NAPLES — In the end, he made it real.
Frank Abagnale, the man known for his spectacular cons, swindles and deceptions, who was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” told the sold out crowd at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort for the inaugural event in this year’s Naples Town Hall series, that what really matters is family, being true to your spouse and loving your children.
Abagnale spoke for about 40 minutes, spending most of the time telling the 960 ticket holders of the impersonations that brought him millions, jail time and notoriety.
“Pan Am estimated I flew a million miles posing as one of their flight officers, catching over 250 flights,” he said, although he never took the controls of a jetliner and never flew Pan Am, “deadheading” instead, catching a ride as a courtesy from other airlines.
While still a teenager, he not only posed as an airline pilot, he worked briefly as a pediatrician in a Georgia hospital, and took and passed the bar exam in Louisiana, where he served as a prosecutor, all without ever completing high school. Even during his successful spree, though, said Abagnale, he cried himself to sleep every night, and lamented missing out on the normal experiences of youth. Running away from the pain of his parents’ divorce, he said, is what started him on his life of crime.
Abagnale’s check forgery, his primary source of income, brought him to the attention of the FBI and Interpol, and at age 21, he was arrested in France. After serving time in French and Swedish prisons, Abagnale was sprung from jail four years into a 12-year Federal sentence, on condition he go to work for the FBI to help combat check fraud.
Rather than the usual introduction, attendees watched clips from the movie portrayal. While Abagnale spoke almost entirely of the adventurous days of his misspent youth, he said the film, directed by Steven Spielberg, as well as the book on which it is based, and the upcoming Broadway play based on him, all take liberties with the truth – something in which Abagnale qualifies as an expert.
His ending, with its paean to family values, brought the crowd to its feet in a standing ovation.
“I cried,” said Vicki Tracy. “I’m going to go call my mother.”
“He touched my heart,” said Ettie Zaklos. “He spoke about the core of life, and what really matters.”
Upcoming speakers in the Town Hall series, which is sold out, include Anderson Cooper, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani.