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 inthe grave and the other on a banana peel, and everybody's pushin'."
Helives in Titusville, but his story is global, thanks to the mediaattention focused on "American Hustle," the critically acclaimed,Oscar-nominated film loosely based on Weinberg's involvement withAbscam, a federal sting operation in the late 1970s and early '80s.Oscar-winner Christian Bale portrays Weinberg, renamed Irving Rosenfeldin the movie.
Theformer con man (he calls himself that) speaks frankly - many of histales 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 lovingthe attention.
Bestactress nominee Amy Adams plays Sydney Prosser in the movie, and she'sbased on Weinberg's third ex-wife, Evelyn. They divorced in 1998, butwere on-again, off-again until she eventually bought a house a fewstreets away in Titusville in 2009. Weinberg remains protective overEvelyn and did not want to talk about her.
LikeWeinberg, Evelyn is cut-to-the-chase candid. She doesn't like talkingto the news media, saying people are calling her and showing up at herhome knocking on the door.
Meeting a superstar
Themovie producers flew Weinberg to Los Angeles to meet with Bale, who'snominated for best actor. Sitting in his office in his lakefront home,Weinberg chuckles as he reflects on that meeting and how Bale orderedtwo 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."
Today,Weinberg walks with a cane and suffers from macular degeneration andangina. He bought a home in a retirement community in Titusville in1993. He had a big motorhome and used to travel a lot. He would take hisdogs with him - whose ashes he still has - and go gambling in Las Vegasand Mississippi.
Hesaw the movie twice, once at the New York City premiere with his familyand another time at a private showing. But because of his eyesight, hecouldn't quite make out how Bale did in his portrayal. He said hepreferred 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.
"Thechief of police from Chicago told me 'I swore it was you on thatscreen,' " Weinberg said. "Somebody told me, 'Christian Bale, the son ofa bitch, looks like you and sounds like you.' "
Althoughshe didn't want to talk much, Evelyn did share that she was aghast atthe low-cut dresses Adams wears in the movie. No one dressed that waythen, 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.
Thefilm also stars Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. Weinberg said hewasn't involved in the film's shooting, but he did sell his rights tothe producers for more than $200,000.
Abscamled to the conviction of a U.S. senator, six congressmen - includingPasco County Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Kelly, the mayor of Camden,N.J., and several others. It was dubbed Abscam for "Arab Scam," becausethe FBI agents involved made up a fake corporation and used a fake sheikto lure politicians into taking bribes.
Before "American Hustle," Weinberg's story was the basis for the book "The Sting Man" by Robert W. Greene.
TheOscars are set for March 2. "American Hustle" is up for 10 Oscarsincluding Best Picture, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (AmyAdams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress(Jennifer Lawrence), and Best Director (David O. Russell).
Weinberglaughs at - and agrees with - the movie's disclaimer: "Some of thisactually happened." Still, he's rooting big for Bale, saying, "I hope hewins. In fact, I hope they make a sequel."
Fact vs. fiction
• "The science oven" aka the microwave: In "AmericanHustle," Jennifer Lawrence's character accidentally blows up the"science oven," aka the microwave. Jeremy Renner's character, MayorCarmine Polito, gave it to Christian Bale's character, Irving Rosenfeld,as a thank-you. In reality, Mel says he bought the microwave for hiswife, Marie. "She did blow up the microwave," he recalled. "I said, 'youcan't put pots in the microwave,' but she wouldn't listen."
The combover:There is a specific scene in which Bale fixes himself up and takesgreat pains to comb over his hair. In reality, Mel paid a barber tostyle 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 wasoriginally going to be called 'American Bull----,'" he said. He didn'tlike the first version. Then a few producers visited him, but he neverspoke with David O. Russell, who directed and produced "AmericanHustle." When he visited Bale in California for three days, Mel said hetold stories while they were eating dinner or hanging out, and some ofthose stories made it into the film. "Christian Bale had a lot to dowith making that movie," he said. Mel credits the book with beingaccurate and truthful. Much of "American Hustle," he said, "is justHollywood."
• Weinberg was never forced into a car and thenhad a bag placed over his head. If that would have happened, he said, atleast 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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