Steven Spielberg, Sam Mendes Bail on Movie About "Voyeur's Motel" in Aurora

Update: Earlier this year, Oscar winners Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes committed to making a movie about the strange tales told by Gerald Foos, who says he spent decades spying on and tracking the sexual activities and quirks of guests at Aurora's Manor House Motel, which he owned; see our previous coverage below.

Now, both Mendes and Spielberg have reportedly bailed on the project — but not because of questions about Foos's credibility that surfaced in the days and months after our original reports.

Foos's anecdotes formed the basis of "The Voyeur's Motel," an article for the New Yorker by famed author Gay Talese, and a subsequent Talese book of the same name. But after the tome's publication, the integrity of the material came under attack. Not only could the Aurora Police Department not document a murder Foos says he witnessed through specially rigged ceiling vents at the Manor House circa 1977, but property records showed that he actually sold the business in 1980 and didn't buy it back until eight years later — something he failed to mention to Talese. 

After briefly disavowing the book, Talese announced that he was standing behind it, and Spielberg and Mendes did so as well — at first. But Mendes tells Deadline Hollywood that the pair pulled the plug despite receiving a great first draft of a script by writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns because Foos had secretly cooperated for a year-plus with Myles Kane and Josh Koury, a pair of documentary filmmakers whose version of the story made going forward impossible.

"The book we bought is absolutely not the definitive version of the story it was claimed to be," Mendes is quoted as saying. "In order to tell the true story, with any authenticity, it would need to involve the documentary team. The documentary is really part of the story, in the sense there are things that happen that were spurred on, even suggested by, the documentarians. So the story became infinitely more interesting and more complicated, but impossible to tell in a narrative movie. Most importantly, the documentary itself is absolutely terrific, a really, really good movie that has incredible footage in it. I thought it was just wonderful, but I thought, literally, well, that just finishes the movie."

No question Foos is a wheeler-dealer. Our Chris Walker interviewed him in August, and over the course of the conversation, the former motel owner asked if he could help him sell another valuable asset — a collection of collectible sports cards supposedly worth millions.

Walker did not take him up on this offer — and now, another potentially lucrative deal has dried up. In the Deadline Hollywood piece, Mendes said he believes that movie studio DreamWorks' bid of nearly $1 million for the rights to The Voyeur's Motel will now be voided.

Easy come, easy go. Continue to read our earlier reports.
Update, 6:28 a.m. April 18: Earlier this month, we told you Gerald Foos's tales about the Manor House Motel in Aurora — a business he told author Gay Talese he purchased in order to feed his voyeurism; see our previous coverage below.

Foos had declined interview requests in the wake of a Talese article for the New Yorker headlined "The Voyeur's Motel" — the same title as a book scheduled to be published on July 12. He claimed he was "under contract," and that appears to be the case.

Even before the tome hits stores, though, a movie version of the Manor House events has been announced — and according to Deadline Hollywood, which broke the story, some mighty big names are attached.

The director is Sam Mendes, an Academy Award winner for American Beauty. He most recently helmed the two latest James Bond movies, Spectre and Skyfall.

And among the producers is none other than Steven Spielberg.

To put it mildly, the material has a perverse undertone.

The New Yorker piece notes that Foos documented the sexual couplings he witnessed through ceiling vents at the motel, down to tracking every orgasm he witnessed.

And then there was a murder he claims to have witnessed — although the Aurora Police Department reportedly had no record that such a crime had taken place within the time frame Foos outlined.

Don't expect this flick to get a PG-13 rating.

No information about possible casting has been released to date. For more details, read our original piece below.

Original post, 6:34 a.m. April 6: Back in 2007, we published a gallery of photos by former Westword staffer Luke Turf showing signs in front of often-aging motels along one of the metro area's most venerable commercial strips.

We called the slideshow, which accompanied a Turf feature article, "Motel Hell of East Colfax," little knowing how accurate the title would be.

One of the pics, seen above, showed the sign in front of the Manor House Motel in Aurora. The business was subsequently demolished, but it's suddenly making national news for a bizarre reason: Its onetime owner, Gerald Foos, says he set up an elaborate system to peep at people having sex at the establishment — observations he carefully documented.

Moreover, he claims to have seen a murder take place at the Manor House — though no evidence has surfaced to confirm the assertion.

This tale is told in "The Voyeur's Motel," a wonderfully twisted piece in the current issue of the New Yorker. Its author: Gay Talese, one of the most famous writers during the so-called New Journalism movement of the 1960s and 1970s, whose best-selling books include Honor Thy Father and Thy Neighbor's Wife.

As Talese writes, he's been communicating with Foos since the early 1980s, when the Manor House owner wrote him a letter in the wake of Wife, which documented American sexuality during the early 1950s. That's when Foos confessed that he'd installed vents in each room that allowed him to watch the bedroom behavior of his guests.

Foos later sent Talese "The Voyeur's Journal," which began with his 1966 purchase of the Manor House. Here's the way the first entry starts....
Today was the fulfillment and realization of a dream that has constantly occupied my mind and being. Today, I purchased the Manor House Motel and that dream has been consummated. Finally, I will be able to satisfy my constant yearning and uncontrollable desire to peer into other people’s lives. My voyeuristic urges will now be placed into effect on a plane higher than anyone else has contemplated.
...and this is an example of his documentation:
Subject #1: Mr. and Mrs. W of southern Colorado.

Description: Approx. 35 year old male, in Denver on business. 5’10”, 180 pounds, white collar, probably college educated. Wife 35 years old, 5’4?, 130 lbs, pleasing plump, dark hair, Italian extraction, educated, 37-28-37.

Activity: Room #10 was rented to this couple at 7 p.m. by myself. He registered and I noticed he had class and would be a perfect subject to have the distinction of being #1. After registration, I immediately left for the observation walkway. It was tremendous seeing my first subjects, for the initial observation, enter the room. The subjects were represented to my vision, clearer than anticipated. . . . I had a feeling of tremendous power and exhilaration at my accomplishment. I had accomplished what other men had only dreamed of doing and the thought of superiority and intelligence occupied my brain....

As I peered into the vent from my observation platform, I could see the entire motel room, and to my delight the bathroom was also viewable, together with the sink, commode, and bathtub.... I could see the subjects below me, and without question they were a perfect couple to be the first to perform on the stage that was created especially for them, and many others to follow, and I would be the audience. After going to the bathroom with the door closed, she sat in front of the mirror looking at her hair and remarked she was getting grey. He was in an argumentative mood and appeared disagreeable with his assignment in Denver. The evening passed uneventful until 8:30 p.m. when she finally undressed revealing a beautiful body, slightly plump, but sexually attractive anyway. He appeared disinterested when she laid on the bed beside him, and he began smoking one cigarette after another and watching TV....

Finally after kissing and fondling her, he quickly gained an erection and entered her in the male superior position, with little or no foreplay, and orgasmed in approximately 5 minutes. She had no orgasm and went to the bathroom....

Conclusion: They are not a happy couple. He is too concerned about his position and doesn’t have time for her. He is very ignorant of sexual procedure and foreplay despite his college education. This is a very undistinguished beginning for my observation laboratory....

I’m certain things will improve. 
By 1973, Foos calculated that he'd witnessed 296 sex acts, with 195 of them involving white heterosexuals, as well 184 male orgasms and 33 female orgasms. He also determined that "12 percent of all observable couples at the motel are highly sexed, 62 percent lead moderately active sex lives, 22 percent are of low drive sexually" and "3 percent have no sex at all."

And then there was the murder, which supposedly took place in 1977. This is how he described the killing, which he said involved a male drug dealer and his girlfriend:
After fighting and arguing for about one hour, the scene below the voyeur turned to violence. The male subject grabbed the female subject by the neck and strangled her until she fell unconscious to the floor. The male subject, then in a panic, picked up all his things and fled the vicinity of the motel.

The voyeur...without doubt...could see the chest of the female subject moving, which indicated to the voyeur that she was still alive and therefore O.K. So, the voyeur was convinced in his own mind that the female subject had survived the strangulation assault and would be all right, and he swiftly departed the observation platform for the evening.
However, Foos says the woman wasn't all right, maintaining that a maid later found her body.

When Talese finally decided to turn Foos's stories into a New Yorker article, the murder angle was the one he shared publicly. A 2013 Denver Post blog post documents Talese being ferried around by Foos as they tried to verify that such a killing actually took place.

Authorities have no record of one, however — which cannot help but call Foos's credibility into question. And this isn't his only fantastic claim. For instance, he says his son previously occupied the apartment lived in by Aurora theater shooter James Holmes.

At this point, Foos isn't talking; he told the Post he's "under contract," presumably for a book of his own. But Talese's offering remains fascinating, however much truth it contains.

To read it, click here — and look below to see a 7News report showing the ground where the Manor House once stood.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts