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Real person behind Catch Me If You Can wanted a disclaimer

Emily Brown

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Real person behind Catch Me If You Can wanted a disclaimer

The man who inspired the film Catch Me If You Can has explained why he wanted to include a disclaimer for audiences as he told his story.

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All the way back in 1980 (sorry to anyone who now feels old, but it was more than 40 years ago), Frank W. Abagnale published his book Catch Me If You Can, described as a 'semi-autobiographical book' detailing life as a con man.

It details how he donned a pilot's uniform and helped to fly a plane, posed as a member of hospital management and cashed over $2.5 million (£2.2m) in fake cheques. The book inspired the 2002 film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks - but his story comes with a caveat.

On his own blog, Abagnale addressed the book and film and explained he needed to provide a statement for 'clarification and accuracy'. He published the book in his 30s, but wrote it from his perspective as a 16-year-old - meaning he was looking back over more than a decade.

Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed the conman in the film. Credit: Dreamworks Pictures
Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed the conman in the film. Credit: Dreamworks Pictures

Given that the best of us struggle to remember what we came into the kitchen for, that's a lot to recollect.

Abagnale explained that he was interviewed by the co-writer, Stan Redding, 'only about four times', and said that while Redding did a 'great job of telling the story', he also 'over dramatised and exaggerated some of the story'.

"That was his style and what the editor wanted," Abagnale said. "He always reminded me that he was just telling a story and not writing my biography.

"This is one of the reasons," the author explained, "that from the very beginning, I insisted the publisher put a disclaimer in the book and tapes."

So, while Abagnale acknowledged that he did write millions of dollars worth of bad cheques, reports that he had written '$10 million (£8m), $8 million (£7m) and $5 million (£4.4)' worth of cheques were not true.

Abagnale has stressed that the film is not entirely factual. Credit: Doug Peters/Alamy Stock Photo
Abagnale has stressed that the film is not entirely factual. Credit: Doug Peters/Alamy Stock Photo

He continued: "I was never on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List as this is reserved for very violent criminals who pose a threat to society. All of the crimes I committed were when I was between the ages 16 and 21. I served time in prison in France, Sweden and the United States. In the US Federal Court, I was sentenced as a youthful offender because of my age at the time the crimes were committed. Even so, I was given 12 years of which I served a total of five years."

Abagnale admitted that he thought it would be 'great' to have a movie about his life when he was 28 years old, but that at the time he was 'egotistical and self-centered'.

Looking back, he considers his past 'immoral, unethical and illegal', and stressed with that 'it is important to understand that it is just a movie… not a biographical documentary'.

Featured Image Credit: Friendswood Texas Police Department/Dreamworks

Topics: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, TV and Film

Emily Brown
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