Catch them if you can: The top five con men in pop-culture history

Americans love a good con-man story. They love hearing about attractive criminals -- the charmingly deceptive leading man or intoxicatingly distracting female -- getting away with it, and the loot that provides them with another kind fantasy in the land of the super-rich.

After a brief delay because of weather, on Wednesday, February 27, the Buell Theatre will host the Denver premiere of the Broadway musical adaptation of Catch Me If You Can , the biography of Frank Abagnale, the teenage con artist who passed himself off to grown adults as a doctor, lawyer, airline pilot and university professor. In honor of this gripping tale of masks, money and mischief, we put together a list of some of the great con stories that have caught the public eye over the last fifty years.

See also:
- Vibrators: A pop-culture history of this buzzed-about device
- In honor of Book of Mormon, here's a pop history of religious satire
- From Cujo to Precious, five tragedy-porn books and the films they inspired

5. Marjoe, the corrupt Robin Hood of evangelists
In the 1970s, before Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell turned evangelism into a billion-dollar empire, the Mick Jagger-esque Marjoe Gortner stood at the crossroads of hippies and Jesus, preaching to tent revivals and black Southern gospel churches, and inspiring hundreds of naive congregations to donate their income to his ministry -- never once suspecting that he was a dope-smoking fraud. Placed on stages across the globe by his opportunistic parents starting when he was four, Marjoe was a star child-preacher throughout his youth, earning his parents millions while enduring constant mental and physical abuse at their hands. After disappearing into the California counter-culture at sixteen, he returned to the preaching circuit years later as an atheist con man, knowing all the tricks of the trade. As an attempt at redemption after years of thieving, he invited a documentary film crew to follow him in 1971, explaining how to rip off old ladies and turn God into big business. The film won the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary.


4. The Grifters
"Never take on a partner" is the first piece of advice young John Cusack learns when he first begins his apprenticeship as a conman. But when you've got a professional hustler for a mother and a seductive girlfriend who's eager to get in on the game, your plans of lone-wolf huckstering begin to get a bit murky. Based on the 1963 pulp novel by Jim Thompson, this at times comedic, though ultimately dark, noir film gave enterprising young thieves a lesson on what happens when the phonies attempt to band together, showing the deceit, betrayal and eventual murder that awaits for men and women living outside the law.


3. James Frey takes his medicine from Oprah
The Oprah Winfrey Show has become both a cathedral-like platform for meteoric celebrity rise and the awkward confessional booth when a few of those celebrities are exposed as frauds and come tumbling back to earth. First hyped through the coveted Oprah's Book Club, Frey's "memoir" A Million Little Pieces, which detailed the horrors of a young addict attempting to get clean, was a smash success that would go on to sell five million copies. After an expose on the The Smoking Gun revealed Frey had exaggerated -- and at times straight-up lied -- about the events of his life in the book, he said he'd written Pieces as a novel, but after numerous rejections, had marketed it as autobiographical. Similar to Lance Armstrong's reluctant confession of steroid use before Oprah last month, Frey returned to the show after his admission of guilt, ready to take his lashings from the queen of American truth.

Continue reading for more famous con artists.


Location Info

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Temple Buell Theatre

14th and Curtis streets, Denver, CO

Category: Music


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