Simanaitis Says

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GRIFTERS—IN POLITICS, ON OLD-TIME RADIO, AND AT THE MOVIES

A GRIFTER is one who obtains money or property illicitly, a confidence man. And, note, with few exceptions (see “Con Women—Balancing the Game), grifting seems to be a masculine endeavor.

The Etymological View. Though conning others is an ancient tradition, the words “grift, grifting,” and “grifter” are relatively recent. According to Merriam-Webster, grifting’s first appearance in print came in George Bronson-Howard’s God’s Man. originally published in 1915: “Grifting ain’t what it used to be.”

The Political Perspective. No, today, grifting is writ large in the political realm. As an example, just Google “grifter politician” and take your pick. One of my favorites is the article “Grifter or Grafter? A New Parlor Game That Explains Trumpworld,” by Jacob Weisberg in Slate, May 10, 2018.

Image from Slate, May 10, 2018.

Weisberg notes that “The grafter, by contrast, is a run-of-the-mill abuser of the public trust…. Illinois governors are inevitably grafters, as is any politician whose name is preceded by ‘Boss.’ ”

But I stray from grifters.

My Favorite Grifters. I find it comforting that my favorite grifters are fictional: Orson Welles’ wonderful Harry Lime and The Sting’s Henry Gandorff and Johnny Hooker similarly pulling the wire con. Lime’s 1951 grifting predates the Paul Newman/Robert Redford 1973 flick.

The Third Man, Adventures of Harry Lime, radio program produced in England during 1951–1952. Its Harry Lime character isn’t anywhere as darkly portrayed as in the 1949 movie The Third Man.

Harry Lime’s Con. In old-time radio’s The Third Man, Orson Welles conjures up Harry’s “Horse Play” on November 23, 1951.

Harry’s con is a complex one, though possibly familiar: He convinces the mark that horse racing is fixed, with knowledgeable sorts knowing the winning ponies in advance. As proof, he sets up a complete off-track-betting venue populated with other cons reacting to race results delayed just a tad.

As in many of his adventures, matters go subtly awry for the likable Harry.

The Sting, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, George Roy Hill director, Universal Pictures, 1973.

Henry Gandorff and Johnny Hooker’s Con. You may recall a similar wire con in the 1973 movie The Sting. In particular, a key aspect of both is the semantic difference between “placing a bet” versus “placing,” as in a horse finishing second.

In the plot’s interaction with FBI agent Polk, The Sting has the added nuance of conning the audience.

Sort of like Washington, D.C., only Lime, Gandorff, and Hooker are likable grifters. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018

7 comments on “GRIFTERS—IN POLITICS, ON OLD-TIME RADIO, AND AT THE MOVIES

  1. jlalbrecht64
    August 12, 2018

    The Third Man is a great movie in and of itself, but the fact that it was filmed in post-WWII Vienna makes it a must-see for people thinking we (the US) should be more bellicose with Russia (in particular but Iran and NK as well). In the movie, Vienna is mostly in ruins. The city is divided amongst the allies and impoverished. Harry Lime was stealing penicillin to sell on the black market. Finding food and medicine was very difficult at that time.

    Many still alive today in Vienna (including my son’s grandmother) grew up in this world. They know the Soviets saved the city and not the Western Allies and also that the Soviets were the cruelest of the four allies. The points are that the real price of war is still fresh enough here in Central Europe, the understanding that when a real enemy, fascism, burned the world down, it was the Soviets who died by the millions to free them, and that the Russians of 2018 are not the Soviets of 1945, just as the Germans and Austrians of 2018 are not the Germans and Austrians of 1945.

    The Third Man is a great black and white film. The current trend to paint the world as black and white could well result in a world running blood red – again.

  2. Gene Herbert
    August 13, 2018

    Enough again.
    Make American Great Again.

    • jlalbrecht64
      August 13, 2018

      I agree we should Make America Great Again. One thing that would help is if Trump stopped selling our government to US oligarchs, Saudi Arabia, and Israel (to name a few) while giving unneeded tax breaks to the 1%. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Clinton would have been better overall. The whole two-party system is corrupt and needs a reboot.

      • Gene Herbert
        August 13, 2018

        Brecht, I was not posting as a response to your comment. Although, I don’t agree with much of what you expressed just now, I didn’t think this column was the place for politics.

        I have read this column with much interest. When D.S. was at Road & Track, he sent me a small plan with track profiles of the Suzaka Circuit – very much appreciated! I like his take on many subjects beyond motoring. My “Enough” comments, was a little suggestion that he lay off the derogatory Trump insinuations. I get it. He is entitled to his political views. But so am I.

        This column is becoming not much different than Trump’s “Fake News” media where a leftist agenda persists but is never acknowledged or admitted. We are to believe it is just the norm. Well, I am tired of being schooled by the elite opinion makers.

    • jlalbrecht64
      August 14, 2018

      @Gene: I get your point and agree that there is more anti-Trump stuff here than I prefer, and I’m not at all a Trump fan! But the blog is called, “Simanaitis Says,” not “Simanaitis Says just what I’d like to hear.”

      I accept that Dennis has a very different political opinion than I have, just as it appears that you and I differ. I enjoy very much the overlap we all have about cars and lots of other cool things Dennis writes about. I sometimes breeze over the posts that are not my political cup of tea, and sometimes I read them precisely because understanding how people I disagree with see the world and accepting that we are ALL going to disagree about things but still need to find a way to live together is good for me as a member of society. IMHO there is no sense throwing the baby out with the 10W40!

      I wish you a great day (sincerely), Jack

  3. carmacarcounselor
    August 13, 2018

    The con is founded in nearly everyone’s vulnerability to the temptation to profit from an unfair advantage. The best defense is summed up in the quote attributed to C.S. Lewis (perhaps apocryphal?) “You can’t cheat an honest man.” An honest man never seeks an unfair advantage.

  4. Gene Herbert
    August 14, 2018

    Dear Jack,

    I just really enjoyed reading DS’s tribute to Henry N. Manney III. His R&T reports of European GP’s were something special in the day. I have his ‘1964 XK-E’ road test framed on my wall. “The Greatest Crumpet Collector Known to Man.” Seven years after that was written, I purchased a 1964 E-Type coupe and still have it. I’m in this for the longer haul than say Peter Egan who buys and sells! Kind of boring, I suppose. But I love DS’s archiving. R&T now has a lot of millennial generation writers who are just impressed by the sound of loud engines, etc. No Tapley Data! However the car cross sections are bigger and better.

    Regarding this column, . . The con job of all time is that perpetrated by Obama and Hillary, trying to thwart the election of Donald Trump. It is still going on with the special prosecutor trying to get rid of Donald Trump. It is typical chutzpah of the liberal Democrats accusing someone of what they actually did with the Russians. It is treasonous stuff. Nuff said.

    Thanks for listening to the other side of this column.

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