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Andy Warhol Sued for Child Porn, Torture

Artist Andy Warhol died more than two decades ago, but his notoriety continues well beyond the 15 minutes of fame he predicted everyone would someday have. Now, a federal lawsuit claims Warhol and his associate, film director Paul Morrissey, violated federal child pornography laws and engaged in torture when they used a teenage boy named Richard Toelk in a series of films.

Andy_Warhol_1977 Filed in federal court in Philadelphia by the children of the deceased Toelk, the complaint names as defendants the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which owns the rights to Warhol's estate, Morrissey, and two film distribution companies. It alleges that Warhol and Morrissey hired Toelk when he was 14 years old to appear in the film, "All Aboard the Dreamland Choo Choo."

The defendants "did abuse the 14 year old by giving him drugs as seen in the film and also torturing him," the complaint alleges. "This film was not the only time that Defendant, Paul Morrissey, utilized the minor individual, Richard Toelk, but did so throughout his teenage years."

By continuing to market and distribute the films, the defendants "are profiting on the sexual exploitation" of Toelk, who died at an early age, the complaint continues. "The profiteering by the Defendants, through child pornography and exploitation, as shown in the movies, has brought great hardship, embarrassment and shame on the Toelk family."

According to the video-review site Shadows on the Tube, "All Aboard the Dreamland Choo Choo" was a silent film "about a young kid trying to get high." It shows Toelk rolling and smoking a joint, then giving himself electrical shocks, and finally doing something with a small knife that the review describes only as "rather horrifying." The title comes from a Shirley Temple song Morrissey would play during screenings.

At the JETLawBlog of the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law, Emily Larish doubts the viability of the lawsuit. She contends it may be little more than an attempt by Toelk's family "to do the very thing for which they are accusing the defendants: exploiting the images of a young Richard Toelk for financial gain." She says that Morrissey made the film in 1964, the year before he met Warhol, and intended it to convey an anti-drug message.

Even if the film could be considered sexual exploitation, Larish argues, it could not have violated federal child pornography laws, because the first such laws were not enacted until the late 1970s. (I'm not sure I agree with her on the timing question, given that the film continues to be distributed on the DVD version of the Warhol/Morrissey film "Heat.")

Although the complaint alleges that Warhol and Morrissey continued to exploit Toelk throughout his teens, it names no other films in which he appeared. The complaint asks for damages in excess of $300,000. The plaintiffs are represented by Anthony J. Sciolla Jr., a lawyer in Jenkintown, Penn. If it accomplishes nothing else, the lawsuit has already given Toelk a second 15 minutes of dubious fame.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 2, 2009 at 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

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