
He doesn't want
to use his name, Jeremy,
so the editor suggests
using his initials --
Jeremy Terminator, JT.
Jeremy had a last name
from a phone sex client of mine,
[ Phone clicks ]
[ Phone clicks ]
So we have the name --
JT LeRoy.
[ Cash register dings ]
So they send out
the accidental book.
And I have no idea how
it's gonna be received,
because I know
it's really weird.
I haven't seen anything else
like it out there.
And we start
getting reviews back.
And they're really,
really good.
And it's
the most exciting feeling
to get this response
from this book
that I didn't mean to write.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Today we're going to be doing
"Sarah" by JT LeRoy.
JT LeRoy
is a very young American author
who burst
on the literary scene.
It made me think of
all those Southern stories --
Flannery O'Connor
and Faulkner.
Southern gothic superstars
There's a lot of Truman Capote
in this guy.
And I particularly like
this young boy-girl.
And the collision between
naivete and maturity.
It's like this weird little
supernova called Sarah.
JT LeRoy is very, very shy.
He can't do readings.
So people suggest,
he can't read it?
Let us read it.
So it was
the first reading ever,
and I was there.
[ Bell dings ]
And nobody
knew I was there.
Hey, everybody.
Welcome to the reading
for JT LeRoy's book, "Sarah,"
that just came out.
"Le Loup puts in flashier
lights, but the crowds thin
as talk spreads of luck
turning malevolent
after a visit with me,
the patron saint of truckers."
[ Applause ]
Albert: I would have died
if anybody knew
because I'm big and I am
not comfortable in my skin.
And everybody's
coming to hear
this really hip, new,
cool writer,
and I'm not it.
[ Indistinct conversations ]
All right
this is Laura again.
I just was getting
incredibly depressed,
and I knew being at home
was really fucking me up.
And my mother was, like, didn't
know what to do with me.
So I wanted to get help.
We were going to this place,
St. Vincents.
It's a mental institution --
like a loony bin.
And we packed up my stuff
and we went.
We went upstairs to the unit.
There were these old people
just walking around
in a Thorazine daze.
It's a very scary place for
a 13-year-old to walk in,
but I felt safe
'cause I was like,
"Hey, I'm with my mom."
And then I said,
"Okay, you know, Mom,
I've had enough of this,
I want to go."
And she said to me,
"I'm going, you're staying."
So "Sarah" was out in the world
to great acclaim
and they wanted more JT LeRoy.
So we took a collection of
those old Terminator stories.
LeRoy: All the voices
in my head scream at me.
And I can't see outside anymore.
I can only see
the huge wooden electric chair,
wired, waiting, and empty.
And the Horned One,
with his blood soaked talons,
clutching the silver-grey
[ Electricity buzzing ]
Laura Albert: We titled it,
"The Heart is Deceitful
Above All Things."
And that became
JT LeRoy's next novel.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Horn honks ]
JT has quite a following.
Some refer to it
as a cult following.
I came because
I really wanted to see
what all the hype was about.
He's created, you know,
uh, this buzz around him.
JT LeRoy's reclusiveness
was the buzz.
The lack of a body
at the funeral
made it that much
more interesting.
Since JT doesn't come out
and read for himself,
he's got an enormous
support group of celebrities
who will come out and read
his work because they love him.
Well, I feel like I have a --
a new good friend
because I've --
I've been speaking to him
on the phone all week.
[ Tape player clicks ]
In "Sarah," the --
the raccoon bone
is a kind of badge of honor.
It's the, um...
the hooker's equivalent
of a military sash,
or a Boy Scout's merit badge.
I just can't bring myself
to bring in, uh,
at this stage of my life...
[ Laughter ]
uh...another mammal's penis
resting on my neck.
Silverberg: The signed
JT LeRoy raccoon penis bone
was a brilliant piece
of ephemera.
They sold! They sold.
People bought these
raccoon penis bones.
That was as close as anyone
was gonna get to JT LeRoy.
Um...Yes, I do.
I believe that I will meet him.
I do.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert:
So the books were taking off,
especially overseas,
and you had German media
really, really wanting
to do live,
in-person interviews.
JT LeRoy
had to walk amongst us.
So one day Savannah
was over at our house,
and she was
sitting on the couch,
and she'd shaved her head
and dyed her hair blue,
and she wanted
to try on my glasses.
I had this straw hat,
and I'd given her
a raccoon penis bone,
and she's chewing on it
like a corn-cob pipe.
And I'm looking at her
and I said,
"You know,
you look like JT LeRoy."
So I came up with an idea --
just a one-off.
You wear the sunglasses,
a cute blonde wig.
We'll, like, bind your boobs.
It'll be really fast.
You'll get 50 bucks.
[ Cash register dings ]
And she was down.
Laura Albert:
When we were on the shoot,
Savannah is standing
on Polk Street,
dressed kind of raggedy,
looking like a street hustler.
Laura Albert:
I was so scared that she
could not articulate him.
And they interviewed Savannah --
they interviewed JT.
Laura Albert:
And it was amazing to watch
how he actually
settled into her.
She just had those features
that were more masculine,
which fit perfectly
for an adolescent boy.
Savannah was perfect,
and it was this really
liberating moment
because it was almost
like in "Frankenstein,"
"Let there be life."
I was watching JT live.
Laura Albert:
Um, I was ostracized,
and people were like,
"you were in a loony bin."
You're a loony.
Laura Albert:
I felt like a misfit.
I was totally alienated.
And I found this secret society,
and it was mine.
In 9th grade, I got into punk.
It -- it helped me, all right?
I had a lot of problems,
and it helped me.
I got Stiff Little Fingers,
Generation X,
and the Sex Pistols.
I heard those records,
and my fate was sealed.
I mean it was everything.
That was it.
But I would only go out
if I felt
I'd lost enough weight,
if I could fit into an outfit
that was punk enough.
There's nothing worse
than being a fat punk.
So I would send my sister
out in the world to live for me.
Jojo was my avatar
in the punk world.
I would dress her up,
I'd put on her makeup,
I would do her hair.
I had a leather jacket.
I would put the badges on her.
I would choose a T-shirt.
I perfected her look,
which was borderline
Like she could be a guy,
but she also looked cute.
I would tell her
who she was gonna talk to,
who she was gonna meet,
and she had to report
back to me.
And I'd send her off.
I was as intensely
deep in the scene
as I could possibly get --
living in my head,
watching it unfold
without actually
having to be there.
[ Engine revs ]
Hey, Mikey, how long
have I been on the streets,
on this crusade?
I loved Gus Van Sant's
"My Own Private Idaho."
So when he wanted
to option "Sarah,"
it was as if we were following
a path that was already
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
As JT LeRoy,
I have had hours of conversation
with him.
But now, we have to meet him.
How the fuck am I gonna
give all those details,
little minute things
to Savannah?
What if they talk about a film?
He comes to San Francisco,
and he brings the actor
Michael Pitt with him.
So we go to a restaurant,
and we're waiting for
Gus to show up,
and I'm very very nervous.
I'm the assistant.
But I have to be
an advocate for the book
and get stuff done.
So we meet Gus.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
They're bringing out
all these really,
really expensive dishes.
And I really want to find out
what he wants to do
with "Sarah."
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
And it's like,
"Why should he be talking
to Speedie,
JT's assistant,
about his plans for 'Sarah.'"
And Speedie
is right up in Gus' face.
[ British accent ]
Oh, Gus, God, you know
"My Own Private Idaho"
is so fucking great.
River Phoenix, oh, my God,
what was he like?
Oy, Gus, fucking barn crash --
How the fuck
did you do that, mate?
[ Normal voice ]
Speedie had to overcompensate
with this kind of entertaining,
fat girl persona.
And I actually felt
really bad about myself.
I'm big.
I feel a lot of shame
about my body.
that it was really empowering
to have Speedie take over.
We're outside the restaurant
with Gus Van Sant,
and we're just hanging out
and JT and Mike Pitt
are smoking a cigarette.
And, next thing I know,
they're kissing.
[ Tape player clicks ]
So "Sarah" was like
a message in a bottle
to the world.
And suddenly other artists
wanted that connection.
Give yourself away
And you give yourself away
We're given VIP passes,
we go backstage,
and we go to the intimate
The Edge is there,
and I'm watching Bono
call JT over.
And I know what's coming.
It's what happens
to every artist
when they've arrived.
It's their anointment in
to what will be coming next.
It's to help usher them
through the portal.
You have the Bono talk.
