In 1983 Kansas City Star reporter Paul Wenske flew into LA to interview me…
A few weeks later he would write a front page story with a headline likening me to Butch Cassidy. It would be my all-time favorite newspaper story about my life.
Over the years leading up to that story I had already been in the paper hundreds of times. Many during my 1974/1975 case when I was an agent for Kansas Attorney General Vern Miller. I had begun my public life with a family story in the early 1960’s when my brothers, Jack, Jeff and I appeared on the front page for Christmas riding a horse driven sleigh with my Grandpa Bennie.
Uh, that was a little different.
I was watching the 1969 movie BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID a few nights ago. I think I’ve seen that movie maybe a million times. In fact,. that was a screenplay we studied in acting/writing classes in LA when I got there in 1981. It’s considered one of the best written screen plays ever.
It’s the film that put my future life in my head; two outlaws robbing other bad guys and banks.
Hey, at least I didn’t rob any banks!
The story plays out in my book THE KING OF STING. On the back of the book is it mentions the BUTCH CASSIDY story with quotes below from comedian Lewis Black and the guy who wrote more than 200 stories on me, Hearne Christopher. He beat out Tommy Chong‘s quote and was picked by the books publishers:
"A great read. It’s the life I would have lived if I didn’t care about my reputation," it reads.
So yeah, that one hit home.
Wenske’s interview took about a week and Paul spoke to many others in LA about me, my life and the death of my partner Don Woodbeck. That also garnered many front page stories across the country, even one in the New York Times. However, it was Wenske’s story that was the best of them all.
It started off at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills and Wenske some of the celebrities that we sat near or spoke to. Names like Arnold Palmer. Paul mentioned my conversation with Jack Lemon and my eating lunch with Warren Beatty, Orson Welles and my then fiancee Terri Gatewood. I had a brief friendship with Welles and Beatty tried to bed my gal, Terri, the thug. Ha.
Mostly it was a tale of two men who buddied up and became sting artists off and on for more than a decade. And how my life in LA was going and the violent death of Woodbeck. In fact, Wenske ended the Star piece kinda like Paul Newman and Robert Redford‘s film ended.
The big difference is – unlike Newman and Redford – I lived to tell the story.
Woodbeck died as they did. Every time I see that film, it brings back all the adventures, prison memories, Woodbeck, our crew (gang), lost loves, trials, and of course Paul Wenske’s story.
Paul was a very nice person and worked for weeks in LA and Kansas City putting together the lengthy article. Later he would attempt to write a book on Woodbeck and I, but it didn’t work out. It would be 25 more years before a book would be written and published.
The Star had several writers cover my ups and downs. In the early days it was Art Brisbane, Wenske and Roy Wenzl. Over the past 20 years the main writers were Jeff Flanagan, Joyce Smith, and of course Hearne.
You get to know each other pretty well over time. I had several people in LA cover my escapades including Variety‘s Army Archerd and Sal Manna. All pretty good people. Because of them I received more attention from among people in this area than any other outlaw since maybe John Dillinger or Jesse James.
Maybe because we haven’t had many colorful outlaws, if any, since then.
We’ve had Mafia guys, but that’s different.
People always say, "Why him, he was a crook, a bad guy, a criminal?" Well, maybe. It happens because the story takes place over many decades and changes in tone over the years. It also happens cause the Outlaw usually does some good things as well, that’s why he is an Outlaw and not a villain. At least not all the time.
I liked being compared to my childhood hero Butch Cassidy, he was the smart one abnd Sundance was fast on the draw, like Woodbeck.