‘House of Hammer’: Armie Hammer’s sordid family drama takes center stage

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To a casual observer, the Armie Hammer saga that went public in early 2021 may have seemed to be about some creepy text messages, a rope fetish and something about cannibalism. One could be forgiven; after all, that’s what the social media chatter boiled down to. But a new documentary digs in to find that the allegations against Hammer are much broader and more disturbing — and concludes that they are part of a dark family tradition.

“House of Hammer,” a three-part docuseries that premiered Friday on Discovery Plus, starts with the Armie Hammer storyline, then climbs up five generations of his family tree. For decades, it argues, the men of the mega-wealthy Hammer dynasty have been up to no good — living lawlessly and greedily, and harming others. Here are the series’ most jarring revelations about each.

Armie allegedly has a history of abusing women while playing it off as kinky sex or fetish play. Courtney Vucekovich, a Dallas business owner and a former girlfriend of Armie’s, alleges on-screen that he tied her up with ropes with only her vague consent, disregarding the common BDSM rule requiring consistent, reaffirmed mutual consent. The documentary also shows footage of another woman, “Effie,” alleging in a video that Armie violently raped her for more than four hours on one occasion in 2017. Paige Lorenze, a model and influencer, alleges that Armie wanted to find a doctor who could remove her ribs so he could eat them. She also alleges that Armie branded her with a hot iron and licked the wound while it was bleeding. All three women also describe controlling, surveilling behaviors that sometimes scared them.

Damiana Chi, a professional dominatrix and a BDSM educator, makes an appearance in the documentary, and is shown some footage of Armie’s former girlfriend describing his behavior. Someone who is aroused by “somebody else’s fear, when that person feels uncomfortable about it, is not a kinkster doing BDSM,” Chi says after watching. “That person is an abuser.”

The Los Angeles Police Department investigated Effie’s rape allegation for nine months in 2021 before handing it over to the district attorney. At this point, no criminal charges have been filed.

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Armie’s great-great-grandfather, Julius, was a Russian Jewish immigrant to the United States who was a founding member of the American Communist Party. He named his son Armand, born in 1898, for the symbol of the Communist Party in Russia (“arm and hammer”).

Over the years, the Soviet Union was thinking to have used Julius and his family to channel money into New York to fund communist groups — as well as steal American trade secrets and technology. Joseph Finder of the Harvard Russian Research Center explains in the docuseries that the CIA concluded that Armand Hammer was brought into the fold, too; Armand was used to collect information for the KGB and therefore was considered to be an agent of the Soviet Union. Thanks to Julius, Armand “was a money launderer and courier of funds channeled to Soviet espionage in the US,” Finder says. “It was secret, it was illegal, it was dangerous.”

“Behind every great fortune is a great crime. Behind the Hammer fortune there were a great number of great crimes,” says Edward Jay Epstein, who wrote a biography of Armand and whose conclusions and thoughts are referenced throughout the series.

Armand, Armie’s great-grandfather, later became a mega-wealthy oil tycoon — and, according to the docuseries, was known to be abusive toward his wives and mistresses, involved in corruption schemes and disturbingly ruthless with his business interests. Armand used his third wife’s (Frances Barrett Tolman) money to invest in Occidental Petroleum, an oil company, and make it a massive success. During his divorce from his second wife, Angela Carey Zevely, she alleged that Armand willfully and maliciously “destroyed her will” and threatened to “beat her brains out” while brandishing a metal pipe. “My husband is a master of psychological warfare,” she wrote.

During his marriage to Frances, Armand had a mistress named Martha Kaufman. When Frances discovered the affair and told her husband to get rid of Kaufman, Armand ordered Kaufman to change her name to Hilary Gibson and dye her hair platinum blond. Armand kept Kaufman, now known as Gibson, as an employee, and according to Epstein, “what he demanded was control of her entire life and identity.” Gibson always had to be available on short notice, Epstein says, carrying two pagers so Armand could reach her. A tracking device was installed in her car and a tap was placed on her phone; Armand also controlled her vacation schedule, and she allegedly had to consent to his sexual demands even when she didn’t like them.

Armand’s fortune also earned him political connections and influence. Neil Lyndon, Armand’s former political and media consultant, alleges in the series that Armand made illegal contributions to political campaigns frequently; Armand even pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after the funds used to pay the burglars in the Watergate scandal were traced back to him.

Armand was in charge of Occidental Petroleum when a North Sea oil rig exploded in July 1988, killing 167 people. Armand effectively took blame publicly, Lyndon says, but didn’t show much interest in the victims or the aftermath in private, and celebrated the successful handling of the incident with champagne and caviar.

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Armie’s grandfather Julian also abused women and was known to be violent, his ex-fiancee and daughter allege in the docuseries. He often lounged around in luxury pajamas, earning the nickname “the Hugh Hefner of Pacific Palisades,” and allegedly sometimes helped his father, Armand, bug telephones. On his own time, the documentary says, he liked to host cocaine-fueled orgies at home, sometimes with his young daughter Casey around. He also violently abused his wife, Glenna Sue, while Casey and her brother Michael were home. Casey alleges that her mother would take the children to a motel until Julian cooled down. “Women were disposable in the Hammer family,” Casey says.

Julian was left out of Armand’s will almost entirely; Armand instead left the majority of his estate to Julian’s son Michael. Casey, Armie Hammer’s aunt, went on to write the 2015 book “Surviving My Birthright” about the seemingly hereditary toxicity of the men in five generations of her family.

Michael, Armie’s father, is understood to be the chief keeper and defender of the Hammer family legacy. As a young man, he worked for Occidental Petroleum, and after Armand died in 1990, Casey tells the documentarians that Michael entered Armand’s home before his body was even taken away to remove several cars’ worth of expensive items and heirlooms. At Armand’s funeral, Michael’s father-in-law father declared that Armand became a Christian on his deathbed, despite the funeral being facilitated by Jewish rabbis; Michael and his then-wife Dru (Armie’s mother) donated much of the $40 million they inherited from Armand to Christian groups, including Jews for Jesus and Italy for Christ.

The docuseries also alleges that Michael possesses a 7-foot-tall “sex throne” with a hole in the seat and a cage underneath. According to a 2021 Vanity Fair story about the Hammer family, Michael has been photographed sitting in it and holding the head of a blond woman; his lawyer, in response to that and other questions from the magazine, referred to “unsolicited gag gifts.”

“Michael Hammer, Armie’s father,” says one TikToker, in a clip included in the documentary, “seems like he may have passed on some of his proclivities to his son.”

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