Harry “Harry The Hat” Anderson plays a few bar bets on Cheers.
If we’re brutally honest, most of us are more interested in the romantic, fictional world of the con artist rather than the real thing. We want to hear about Moses Pray and Johnny Hooker not Bernie Madoff and Christopher Rocancourt.
Even the most beloved real life swindlers, men like Frank Abagnale and Victor Lustig seem more like characters from novels than real people. We love the romance and drama of the scam and the narrative form a good swindle takes with a beginning, a middle and an end.
1. WHITE FOLKS in TRICK BABY
With a plot revolving around a young black con man who teams up with an more experience master, this book by ex-pimp Iceburg Slim and the subsequent film are often referred to as ‘The Black Sting’. However, the novel was written in 1967 and the film came out in 1972, a full 12 months before George Roy Hill’s classic.
White Folks identifies himself as an African American, even though his skin is light enough to pass for white. He teams up with old time swindler Blue Howard and the pair pull off a series of compex, classic scams.
Unlike The Sting, Trick Baby creates morally and racially complex characters leaving the read unsure whether to root for the heroes or not.
The Black Sting or “Bling”
2. MORDECAI JONES in FLIM FLAM MAN
Largely forgotten now, The Flim Flam Man was a big deal back in the 1960s. It spawned a short lived TV series and cemented George C. Scott as an acting legend.
Set in the 1960’s in Kentucky, the film follows a young army deserter who teams up with rural con man Mordecai Jones. The screenplay was written by the same man who wrote It’s A Mad Mad Mad World and so the scams are all punctuated with car chases and slapstick comedy.
But at its core, the film does it’s best to accurately bring to life scams like Punchboards and Three Card Monte.
3. SHORT SHEET in GOD BLESS THE MARK
To be fair, Matt “Short Sheet” Gray isn’t the hero of this Donald Westlake comedy from the 1960s - in fact, he turns up dead in the first chapter. Instead, this a rare book where the mark is the hero. Fred Fitch is the world’s most gullible man. He’s not stupid or ill-educated, he just can’t believe that people would ever lie to him.
So when his Uncle Matt turns up dead and he inherits half a million dollars, every two bit con artist, grifter and flim flam man decends on him to get his cut of the dough.
This is a neat twist on the con man genre from one of the best crime writers in modern history, the man who created the Parker series and wrote the screenplay for The Grifters.
4. CHRISTOPHER in CON MAN
With the fantastic subtitle of “This Might Sting A Little” Richard Asplin’s 2009 novel is a modern take on the con artist genre. Neil Martin’s comic store business is going down the toilet so when Christopher, the smooth talking dandy of a con man offers him an easy way to make some easy money, he jumps at the chance.
You might find the twist two thirds a bit predictable but stick with it, the final sting in the tail is a rip snorter!
5. VIRGIL RAY in SPANISH FLY
Re-released under the much slicker title of Hustle, Spanish Fly has very little in they way of story. Virgil Ray and his girlfriend Miss Rose enlist the help of a young man, Jack McGreary to pull their scams.
And they do, for 400 pages jump packed with scams, swindles and cons.
Set against in southwest American dust bowl in the 1930s this book is Of Mice and Men with grifters or a fictional version of David Maurer’s Big Con.
Bad news comes in threes.
First we had the Catch Me If You Can musical about Frank Abagnale Jr.
Then we had the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels musical.
The latest con artist themed musical is on the 1992 Steve Martin film Leap of Faith about a con artist evangelist.
Two new episodes in my Cinematic Scams series.
“The lowliest boob could rise to the top with the right degree of luck, bluff and fraud”
- Preston Strugess
I’ve had three separate emails from readers asking questions about the film Inception.
Without spoiling too much of the plot for the four people who have not seen it, Inception swaps back and forth between reality and the dreamworld, leaving the viewer and the characters unsure as to whether they are trapped in the real world or a dream of someone else’s construction.
One of characters, Arthur - played by Joseph Gordon Lovett, carries a loaded casino dice as his totem.
Since only he knows the unique weight and feel of the dice, he simply needs to handle the dice to know whether he is in a world of someone else’s creation.
The question I’ve been asked repeatedly is, can you load a casino dice?
For many people, the answer to this questions has serious philosophical and extensional ramifications for the nature of the film.
These people also have serious opinions on Stargate and Rubik’s Cubes.
Worst. Blog. Ever.
According to Scarne on Dice, the bible for all things bones, a loaded dice is any dice with a weight in it.
Since casino dice tend to be constructed from a clear celluloid, one would assume it would be impossible to load a professional, Vegas style dice.
It’s an idea that has continue to this day, with many people, even casino professionals, assuming it is impossible to mess with a clear dice.
However, this fallacy is based on the assumption that casino dice are completely clear.
Few people notice that the spots on a dice are made by counter sinking small holes in the dice and then filling them with the solid white.
Within months of the introduction of the new, supposedly foolproof dice, a clever scam artist figured out he need simply drill out the spots on one side of the dice and fill them with thin, yet heavy, metal plates.
The metal is then painted and the dice looks 100% real yet will weighted so that the opposite side of the slugs wins.
Obviously, different metals can be used, but popular choices include gold, aluminum and platinum. To give you an idea of the work involved, a set of two dice will set you back around $200.
If the dice maker wishes the dice to roll the chosen number more often, he simply drills a deeper whole and puts in more metal. He may also drill deeper holes on the other sides and fill them with matching paint.
If you use a magnetic metal, you can also juice your dice. These dice would feel and roll normally until a strong magnet is placed under the table.
Clear dice can also be bevelled, rounding the corners or edges to make one side roll more often.
Or they might be shaved, with one side sanded down and respotted.
An expert could tell the difference between them, but only just.
I could on and we could talk about baking dice, suctions, raised edges and slick dice but who knows how far down the Inception rabbit hole that might send you….
Bollywood loves stealing from Hollywood films.
Maybe not as much as other countries (I’m looking at you Turkish Batman)
Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena lifts from the best (House of Games) and the worst (Confidence). IMDB describes the film as:
Meet Arjun Verma, a conman who plays the biggest odds and wins. Trained in the belly of Bombay, he knows how to score with women, money, and the law. His playground is his alone - AND NOBODY F***S WITH THAT.
The good news is that they have made a musical of the Frank Abagnale Book and Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can.
The bad news is that they have made a musical of the Frank Abagnale Book and Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can.
Les film petite des pickpockets.
This email in from my friend Ester in Scotland.
Looking at some of the fandom drama out there I remembered about a person called Victoria Bitter/Amy Player. She was involved in a fandom convention called tentmoot and defrauded some fans.
I thought if you have a chance to read through it might be useful for the encylopedia of scams. It’s certainly a bit of a bizzare story…
And it is.
Amy Player, a Lord of the Rings fan from Virginia created an online fan club in homage to actor Sean Astin and his LOTR character.
She teamed up with fellow fan and started a ‘Bit of Earth’ - a charity based around gardening and literacy.
The signed up Astin to assist them and, with the actor supporting, created a small army of nerds around the word willing to help out.
They created a LOTR convention in New Zealand which fell apart at the last minute, resulting in several very pissed off actors who had jetted around the world to attend the event.
The failed event revealed the Bit of Earth charity to be a fraud and that Player had being lying to celebrities and businesses to get support for her fake fundraisers.
It also turns out she had multiple characters (both in real life and in the fictional LOTR world.)
She was reported missing by her parents and ended up on the side of a milk carton.
She changed her name to Jordan Wood , Elijah Wood’s male cousin who was on the run from IRA.
And then things got weird…
The whole fiasco can be found in When A Fan Hits The Shit by Jeanine Renne.