But the most stunning allegation was that the man appearing in court and serving the three-year sentence wasn’t Hu at all, but a hired body double.
Story in neatorama about prankster and hoaxter Alan Abel. I find his output varies (from awesome all the way to meh), but the ingenuity in carrying out his ideas is always remarkable.
Most careers aren’t launched by the sight of a cow and a bull copulating in the middle of a road. But Alan Abel doesn’t have a typical gig. One day in 1957, the aspiring jazz drummer was driving to a show in Texas when he got caught in a rural traffic jam. The cause of the snarl: a cow and a bull engaging in some very public relations. Abel didn’t think twice about the bovine display, but the expression of moral outrage on other motorists’ faces fascinated him.
By the time Abel reached his destination, he’d decided to launch the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals. Under the war cry “A nude horse is a rude horse,” SINA strove to create a more moral society through clothing mammals. Two years later, with the help of actor Buck Henry (who posed as the group’s president), Abel bamboozled the media into thinking SINA was a real activist group. Even the networks were fooled -Walter Cronkite covered the story for CBS News.
SINA was just the first of Abel’s many stunts. For the past half century, the prankster has made a career out of giving Americans “a kick in the intellect.” And he’s done a lot of kicking. From 1975 to 1988, Abel posed as Omar, founder of Omar’s School for Beggars, a long-running hoax that brough attention to unemployment and homelessness. In 1979, Abel paraded an imposter “Idi Amin” around New York City and staged an elaborate green card wedding with a young WASP to spotlight the State Department’s coddling of the genocidal dictator. In 1985, during one of the first live tapings of The Phil Donohue Show, Abel stocked the audience with fainting women as a protest against bad television. And when David Duke ran for governor of Louisiana in 1991, Abel released music from the fictitious Ku Klux Klan Symphony, guest-conducted by Duke, to highlight the politician’s former Klan ties.
With such a creative mind, Abel might have made millions in advertising or television, but he’s never held a “real” job. For many years, Harry Scherman, the late founder of the Book of the Month Club, was Abel’s benefactor, underwriting projects such as the Idi Amin caper. What little Abel makes comes out of his prank’s budgets. You might say he lives hoax to hoax.
Financial uncertainty has never deterred him, though. Even at 81, Abel is still cooking up capers. However, these days he’s so easily recognized -especially after his daughter Jenny’s 2005 biodoc, Abel raises Cain- that he has to stay hidden in the background. Mental_floss asked Abel to share a few pointers with aspiring hoaxsters.
* Use Current Events
“When I saw Dr. Kevorkian’s [1990s] campaign to assist suicide, I realized their should be a cruise line for suicide. There’s a cruise line for everybody -for golfers, for the AARP- so why not a cruise for those who want to terminate?
“The Last Supper sailed from Ft. Lauderdale once a week with 25 people. Three days of sex, fun, food, dancing, and singing. And then the schooner would tilt. The rail would be taken off one side, the deck was greased, [and] all 25 people would go down into Davy Jones’s Locker!”
* Play to the Press
“[The media] wants to believe. For example, the color code with Homeland Security doesn’t take into consideration those people who are color-blind. Two million are going to be unprotected. I brought that up as a campaign last year, and that got some attention.”
* Cast Real People
“Actors like to act. I’ve always liked to use non-actors. I found a guy on the subway that looked like Idi Amin, about 6-foot-6, weighed 275. He was unemployed, and for $500 he said, ‘Sure, I can look mean and not speak.’ I worked at Radio City Music Hall as a drummer and I had a lot of friends in the orchestra. The tuba player, one of the cellists -I had these guys posing as private guards, and it worked out fine.”
* Let the Media Come to You
“The day before the [Idi Amin wedding] ceremony, we went over to Tiffany’s with our entourage, and they gave him the royal treatment. People were crowding around the windows on Fifth Avenue, trying to figure out what was going on. the hotel was barraged with calls from the media. The rumors were spreading like wildfire. The next day we had over 105 reporters!”
* Water the Grassroots
“[For SINA] I had leaflets printed up explaining our philosophy that all animals must wear clothing. I probably had 10,000. I’d leave them everywhere. If I was going to a men’s room, I’d leave one in there. In the library, we’d put them in books… but only in serious books! Buck [Henry] and me and some of our followers went out to the San Francisco Zoo and declared it a moral disaster area.”
* Never Break Character
“It’s not easy. This gal from CBS came along to interview Zev, an actor friend of mine. We had dinner at Morton’s in New York. Zev was pretending that he was going on The Last Supper in a week [to] end his life. She got very emotional and started to cry. The place is filled with mostly media people -nobody’s talking; everyone’s listening. I couldn’t laugh or smile, or then it would all be over. She says, ‘Let me go along with Zev.’ I was Dr. Rogers. I said, ‘We only sell one-way tickets.’ I bit down so hard on my lip it was actually bleeding.”
Fernando Pessoa for Ovadia & Sons
Clockwise from top left:
Homburg hat (substituting his fedora)
I’ve been postponing writing the post about Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr., aka The Great Impostor. There are so many directions this fanboy post could take that I was afraid I would just write a long, babbling rant. But let’s take a few of those directions.
Demara (1921-1982) is said to have impersonated a surgeon, a prison warden, a sheriff’s deputy, a psychologist, a hospital orderly, a child-care expert, monks from two different orders (Benedictine and Trappist), a cancer researcher, an editor and a professor. Demara ran away from home at age 16 and lacked higher education, which did not keep him from founding a chartered college (as Brother John Payne of the Christian Brothers of Instruction) and teaching in two other colleges as a Psychology professor, which led to six months in prison when he was caught. As opposed to most accounts in this blog so far, Demara did not change his appearance substantially from role to role - he did not, as far as we know, attempt to look of a different age, ethnicity or gender - instead, he took up social roles linked to professions, feigning the necessary knowledge and background. Demara’s extraordinary intelligence is invariably lauded in accounts of his impostures.
Demara’s most notorious impersonation was that of Dr. Joseph Cyr, a Canadian naval surgeon sent to the Korean war. At one point, sixteen wounded combatants were brought onboard, some with serious injuries (including a man with a bullet lodged through his chest), and Demara was the only doctor of the ship. Reading through surgery manuals while performing the operations, Demara successfully conducted complicated procedures and saved the 16 wounded combatants. (Note: some reports are a bit skeptical, emphasizing a liberal use of penicillin, at least one amputation, and that the bullet removed from the soldier’s lung was never photographed or shown) The case made it into the news, with Dr. Cyr praised as a sort of war hero of spectacular medical skills. the mother of the real Dr. Cyr caught wind of the stories about her son, who was practicing medicine in Canadian soil and had never joined the navy. It turned out the real Dr. Cyr was acquaintanced with Demara, who visited his office frequently for a period. Demara was sent back to the United States (he was not a Canadian citizen), and the navy exceptionally chose not to press charges against him.
By the time of his return, Demara had become a minour celebrity, and his previous impersonations were dug up; as the armed forces are concerned, he had already served in the army (as Anthony Ignolia) and had been arrested for desertion (or absence without leave), and had served in the U.S. Navy as well, which he left by faking his suicide. His notoriety made further impersonations difficult, and his curriculum made him quite unemployable. His last character, as far as we know, was a prison warden in Texas. Even there, however, he would be unmasked, as an inmate stumbled upon a story about Demara on Life magazine. By that point, Demara had become morbidly obese, which complicated matters further.
By the end of his life, Demara discovered his religious vocation and became a hospital chaplain under his own name.
So much for the life; now, the opinions of the man.
Interviewed in the late 70s, Demara portrayed his impostures as “a search for reality.” He said:
Reality to me is best defined by the Latin adage Esse quam videri, that means, “To be, rather than to seem.” I have learned that now, but in my earlier years I reversed it.
Robert Crichton, who wrote a biography of Demara published in 1959 (and available online) came to a different interpretation:
He had come to two beliefs. One was that in any organization there is always a lot of loose, unused power lying about which can be picked up without alienating anyone.
The second rule is, if you want power and want to expand, never encroach on anyone else’s domain; open up new ones.
“I call it ‘Expanding into the power vacuum’” Demara proudly explains. “It works this way. If you come into a new situation (there’s a nice word for it) don’t join some other professor’s committee and try to make your mark by moving up in that committee. You’ll, one, have a long haul and two, make an enemy.”
Demara’s technique is to found your own committee.
“That way there’s no competition, no past standards to measure you by. How can anyone tell you aren’t running a top outfit? And then there’s no past laws or rules or precedents to hold you down or limit you. Make your own rules and interpretations. Nothing like it. Remember it, expand into the power vacuum!”
Demara’s power-oriented impostures are reminiscent of Wilhelm Voigt’s (a topic for a future post), the unemployed impostor who realised everyone in Prussia would take orders from a man in uniform. Demara was not driven by money (indeed, he made very little of it with his impostures), but his impersonations usually leaned towards authority figures - military, academic, religious; in fact, even his last role, as a prison warden, had a tint of authority to it. Perhaps this extraordinarily intelligent man felt left out of the bureaucracies of life - lacking diplomas, born in a family driven to banrkuptcy by the crash of 1929, etc. - and found in himself a twisted need to subvert them by proving how hollow, fragile and arbitrary they are.
Then again, there is another, simpler explanation, provided by Demara himself, in the delightful closing paragraph of Crichton’s biography of him:
“All right,” he said. “Tell them this then. I have thought it out and I believe it’s truth. It’s rascality, pure rascality!” He hung up and I stood there thinking because it occured to me that that is perhaps exactly what he is: the champion rascal of his age; one of the last sad playboys of the western world.
One would assume that people listed on this blog would all possess remarkable social skills and feel at ease with hectic, unpredictable environments. Darius McCollum, however, has become a notorious impostor while also being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a disorder in the autistic spectrum.
Darius (born 1965, resident of New York City) is obsessed with trains and the subway, and has been arrested 27 times for impersonating transit employees. He first drove a subway train at age 15, which brought him some media attention; by the 1990s, thousands of “wanted” posters bearing his picture were hung throughout trains and stations in new york, asking people to report sightings. Darius’ disguise was convincing (it included gloves with the New York City Transity Authority logo), and he carried tools used for maintenance of trains. His diagnosis of an autistic spectrum disorder was repeatedly brought up in court, but the argument that he either lacked clear judgement or could not control his impulses was rejected often enough that Darius has spent one third of his life in jail, for wrongful impersonation and for the grand larceny that is stealing a train.
News report of Patricia Dye from the previous post being released from jail. She has such ugly teeth. =(
One last example of impersonating teenage boys. ^^
Patricia Dye, then 31, pretended to be Matt Abrams, a 14 year old boy - and a pretty cute one at that - to seduce a 16 year old girl. Her subject ran away from home and lived in a hotel room with Matt for three days, not realising at any point that Matt was not a boy. What happened in that hotel room has not been detailed by the press, but resulted in sex crime charges when the missing girl’s trail led to the non-existent teenage.
Brought to court, Patricia, who had no criminal history, was found guilty of sexual imposition, attempted sexual imposition, and contributing to the deliquency of a minor. She served six months and is registered as a sex offender.
“After Dye was arrested, Warren County prosecutors lamented about not having the ability to charge Dye with a crime for pretending to be a boy, which sounds utterly preposterous.”