Yesterday Gay Talese disavowed his book The Voyeur’s Motel citing credibility problems with the man who told him the story. This morning, he and the publisher now stand by it. As the flip-flops surface this AM, those in Hollywood who optioned what they thought was a true story for close to $1M earlier this year are trying to figure out what to do in light of the revelations of possible story fabrications. The project was bought for Sam Mendes to direct and produce with Steven Spielberg and based on both an April New Yorker article that Talese wrote as well as his book which will be published next month from Grove Press.
The producers had even hired writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns to adapt the story of Gerald Foos, a lifelong voyeur who opened a hotel primarily so he could watch guests having sex through ceiling vents. Foos also revealed to Talese that he was complicit in a murder he caused when he flushed the drugs of a dealer down the toilet and that dealer blamed his girlfriend and strangled her. Foos’ supposed spying on motel guests was said to have occurred between the late 1960s and the mid-1990s in Aurora, CO. However, The Washington Post found out that Foos sold his motel in 1980 and didn’t get it back until 1988, thereby destroying Foos’ credibility. Talese then told them: “I should not have believed a word he (Foos) said.”
Another falsehood was that Foos’s son Mark occupied the same apartment later rented out by the mass shooter in Aurora who killed 12 and injured 20 during the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. However, the Post found that the two lived in entirely different buildings. Talese said yesterday that he would not promote the book. Interestingly, Foos actually sought out the octogenarian author because of an earlier book Talese wrote about sex in the pre-AIDS era: Thy Neighbor’s Wife. Prior to becoming an author, Talese worked at The New York Times and Esquire magazine.
The news of possible fabrications in the book came as a surprise to those involved in Hollywood as Deadline reached out to many yesterday and today. They are trying to figure out what to do — one source told Deadline that the filmmakers may just stand by the deal and move forward on the project, however, no one has come out on the record to say that directly. They knew that some of what Foos said was questionable to begin with from The New Yorker article, added another source. Spielberg’s camp had no comment. Mendes could not be reached for comment.
This morning, however, Grove Publishing responded to The Washington Post story saying that they are moving forward with the publication of the book and, contrary to what Talese told The Washington Post, he will be promoting the book when it hits the street on July 12.
They say: “Gay Talese has not disavowed the book and will participate in the promotions in the coming weeks.”
Clean up and contractual obligations are clearly at play here. Witness the statement that came from Talese this AM, through his publisher (of course): “Gerald Foos, as no one calls into question, was an epic voyeur, and, as I say very clearly in the text, he could also at times be an unreliable teller of his own peculiar story. When I spoke to The Washington Post reporter, I am sure I was surprised and upset about this business of the later ownership of the motel, in the eighties. That occurred after the bulk of the events covered in my book, but I was upset and probably said some things I didn’t, and don’t, mean. Let me be clear: I am not disavowing the book and neither is my publisher. If, down the line, there are details to correct in later editions, we’ll do that.”
Morgan Entrekin, CEO and Publisher of Grove Atlantic says: “The vast majority of the book focuses on Foos early life and the years from 1969 to 1980, which is not at issue in The Washington Post story. Grove takes the Post story seriously and will work with Talese to address any questions in future printings.”
Probably the incident most analogous with this one was author James Frey’s now discredited A Million Little Pieces, which coincidentally also involved a Talese — Gay Talese’s wife Nan Talese, who published the book. A Million Little Pieces was sold as “a brutally honest” memoir of Frey’s criminal and drug life. That book, which was featured as part of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club, was considered literary forgery and the author later appeared on Oprah and admitted that huge chunks of it were fabricated. Nan Talese admitted that she did nothing to verify Frey’s account.
By the time the revelations were known, that book had already been bought by Warner Bros. in a bidding war for a deal that went down like this: $125,000 for the book option with $425,000 when the movie was made and Frey also received a chunk of change to adapt the screenplay. A far cry from this deal, however, the film A Million Little Pieces — no matter how riveting the book was to read — has never been made.