The children of the late Richard Toelk are claiming that artist Andy Warhol and director Paul Morrissey exploited and abused their father when he was 14, “by filming him while smoking pot and including the footage” in the movie All Aboard to the Dreamland Choo Choo. Claiming $300,000 in damages, the family is suing Paul Morrissey and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, as well as Score-Sarx Company and Image Entertainment, Inc. The complaint was filed on November 25, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The complaint states that Morrissey and Warhol employed Toelk in the “mid to late 1960′s and early 1970′s.” However, Warholstars.org, a website dedicated to Andy Warhol films and art, asserts that the film in question was shot in 1964 as a “short anti-drug film.” Considering that Warhol and Morrissey met in 1965, the deep pockets of the Warhol Foundation might just be out of reach for the Toelk family. The complaint does suggest that Morrissey used Toelk in other films “throughout his teenage years,” but gives no specific dates or film titles.

The family alleges that the films sexually exploited Toelk in violation of federal child pornography laws, which has “brought great hardship, embarrassment, and shame on the Toelk family.” Additionally, the family is suing for invasion of privacy and negligent infliction of emotional distress because the films “put the [p]laintiffs and their family in poor light.” The family even goes so far as to claim a violation of Toelk’s civil rights, on the baffling theory that Morrissey and Warhol tortured him, through the “actions of the . . . [d]efendants in the producing, directing, publication and sales of the movies.”

Assuming the depiction of Toelk in All Aboard to the Dreamland Choo Choo can be considered sexual exploitation, if the footage was filmed in 1964, then it could not have been in violation of federal child pornography laws; the first federal laws aimed at child pornography were not enacted until the late 1970s. As for the claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress for damaging the family’s image, it is hard to imagine that many people have even seen the film, certainly not in recent years. Moreover, even out of those who have seen the film, I doubt that many would be able to identify the young boy smoking pot as Richard Toelk, the father of the plaintiffs.

Perhaps Richard Toelk deeply regretted his involvement in the filming of Dreamland Choo Choo. And perhaps if this suit was not coming up over 40 years after the events at issue, the claims might be more believable. However, as it stands, it seems that this family is attempting to do the very thing for which they are accusing the defendants: exploiting the images of a young Richard Toelk for financial gain.

Emily Larish

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One Response to Dreamland Choo Choo Derailed: Family Sues Warhol and Morrissey for Father's Involvement in 1964 Film

  1. [...] concerning a New Jersey man suing Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey for exploitation. The author points out that the movie in question was shot in 1964 as a “short anti-drug film,” years before [...]