THE GREATEST HOAX ON EARTH takes to task another production—the popular 2002 film, Catch Me If You Can. Based on a 1980 autobiography of the same name, the Steven Spielberg-directed film follows the exploits of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. During his teenage years, Abagnale managed to become an expert check forger and confidence man. He pretended to be everything from an airplane pilot to a physician. Along the way he racked up riches and beautiful women. It is one heck of story. The problem, as Alan C. Logan shows in THE GREATEST HOAX ON EARTH, is that none of it can be verified. In fact, Logan shows conclusively that Abagnale was behind bars for much of his young adult life and was therefore incapable of posing as a member of the “smart set.” An ordinary crook rather than a super-criminal, Logan’s depiction of Abagnale removes the mystique in order to uncover a self-made celebrity who took his outlandish story from a small television studio in Houston, Texas to popular variety shows in Hollywood during the late 1970s.
Told in the straightforward and direct manner of investigative journalism, Logan’s work not only takes down Abagnale as a double-liar (he told Hollywood about being a great liar, which itself turned out to be all lies), but it also celebrates those who first raised suspicions about Abagnale’s story. Using the work of two intrepid journalists—one from the San Francisco Chronicle and the other from the Daily Oklahoman—as well as interviews with those who knew Abagnale during his rise to fame, Logan takes the legend apart piece by piece. This exhaustive takedown may be too exhaustive at times, but it is effective none the less.
While the immolation of Abagnale is accomplished, Logan is on less firm ground when he tries to remake the Abagnale deception into some kind of commentary on “post-truth” culture and the thirst for celebrity. While it is undeniably true that Abagnale did what he did and said what he said in order to become famous, Logan does not seem to fully understand that there have been conmen and pretenders since the ancient world. Abagnale is part of a long tradition rather than a precursor to a more amoral age.
THE GREATEST HOAX ON EARTH: Catching Truth, While We Can by Alan C. Logan is a well-researched, very readable and highly enjoyable forensic examination of a pop culture myth.
~Benjamin Welton for IndieReader