[I]n 1993 Maupin “was sent the galleys of a book by a publisher in New York written by a 14-year-old boy who was dying of AIDS, who had suffered abuse at the hands of his parents who had been in sort of a pedophiliac ring, and he had been rescued by a social worker. I was asked to write a blurb—At the beginning of the film there's that line that says, ‘Don't worry. You won't have to write a blurb.’”
That book was Rock and a Hard Place: One Boy's Triumphant Story, the poignant, sometime horrific and supposedly true memoir of Anthony Godby Johnson. The book came with a forward from Los Angeles author Paul Monette, another renowned essayist on gay relationships and a friend of Maupin’s who was dying of AIDS. Monette had been contacted by Johnson—who himself was expected to die of AIDS within six months—and coaxed into providing the forward, as had another even more famous personality. “Mr. Rogers, of all people, had written the afterward,” said Maupin, “So it came with pretty impeccable credentials.”
As a result both Monette and Fred Rogers had established warm, long-distance relationships with the terminally ill but life-loving boy, who lived with an adoptive guardian in Union City, New Jersey in a highly secretive arrangement for fear that his abusive parents or their sick sexual circle might hunt him down. Maupin was thunderstruck by Tony Johnson’s story, and immediately provided a cover blurb, but found himself wanting to do more.
“I was so moved by the book and frankly a little envious of Paul that he had had this amazing friendship with this kid on the phone, this little saintly kid, that I said, 'May I call him and tell him how much I like it?' So he spoke to the adopted mother and they said, 'Oh, he's a fan of Tales of the City. He would love to talk to you.' So before I knew it, this kid with this surprisingly undeveloped voice was talking to me on the phone, and I found him to be feisty and charming and bright and not at all depressing considering all of the things that he had been through. And very gay-friendly, although he himself was heterosexually identified.”
With Tony’s adoptive mother Vicki Johnson (real name Vicki Fraginals) serving as the go-between, Maupin and the boy developed a deep connection through their frequent phone conversations over the ensuing months, though Tony was always too sick for a one-on-one meeting to be arranged. Maupin was blissfully ignorant that there might be something entirely more outlandish going on until one fateful telephone call.
“My partner at the time, Terry Anderson, who co-wrote the screenplay listened to the mother for the first time,” he recalled. “He had heard the boy before. He talked to her for about ten minutes and hung up and turned to me and said, 'I can't believe you've never noticed it.' I said, 'Noticed what?' He said 'It sounds like the same voice to me.’”
It was if the tumblers from some psychological padlock had clicked into place and opened a locked wall in Maupin’s mind: Tony was, in fact, Vicki Fraginals. “I could see it immediately.”
Anthony Godby Johnson:
When several magazines and journalists, including Newsweek and Keith Olbermann, attempted to investigate the claims of the book and profile Anthony, they contacted the woman who claimed to be his adoptive mother, Vicki Johnson. Suspicion was raised when it was learned that no one other than Vicki Johnson had actually seen Anthony – not his agent, his editor, nor his publicist. Further concerns were raised when a voice analysis expert analyzed calls from "Anthony" and identified the voice to be that of Vicki Johnson.
As a result of these irregularities, Olbermann hired an investigator, who suggested that there was no Anthony and the story was fabricated.
On January 12, 2007, the ABC newsmagazine program 20/20 revealed new evidence that Anthony was Vicki Johnson's fictional creation. The photo of "Anthony" that Vicki had sent to Anthony's supporters was revealed to be a childhood photo of Steve Tarabokija, now a healthy adult and a New Jersey traffic engineer, who was shocked to find his photo being represented to people as the face of Anthony Godby Johnson. One of the viewers who recognized the photo was a woman whose son had been in the same fourth-grade class as Tarabokija.Their teacher for that class was Vicki Johnson, who was said to have taken pictures of the children in the class.
Vicki Johnson, whose real name was Joanne Vicki Fraginals, had allegedly handed Anthony over to another caretaker in 1997 when she moved to Chicago and married Marc Zackheim, a child psychologist and owner of the Associates of Clinical Psychology. In 2004, Zackheim was indicted for abusing child patients at a treatment center for troubled children in Indiana; his trial began in 2006 at the Marshall County courthouse. He was acquitted of one felony count of practicing medicine without a license and three misdemeanor counts of battery for inappropriately touching boys. He died of a heart attack in 2009.
The Invisible Boy.