Note: I’m re-upping this story from January 25th because I see Vanity Fair has their version today. Imitation is the sincerest form of imitation, you know.
EXCLUSIVE You may be aware of this winter’s hot story: young, good looking actor Armie Hammer, famous from “The Social Network” and “The Lone Ranger,” is being described in the tabloids as a cannibal. Yes, the kind that eats people. Ex girlfriends are lining up to tell horrifying stories of Armie’s predilections for carving his initials into their thighs and suggesting he roast their not so spare ribs.
Armie, it’s pretty clear, is Christian Grey without a safe word.
But he’s also told a few of these gals that he’s hard up for money, and they believed him. One drove 1,400 miles with him from Los Angeles to Dallas because he said he couldn’t afford the plane fare.
Well, that may not exactly be true. Armie is the great grandson of deceased quarter billionaire Armand Hammer, the man who started Occidental Petroleum. When he died 30 years ago, Hammer was thought to be worth $200 million, which would be about $400 million today. Michael inherited (with his sister, Casey) a sizable chunk of that money, as well as two art galleries and two foundations. The galleries are gone. The foundations together have net assets of over $100 million.
Grandfather Armand was a pretty bad guy, according to biographer Edward Jay Epstein. His son, Julian, was a loser with an arrest record, so everything went to Julian’s son –and Armie’s dad — Michael Hammer. Michael’s claim to fame is that two years ago he settled a multi-million case brought against him and the 146 year old Knoedler Art Gallery, which Michael inherited from his grandfather. At Knoedler, Michael paid himself $400,000 a year in salary and took a 20% commission on sales– even though he was rarely there.
Under Michael’s aegis. Knoedler — founded in 1865 — was liquidated in 2011 under the cloud of fraud and forgery.
The demise of the famed Knoedler Art Gallery in art circles is famous. Michael managed to walk away from accusations of fraud but had to pony up for years of making millions from selling forged paintings to wealthy buyers.
Michael Hammer used Knoedler as a personal piggy bank. Armie’s dad, as described in US District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe’s decision (see below), bought very expensive cars (including a Rolls Royce worth over $450,000) had the gallery reimburse him, and then sold them for a profit that he pocketed. He also took lots of trips and claimed all of this as business expenses.
Armie benefited from all of it. From the judge’s decision:
“[Michael] Hammer regularly used a corporate credit card to pay for his business expenses
and his personal expenses. He also provided corporate credit cards to his ex-wife, Dru Hammer, and to his sons, Viktor and Armie Hammer, all of whom used these credit cards to pay for both business and personal expenses. In total, the Hammers charged $2.7 million to their corporate cards between 2005 and 2014.”
But what nailed Hammer wasn’t his wild spending. What brought down Knoedler was the big ticket forged art sold through the gallery for years. Michael Hammer successfully persuaded the judge to believe he didn’t know what was going on in his own business. Instead, an associate named Ann Freedman took the fall.
Nevertheless, all those millions spent by the Hammers came from proceeds of those art sales. In the end, Michael Hammer had to settle millions with the defrauded buyers.
In the Epstein book about Armand Hammer called “Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer,” published in 1996, Michael was married to wife Dru, mother of his two sons. a Born Again Christian from Dallas who the author was told was trying to wrangle the entire Hammer fortune. She started a foundation for Christian efforts under the name of her father, Douglas Mobley. It was Mobley, Epstein said, who announced the death of Armand Hammer in 1990.
Michael Hammer had pretty much rejected his grandfather’s Jewish heritage, it was noted. He was donating large sums to Christian organizations. But in 2012, Michael and Dru divorced. She’s been described by the tabloids as the kind of Christian who “lays on hands” and “speaks in tongues.” But a source tells me, “She’s not that bad.” She began her own ministry, Hammeredheart.org, described as “helping women and children who have gone through difficult times through divorce and abuse.”
Years ago, Michael Hammer moved his young family to the Cayman Islands, and that’s where Armie is now with his soon to be ex wife Elizabeth Chambers, and their two children. They are HQd in Cayman because it’s a tax shelter, not for the good education or the food. The Hammer Art Gallery, separate from Knoedler, in Manhattan closed last June because of the pandemic.
The Armand Hammer Foundation carries on. At the end of 2018, the fair market value of the Foundation, according to their tax filing, was over $103 million. Michael paid himself a salary of $305,000. Its biggest asset listed in the tax return is Art Work valued at $66 million.
But he also paid a consulting fee of $750,000 to a local consultant called Bull Canyon, Inc. owned by Mark Alfano, a transplanted New Jersey garage mechanic who takes care of Hammer’s 27 fancy cars. (The number comes from the judge’s summary of the case.) Alfano, 33, has also been identified identified in a local Santa Barbara, California website as chief of staff of the Armand Hammer Foundation.
The second biggest asset noted on their Form 990 of the Armand Hammer Foundation is $4.2 million owed to them by Hammer International, a separate, second foundation with assets of $6 million run by… Michael Hammer. In 2018, Hammer International’s only donation was $337,875 to the First Assembly of God– so Michael’s still a believer. Total expenses came to $183,000 including $11,804 for travel. Certainly, Michael Hammer would have given his movie star son plane tickets for a visit to see mom on the holidays.
As for Armand Hammer’s original business: it has nothing to do with Arm & Hammer baking soda. The original company, Occidental Petroleum, still exists although it’s unclear if Michael Hammer has anything to do with it. He says in his biographical material that he has a long association with them. But his name isn’t listed anywhere on their website.
Read the 2019 Knoedler decision: