The family that raised bestselling author Augusten X. Burroughs is now suing him in advance of the movie version of "Running With Scissors," Burroughs's 2002 memoir of his years with the family.
A lawsuit filed in Massachusetts claims that Burroughs "mercilessly and repeatedly" defamed family members "so as to sensationalize his past to make the book marketable while knowingly causing harm and humiliation" to the Turcotte family, with whom Burroughs lived after his disturbed mother turned guardianship of her boy over to her psychiatrist.
In the book, the Turcottes are the Finches, at the insistence of lawyers for St. Martin's Press, which published the memoir. The patriarch of the family is Dr. Finch, who looks like Santa Claus and acts more like Alfred Kinsey. He runs a bizarre family in the dirty and dilapidated Victorian. There's a Christmas tree that stays up until summer, an electroshock therapy machine under the stairs that the kids fool with when they're bored and a pedophile who lives in a shed in the back yard and molests the young Augusten often. When the boy doesn't feel like going to school, Dr. Finch helps him fake a suicide. Valium abounds.
With salacious perversity like that comes a movie deal. Sony TriStar is releasing the film version next year, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Annette Bening, Vanessa Redgrave and Alec Baldwin.
"With the forthcoming movie, the family is living in fear that there will be utter devastation to their reputations and the invasion of their privacy will be complete," said Howard M. Cooper, the Boston attorney who represents the family. Cooper won a $2.1 million libel award in February on behalf of a Boston judge who said he was misquoted when a series of Boston Herald articles averred he told attorneys a 14-year-old rape victim should "get over it."
The Turcottes' suit, which was first reported by the Boston Globe, also names St. Martin's, individual employees and Burroughs's agent. In addition to seeking damages for libel, defamation, fraud, invasion of privacy and emotional distress, it asks the court to order a public retraction and a public statement that the book is fictional, and requests that distinction be made in all future publications of the book.
Burroughs could not be reached for comment. Gregg Sullivan, associate director of publicity at St. Martin's, said, "Our company policy is not to comment on pending litigation." A spokesman for Sony TriStar said the studio would have no comment. The Turcottes' suit does not attempt to stop release of the film.
The suit contends that the Turcottes were easily identifiable, despite the name change, since Burroughs acknowledged in press interviews who they were and included in his book directions to their house. The book, according to court papers, casts "all the Turcottes as wild, lascivious lunatics living in squalor and abetting criminal activities and other wrongful conduct."
"After years of severe personal and emotional problems, compounded by alcohol and drug abuse, Mr. Burroughs devised a scheme to take elements of his experience with the Turcottes and superimpose his own bizarre, imagined scenarios and exaggerated descriptions onto them to create an outlandish and highly marketable book," the suit claims.
Dr. Rodolph Turcotte died in 2000 and is not named as a plaintiff in the suit, which was filed within the three-year statute of limitations for libel in Massachusetts.