A Storyville documentary: An inside account of how San Francisco punk rocker Laura Albert created a literary persona called JT LeRoy that duped celebrities and the literary world.
Browse content similar to The Great Literary Scandal: The JT Leroy Story. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
This film contains very strong language
and some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.
You know, I first met JT years ago, many years ago.
And a few years later... you know, Sarah...
And, 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...
..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.
I love you, JT. You are an inspiration. Thank you.
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 why do you still feel it's so important to keep your
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.
I mean, do you run into this a lot,
that people think that this is just some kind of hoax?
Hi. I'm JT. Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy.
Jeremiah's from the Bible, but I like it. It makes me feel protected.
I was born in wild West Virginia on Halloween.
My momma, 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.
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."
So I said, "Um, are you a boy?"
And she answered, "Well, last time I checked, I was."
On the floor there was an incredible curled pile of paper.
And I sighed and I tore it off and I started reading it,
getting ready to throw it away.
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 it back.
And then I said, "This is amazing, amazingly written."
It was something I always knew.
Heroin coming in balloons...
..was a special message to me.
Yeah, I smoke, shoot the dark tarry clump inside.
But the balloons are the only thing that's really going to save me.
The heroin inside, to tell you God's truth,
is just to tide me over until it is the time.
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.
INTERVIEWER: 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.
Geoff and I had just moved in together.
He was in the other room, playing guitar, doing his music.
And I was just making calls. Thinking about dying.
Wanting to die. And I called Child Crisis.
It was a number that you could call when you were in pain.
I remember I didn't know what was going to come out of me.
I didn't know who was going to bubble up.
And this man answered.
Hi, 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 tomorrow?"
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.
And slowly my life began to revolve around talking to Dr Owens
that next day.
So it's as if my world was underwater, and then,
for that half an hour, Terminator would talk to him and it was...
a.. gasp of air. And then I'd go under.
OK, 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.
I started dropping out of different schools and my mom was going berserk.
We'd have these fights and she'd lose control and throw, like,
She's going, like, with a different guy all the time, a lot of
sleazebags that would come on to me that would, you know, try shit.
Like one that would call me up in the middle of the night, tell me
he loved me, he wanted to be my father,
but he also wanted to be my lover.
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, "Well..."
I was like, you know, hey, "Fuck you."
So I decided one day, I have to act, I have to do something.
I pick up the phone and I dial this hotline.
And it never ever occurred to me to call as myself.
What reaction would there be besides,
"You are fat and ugly and disgusting and deserve it?"
So I introduced myself as a boy.
And I talked about the 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.
I don't understand it.
All I know is that it worked. It was like magic.
It was fucking incredible. And I was very addicted to that.
Terminator had problems with continuity,
so Dr Owens suggested that Terminator start to write.
What Terminator wrote was completely different.
It really surprised me.
He wrote this piece called Baby Doll.
He sent it to Dr Owens.
And it was like a new world opened.
So Dr Owens and I found out that Terminator's real name was Jeremy.
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 pedalling, but he's driving.
So I get there, they page Dr Owens.
I am so terrified.
I meet Dr Owens and he asked me what my name is.
I just thought, "How did I get here? Really fast". Speedie.
That became my name.
She was, "Hello, I'm Speedie, nice to meet you". She's British.
So Jeremy wanted to be a better writer.
So I was reading everything, everything I can get my hands on.
And it just resonated with everything that lived inside me.
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."
So this young person reached out. There was a kooky factor.
When someone is talking like that on the phone saying,
"I'm homeless, 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.
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."
He would say he was calling from, sometimes he said a public phone.
Sometimes he said he was at a friend's,
and 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.
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.
Being with my Barbies, I controlled and 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 are 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. I could make them bleed. They were given black eyes.
I had no idea that the way I played Barbie dolls wasn't normal.
Gradually, the story of Terminator began to come out.
He said that he was from a Southern Baptist background,
with sadistic fundamentalist grandparents.
One of whom had made him bathe in a bath tub of bleach.
It will 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.
He finally succumbed to my constant questions by offering to send
They showed a rather attractive blonde 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.
There's not a lot of discovery in publishing any more.
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 torch bearer.
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.
Then it fucking shouldn't. I knew I still needed to write.
I still wanted to write.
But I wasn't going to 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.
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 going to give Jeremy the
body that he really, really wants.
Because 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 1940s 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.
I look up and see the glowing aura of the Holy Jackalope Shrine.
Everyone closes their eyes and makes their prayer for new-found
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 finish 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's head.
It sounded like a vision sounds.
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, LeRoy.
So we have the name. JT LeRoy. So they send out the accidental book.
And I have no idea how it's going to 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 are really, really good.
And it's the most exciting feeling,
to get this response from this book that I didn't mean to write.
Today, we are going to be doing Sarah by JT LeRoy.
JT LeRoy is a very young American author who burst on the
It made me think of all those Southern stories,
Flannery O'Connor and Faulkner.
Southern Gothic, super-sized.
There's a lot of Truman Capote in this guy.
I particularly liked 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.
-And nobody knew I was there.
Welcome to the reading for JT LeRoy's book, Sarah,
that just came out.
I would have died if anybody knew,
because I'm big and I'm not comfortable in my skin.
And everybody's coming to hear this really hip, new, cool writer,
and I'm not it.
All right, this is Laura again.
I just was getting incredibly depressed.
I knew being at home was really fucking me up.
And my mother didn't know what to do with me. So I wanted to get help.
We were going to this place, St Vincent's.
It's a mental institution, like a loony bin.
And we packed up our stuff and we went.
We went upstairs to the unit and 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 because I'm like, "Hey, I'm with my mom."
And then I said, "OK, 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.
We titled it, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things.
And that became JT LeRoy's next novel.
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, 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 new good friend because I've been
speaking to him on the phone all week.
In Sarah, the raccoon bone is a kind of badge of honour.
It's the hooker's equivalent of a military sash or
a boy scout's merit badge.
I just can't bring myself to bring in, at this stage of my life,
another mammal's penis resting on my neck.
The signed JT Leroy racoon penis bone was
a brilliant piece of ephemera.
They sold. They sold. People bought these racoon penis bones.
That was as close as anyone was going to get to JT Leroy.
Yes, I do. I believe that I will meet him. I do.
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 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 racoon penis bone and she's chewing on it
like a corncob 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 will be really fast. You'll get 50 bucks. And she was down.
When we were on shoot, Savannah's standing on Pope Street
dressed kind of raggedy, looking like a street hustler.
I was so scared that she could not articulate him.
And they interviewed Savannah. They interviewed JT.
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.
I was ostracised and people were like, "Oh, you were in a loony bin?"
You're a loony.
I felt like a misfit.
I was totally alienated and I found this secret society,
and it was mine.
In ninth grade I got into punk. 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 into the world to live for me.
JoJo was my avatar in the punk world.
I would dress her up, I'd put on her make-up, 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 androgynous.
Like, she could be a guy. But she also looked cute.
I would tell her who she was going to talk to,
who she was going to 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.
Hey, Mikey. How long have I been here on this street?
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 predestined.
As JT Leroy, I have had hours of conversation with him.
But now we have to meet him.
How the fuck am I going to 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 am 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.
They're bringing out all these really, really expensive
dishes and I really want to find out what he wants to do with Sarah.
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's face.
"Oh, Gus, God, you know, My Own Private Idaho is so fucking great.
"River Phoenix, oh, my God, what was he like?
"Oi, Gus, fucking barn crash."
"How the fuck did you do that, mate?"
Speedie had to overcompensate with this kind of entertaining fat
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 was Gus Van Sant.
And we're just hanging out and JT and Mike Pitt
are smoking a cigarette.
And the next thing I know, they're kissing.
So Sarah was like a message in the bottle to the world.
And suddenly other artists wanted that connection.
# And you give yourself away
# And you give yourself away... #
We're getting VIP passes,
we go backstage and we go to the intimate after party.
The Edge is there and I'm watching Bono call JT over and I know
It's what happens to every artist when they've arrived.
It's their an anointment into what will be coming next.
It's to help usher them through the portal.
You have the Bono talk.
# Sleight of hand and twist of fate... #
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's getting the Bono talk, Speedie is getting the manager talk.
Paul McGuinness, U2's manager, comes over to Speedie and he says,
did you see what my boy did for yours?
Oh, what did your boy do for mine?
And he whips out Rolling Stone Magazine and there it is.
Bono says The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things is blowing
my fucking mind.
I'm 16 going on 17 and I'm 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 Child Care Agency.
One day, I saw this beautiful skinhead hanging outside the
New Yorker movie theatre.
And he's got the braces and oxblood Doc Martens.
We'd 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.
"Hello, this is my boyfriend. This is Mick."
"Yeah, so he's going to, like, be joining us for dinner."
He's like, you know, "What's so funny? Are they laughing at me?"
"Oh, no, no, no, they just haven't had a skinhead over,
"they just think it's cute."
It was probably about four months of going out with each other
before he found out that I wasn't British.
So, suddenly, JT is the go-to person for the fashion world.
And to have JT being an icon for fashion sensibility was very,
Because it was just at that point where I was beginning to be
able to dress myself instead of just dressing the avatar.
The Italians love JT,
the books are number one and number two on the bestseller list.
So the Italian publishers, Fotzi,
bring 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.
Weapons, there are more weapons here on the back.
Her father is Dario Argento, the horror master.
And Asia had gotten the books.
And she was hoping to convince JT to give her the rights.
And we meet Asia.
As Speedie, I go over to her and I say,
"Oh, it's really nice to meet you. God, you're so pretty.
"You look like a young Drew Barrymore."
So the Italian publishers were really excited because there
was this literary event and somehow they squeezed JT on to the bill.
So, when we get there, there are fans waiting for us to arrive.
And Savannah is getting nervous because she has not done
a live reading before.
So she goes into a porta-potty and she throws up.
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 'em.
And she does.
She takes the microphone and goes under the table.
And she's reading and you can barely hear her voice.
I can't help but stare at his oversized hands as they grip
the lighter tightly, the same way I've seen him grip one of his
girl's wrists as he dragged her into another room.
And afterwards there's a silence.
And then there's this huge wave of applause.
And she suddenly realises 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... "Oh!"
And they love it.
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 to come 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 kind of 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 happen.
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.
Asia was going to 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 JT were talking all the time and they get along
so well that Gus agrees to do a photo shoot for Abercrombie
and Fitch where JT was literally walking on water.
Gus' option on Sarah had already expired but he had
a project which I really loved.
It was based on Columbine...
..and seeing kids taking guns into school and killing everybody.
They, like, started blowing up and shooting everyone in the cafeteria...
And having been bullied in the hallways of my grammar school
and getting ready to get home and escape into my dolls...
Because school was just torture.
I was constantly being mocked,
laughed at and taunted for my weight.
My name is Laura Albert, my last name is Albert, and I was
chubby and when I'd come into school, all the kids would yell...
It was horrible. It just 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.
Hey, you guys...
I wrote a whole script but the problem was,
Gus had gone through a portal.
He was really inspired by the auteur Bela Tarr,
who would do these really long tracking shots.
And he was also really into improvisation.
Hey, what are you guys doing?
Just get the fuck out and don't come back.
In my dreams I'm a rock star and I'm Miss America and I'm
a tap dancer and you know, there are so many things I'd like to do
but I think I'm more interested in...
I mean, music is even more than literature.
It's more immediate impact of 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 the 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.
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 the 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."
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 the music world.
It's about me. I mean, it's about the story.
I remember this enormous amount of time that JT spent writing
lyrics for this band.
OK, 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
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.
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.
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 was Savannah,
my son's aunt, JT LeRoy. So the levels of it are absurd.
For the release of JT LeRoy's third book Harold's End,
the Dyche Gallery is hosting a mega event.
Lou Reed is on stage, bringing Natoma Street to life.
And everybody is 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 hospitalised, 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.
# Disarm you with a smile
# And cut you like you want me to
# Cut that little child... #
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.
So later that night, there was a show. Spaceland.
We get there and the door people say, "Where is JT?"
And I say, "Oh, you know, he's already in there.
"He's like back in the crowd so 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 out front in this small little club.
And it feels like he's looking at me.
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, you know, he got really... 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 realise 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."
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.
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 and finally,
I don't know what time in the morning,
Geoff knocked on the door...
..and he said, "I'm here for my wife."
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 away."
I outed myself to Billy but that doesn't mean their
So I told him, "JT is not happy.
"JT still wants a relationship with you."
And this is something I have never done.
While I'm there with Billy, physically with him, JT,
in my body, spoke to him.
"Now, you're going to leave me. And I don't want you to leave me."
And Billy assured him that, that was not true.
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 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 favourite scenes.
It's Lizards, where Asia is playing Sarah, Jeremy's mother,
and she is going to go turn some tricks.
So I joined 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 everyone's waiting to see what's going to happen when
JT sees his world.
And I feel it too.
And I'm watching JT taking it all in and I'm like,
"It's pretty good, right? They kind of got it."
And JT's like... "Wow! You guys really made it real."
We get there at night and descend down into Cannes,
which, to me, looked like Miami.
We are introduced to all these celebrities and they know who JT is.
They're having this huge press interview.
They're asking what it's like to be on the street, to turn tricks,
what it's like to dig coal mines.
INTERVIEWER: Can you talk close to the microphone?
Nobody can understand what he says.
It doesn't matter if they can't translate it. They are just riveted.
And I realised 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 going to walk
the red carpet and I'm like a mile away.
I'm not even allowed on the perimeter.
'We should get going.
'If you see Speedie go then we waited too long.'
This is the big screening.
-Everyone's in the house.
-We've got the Weinsteins...
And it feels like the whole world is watching.
So we go in to the packed Cannes cinema and every head turns.
They've spotted JT. I'm sitting there and the crowd is roaring.
So, the lights go down, the curtain goes up and the film begins.
There is young Jimmy Bennett singing The Sex Pistols,
slamming down the 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 raincoat to reveal herself completely stark fucking naked.
-Want to check my cunt?
-No, I don't.
-Is she going to be all right?
-She's tired. She'll be OK.
And I'm sitting there watching our movie, waiting for our cameos.
And all of them were 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.
It wasn't a game. This wasn't a joke.
We know it as JT's true story, life, but we also know it as fiction.
I was watching this HBO show, Deadwood, and this voice in
my head keeps getting louder and louder,
"Go to Deadwood. Go to Deadwood."
So, as JT, I call a magazine and I ask them,
"Hey, can I cover Deadwood for you?"
And they say, "All right, JT. Anything you want."
I just felt...
The realm of possibility of being inside myself as an artist
and owning my own art suddenly materialise.
One of the great things about the group home is they
encouraged us to go to college.
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 or eight years old,
I had written a story for a 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.
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 hard-core
abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, in a female voice.
And it was killing me. And I flipped out.
I had a... I had a breakdown.
I didn't want to have anything to do with writing any more.
I just didn't want to do it. I couldn't do it.
I'm sitting outside the writer's room and I get a phone call from
I felt... scared.
Someone was tugging pretty hard at the curtain and I didn't know
how to shut it down.
So I called Geoff and he says to me...
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 tell him, "I'm just going forward."
I was in San Francisco when the New York magazine article hit.
This is Day Today. I'm Madeleine Brin.
Writer JT LeRoy has been a literary "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 bizarre story is Stephen Beachy.
He recently wrote Who is the Real JT LeRoy? For New York magazine.
-Stephen Beachy, welcome to the show.
You did your own detective work and what did you find?
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.
After the article came out, JT goes into full-on offence 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 going to do whatever it takes to stay alive.
For him, it's like Tinkerbell.
If you don't believe, the magic can't fucking happen.
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 I say, "What did you tell him?"
Friends and family are starting to get calls from the New York Times.
San Francisco was way too fucking hot.
So I went back down to Denver. I'm panicking because I see the cliff.
I see the ground breaking beneath me.
I'm standing on the set with Billy and my cellphone rings.
And it's Warren St John.
He says to me, "I'm going to get you for violating the Patriot Act
"and I've definitely got you on mail fraud."
And, as JT, I'm begging him...
And I know that the story is about to be broken.
There is a huge tornado that's about to hit.
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 fully 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.
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, pow!
They look stupid. They look silly.
They look like they've been punked.
And the media is telling them that they are an idiot.
How do I even begin...?
I had reporters ringing my bell.
Savannah came over and we were huddled in the house and we
were trying to figure out how to get her home.
I went to David Melch and all I can think is I need him to rescue me.
Because JT spent many hours over many years being his friend,
I called Gus.
At the time of the reveal I was accused of using Aids to sell books.
When Courtney Love finds out that I'm JT, she says, "That's fantastic!
"I will take you on Oprah Winfrey and you'll cry.
"America loves redemption."
I spoke to Billy and he said to me,
"You can't stand up in a tsunami."
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, Savannah's brother, my partner of almost 18 years,
he breaks rank.
Geoff 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.
All the headlines are saying...
But the thing about that language, of what it's saying,
is that the books aren't real.
That all that work...
..is a joke.
-What made people actually believe that you were the writer?
I think people believed I was the writer because I said I was
I mean... That's what it boils down to.
The belief is based on this kind of contract around what you say
you do and then you assume that's what you do.
Asia called me. And it's her first time talking to me.
What's being thrown out there is multiple personality disorder,
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.
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 OK with that.
The books says clearly on the jacket - fiction. The rest is extra.
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 three my mom arranged for theatre tickets and they left
me with George.
And we played a game.
It was 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.
Because 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.
An inside account of a scandal that duped celebrities and the literary world. Former homeless youth JT LeRoy become an 'it boy' beloved by stars like Madonna and Courtney Love. His tough prose about his sordid childhood captivated icons and luminaries internationally. But in 2005 an article in a New York magazine sent shockwaves through the literary world when it unmasked JT LeRoy. It turned out LeRoy didn't actually exist. He was dreamed up by 40-year-old San Francisco punk rocker and phone sex operator Laura Albert.
The JT LeRoy Story takes us down the infinitely fascinating rabbit hole of how Laura Albert breathed not only words but also life into her avatar for a decade. Albert's epic and entertaining account plunges us into a glittery world of rock shows, fashion events, and the Cannes red carpet where LeRoy becomes a mysterious sensation. As she recounts this astonishing odyssey, Albert also reveals the intricate web spun by irrepressible creative forces within her. Her extended and layered JT LeRoy performance still infuriates many, but for Albert, channelling her brilliant fiction through another identity was the only possible path to self-expression.
A gripping yarn about fantasy, deceit and the nature of celebrity.