House of Hammer is a dizzying new docuseries that tells the story of actor Armie Hammer and his wealthy family’s sprawling and sordid history. The Discovery+ series arrives more than year after multiple women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against the actor. The women accused him of physical violence, sharing fantasies of cannibalism, and psychological manipulation. One woman, named Effie, accused him of sexual assault; this claim is still being investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department. No charges have been brought against Hammer, who denies the accusations, though he has been out of work in Hollywood since the story first broke in 2021.
The series, which premieres Sept. 2 exclusively on Discovery+ and counts among its producers Armie’s aunt Casey Hammer, seeks to “reveal the dark, twisted secrets of the Hammer family.” As Casey Hammer tells TIME, “With Succession, people can say, ‘Oh my god, it’s such a powerful series and the acting is fabulous,’ but it’s all made up. It’s all scripted. But I’m here to say, my family is real and it’s a million times worse.” In the three episodes, Hammer’s ex Courtney Vucekovich details her experience with him in detail for the first time; Casey Hammer unearths the misdeeds the men in her family allegedly attempted to bury; and the Hammer web is untangled in great detail.
While the series plays into many viewers’ interest in the salacious details of the story, little of the information it offers is new. A large portion of what is shared was pulled from Casey’s 2015 book as well as a book written about Armie’s great-grandfather, Armand Hammer. Instead of telling the story chronologically, the series jumps between decades and the different men of the Hammer family, attempting to connect it back to Armie, though not always seamlessly or smoothly.
House of Hammer also came under fire when viewers questioned the authenticity of a photo that appeared in the series. In the docuseries, Vucekovich says that Hammer had a habit of biting her very hard, leaving a mark that he allegedly tells women to “wear as a badge of honor.” The series shows a picture of what was thought to be a bite mark from Hammer, but social media users spotted the photo on Pinterest, calling its authenticity into question. Vucekovich told People that the photo was sent to her by Hammer, and “over a year later, I believed it to have been a photo of me given that I have dozens of photos depicting his abuse on my body.” The company that produced the series, Talos Film, confirmed to Variety on Tuesday that they would be removing the image from the series.
Nevertheless, what the series lays bare will certainly be of interest to those who watched the saga unfold with great interest last year. Here’s what to know about Armie and his family’s legacy.
Who is Armie Hammer and why is there a docuseries about him?
Hammer is an actor who very publicly fell from grace in 2021 after several women who claimed to have had negative sexual experiences with him came forward to tell their stories. His breakout role was as the Winklevoss twins in 2010’s The Social Network. Following that movie, Hammer took starring roles in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, opposite Timotheé Chalamet, with many of his roles fitting into his pretty rich-boy persona. The success of the latter buoyed his career, setting him up with roles opposite Jennifer Lopez in Shotgun Wedding and in The Offer, a series about the making of The Godfather.
But in January 2021, an anonymous Instagram account surfaced with screenshots of what were allegedly Hammer’s texts, evolving from some potentially embarrassing kinks to darker insinuations around situations where there may have been a lack of consent. After the allegations began rolling out in greater detail and Effie came forward in March 2021 accusing Hammer of rape, Hammer stepped away from his unfinished projects. He was also dropped from his agency, CAA. (In 2020, before all of this unfolded, he announced that he and his wife Elizabeth Chambers, with whom he has two children, were divorcing.)
House of Hammer is not the first time the women have spoken about some of these allegations, so it may prove less engaging for those who have followed the story from the beginning. Many of the details of the experiences the women claimed to have had with Hammer were based on the limited evidence they shared on social media. The docuseries gave them the opportunity to talk at length in emotional testimonies about what they say they endured, while Armie’s aunt Casey argues that her nephew’s behavior has been seen within her family for decades.
What do we learn about Armie Hammer in the docuseries?
One of the most revealing parts of House of Hammer is that Armie allegedly didn’t adhere to the rules of the BDSM community. In the community, dominants and submissives engage in a wide range of activities that are agreed upon by two consenting adults. The documentary purports that Hammer shared his fantasies and coerced women into uncomfortable situations in which they felt they could not say no. In the BDSM community, it is standard to have advance conversations between a dom and sub about limits, boundaries, and what each person is comfortable with. One of Hammer’s accusers, Courtney Vucekovich, spoke at length about their relationship and how there was little to no discussion about Armie’s proclivities beforehand.
Vucekovich speaks in the first episode about a desert getaway that she says he invited her to, during which an event happened that “usually people talk about beforehand, but we didn’t talk about it.” Vucekovich does not elaborate on what exactly happened, but she says it caused her so much emotional distress that she checked herself into a rehabilitation facility. After Hammer and Vucekovich stopped seeing each other, he started seeing a woman named Paige Lorenze and took her on the same desert getaway. Vucekovich also noticed bruises all over Lorenze’s body in photos she posted on Instagram.
Who is Casey Hammer and how does she fit into this story?
Casey is the sister of Armie’s father, Michael. She self-published a book, Surviving My Birthright, about the family in 2015. The memoir details alleged misdeeds committed by the men in the Hammer family, which came to amass great wealth thanks to Armand’s business dealings as the CEO of Occidental Petroleum. Casey is the only woman born into the immediate family, which she says brought its own set of problems. “I wanted to be able to tell my story and help people heal as opposed to watch my nephew implode and self-destruct,” she tells TIME.
In the docuseries, Casey speaks about how her father was abusive toward her mother, and the two eventually got divorced. She says her grandfather Armand helped her father Julian “destroy” her mother in court and that a judge decided that Julian was only to pay “$200 a month in child support” despite being a man of great financial means. Casey, then a teen, didn’t visit her father for two years until her mom finally allowed her to, and she found herself in the middle of one of his lavish parties filled with cocaine, alcohol, and a number of young women—as young as 16 or 17, Casey says.
Her brother, Michael, was in attendance at these parties thrown by their father. She says he was around young women who were “impressionable” and “would do anything they’d say,” which led her to the observation “that women were disposable in the Hammer family.” She claims that this sentiment was carried throughout the Hammer family and eventually passed down to her nephew.
The Hammer family legacy
The farthest back the Hammer family timeline goes in the docuseries is to Armie’s great-great-grandfather, Julius Hammer. Julius was a Russian immigrant who came to the United States in 1875 and is credited with being the founder of the American Communist party. In the docuseries, Joseph Finder of the Harvard Russian Research Center says that the Russians funneled money through the Hammer family to fund the Communist party to “steal technology and trade secrets from the United States.”
When his son was born, Julius decided to name him after the symbol of the communist party: Armand Hammer was a portmanteau of ”arm and hammer.” As Armand came of age, he took over “what his father had built [in Russia],” says Edward Jay Epstein, who wrote a book about Armand. Finder describes his role during this time as a “money launderer, a courier for funds that were channeled to Soviet espionage.”
“Behind every great fortune is a great crime,” Epstein says. “Certainly behind the Hammer family, there were a great number of great crimes.”
According to an exposé in Vanity Fair, it’s not only a penchant for criminal activity but a certain attitude toward women that may also date back to this branch of the family tree. Armand was reportedly controlling toward at least one of his lovers and convinced her to submit to preferences in the bedroom which were not comfortable for her. His grandson Michael reportedly also had tendencies that veered toward kink, with a memorable “sex throne” described in the Vanity Fair story.
All of this mixed with strained family dynamics. Armand, who came to the United States in the 1930s at a time of palpable disdain for communism, attempted to distance himself from his Russian wife, Olga, and son Julian, going so far as to take a paternity test. This fomented sense of disdain which the docuseries asserts made its way into Julian’s relationship with his son Michael. Julian was heir to the family business, but Michael worked to go over his father to take the position before him. Then Michael met Armie’s mother, Dru, who comes from a wealthy family in Tulsa, and the pair got married. In 1986, they had Armie, who was “like a prince,” Casey says in the docuseries, followed by a younger brother.
Armand died in 1990, and Julian died soon after in 1996.
What has the Hammer family said in response to the documentary and Casey Hammer’s Book?
The major players in the Hammer family—Julius, Armand, and Julian—all passed away before the turn of the millennium and the release of Casey’s book. Casey says that Michael, Armie’s father, made his feelings about Casey airing out the family’s dirty laundry quite clear in a private letter to her.
Casey reads parts of the letter at the end of the series. One excerpt goes: “Although we haven’t spoken in many years, I’ve heard the untrue and hurtful things you’ve recently said about our family,” the letter reads. “I can no longer remain quiet and allow you to feed your thirst for notoriety at the expense of our family and the Armand Hammer foundation. If you choose to continue pretending that the stories you have invented are the truth, I will have no choice other than to pursue every legal remedy to set the record straight, despite all the pain that your fabrications have caused. You share the blood running through my veins, and you’re still my family, and I wish you nothing but the best.”
Armie has not made any statements regarding the docuseries, but he did respond via a lawyer to the allegations made by the women in January 2021. “These assertions about Mr. Hammer are patently untrue. Any interactions with this person, or any partner of his, were completely consensual in that they were fully discussed, agreed upon, and mutually participatory,” his lawyer said. “The stories being perpetuated in the media are a misguided attempt to present a one-sided narrative with the goal of tarnishing Mr. Hammer’s reputation, and communications from the individuals involved prove that.”
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