A New Yorker article published in April, a film that’s almost ready to go into production and a book due to come out next month all face rough sailing from the same source: it’s possible that author Gay Talese (Honor Thy Father, Unto the Sons) was a little fast and loose with the facts. Or some of the facts might have been fast and loose with him. At the moment, no one seems really sure which. From Deadline Hollywood:

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 New Yorker piece in question begins like this:

I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvered aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.

I first became aware of this man after receiving a handwritten special-delivery letter, without a signature, dated January 7, 1980, at my house in New York.

Which seems like a solid enough basis for a piece. But as Salon points out:

Talese, 84, who has been in touch with motel owner Gerald Foos since receiving a letter from him in 1980, drew criticism when the New Yorker excerpt came out: What kind of person, journalist or otherwise, accompanies a man spying on people in bed and doesn’t report him? To make matters worse, Foos apparently saw a murder take place in his motel and only told police the following day, and did not recount everything he knew. Talese could have told the police, years later, but chose not to, he said, because it would not bring the slain woman back.

But with The Washington Post’s revelation that Foos did not own or operate the motel from 1980 to 1988, the entire tale is being called into question. When the Post’s Paul Farhi pointed out the discrepancy, Talese at first disavowed the book, saying he could not believe anything Foos said, and could not promote something based on another man’s lies. But on Friday he reversed himself, saying in a statement through his publisher, Grove/Atlantic, that he stands behind it.

What will happen to both the book and the film are unclear at present.

News Reporter

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