[ Dings ]
Sleight of hand
and twist of fate
Albert: So I see Bono
snuggled close in
with his arm around JT,
and if you didn't know better,
you would think
they were father and son.
And Bono is very lovingly
giving him industry advice.
"Watch out for the sharks,
be who you are,
and never forget
where you came from."
While JT is getting
the Bono talk,
Speedie is getting
the manager talk.
Paul McGuinness, U2's manager,
comes over to Speedie
and he says,
"Hey, did you see what my boy
did for yours?
[ As Speedie] Ah, what did
your boy do for mine?"
[ Normal voice ] And he whips
out Rolling Stone magazine.
And there it is.
"Bono says, 'The Heart is
Deceitful Above All Things'
[ As Bono ]
is blowing my fucking mind.
[ Cheers and applause ]
I'm 16 going on 17.
And I am committed again
for the second time.
And the social workers
were very clear
that I should absolutely
not go home.
So my parents gave up custody,
and I became
a ward of the state.
And I ended up
in a friendly home,
a group home, run by
the Jewish childcare agency.
One day I saw
this beautiful skinhead,
hanging outside
the New Yorker movie theatre,
and he's got the braces
and the ox-blood Doc Martens.
We had just seen
The Who, "Quadrophenia,"
and I thought,
"How do I approach him?"
and I decided to use
a British accent,
because I knew nothing
would be more irresistible
to a Brit-style skinhead.
And we fell in love.
I would bring him
into the group home,
and all the girls would know
I'm British.
[ British accent ]
Hello, this is my boyfriend.
This is Mick.
Yeah, so, uh,
he's gonna, like,
be joining us for dinner.
[ Laughter ]
He's like, you know,
"What's so funny?
Are they laughing at me?"
Oh, no, no, no,
they just --
they haven't had
a skinhead over.
They just think it's cute.
[ Normal voice ] It was probably
about four months
of going out with each other
before he found out
that I wasn't British.
[ Heart monitor beeping ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Albert: So suddenly,
JT is the go-to person
for the fashion world.
And to have JT being an icon
for a fashion sensibility
was very, very surreal.
Because it was
just at that point
where I was beginning
to be able to dress myself
instead of just dressing
the avatar.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
The Italians love JT.
The books are number one
and number two
on the best-seller list.
So the Italian publisher, Fazi,
brought JT and Speedie
over to Italy to do readings.
Asia Argento was
this big Italian star.
We had seen her movie "xXx."
She played, like,
a Russian action star.
[ Gunfire ]
Weapons. There are more
weapons here in the back.
Laura Albert:
Her father is Dario Argento,
the horror master.
-No, no, no!
No! [ Gasping ]
Laura Albert: And Asia
had gotten the books.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
And she was hoping
to convince J to give her the rights.
And we meet Asia.
As Speedie, I go over to her,
and I say,
[ British accent ] "Oh, it's
really nice to meet you,
God, you're so pretty.
You look like
a young Drew Barrymore."
[ Normal voice ] So the Italian
publishers were really excited,
because there was
this huge literary event,
and somehow,
they squeezed JT onto the bill.
So, when we get there,
there are fans
waiting for us to arrive.
And, Savannah's getting nervous,
because she has not done
a live reading before.
So, she goes into a porta potty,
and she throws up.
[ Woman retches ]
It's time for her to go on.
And our host presents JT LeRoy,
the best selling author,
to Milan.
And I really wanted to
protect her anonymity.
She's wearing sunglasses
and a visor.
She's really scared,
her body is trembling,
so I think to myself,
"What would Warhol do?"
I tell her get under the table.
Fuck them.
And she does.
She takes the microphone
and goes under the table.
and she's reading,
and you can barely
hear her voice.
[ Speaking indistinctly ]
I stare at his oversize hands
as they grip the ladder tightly,
the same way I've seen him
grip one of his girls' wrists
as he dragged her
into another room...
And afterwards,
there's a silence.
And then there's this
huge wave of applause.
[ Applause ]
And she suddenly realizes
that she's in a stadium,
and it's packed.
And she jumps.
And she turns around,
and goes face first
into the microphone.
and you just hear from
the entire audience a gasp,
and then they go, "Ohh",
and they love it...
[ Cheers and applause ]
...and she runs off.
And it was perfect.
It was perfect.
So JT and Asia right away,
JT was just smitten.
Asia swept JT off his feet.
And I was attached to his feet.
I was the kite tail
that had came along.
It's June, it's Rome,
I'm watching
JT go off with Asia.
It was made very clear
that I was in the way.
It was kinda like,
"Speedie, go home."
I feel really lonely,
because my Barbie dolls
have come to life,
and there's definitely
that feeling that
they wouldn't mind
killing me off.
JT comes back to the hotel
where we are
with lipstick
all over her face,
smelling like Asia's perfume.
And she was high,
and her wig had come off.
And she had had something
[ "La Donna e Mobile"
by Giuseppe Verdi plays ]
And she was on cloud nine.
And she just didn't
want to talk to me.
And what I have to remind her is
you're on the clock.
You're on the dime.
This is about a movie.
I have to know,
because when we're on the phone,
she might be calling me,
not necessarily JT,
and I have to match that stuff.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert:
Asia was gonna get that book
one way or the other.
She would do whatever it took,
whatever needed to be done,
and I respected that,
and I thought,
"Yeah, you can make this movie."
So Gus and J are talking all the time,
and they get along so well
that Gus agrees to do
a photo shoot
for Abercrombie and Fitch,
where JT is literally
walking on water.
Gus's option on "Sarah"
had already expired,
but he had a project,
which I really loved.
It was based on Columbine...
[ Gunshots ]
...and seeing kids
taking guns into schools,
and killing everybody.
[ Voice breaking ]
They, like, started blowing up
and shooting everyone
in the cafeteria.
And then you could
hear them laughing.
And, having been bullied
in the hallways
of my grammar school,
I couldn't wait to get home
and escape into my dolls,
because school was just torture.
I was constantly being mocked
and laughed at
and taunted for my weight.
My name's Laura Albert,
my last name's Albert,
and I was chubby.
And when I'd come into school
all the kids would yell...
Man: Hey, Hey, Hey.
It's Fat Albert.
It -- it was horrible.
It just --
it never ever, ever stopped.
So when Gus said,
"I have this project,"
that's all he needed to say.
That night, I just sat
and wrote the first scene,
which he ended up using.
It was a girl
that was unattractive,
she was overweight,
she was in the library.
And she gets shot.
Michelle: Hey, you guys --
[ Gunshot ]
[ Gun cocks ]
I wrote a whole script,
but the problem was,
Gus had gone through a portal.
He was really inspired by
the auteur Bla Tarr
who would do these
really long tracking shots,
and he was also really into
what are you guys doing?
Just get the fuck out.
Don't come back.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
In my dreams,
I'm a rock star,
and I'm Miss America,
and I'm a tap dancer,
and, you know.
There's so many things
I'd like to do,
but I think I'm --
I'm more interested in --
I mean music is
even more than literature.
It's a more immediate impact
of, um, an artist
getting through to someone
and sharing their vision.
By the time his name
became JT LeRoy
and "Sarah" was published,
I was already having misgivings
about the way that Terminator
was managing his career.
I had wanted to nurture
a pure literary presence.
And more and more,
I heard about
these celebrities
being added to the mix.
Ira Silverberg: It was
a revolving door of celebrity,
both marginal and real.
My fear was that JT LeRoy
wouldn't be taken seriously
if the only thing that existed
was a veneer of celebrity.
I pulled JT aside and said,
"it's time to get back to
the writing."
It's time to become
a writer again.
It's the only thing you have.
Gianopaolos: I worried
that he was getting too pulled
into the art world,
the cinema world,
the fashion world,
especially as the book
started to do well,
and he was interested
in more of the music world.
LeRoy: It's about me.
Oh, it's about the story.
I remember this enormous
amount of time
that JT spent
writing lyrics for this band.
Okay, we're Thistle.
I fell in love with Geoff
because he was a born musician.
His dream, his goal was always
to be a rock star.
And I really wanted
to be a singer.
And we just worked together
all the time on our music.
I would write
the melodies and lyrics,
and he would put it together.
And I loved
what he had come up with,
so we started a relationship.
And now,
even though Geoff and I
were still
creating music together,
it felt like
I was moving more towards
a life with his sister
instead of a life with him.
And I really wanted to
keep our connection
and his goal and dream alive.
So we'd start
sending the music out,
and of course,
who wrote the lyrics?
JT LeRoy.
Who wrote the melodies?
JT LeRoy.
Who sang it? Speedie.
[ Tape player clicks ]
And Speedie actually morphs into
a new character.
Instead of being JT's handler,
fat, hiding in the background,
now I am Emily Frasier,
lead singer of Thistle,
and we appear at
all of JT's readings.
[ Indistinct conversations ]
[ Guitar chord plays ]
I'm on stage singing --
me, Speedie,
now Emily Frasier.
And next to me playing guitar,
is Geoff, my partner,
Savannah's brother, Astor --
Terminator's former lover.
And then, dancing in front of us
in the audience
is Savannah, my son's aunt --
JT LeRoy.
So the levels of it are absurd.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Indistinct conversations ]
Albert: For the release
of JT Leroy's third book,
"Harold's End,"
the Deitch Gallery
is hosting a mega event.
Lou Reed is onstage,
bringing Natoma Street to life.
He crosses his legs.
"18," I say.
Albert: And everybody's
trying to have a moment with JT.
I go over to the balcony,
and I look down at
the throngs of people.
And I see my dad.
I'd invited him.
And he's just laughing.
And it's a moment of pride.
He's seen me hospitalized.
He had to sign his
rights away as a parent.
And this feels like
a really nice gift.
He can't tell anyone,
but he knows.
And that's all that matters.
LeRoy: I showed just
enough to make them interested
in who this mysterious girl
could be.
[ Catcall ]
I convinced myself
I was a comic book hero...
[ Zoom! ]
...hiding in the shadows.
I want to say something,
something that will
explain everything.
But my eyes stay down.
[ Smashing Pumpkins'
"Disarm" plays ]
Disarm you with a smile
And cut you like
you want me to
Cut that little child
Albert: I really loved
the Smashing Pumpkins,
and no male artists at the time
were talking about child abuse.
So I really had hoped one day
that JT would have
an opportunity
to talk to Billy.
[ Tape player clicks ]
So later that night,
there's a show -- Spaceland.
We get there, and the door
people say, "Where's JT?"
And I say, "Oh, you know,
he's already in there.
He's all back in the crowd,
so, you know,
he'll meet Billy after."
I've got this red hair,
and I've lost weight,
and I'm feeling
maybe even a little pretty.
And it's just amazing.
I'm right -- right out front
in this small little club.
And it -- it feels like
he's -- he's looking at me.
[ Cheers and applause ]
So after the show,
we go backstage,
and I'm really nervous.
Billy's sitting there
in the back,
and he asks me, where's JT?
And I explain, "I'm Speedie.
Hi, nice to meet you."
JT, he got really...
[Imitates vomiting ]
You know, he ran away, sorry."
And we just start talking,
and we're connecting in ways
that...language doesn't
even capture.
And I'm picking up
that I can tell him anything...
...and I realized everything
had been moving me
up to that point.
And he motioned for me
to sit down next to him,
and you can barely
hear each other,
but I turned to him
and into his ear, I said...
I remember this feeling.
It felt like I was Tarzan,
and I was just grabbing
hold of the vine,
and I was swinging
out over the gorge,
and I knew,
"I'm going to fucking let go."
[ Tarzan screams ]
Albert: And I said to him,
"JT was an accident."
And he said, "I understand
what you're saying.
I don't get all the details,
but I get it."
And the rest of the night,
we just talked about
the details.
It was the most freeing,
amazing feeling ever,
and we were together constantly.
Even Geoff was with us,
and Billy was his hero, too.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert:
We were at the Chateau Marmont
and Geoff was downstairs hanging
out with the rest of the band,
and I was in Billy's room.
And it was amazing
to lay with my ear on his chest
as he played and sang.
I was coming alive on all kinds
of different levels.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
And finally,
I don't know
what time in the morning,
Geoff knocked on the door.
[ Knocking ]
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
[ Door opens ]
And he said,
"I'm here for my wife."
[ Door closes ]
But who really wasn't happy
was JT LeRoy.
JT was really pissed
and he felt like, "Oh, great.
Laura is going to steal him
I outed myself to Billy
but that doesn't mean
their relationship ends.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
So I told him JT is not happy.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
JT still wants a relationship
with you.
And this is something
I have never done.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
While I'm there with Billy,
physically with him,
JT in my body, spoke to him.
Now you're gonna leave me
and I don't want you
to leave me.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
And Billy assured him
that that was not true.
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
That he could be there for me,
he could be there for JT,
and for anybody else
that came through this body.
So "The Heart Is Deceitful"
is being made by Asia Argento.
It's a go.
So we fly into Knoxville.
[ Airplane whirs ]
And we drive to the set,
and it's an actual truck stop
and I've never been
on a real working truck stop.
And I'm walking
down a long corridor,
and all the sleeping trucks
are on the sides
and it's absolutely
picture perfect.
They wanted to make every part
of the book true to life.
And they're shooting
one of my favorite scenes,
it's lizards, where Asia is
playing Sarah, Jeremy's mother,
and she's gonna
go turn some tricks.
So I join the set
and nobody knows I'm there.
And I'm watching on the monitor,
and Asia, this Italian actress,
is playing a West Virginian
truck stop prostitute.
And somehow it fucking works.
It was like a mirror
in a mirror in a mirror
because everything
was created from my dream,
which was based on reality.
Which was based on a dream.
-And cut.
Laura Albert:
And everyone's waiting to see
what's gonna happen
when JT sees his world.
And I feel it, too.
And I'm watching J taking it all in.
And I'm like,
"It's pretty good right?
They kind of got it?"
And JT is like, "Wow.
You guys really made it real."
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Wolf whistles ]
Astor: Hey doll,
how you doing?
Speedie: More coffee, babe?
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Airplane whirs ]
Laura Albert:
We get there at night
and descend down into Cannes,
which to me looked like Miami.
We're introduced
to all these celebrities
and they know who JT is.
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert: They're having
this huge press interview.
Reporter: Question for JT.
Laura Albert: They're asking
what's like to be on the street,
to turn tricks,
what it's like
to dig coal mines.
Reporter: Can you talk
close to the microphone?
JT LeRoy: Yeah.
Laura Albert: Nobody can
understand what he says.
It doesn't matter
if they can't translate it,
they are just riveted.
[ Applause ]
Laura Albert: And I realize
that it's like Mark Twain's
"Prince and the Pauper."
I could try to prove
that I am really the writer --
I am LeRoy,
the real king --
and no one would believe me.
I was there
watching JT get dressed up,
and they are gonna walk
the red carpet,
[ Camera shutter clicking ]
and I'm a mile away.
I'm not even allowed
on the perimeter.
Man: We should get going.
If you see Speedie go,
then we waited too long.
Laura Albert: This
is the big screening.
Everyone is in the house.
We've got the Weinsteins.
Laura Albert: And it feels like
the whole world is watching.
Laura Albert: So, we go
into the packed Cannes cinema
and every head turns,
they've spotted JT.
[ Applause ]
Laura Albert: I'm sitting
there and the crowd is roaring.
[ Applause ]
Laura Albert:
So the lights go down,
the curtain goes up,
and the film begins.
There's young Jimmy Bennet
singing the Sex Pistol's,
slamming down a Bible.
And then a meth house explosion.
Buddy running out on fire
as he chases
after Sarah and Jeremy
as they drive away from him.
And that amazing scene where
Asia, playing JT's mother,
is accused outside Piggly Wiggly
of shoplifting,
and opens her black rain coat
to reveal herself
completely stark fucking naked.
Film Clip:
Wanna check my cunt?
Film Clip: No, I don't.
Now leave [ INAUDIBLE ].
She gonna be all right?
Film Clip: She's tired.
She'll be okay.
Laura Albert: And I'm sitting
there, watching our movie,
waiting for our cameos,
and all of them are left
on the cutting room floor.
And after,
there's just this silence.
Except JT is sobbing.
And I know I need to comfort JT.
[ Applause ]
Laura Albert: It wasn't a game,
this wasn't a joke.
[ Applause ]
Laura Albert: We know it
as JT's true story life.
But we also know it as fiction.
[ Applause ]
[ Page turns ]
Laura Albert: I was watching
this HBO show "Deadwood."
And this voice in my head keeps
getting louder and louder.
Go to Deadwood.
Go to Deadwood.
Go to Deadwood.
So as JT, I call the magazine
and I ask them
"Hey, can I cover 'Deadwood'
for you?
And they say, all right JT,
anything you want.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Beep ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert: I just felt
the realm of possibility
of being inside myself
as an artist
and owning my own art
suddenly materialized.
[ Indistinct conversation ]
One of the great
things about the group home,
is they encouraged us
to go to college.
