By Jennifer Sangalang and Pam Harbaugh, FLORIDA TODAY
Titusville, FL (Florida Today) -- Mel Weinberg sums up life in a sentence: "At 89, I got one foot in
the grave and the other on a banana peel, and everybody's pushin'."
lives in Titusville, but his story is global, thanks to the media
attention focused on "American Hustle," the critically acclaimed,
Oscar-nominated film loosely based on Weinberg's involvement with
Abscam, a federal sting operation in the late 1970s and early '80s.
Oscar-winner Christian Bale portrays Weinberg, renamed Irving Rosenfeld
in the movie.
former con man (he calls himself that) speaks frankly - many of his
tales are unprintable - as he reflects on his time working for the FBI,
Abscam and his ex-wives. He makes no secret of the fact that he's loving
actress nominee Amy Adams plays Sydney Prosser in the movie, and she's
based on Weinberg's third ex-wife, Evelyn. They divorced in 1998, but
were on-again, off-again until she eventually bought a house a few
streets away in Titusville in 2009. Weinberg remains protective over
Evelyn and did not want to talk about her.
Weinberg, Evelyn is cut-to-the-chase candid. She doesn't like talking
to the news media, saying people are calling her and showing up at her
home knocking on the door.
Meeting a superstar
movie producers flew Weinberg to Los Angeles to meet with Bale, who's
nominated for best actor. Sitting in his office in his lakefront home,
Weinberg chuckles as he reflects on that meeting and how Bale ordered
two hamburgers at lunch because he needed to fatten up to play the role.
"He's a helluva guy," Weinberg said of Bale. "I don't like many people. I like the way the guy talks. He didn't bull---- me."
Weinberg walks with a cane and suffers from macular degeneration and
angina. He bought a home in a retirement community in Titusville in
1993. He had a big motorhome and used to travel a lot. He would take his
dogs with him - whose ashes he still has - and go gambling in Las Vegas
saw the movie twice, once at the New York City premiere with his family
and another time at a private showing. But because of his eyesight, he
couldn't quite make out how Bale did in his portrayal. He said he
preferred Jennifer Lawrence's character over Adams'.
In the film, Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, who is based on Weinberg's second wife, Marie.
Friends who saw it called up Weinberg to compliment the likeness.
chief of police from Chicago told me 'I swore it was you on that
screen,' " Weinberg said. "Somebody told me, 'Christian Bale, the son of
a bitch, looks like you and sounds like you.' "
she didn't want to talk much, Evelyn did share that she was aghast at
the low-cut dresses Adams wears in the movie. No one dressed that way
then, Evelyn said, unless they were a hooker.
And, both Weinberg and Evelyn said she was not involved in any con game.
"The movie is total bull----," she said in a refined English accent.
The movie changes Evelyn to an American who assumes an English accent. Weinberg has no idea why.
film also stars Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. Weinberg said he
wasn't involved in the film's shooting, but he did sell his rights to
the producers for more than $200,000.
led to the conviction of a U.S. senator, six congressmen - including
Pasco County Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Kelly, the mayor of Camden,
N.J., and several others. It was dubbed Abscam for "Arab Scam," because
the FBI agents involved made up a fake corporation and used a fake sheik
to lure politicians into taking bribes.
Before "American Hustle," Weinberg's story was the basis for the book "The Sting Man" by Robert W. Greene.
Oscars are set for March 2. "American Hustle" is up for 10 Oscars
including Best Picture, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy
Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress
(Jennifer Lawrence), and Best Director (David O. Russell).
laughs at - and agrees with - the movie's disclaimer: "Some of this
actually happened." Still, he's rooting big for Bale, saying, "I hope he
wins. In fact, I hope they make a sequel."
Fact vs. fiction
• "The science oven" aka the microwave: In "American
Hustle," Jennifer Lawrence's character accidentally blows up the
"science oven," aka the microwave. Jeremy Renner's character, Mayor
Carmine Polito, gave it to Christian Bale's character, Irving Rosenfeld,
as a thank-you. In reality, Mel says he bought the microwave for his
wife, Marie. "She did blow up the microwave," he recalled. "I said, 'you
can't put pots in the microwave,' but she wouldn't listen."
There is a specific scene in which Bale fixes himself up and takes
great pains to comb over his hair. In reality, Mel paid a barber to
style his hair. The barber was responsible for the combover.
The journey to get "The Sting Man" to the big screen:
Mel said he saw the script for an earlier version of the movie, "it was
originally going to be called 'American Bull----,'" he said. He didn't
like the first version. Then a few producers visited him, but he never
spoke with David O. Russell, who directed and produced "American
Hustle." When he visited Bale in California for three days, Mel said he
told stories while they were eating dinner or hanging out, and some of
those stories made it into the film. "Christian Bale had a lot to do
with making that movie," he said. Mel credits the book with being
accurate and truthful. Much of "American Hustle," he said, "is just
• Weinberg was never forced into a car and then
had a bag placed over his head. If that would have happened, he said, at
least one person would not be leaving the car alive.
• In the movie, Sydney Prosser is American and affects an English accent. But the real-life Evelyn Knight is English.
• The women's fashions are too revealing, Evelyn Weinberg said. No one dressed like that unless they were looking for business.
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