Nothing but The Truth

(Matthew Peyton - Getty Images)
By David Segal
Washington Staff Writer
Thursday, June 21, 2007

NEW YORK, June 20 If they ever make a movie of the life of Laura Albert -- and for reasons we'll get to, that now seems unlikely -- the scene Wednesday in a Manhattan courtroom would make a killer denouement.

The troubled and struggling writer turned literary hoax maestro took the stand in a civil trial where she had come to defend her infamous creation: JT LeRoy.

LeRoy was supposedly a real-life former boy prostitute who had grown up sexually abused and turned tricks in a West Virginia parking lot. "Sarah," a novel under his name said to be "60 percent true," earned him underground cult figuredom and celebrity endorsements from the likes of Winona Ryder and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, not to mention raves from serious publications. As LeRoy gained fame, Albert asked a friend to portray the 20ish writer to make public appearances, and a handful of reporters ultimately profiled a trembling JT -- he was apparently traumatized and exceptionally shy -- in dark sunglasses and a wig. The little fella unspooled a riveting story.

It was all made up. Albert, it turned out, had never set foot in West Virginia, as she testified Wednesday. She was raised in Brooklyn and later moved to San Francisco, which is where Jeremiah "Terminator" LeRoy was born.

For fans and onlookers, the unmasking of Albert, which happened in 2005, was like finding out that John Updike is a robot. But it was a more serious matter for the owner of Antidote Films, an indie-movie company in Manhattan, which had acquired the film rights to "Sarah" back when everyone assumed that LeRoy was flesh and blood. The company has sued in U.S. District Court to get back its money -- about $110,000 -- accusing Albert of fraud. "Sarah," attorneys for Antidote say, is worthless now that the truth has emerged.

Albert, who can switch from fragile to fierce in a matter of seconds, says she will give nothing back. She claims she was merely partaking in the revered literary tradition of using a pseudonym, plus a little Andy Warhol-inspired performance art. The book, she maintains, is still the book and its value and truth are independent of its authorship. She also has refused Antidote's attempts to acquire the rights to her life story, which the company had sought in the hopes of making an "Adaptation"-style movie about the fabrication of LeRoy and its fallout.

"It's like they got a meal at a restaurant that they didn't like and now they want a different dish," Albert fumed Tuesday, outside the courthouse. "And so they say, I want that dish. Or more like, I want the whole restaurant."

Albert's appearance on the stand Wednesday was the first time she had told her life story under oath, a significant detail given her gift for confabulation and fudging. Among the many questions was the nature of her relationship to LeRoy. Would she say this was just a lark, a desperate career move, or something else?

Something else.

"He was my respirator," she said on the stand, choking up. "He didn't want to go." She never would have admitted the truth, she added. "Ever! Ever!"

Albert even engaged in some lit crit, too.

"I don't believe in fiction, and I don't believe in autobiography," she said. "It's all coming through the filter of your being. I don't believe in any of these labels."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company