Michael Motes raised one of Hollywood's biggest stars and is now planning a tell-all memoir
Smiling sweetly, an 11-year-old Julia Roberts poses for a family Christmas picture in front of her stony-faced stepfather Michael Motes.
It appears that even as a child she was good at acting. Her unmistakable smile – which would go on to captivate audiences around the world – was hiding a traumatic home life.
In reality, Julia “feared and despised” Motes, an alcoholic who is said to have made her life, and that of her siblings, a complete misery.
The actress is currently promoting her new Oscar-tipped movie, August: Osage County, in which she plays an adult daughter returning home for her father’s funeral and coming to blows with her dysfunctional family.
But we can reveal that at the same time, her real-life childhood demons could come back to haunt her.
In an investigation into her grim past in Smyrna, Georgia, we tracked down Motes, a man she has always refused to speak about.
Uncovering this exclusive photo of Julia, now 46, and Motes, now 68, together, we discovered how her stepdad is now planning a tell-all memoir about their past.
Motes was married to her mother Betty for 11 years, between 1972 and 1983. In her divorce petition, Betty cited “cruel treatment” and she has since called their marriage “the biggest mistake I ever made”.
Julia’s older brother, Runaway Train actor Eric Roberts, has also given several interviews claiming Motes was “abusive”.
He now lives in obscurity in Marietta – just 13 miles from the house Julia grew up in – and most people have forgotten he was once involved in the upbringing of one of Hollywood’s biggest-ever stars.
Retired antique dealer Motes lives with his male partner Timothy Raasch and is a volunteer minister at his local church.
When approached about the allegations of the part he played in Julia’s childhood, he declined an interview but did reveal he was writing a book.
He said: “I do not give interviews. I don’t have to justify my answer, the answer is no. I won’t talk at this time. I didn’t then (when the allegations first came out) and I do not now.
"There are a lot of misconceptions. I’m writing a book about my life that will tell my side of the story.”
The haunting snap of Julia and her family from Christmas 1978 shows Betty, 11 years older than Motes, holding their daughter Nancy, then aged three. In the middle is Julia’s older sister Lisa, then 13.
Betty had divorced Julia’s biological father, Walter Grady Roberts, in 1972, marrying Motes eight months later. Tragically Walter died of throat cancer, aged just 44, in 1977, when Julia was 10.
In her new film, Julia stars alongside Meryl Streep, who plays her mother. In one scene they end up brawling on the floor after an argument.
Both are already being tipped for Oscar glory, and last week Julia won the Hollywood Supporting Actress Award at the Hollywood Film Awards for her performance, which has been described as “brilliant and passionate”.
It isn’t hard to see where she may have drawn her inspiration, judging by her brother Eric’s accounts of their childhood.
In a past interview he said: “It was common knowledge where we grew up that Motes was a freak. He would have stood out in a crowd of 10,000.
"Whether he married my mother to get close to her children or not, I don’t know.
“But clearly, marrying him was not a good decision. Our mother’s husband terrorised and abused me, and I fear he terrorised my sisters Julia and Lisa as well.”
In the 2004 biography, Julia: Her Life, author James Spada wrote about how the star “feared and despised” Motes and that he “at least alternately ignored, pushed around and denigrated his two stepdaughters”.
Eleven years older than Julia, Eric moved out soon after Betty married Motes.
In a 1998 interview, he said: “I was horrified when I thought about what my poor sisters were going to have to endure living with Motes.”
The previous year he’d told journalist J Randy Taraborrelli: “The guy who raised us was f****d up.”
And a source close to the family said: “Motes is a former alcoholic, and when he was drunk he was a nasty piece of work who would often have raging arguments with Betty and the children."
“Motes didn’t have a steady job and Betty was so busy working all the time to keep the family afloat.
“Motes has subsequently come out as gay, lives with his male partner and even volunteers as a minister at his local church.
“God knows why he wants to write a book but the idea he could recount such an unhappy part of Julia’s life will surely horrify her.”
Dan Cox, 74, of the Marietta Museum of History, tells how Motes now keeps a low profile and doesn’t like people to know about his connection to Julia.
Dan says: “He’s a somewhat private man. He likes to be left alone – I’ve no idea why and I’ve never asked him. But he’s always been nice and courteous.”
We can reveal that Motes is obsessed with family genealogy and is a member of several organisations celebrating southern and American history.
When Julia was a child, he would often dress up in his Confederate uniform and take the children to commemoration events. Some people consider commemorating the Confederacy is racist because of its historical support of slavery.
We found a local newspaper article in which Julia, aged six, and Lisa are pictured cleaning Confederate gravestones.
We visited the home Motes shared with Julia’s family, which is now being used as a rehabilitation facility for former prisoners. Julia’s bedroom is being used as an office.
James Byrd, 59, who runs the centre, tells how he was stunned when the Notting Hill actress pulled up in a limo about six years ago to take a look.
He says: “She asked what we were doing with the building. She was a really sweet girl, you can’t help but like her.
“I did hear she had a hard time here. She was just a skinny little girl – no one knew how pretty she would grow up to be. I would think it is a place that has a lot of memories for her.”
Explaining why she has never spoken about Motes, Julia once said: “I have very strong opinions about things, and I have a young (half) sister who is a product of my mother’s second marriage, and out of respect for her and my mom, I don’t think it’s really fair.”