Texting George Kaplan

Highly Successful Habits
of Purely Made Up People

Most of us spend a lifetime struggling to be successful in at least one thing. The writer of this post, for example, after failing in almost everything he’s tried his clumsy hand at, has settled his sights on the promising world of accomplishments only a few dare to pursue.
The last we heard, he’s not doing too well. Apparently, turning off the light switch and landing on a bed before the room goes completely dark has its hazards. It seemed so simple, he told us, when Muhammad Ali revealed to a reporter that it was one of his nightly rituals.
As we talk, our humble scrivener still has at least a few hundred nights to get it done, before every bone of his body is fractured. We’ll keep you posted on that one. Now, where were we? Oh, that’s right, about lifetime achievements, or the lack of them. 
There are those who seem perfectly suited at imprinting their legacy on history books. Others go beyond that, and do it more than once. But none beats the kind of person that, besides all that, also manages to not exist at all. In fact, history records several of these characters.
Take George P. Burdell, for example, after whom the Georgia Institute of Technology named its Student Center after. According to the record, Burdell not just graduated from Georgia Tech, but flew 12 missions over Europe during World War II, served on MAD magazine’s Board of Directors for a dozen years, and in 2001 was almost named TIME magazine’s Person of the Year after garnering 57 percent of online votes. Not even Mozart worked this hard.
Despite his expected old age, he’s kept up with the new world and in touch with his over 4,000 Facebook “friends.” The only thing is, he doesn’t exist. Much less distinctive-named Ed Smith created him in 1927 by enrolling them both for a laugh at Georgia Tech. With Smith’s behind the scenes help, Burdell’s life took off on its own and thrived, as he become one of the institute’s most distinguished legends.

There’s also Nat Tate, a fictional artist whose life existed only in the imagination of Scottish novelist William Boyd. All it took him was to publish a book on Tate in 1998 as a biography and keep a straight face. His hoax got some mileage from friends Gore Vidal and David Bowie, all in the joke.
The gullible art intelligentsia of the time adopted and praised the unknown “artist,” until Boyd got tired of it and revealed it was all for a laugh. To cut mankind a break here, we’d add that there were those who were not amused, even then, but somehow their names always have a way of getting blurred with time.
Literature is full of such cases. The genius then resides not so much on originality but in our own endless desire to be entertained, even if in the back of our brilliant minds, we know what we’re told is not true. George Sand, a woman? Shock. Clifford Irving’s Howard Hughes diaries were fake? No way. Hitler didn’t even have a diary? You’re kidding.
A few years back, the fascinating case of one JT Leroy almost managed to fool enough people for almost enough time, to actually give ‘his’ books momentum to be appreciated by what they were: well crafted skid row stories about sexual abuse, prostitution, motels off highways, and all that seedy stuff we love.
It didn’t last long, thought, and real author Laura Albert turned out to have a backstory way less captivating. Half-forgotten now, she may have squandered her only shot at stardom. Faster than a selfie, her Hollywood pals left her out to dry and be sucked back into oblivion.

Then again, heavy weights get thrown in the mix of literature hoaxes all the time, and the stuff gets moved from the gossip columns to the highly rarefied realm of literary forensics. That’s a realm Oxfordians, for example, would appreciate if it it were way more reliable.
That’s because their theory, that the works of William Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, despite being fascinating, insists in failing to produce more scientifically sound arguments, or as they say in academia, freaking proof.
Theories about Shakespeare’s authorship have been percolating for at least 300 years, but de Vere is a worthy candidate if we were to ever discover that conclusive evidence that, apparently, has eluded everyone. And then, along come Hollywood again, with the movie ‘Anonymous,’ which supposedly was produced to add fresh ideas to the discussion, but only managed to throw mud at the issue.
Which it’s far from settled. Historian Mark Griffiths is but the latest to add his own twist: to him, an engraving on a 400-year-old book about plants depicts the Bard’s likeness. Will it be debunked as the famous Cobbee Portrait? Give us another 400 years and we may be able to tell.

Speaking of movies, there were many about hoaxes, self-creations, plain inventions and fraud during its century of screenings. But there’s no one like George Kaplan. Not even the personification of cool of Cary Grant’s Thornhill character can avoid the surprise on learning from ‘the professor’ (F.B.I., C.I.A., O.N.I….. we’re all in the same alphabet soup.) that Kaplan simply doesn’t exist.
We are talking, of course, of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, North by Northwest, made in 1959. In our book, Hitchcock created the most lethal hoax of them all: the one that can get you killed by those who think you are it. No wonder he even created a parallel game for lovers of cinema, in general, and admirers of his films in particular: spot him on the screen, while enthralled by the riddle-ridden stories he’s telling us.
One of the most famous of his 37 cameos in his own movies is the corpse washing ashore at the banks of the Thames, for the trailer of 1972’s Frenzy. Which is just what we need to set up the end of this story, a telling dialogue between Thornhill and James Mason’s Phillip Vandamn:
– Apparently the only performance that will satisfy you is when I play dead.
– Your very next role, and you’ll be quite convincing, I assure you.
Read Also:
* Fools’ Errand
* Spellbound

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