Saturday, August 29, 2020

Telling the Story of the Purloined Los Angeles Times Article

Some time in 2008, Michael Morris called me to say I would be receiving a phone call from a reporter from the Los Angeles Times. Seems he met him at a book signing and a lengthy conversation was had. Michael told the reporter about Affairs Valentino, my recovery of the S. George Ullman memoir, the court records, etc. He also told him I would be delivering a speech the following February, a few months later, in Turin upon the invitation of the University there and speak on Rudolph Valentino's sexual orientation or the history of the literary treatment of said subject.

The reporter sensed a story and so it began; a few intense months of interviews, long phone calls and the subsequent subterfuge of his wading into this mess of a story involving many of the characters which I have been writing about previously on this blog.

Of course I was excited to think I might be getting some great press for my book Affairs Valentino. At the time I was still writing the book and my literary agent in New York was constantly trying to get me to pursue some press. So there it was... an article about my discoveries in the L.A.Times.

Michael cleverly timed this to coincide with our reading of our speeches at the Convegno Valentino in Turin and so a few months prior to that appearance I began interviews with the reporter.

I first met him in a restaurant in Long Beach where he interviewed me for an hour or so. After this he phoned me and I recall about once a week. He told me he would be interviewing other people in the “Valentino World” and asked me for names. Now this was before 2010 when Terhune and Bret allied openly to ruin me. And I suggested he speak with Donna Hill, Emily Leider, Tracy Terhune and Jeanine Villalobos. He also interviewed a few members of a forum which was then run by Hill and Terhune.

I grew accustomed to answering my phone to hear the reporter's voice telling me about his previous interviews and thoughts. He was candid. And at one point he wanted to interview Rudolph Valentino's manager, George Ullman's daughter Bunny. Her brother Bob was by then deceased.

Bunny agreed and there was much ado about this interview with the L.A.Times. Reporter arrived at Bunny's home with a photographer who took pictures of Bunny and I for an hour. The reporter arrived and it did not take so long before it all fell apart. Bunny refused to consent to allowing the L.A.Times to publish her legal surname and her location for fear Valentino fanatics would harass her. Reporter would not budge and said without her agreeing to be identified the interview would not happen. It was a discouraging moment. Bunny made every effort to look lovely and have her home in order. But the reporter and his photographer up and left in a huff and that was that.

More phone calls revealed reporter had interviewed everyone and I learned the following:

From his interview with Tracy Terhune: He said that when he asked Terhune if he thought Valentino was gay, he demurred and told him he was not sure. Reporter told me Terhune said Valentino “might have been bisexual.”

From his interview with Donna Hill: Reporter told me Hill refused to be interviewed at all because she said I set the whole thing up. I did not and state for the record it was Michael Morris' project from day one.

From his interview with Emily Leider: Reporter told me she said I had attacked her by making public statements impugning her for not contacting the Ullmans. What public? In 2008 I had no public.

From his interview with Jeanine Villalobos: Reporter told me the shocking news that Villalobos admitted to have a copy of the 1975 Ullman memoir and to having read it. This triggered a certain anger in Bunny Ullman as she believed she and her family always held the only copy.

Now at some point the reporter called me while I was at work one day and read me his entire article which was ready for front page publication. He said he would time the publication with my speech and the speeches of Michael and Villlabos in Turin. This was but a few weeks away.

So I went to Turin knowing that during the week, the article would appear in the L.A.Times. I was thrilled. The article was a comprehensive and intelligent one about the postmortem outing of celebrities and profiling Valentino and the story of my Ullman discoveries. It was a brilliant piece of journalism. I felt the weeks of effort I invested in this project to have been well worth the effort.

During the week in Turin, I checked online several times a day awaiting the article. It did not appear. As each day went by I was increasingly discouraged and on my flight home knowing it never happened I was morose. To make matters worse I sent many an email to the reporter asking what the hell happened to his article.

No answer. None at all for another week. I was in shock. At last a phone call from the reporter who told me the following:

That the paper decided at the last minute to can the article because they feared a gay backlash. Ridiculous as there was nothing homophobic at all in the article.

That the paper could not afford a lawsuit... I asked what lawsuit?

That the paper was about to go bankrupt and needed subscribers... etc.! A this point I knew what had happened.

I had already had so many doors closed to my work by then. Villalobos refused to be interviewed for the book citing the “personal nature of their documentation”, Campbell's Funeral Church shut me down saying the documents belonged to the family, and Bill Self told me that Jeanine Villalobos told him not to speak with me anymore as she demanded an exclusive relationship with him.

So I was not surprised and suspected the obvious. The L.A. Times did not want a lawsuit.

But despite my bitter disappointment I learned a few more things:

Donna Hill apparently hated me, Tracy Terhune was not as convinced Valentino was gay as he let on publicly, Leider had some issue with me and Jeanine Villalobos had a copy of the 1975 memoir and told no one over the years.

Shortly after the failed article, the same reporter published an article in the paper on Michael's religious movie poster collection and I felt this was done as a sort on compensation for the debacle of the article which was scheduled to be on the front page of the L.A.Times during the Convgeno Valentino.

I never heard from the reporter again and forged on. I guess by that point I realized no one in the Valentino world at that time, other than Michael Morris was about to help me in my quest. And that was that.