JT LeRoy was one of most influential cultural icons of the US in the 1990s. He was supposedly friends with Madonna, Winona Ryder, Courtney Love, Shirley Manson, Liv Tyler and Gus Van Sant. His books detailed his life within a dysfunctional family: he was the son of a truck-stop prostitute in the South of the US. Their family landed in San Francisco streets in early 1990s. Except that he wasn’t a he. In fact, he wasn’t even real. LeRoy was an avatar for Laura Albert, who conned everyone, including swathes of artists and readers. Laura Albert is the real author behind the fabricated sensation JT LeRoy, at least apparently.
Dr. Terrence Owens, a therapist at the McAuley Adolescent helped to concoct JT Leroy’s early stories, unaware of his patient’s real identity. Maybe he was the only person capable of deciphering the personality of a writer who has never existed in the first place. Dr Owens has refused to discuss Mr LeRoy’s identity, citing patient confidentiality, but admitted in 1990 that most of their sessions were conducted over the telephone. Is Dr Owens too an invention?
Many authors routinely use aliases, but this was a literary hoax scandal. Writing as somebody else gave Laura the freedom to talk about her experiences with drugs and sexual abuse. The problem is that she was soon invited to book signings and talk, as a natural consequence of her commercial success. So she devised another strange solution.
In 2001, Laura Albert asked her sister-in-law Savannah Knoop to assume JT Leroy’s identity, now identified as a female. Savannah represented Laura not only in literature events, but also as the singer and songwriter of the band Thistle. Laura Albert was always around in the concerts of the band pretending to be someone else. Eventually her stories were accused of implausibility and she was unmasked.
The documentary sets Laura Albert as the main character. She is on stage explaining her choices and finding reasons to assume other identities – she also used the alias Jeremy Terminator. Other people involved in her stories do not appear in front of the cameras. Testimonies of Courtney Love, and Gus van Sant, who wanted to adapt to book ‘The Heart is Deceitful above All Things’ to the screen, were recorded instead via telephone.
Laura Albert described a supposed love affair between Savannah Italian actress and director Asia Argento, but this also comes across as highly suspicious. Is this also the byproduct of a fantasist’s highly creative mind?
The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival early this year. Probably Feuerzeig thought it would be a goldmine, following the success of the books ‘The Heart is Deceitful above All Things’ and ‘Sarah’. JT LeRoys’s story generated a lot of gossip in the media in the 1990s, suggesting the collapse of literature and the rise of celebrities. The news were the fantastic and luxurious lifestyle of an author, not the literary work itself.
Compared to William Burroughs and Jack Kerouak, who also had a marginalised lifestyle in the US, Laura Albert’s literature is very vanilla. Drugs were not used in order to enhance the creativity and spontaneity, as with the Beat poets. And free love was described as a sinful lifestyle, different to the non-judgmental and libertarian tone adopted by Burroughs and Kerouak.
In fact, Laura Albert has created so many stories and devised so many identities that she now raises one fundamental question. Is she too a concoction of someone else’s mind?
Author: The JT LeRoy Story is out in cinemas in the UK and other countries this Friday. Watch the film trailer below: