In Creativity Now, I discuss the ‘imposter syndrome’—that feeling that at any minute the world may discover that we’re actually not qualified or not talented. That’s just our fear coming to the fore, but there have been some amazing imposters for real. Here are a few of my favourites:
Frank Abagnale, who was played by Leonardo
diCaprio in the film, “Catch Me If You Can.” He started when he was only 16 and
posed as an airline pilot, a lawyer, a prison inspector, a doctor, and passed
bad checks worth more than $2.5 million in a period of five years. He escaped
from custody multiple times, once posing as an FBI agent.
Abagnale may have been inspired by
Ferdinand (“Fred”)Waldo Demara, who posed as (among other things) a surgeon and
actually performed quite a few operations on a Royal Canadian destroyer during
the Korean War. None of his work was fatal to the patients. Apparently he had a photographic memory
and a very high IQ, and by simply reading about the surgical procedures was
able to perform them. But he was using the identify of a real doctor, whose
mother read a newspaper account of one of these operations and knew her son was
in Korea at the time. That led to his exposure, although the Canadian Navy
didn’t press charges.
Another fraudster who inspired a movie was
David Hampton. The film (first a play) was “Six Degrees of Separation,” by John
Guare. Hampton’s main con was pretending to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier.
In that guise he got free meals and convinced a number of celebrities to give
him money or let him stay with them. The victims included Melanie Griffith,
Calvin Klein, and Gary Sinese.
However, a private eye found out that Rampa had never been to Tibet. Confronted with this fact, Rampa changed his story. He said he’d been up in a tree, trying to photograph an owl, and fell down. When he came to, the soul of the original Lobsang Rampa transmigrated into his body. Despite being exposed, he continued to write another 18 books, including “Living With The Lama,” which he said was dictated to him by his cat. He left Great Britain and settled in Canada, where he died in 1981. He still has fans who defend his stories (if you're one of them, don't write to me, you could be right.)