[ School bell rings ]
So I got accepted into
Eugene Lang Seminar College,
which is part of
the New School.
And I loved it.
I took every writing class
I could get my hands on.
Even when I was a little girl
I was writing all the time.
The first time I got published
I was about seven,
eight years old.
I had written a story for school
and it was called "The Flower
That Grew Overnight."
And I used a male protagonist
and I was hooked,
I was addicted.
It was the most amazing
feeling in the world.
In these writing classes,
being able to tell
a really good story,
I got the teacher's attention.
Laura Albert:
I got the class's attention,
but I had a writing teacher
and she was very strict
about girls writing as girls
and boys as boys.
And I told her, I need to write
in a male voice,
but she wouldn't let me.
And I submitted this story
dealing with some
pretty hardcore abuse.
Physical abuse, sexual abuse
in a female voice
and it was killing me.
And I flipped out,
I had a breakdown.
I didn't want to have anything
to do with writing anymore.
I just didn't want to do it.
I couldn't do it.
Man: Rolling!
[ Snap ]
Laura Albert: I'm sitting
outside the writer's room
and I get a phone call
from a reporter.
[ Telephone rings,
tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert: I felt scared.
Someone was tugging pretty
hard at the curtain,
and I didn't know
how to shut it down.
[ Beeping, ringing ]
So I called Geoff,
and he says to me...
Laura Albert: Like Pynchon?
Nobody knows who he is.
Like Salinger, he was out there,
and now he's disappeared.
Just pull the plug.
It's probably
what a sane person would do
if this was a sane situation.
But I couldn't do it.
I'd tell him,
I'm just going forward.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert:
I was in San Francisco when the
New York Magazine article hit.
Madeleine Brand [ Radio ]:
This is Day to Day,
I'm Madeleine Brand.
Writer JT LeRoy has been
a literally it boy
for the last decade
but, it turns out, he may not be
a he, and may not even exist.
Here, with more on this more
bizarre story is Stephen Beachy.
He recently wrote
Who is the Real JT LeRoy?
for New York Magazine
and Steven Beachy,
welcome to the show.
Stephen Beachy:
Thanks, Madeleine.
Madeleine Brand [ Radio ]:
You did your own detective work,
and what did you find?
Stephen Beachy:
This all began this spring,
when I heard a story
of a woman named Laura Albert
and a man named Geoff Knoop.
That they were in fact behind
the whole JT Leroy hoax.
[ Beep ]
Laura Albert:
After the article came out,
JT goes into
full-on offense mode.
He's calling all the people that
are intimate in the JT circle
and saying
this is fucking bullshit.
This is a take down.
This is just vendetta.
JT is gonna do whatever
it takes to stay alive.
For him it's like Tinkerbell.
If you don't believe,
the magic can't fucking happen.
Laura Albert: One day, I'm
sitting at my desk writing,
and suddenly, Geoff bursts in,
white as a ghost,
and he tells me, I just got
a call from Warren St. John,
from the New York Times,
and he says he knows everything.
And they say
what did you tell him?
Geoff Knoop:
Friends and family
are starting to get calls
from the New York Times.
Message erased
Laura Albert: San Francisco
was way too fucking hot.
So I went back
down to Deadwood.
I'm panicking,
because I see the cliff.
I see the ground
breaking beneath me.
[ Telephone ringing ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Telephone slams ]
Laura Albert: I'm standing
on the set with Billy
and my cellphone rings,
[ Ringing ]
and it's Warren St. John.
He says to me, I'm gonna get you
for violating the Patriot Act,
and I definitely got you
on mail fraud.
JT LeRoy:
And as JT I'm begging him...
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert: And I know that
the story is about to be broken.
There is a huge tornado
that's about to hit.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
News Clip: Cellphones
are said to be part of a ruse
perpetrated by JT LeRoy,
a San Francisco-based
cult novelist
who's not only accused of making
up the sad and sordid past
he writes about,
but being a wholly made-up
person himself.
Just this week the New York
Times published evidence
that the person
who writes as JT,
a 25-year-old former male hooker
and drug addict,
is actually a 40-year-old mother
from Brooklyn.
And that the person who makes
public appearances as JT,
is that woman's sister-in-law
in a wig and sunglasses.
Laura Albert:
What the article had
was a piece of the jigsaw puzzle
that nobody had found before.
A photo of Savannah.
With no wig, no hat,
no sunglasses.
It's all her,
and it's the smoking gun.
I feel...
such a sense of shame
because JT really asked people
to go to bat for him
and say that
of course he's real and now...
...they look stupid.
They look silly.
They look like
they've been punked.
The media is telling them
that they are an idiot.
How do I even begin?
[ Beep ]
Message erased.
[ Beep ]
[ Doorbell rings ]
Laura Albert:
I had reporters ringing my bell.
[ Ringing continues ]
Savannah came over,
and we were huddled in the house
and we were trying to figure out
how to get her home.
[ Door closes ]
To exit message --
Laura Albert:
I went to David Milch,
and all I can think
is I need him to rescue me.
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert:
Because JT spent many hours
over many years
being his friend,
[ Dialing ]
I called up Gus.
[ Tape player clicks ]
JT LeRoy: I hear them calling
me by every name of Satan.
But I don't move.
I stay hidden, and peek out
to see the mob
carrying their torches ablaze.
Oh, God.
Oh, my...God!
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert:
At the time of the reveal,
I was accused
of using AIDS to sell books.
Laura Albert: When Courtney Love
finds out that I'm J she says, "That's fantastic.
I will take you on Oprah Winfrey
and you will cry.
America loves redemption."
Laura Albert: I spoke
to Billy and he said to me,
"You can't stand up
in a tsunami."
[ Beep ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Savannah and I were determined
not to break rank.
We just weren't going
to the media,
we were shutting the fuck up.
Even with the photos of her
out there,
they still couldn't
absolutely prove it.
But Geoff,
[ Camera shutter clicks ]
Savannah's brother,
my partner of almost 18 years,
he breaks rank.
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert: Jeff went
to the New York Times.
He held up the surrender flag.
And he told them
that, yeah, it was me.
I wrote the books.
And he puts the final nail
in JT LeRoy's coffin.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
All the headlines
are saying hoax,
literary hoax,
the biggest literary hoax
of our time.
But the thing about that
language of what it's saying
is the books aren't real.
That all that work... a joke.
Director: What made people
actually believe
that you were the writer?
Savannah Knoop: I think people
believed I was the writer
I said I was the writer.
I mean,
that's what it boils down to,
belief is based
on this kind of contract
around what you say you do
and then you assume
that's what you do.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
Laura Albert: Asia called me
and it's her first time
talking to me.
[ Tape player clicks ]
[ Tape player clicks ]
What's being thrown out there
is multiple personality
But that ain't it.
I am pulling the switch.
I am making the decision
to go to a different rail.
I don't know what the label is,
I don't know
what the classification is,
but I can tell you
one thing I know --
it is not a hoax.
[ Ringing ]
[ Receiver clicks ]
If you bought a book,
if you feel upset because I was
15 years older than JT,
or that I'm a woman
and not a boy,
I'm okay with that.
The book says clearly,
on the jacket, fiction.
The rest is extra.
[ Click, whir ]
My dad grew up in Bushwick
really poor,
and he had a very close friend
that would babysit.
He was Uncle George to me,
I knew him
from when I was a baby.
He was just always there,
and he was family.
My parents
didn't really go out a lot,
so for them to go out at night
was a big deal.
But when I was 3, my mom
arranged for theater tickets,
and they left me with George.
And we played a game.
It's a very complex,
psychological game
of being a good girl
versus being a bad girl.
And he starts to touch me
and my body responds to that,
but that is proof
that I'm a bad girl.
He had a solution,
and that was to spank me.
But he also touched me
at the same time.
That's where everything just...
my wires crossed.
'Cause then pain
and sexual excitement
became intertwined.
And I'm not innocent in this.
My body responded.
It really excited me,
and it was horrible,
and something
was very, very broken in me.
I went to food for relief
because he definitely
preferred me thin.
At some point,
George just disappeared.
But the damage was done.
A child is
a delicately spinning top,
and it doesn't take much
to send the top off its course.
[ Click ]
It must be nice to disappear
To have a vanishing act
To always be looking forward
And never looking back
How nice it is to disappear
Float into a mist
With a young lady
on your arm
Looking for a kiss
It must be nice to disappear
To have a vanishing act
To always be moving forward
And never looking back
How nice it is to disappear
Float into a mist
With a young lady
on your arm
Looking for a kiss
Looking for a kiss
Float into a mist