Republican presidential hopeful Phil Gramm might have disarmed the bombshell that he once invested in risque movies if he simply had sent a Christmas card to a man living in a Spokane mansion.
Gramm’s former brother-in-law, George Caton, gladly would have kept Gramm’s secret forever, he says, if the Texas senator had bothered to at least keep in touch.
Instead, Gramm never returned Caton’s letters and calls, even after, Caton says, he repeatedly “stonewalled” people trying to find out if Gramm had invested in two R-rated movies Caton was producing in 1974.
“I had no more reason to lie for the guy,” Caton said Thursday from his cliffside South Hill home. “People think I’m taking some vengeful strike. I’m not … I got tired of hiding this for him with no acknowledgment.”
Gramm portrays Caton as a vindictive man on a mission to skewer Gramm’s White House ambitions.
“Mr. Caton is plainly pursuing, even after all these years, a family vendetta. He now apparently wants to get even,” said Gramm spokesman Larry Neal. “He plainly intends to do damage to Sen. Gramm.”
Caton, 52, a former Los Angeles movie producer and attorney, insists he didn’t initiate Thursday’s magazine story about Gramm titled “The Porn Broker?” that ran in the New Republic, a Washington, D.C., magazine. “I just told the truth, when asked.”
The New Republic article contrasts Gramm as the conservative, family-values candidate with the college professor Gramm who invested $15,000 in Caton’s film projects, including “Beauty Queens,” a proposed movie about beauty contestants persuading contest judges with sexual favors.
Neal said Gramm helped his former relative as a financial favor - with $7,500, not $15,000 - and that he knew nothing about the movies.
Caton was amazed by Thursday’s hullabaloo over the movie flap. He said neither movie was pornographic, as has been loosely reported. The movies had “minor frontal nudity” at most, he said. “I have never been associated with an X-rated movie in my life.”
He said he didn’t act out of vengeance, but admits being hurt by Gramm’s refusal to communicate.
“Had (Gramm) just handled me with a little bit of decency I might have thought, ‘Well, why not help the guy out?’ … If I got a Christmas card every now and then … If he called …”
Caton also said he doesn’t see anything hypocritical about Gramm’s family values rhetoric and his R-rated movie investment. “It was 21 years ago. I’m not going to judge him.”
Caton, a stern-looking Wall Street Journal subscriber, moved to Spokane four years ago from Los Angeles. He says he is independently wealthy, with his money coming from the sale of a commuter airline he founded.
“I came up here (to Spokane) to get a little peace and quiet, ironically,” he said.
Caton is a conservative Republican with politics much like Gramm’s. “I could even vote for the guy. Politically, he says what I want to hear. … I’m as conservative as they come,” says the owner of a silver Cadillac de Ville with a “RUSH IS RIGHT” bumper sticker.
Caton was furious with his talk show hero Thursday morning. Limbaugh called Caton a conspirator in a plot to bloody Gramm’s presidential bid, noting the article was released the day Gramm attended a family values rally.
“The media anal exams have begun,” Limbaugh said. “Who thinks they’re going to get rich on $7,500 except Hillary Clinton?”
Limbaugh also told his listeners Caton was a down-and-out Los Angeles porn merchant who Gramm helped out of a family obligation.
“He prides himself on checking the facts,” Caton said of Limbaugh. “He didn’t check anything. He just took the Gramm (news) release verbatim without trying to find me. He blew it on this one.”
In the afternoon, Limbaugh was still talking about Caton and Gramm.
Caton claims Gramm was first “titillated with the idea of investing in his movies after seeing some of the bare-chested promotional materials for Caton’s R-rated “Truck Stop Women.”
At the time, Caton was a 30-yearold producer just a couple years into the business. He was married to the sister of Gramm’s wife, Wendy. Gramm was an economics professor at Texas A&M; with bold political aspirations.
Caton said Gramm first wanted to invest in “Truck Stop Women.” Told the movie already had financial backers, Gramm asked to get in on the next one, he said.
Gramm recalls it the other way around; Caton sought his investment.
Caton said Gramm sent $15,000 for “Beauty Queens,” after asking whether it was all right to send the check in someone else’s name.
Gramm said only half of the $15,000 was his. The other half belonged to a friend he won’t name.
After “Beauty Queens” fell through, the Gramm money was then plunked into Caton’s film “White House Madness,” a spoof of Nixon’s last days in power.
The most risque scene in that movie was a man resembling Nixon running around the White House with his backside exposed, Caton said. “There was no sex in it. None.”
Investors lost money, Caton said, noting he shipped Gramm $3,000 to avoid family fallout.
Gramm said he never did get any of his money back.
A year later, the Catons divorced, but Caton said he remained friends with Gramm. He said he sent him $100 for his successful campaign in 1978 for the U.S. Congress, then visited him a year later in his House office.
In 1984, an aide for Gramm’s U.S. Senate campaign opponent, called Caton to ask about the movie investment.
Caton said he had his last conversation with Gramm at about that time. He said Gramm told him to deny everything.
Gramm denies the conversation.
“I protected him in 1984,” Caton said. “I stonewalled for him.” But Gramm never responded to Caton’s future efforts to keep their relations alive. In fact, Caton began to feel shunned.
When his friends in California’s Republican Party saw Gramm at party functions, they introduced themselves as Caton’s pal. Friends reported Gramm’s wife recoiled at the mention of his name.
“This time when I was contacted (by the New Republic reporter) I didn’t feel like stonewalling anymore.”
Caton said Gramm’s actions reflect on the senator’s potential presidential style. “He couldn’t deal with his former brother-in-law congenially and effectively. How is he going to deal with Russia and Japan?”
During a 70-minute interview, the Caton telephone rang almost constantly. One call came from his mother, who heard distorted accounts. “That’s totally false, Mom. It’s a pack of lies.”
Seemingly Caton’s biggest frustration Thursday was dealing with Limbaugh’s treatment of him. He’s listened to the conservative for years, trusting his accuracy.
“He said Gramm did me a favor because I was down and out on my luck!” Caton said, when in fact he was quite successful at the time.
Caton tried to call Limbaugh during his morning show to set him straight. He couldn’t get through. “The line was busy.”
Caton said he wouldn’t stop listening. “I’m not vindictive. Limbaugh just got it wrong.”
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