HUSTLING HITLER: The Jewish Vaudevillian

Book number: 90789 Product format: Hardback Author: WALTER SHAPIRO

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Bibliophile price £3.00
Published price $28

Journalist Walter Shapiro always assumed that the stories about his great uncle Freeman Bernstein, particularly the one where he conned Hitler's war effort out of a valuable shipload of scrap metal, were just urban myths, particularly as other family members were law-abiding types with a healthy respect for the long arm of the law. This is the story of a professional swindler with a phenomenal gift of the gab, told in racy style to match the subject's extraordinary career. The story starts in Hollywood in 1937, where Freeman went up to see Mae West with a consignment of jewels from which the streetwise star easily extracted the best pieces, leaving Freeman with the junk, though she rewarded him with several pages in her autobiography. Freeman knew he was wanted by several police departments and submitted to arrest quietly as he left Mae's apartment block. In fact the charge was defrauding Hitler, to which he responded with the immortal line, "Hitler ain't got a thing on me". The son of Polish immigrants, Freeman got on the rung of showbusiness with a vaudeville arcade, inching his way towards Hollywood by fleeing from serial bankruptcies and dud cheques. His fortunes turned when he signed on the popular artiste May Ward, whom he married to cement the contract, and in World War I they had considerable success entertaining the troops. But Freeman could never go straight, and soon he and May had perfected the Anniversary Gag in which cruise ship passengers were conned into believing they were celebrating an anniversary and were then cheated at cards. The crowning con of Freeman's career was exporting scrap-metal claiming it was valuable nickel, swindling his Nazi clients with the time-honoured method of providing a few inspection bags of the real thing. 430pp, photos. Remainder mark.

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ISBN 9780399161476

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