O.J. Simpson was arguably the breakout star of television last year.
The former running back was the subject of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson miniseries and ESPN's five-part documentary O.J.: Made in America. The fifth episode of the ESPN documentary delved into Simpson's sordid, seemingly shameless life after his acquittal for the murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown, and his subsequent 2007 arrest for an armed robbery in Las Vegas.
But the documentary left out one infamous episode that has all but disappeared from the official O.J. canon: that time he appeared in a sex tape.
Whether he did so knowingly is a matter of some dispute. In the past, Simpson and his lawyer have said that Simpson was set up, that he was filmed without his knowledge. But Danno Hanks, the private investigator who says he set up the hidden cameras for the shoot, says Simpson was in on it the whole time.
A 2002 L.A. Weekly cover story profiled Hanks and his late partner Fred “Mad Dog” Valis. The bullet points of Hanks' career beggar belief. He's a combat medic in the Marines who served in Vietnam, a convicted criminal, a bounty hunter, a professional informant and a private investigator. He and Valis spent five years undercover inside the Gambino crime family. Later, they worked for television tabloid shows such asA Current Affair and Hard Copy. More recently, Hanks pled guilty to extortion and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. He told L.A. Weekly that his sentence will begin next month.
Back in 2001, Hanks says he was asked to work on a pornographic film. The project, he says, was funded by a former mobster named Don Brown, who was in the witness protection program and living in Santa Monica. It was to be produced by Peter Davy. And the film was slated to star O.J. Simpson, alongside his then-girlfriend Christie Prody and a pinup girl named Patty Kuprys.
“O.J. was totally in on the project,” Hanks says. “But he made it clear that he wanted to make it look like he was caught in a sting and didn’t know anything about it. He wanted it to have that 'hidden-camera look.' He wanted plausible deniability.”
Hanks showed L.A. Weekly an agreement purportedly signed by Davy, Simpson and Simpson's agent, Michael Gilbert. The agreement, signed on Nov. 29, 2000, gives Davy and associates permission to film “Simpson's personal life and actions at a resort in California over a two or three day period,” and has Simpson waiving “any legal right he might have to object to the distribution and sale of such filming.” The agreement makes no mention of anything sexual or lewd.
Another document, signed by just Gilbert and Davy, acknowledges “an adult film containing the usual content of such films featuring O.J. Simpson,” but states that Simpson “is not to be made aware that he will be filmed without his knowledge and consent and that the film will be marketed aggressively in the media.”
And a third document shows an agreement signed by Davy and Hanks and Valis. “The project will document three days in the life of O.J. Simpson,” the agreement reads, in part. “It will encompass videotape of Mr. Simpson's public and most private life. … This will involve both blatantly obvious videotaping of Mr. Simpson interacting with the public, and covert hidden-camera videotaping of Mr. Simpson's intimate and private moments and relationships. Producer assures [Hanks and Valis] that Mr. Simpson is aware that this film is going to be made, that intrusive videotaping will occur, and that embarrassing and even explicit activity may be captured on said covert cameras.”
The documents, in other words, are inconclusive as to whether Simpson knew what was going on, though Hanks insists: “I met with O.J. and talked to him. He said because his mother was still alive, and he didn’t want his mother to know he agreed to this. Also if he was involved, then the proceeds could be seized by the Goldmans. The money was going to go into an offshore account.”
As the filming date approached, producers settled on a new shooting location: the Mutiny Hotel in Miami. Hanks says he and Valis were paid $10,000 in cash, and given a $5,000 check, in exchange for outfitting one of the hotel rooms with two hidden cameras and audio equipment. But, says Hanks, the check bounced.
“That pissed us off,” says Hanks, who decided “to contact my friends at The Globe and make $5,000 for selling them the story.”
When Simpson, Prody and Kuprys met in room 310 (according to the Globe), Hanks, Valis, Davy, Gilbert and Brown were in the room next door, watching the action unfold on monitors. Reporters from the Globe, meanwhile, were in a room downstairs.
Years later, after Simpson's arrest in Las Vegas, Geraldo Rivera did a story on the sex tape for his Fox News show, Geraldo at Large. Clips of the sex tape appear in the news segment, with the yellow words, “Screening Copy Only.” The clips show Simpson and two women sitting on a couch together, with Simpson smoking either a cigarette or a joint (Hanks says it was a joint). Simpson then makes his way over to the bed, while humming, “If I Only Had a Brain,” from The Wizard of Oz. While still on the bed, O.J. waves to the supposedly hidden camera.
It was then, Hanks says, that O.J. seemed to have a change of heart. Without warning, Simpson yanked one of the cameras out of its socket and moved the other one so it faced the wall. According to Hanks, Simpson proceeded to have sex with both women, an act that was captured on audio only.
For the producers next door, this was a disaster. They'd paid Hanks $10,000, and Simpson many times that much. To make matters worse, the whole story ended up in the Globe, on March 6, 2001, under the headline: “Gotcha! O.J.'s Sleazy Porn Flick.”
Desperate to recoup their investment, the producers decided to re-create the sex scene with actors, and film the new scene with night vision.
“You see this grainy, green thing,” Hanks says. “And they're using the audio track from the original.”
Journalist Mark Ebner says he's seen the tape a number of times. After O.J. pulls the plug on the camera, Ebner says, the video abruptly cuts to night vision and depicts a stand-in who looks nothing like Simpson — but uses the original audio of that night, with Simpson, Prody and Kuprys.
“The guy they used to be O.J., it's hilarious,” Ebner says. “It looks nothing like him.” The whole tape lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, and, he says: “It was awful. It was really sloppy, and it was stupid.”
The video was distributed, at least nominally. But it didn't spread as the Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee sex tape had. The majority of Americans didn't use the internet, and the video was released without Simpson's support. The Geraldo segment plays an audio clip of Simpson speaking with another man (Rivera identifies the man as Don Brown) on the phone. Simpson appears upset that the film was released but also says, “I want money, first and foremost.”
At the time, Simpson's attorney Yale Galanter told the New York Post that Simpson had been set up. “When O.J. realized what was going on, he was outta there,” Galanter told the paper. And Galanter told Fox News: “The tape is garbage and we can prove it. O.J. wouldn't do anything like this.”
Brown and Davy are deceased.
Simpson, who is set to be released from prison next month, could not be reached for comment.