Asia Argento is facing eternal disgrace after news broke Monday she paid off child star Jimmy Bennett over an alleged sexual assault. But the scandal behind this scandal, the JT LeRoy story, is one of those stories no one would believe unless it actually happened.
Jimmy Bennett, who is now 22-years-old, was only 17 when the alleged sexual assault occurred in a California hotel room in 2013. The age of consent in the Golden State is 18.
According to the New York Times, since he was a child, Bennett saw Argento as a mother figure — and for good reason. He has known her since he was a boy, since he was only seven, when they co-starred in 2004’s The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Argento also directed and adapted the screenplay (the importance of this detail will come later).
The Times reports that Argento, who was then 37, arranged for Bennett to be alone with her in a hotel room. She then served the teenager alcohol before forcing herself on him. Some five years later, after her accusations against Harvey Weinstein made Argento a #MeToo heroine, a reportedly outraged and betrayed Bennett sued her over the alleged assault and eventually agreed to settle for $380,000. (Argento denies any wrongdoing and appears to blame Anthony Bourdain, her celebrity-chef boyfriend who recently committed suicide, for agreeing to the payout.)
Jimmy Bennett’s story make sense for a couple of reasons.
To begin with, he is a working actor; Argento is a working director. The easiest way to earn money from a working director is not through a lawsuit, but through a job. Bennett’s longtime relationship with Argento could have easily landed him six-figure paydays through roles in her projects.
What’s more, despite all the snickering about how “awful” it would be for a 17-year-old to be “raped” by a woman as sexy as Argento (especially before her apparent self-loathing manifested itself through all those hideous tattoos), the snickerers need to take a breath and look at what happened through Bennett’s point of view.
A few months ago I was looking at my wedding photos. I was married in 1989, had not looked at them in years, and something I noticed was that a couple of my friends’ moms were very attractive women. At the time I didn’t notice this; because back in high school when they were treating me like one of the family, they were mother figures to me. Nevertheless, no matter how attractive they might look to an outsider, had they done to me what Argento is accused of doing to Bennett, it would have been horrifying.
Please keep all of this in mind as I tell you the story of JT LeRoy…
Back in the very early aughts, JT LeRoy was a literary sensation among America’s celubutante class. Just out of his teens, Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy was everything America’s craven elite seek as the latest “in thing,” which was someone who hit all their shallow sweet spots: 1) JT LeRoy had been abused as a child by Christian fundamentalist grandparents. 2) JT was a child prostitute who hustled truck stops in America’s “hypocritical” heartland. 3) JT was HIV positive. 4) JT was suicidal. 5) JT did bizarre things like pray to a raccoon’s penis bone, an actual thing JT’s mindless fans wore around their own pencil necks. 6) JT was sometimes a boy and sometimes a girl, but mostly a girl.
Most importantly, JT LeRoy was mysterious and remote.
As his two fictional memoirs (based on true-life experiences) mesmerized the world’s Beautiful People, JT shunned the spotlight. Obviously, this only made JT more desired among the fashionable, and eventually JT would count Courtney Love, Gus Van Sant, Billy Corgan, Bono, Marilyn Manson, Winona Ryder, Debbie Harry, David Milch, Matthew Modine, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, and pretty much anyone who was anyone two decades ago, as a friend and confidante.
Eventually, though, JT did make public appearances, and with this his fame only grew. In fact, his bizarre habit of hiding behind big sunglasses and under a cheap blonde wig made JT a fashion icon among the empty souls who care about such things.
By 2002, anyone who wanted to be anyone latched onto the JT LeRoy bandwagon. JT was a way to prove you were “with it,” part of the “in thing,” and worthy to breathe the same rarified air as Bono and Lou Reed.
There was just one problem…
It was all a hoax.
There was no JT LeRoy.
JT LeRoy was invented by a troubled, overweight, 40-year-old wife and mother named Laura Albert.
Over the phone and on paper, it was Albert who played JT.
In person, JT was played by Albert’s 25-year-old sister-in-law Savannah Knoop.
This means that anyone who met JT in person was actually meeting Knoop — see if you can follow this — was actually meeting a woman (Knoop) pretending to be a boy (JT) who wanted to be a woman.
And this is where we return to Asia Argento.
According to the 2016 documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story, before it all came crashing down, there were only three outsiders who knew the truth about JT LeRoy. One was musician Billy Corgan, the other was television producer David Milch. They, however, kept the secret out of their friendship with Albert, who had confided in them.
Although Argento denies everything, the documentary claims she not only knew the truth but kept it hidden as a mercenary means to further her own film career.
Again, I want to point out Argento denies everything, but according to the documentary and Albert, Argento was so desperate to secure the film rights to one of JT’s novels, she used sex.
Among other things, Albert claims that after being out with Argento, JT (Savannah Knoop) would come home “with lipstick all over her face and smelling like Asia’s perfume.” Albert also says Savannah, who is gay in real-life, was floating on air throughout the affair.
There is also a photograph of Asia kissing JT (Savannah Knoop).
Here is the thing…
If Argento did indeed have an affair with JT (Savannah Knoop), Argento had to have known it was all a hoax, had to have known JT was not a boy.
If this is the case, Argento not only kept the secret and allowed all these people to continue to be made fools of, she furthered the hoax by securing the film rights to JT Leroy’s book and making a film that was celebrated by all of the luminary, most notably at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.
Fourteen years later, the circle of this scandal finally closed with the news about Argento’s alleged sexual assault of a 17-year-old Jimmy Bennett.
You see, the JT LeRoy novel Argento adapted for the screen in 2004 was The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Argento was 27 when she made the film, and her co-star, the little boy who played her son, was seven-year-old Jimmy Bennett.
In the movie, Argento’s prostitute character uses Bennett’s character to seduce truck drivers. Nine years after that movie was released, Argento allegedly raped this same kid.
There is no moral to this seedy story, but it does serve as another reminder that the Harveywood world of celebrity and entertainment is small and incestuous and putrid — and easy to con. All you need is a penis bone and a story to tell that convinces this rancid clan they are superior to normal Americans — even as this rancid clan lies and cons and grooms a seven-year-old boy for a hotel room rape … allegedly.