You all saw the cinematic opus Catch Me If You Can, right? Leonardo DiCaprio portrays a cheeky teenage con artist, charming his way through a number of amusing capers all while trying to impress an increasingly depressed Christopher Walken, who is likely suffering from a severe lack of cowbell. I know you saw it. It was super fun. Also, it’s on TNT/TBS/USA all the time, so it’s hard to miss. And why would you? It’s DELIGHTFUL. Here I was thinking that Steven Spielberg had just made a movie about Frank Abagnale, Jr., but thanks to my habit of browsing obsessively at the library I now know that the movie is based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name from 1980 that I have just finished listening to. I was all excited that I was finally getting the true story, and then Wikipedia told me that the whole thing is totally ghostwritten and based on four interviews with Frank. This must be true since the internets never lie and also because there is a statement on Frank’s website about how the writer and editor made it more exciting by not recounting things exactly. I wanted to give you this information up front so that you won’t be disappointed about the possible lack of truthiness, too. The book is still fun, but I would still like to know what ACTUALLY HAPPENED. Perhaps I should go see the stage show for yet another interpretation. The good thing about the ghostwriter tidbit is that I can now blame him for the not-infrequent use of words like “broads” instead of Frank, who I choose to find charming instead of offensive, despite several instances of asshattery. Also, this was written in 1980, and I don’t know that political correctness was a thing then. I can’t provide good intel on the subject since I wasn’t around in 1980, but perhaps those of you who were can discuss it in the comments.
The main lesson of Catch Me If You Can is that a teenage boy will do just about anything to get a little tail. Preferably a lot of tail, but any amount of tail will do. Frank Abagnale, Jr. discovered girls around the age of 16, and his libido led him straight into a life of crime. You see, he needed money so that he could show the ladies a good time so that they would in turn show him a good time, and the easiest way to obtain the funds for everyone’s good time turned out to be credit card fraud. Which his dad was on the hook for. And paid off. And forgave him for. This is how Frank learned that crime totally pays. Soon he figured out how check fraud worked, too, and he was on his merry way to stealing $2.5 million while masquerading as a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, and possibly one or two more professions that I’m forgetting. His dedication to his craft is impressive. I doubt that many high school dropouts would figure out how the banking system of this country works just so that they could take a girl or thirty somewhere nice. He makes very good use of his local library in whatever city he’s in (a quality I appreciate in a man), learning things like what all the little numbers on the bottom of your checks mean or perusing medical journals so that his fake pediatrician credentials will hold water just a little longer. He’s also an excellent con artist, which helps more than anything. He has confidence in spades, and it gets him out of more than one tight spot.
Unfortunately for Frank, he’s up against a determined FBI agent who is working with law enforcement worldwide to catch him, and the noose closes one day while he’s hiding out in France after deciding to give up his life of crime. It seems that all of the rumors that we’ve all heard about French prisons are true. Frank is incarcerated naked in a dark cell so small that he cannot stand up in it. It is furnished only with a bucket. His extradition to Sweden is the best thing that could have happened to him.
Frank really hit the genetic jackpot by looking much older than his 16 years. If he was still a scrawny kid solidly in the awkward phase, he couldn’t have passed himself off as a 26 year old pilot (or doctor, or professor…), and the whole thing would have fallen apart before it ever began. I also don’t think that the stewardesses would have given him a second look, and the girls were a major draw for choosing this particular profession. It didn’t hurt that pilots could cash checks all over the country, taking his check scam to a whole new level. It was a perfect storm of fraudulent goodness that worked out really well for him until the whole naked-in-French-prison scenario. An excellent read. Or listen. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that you’re going to actually know what happened. Whatever, Frank. I know that THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.