It’s happened again. I’ve devoured another book and once again I am feeling that complete loss you feel after being forced to leave the world you have totally submersed yourself in. Oh well, there are so many books to read and so little time it seems. Yesterday I finished reading “Catch Me if You Can” by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding. It is an autobiography of the nearly impossible adventures that Frank Abagnale Jr. goes on—a story so farfetched it can only be true. At least, that is how he put it. “I was pioneering a scam that was so implausible, so seemingly impossible and so brass-balled blatant that it worked” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 63).
This story was a lot of fun to read. I didn’t actually know that there was a book when I saw the movie (starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken) for the first time. It is actually one of my favorites and I was very excited to find out there was a book (as I pretty much always am…). Frank Abagnale Jr. is such a likeable person that you can’t help but cheer for him as he pulls off the most absurd cons. Part of this probably stems from the fact that although he was a conman, he never went after the individual, rather his target was always bigger—a bank, hotel, airport, etc—somewhere that had insurance. That is, with the occasional exception, but whenever Frank was telling his version of the exceptions the reader could easily relate to him and understand why that person deserved to get taken.
The book follows the same basic story as I got to know by watching the movie, but there were some differences. Hollywood will take its liberties. Frank’s parents did get divorced, but he was not an only child. Frank’s father was apparently a very honest man and although he believed Christopher Walken did an excellent job in the movie, the character he was portraying was very different from his [Frank’s] actual father. Frank did begin his conning by impersonating a pilot for Pan Am, and he did follow that with a doctor and then a lawyer. But there were other cons in there that didn’t get mentioned although they might have been altered. For example, he taught at a college for awhile, “There were so many lovely girls on one campus that I was tempted to enroll as a student. Instead I became a teacher.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 110). This was not depicted in the story, although in the movie he pretends he is the substitute teacher at his high school. One thing that was strongly emphasized in both stories was Frank’s love of the ladies. His first con actually began because he was trying to take out so many girls and was running low on funds. So he unintentionally conned his father. That was the beginning of his conning, but certainly not the end. His reaction when he first pulled off his brilliant scam, “I was heady with happiness. Since I hadn’t yet had my first taste of alcohol, I couldn’t compare the feeling to a champagne high, say, but it was the most delightful sensation I’d ever experienced in the front seat of a car.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 15). That made me actually laugh aloud.
Frank had a way with the ladies, he was very smooth and he knew what pleased them. When he first decided to impersonate a pilot he remarked, “There is enchantment in a uniform, especially one that makes the wearer as a person of rare skills, courage or achievement.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 45). This statement couldn’t be truer—I don’t know a single girl out there who isn’t at least a little extra attentive to a guy in uniform. Frank certainly had his fun with women but one of the few individuals whom he decided to con was a woman. The entire scene was portrayed in the movie; the girl was played by Jennifer Gardner.
While pulling off all of his cons was a rush for Frank, everything did eventually come crashing down. Not all of this was depicted in the movie. Frank actually spend time in a French prison which is a synonym for hell. He was thrown into a hole basically with no clothes, no light, no bed, no toilet, not even enough room to stand. The only thing in his room was a bucket that was very rarely emptied. “Mine was not a term in prison, it was an ordeal designed to destroy the mind and body.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 237). His description of the time he spent in the French prison is insane. The entire time I was reading his description I was wondering how prison could actually be like this. He put it best when he wrote, “Certainly no civilized country would permit such cruel and inhumane punishment to be meted out by its prison warders without cause. France does. Or did.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 227). His account of the time he spent there made me realize even more so that I never want to be locked up abroad. Ideally, I’ll avoid prison all together and since I lead a pretty honest life I think that is a reasonable goal to set.
Would I recommend “Catch Me if You Can”? Yes—most definitely. I think that this book is a great, fun read and even ‘non-readers’ would enjoy this book.