Next to a poster signed by the cast of "American Hustle," Melvin Weinberg, 89, poses at his home in Titusville, Florida. He is portrayed by actor Christian Bale in the critically acclaimed film based on the FBI anti-corruption operation known as "Abscam." / Tim Shortt, Florida Today
TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- Mel Weinberg sums up life in a sentence: "At 89, I got one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, and everybody's pushin.' "
He lives in Titusville, but his story is global, thanks to the media attention focused on American Hustle, the critically acclaimed, Oscar-nominated film loosely based on Weinberg's involvement with Abscam, a federal sting operation in the late 1970s and early '80s. Oscar-winner Christian Bale portrays Weinberg, renamed Irving Rosenfeld in the movie.
The former con man (he calls himself that) speaks frankly - many of his tales are unprintable - as he reflects on his time working for the FBI, Abscam and his ex-wives. He makes no secret of the fact that he's loving the attention.
Best actress nominee Amy Adams plays Sydney Prosser in the movie, and she's based on Weinberg's third ex-wife, Evelyn. They divorced in 1998, but were on-again, off-again until she eventually bought a house a few streets away in Titusville in 2009. Weinberg remains protective of Evelyn and did not want to talk about her.
Like Weinberg, Evelyn is cut-to-the-chase candid. She doesn't like talking to the news media, saying people are calling her and showing up at her home knocking on the door.
Meeting a superstar
The movie producers flew Weinberg to Los Angeles to meet with Bale, who's nominated for best actor. Sitting in his office in his lakefront home, Weinberg chuckles as he reflects on that meeting and how Bale ordered two hamburgers at lunch because he needed to fatten up to play the role.
"He's a helluva guy," Weinberg said of Bale. "I don't like many people. I like the way the guy talks. He didn't bull---- me."
Today, Weinberg walks with a cane and suffers from macular degeneration and angina. He bought a home in a retirement community in Titusville in 1993. He had a big motorhome and used to travel a lot. He would take his dogs with him - whose ashes he still has - and go gambling in Las Vegas and Mississippi.
He saw the movie twice, once at the New York City premiere with his family and another time at a private showing. But because of his eyesight, he couldn't quite make out how Bale did in his portrayal. He said he preferred Jennifer Lawrence's character over Adams'. In the film, Lawrence plays Rosalyn Rosenfeld, who is based on Weinberg's second wife, Marie.
Friends who saw it called up Weinberg to compliment the likeness.
"The chief of police from Chicago told me 'I swore it was you on that screen,' " Weinberg said. "Somebody told me, 'Christian Bale, the son of a b----, looks like you and sounds like you.' "
Although she didn't want to talk much, Evelyn did share that she was aghast at the low-cut dresses Adams wears in the movie. No one dressed that way then, Evelyn said, unless they were a hooker.
And, both Weinberg and Evelyn said she was not involved in any con game.
"The movie is total bull----," she said in a refined English accent.
The movie changes Evelyn to an American who assumes an English accent. Weinberg has no idea why.
The film also stars Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner. Weinberg said he wasn't involved in the film's shooting, but he did sell his rights to the producers for more than $200,000.
Abscam led to the conviction of a U.S. senator, six congressmen - including Pasco County Republican U.S. Rep. Richard Kelly, the mayor of Camden, N.J., and several others. It was dubbed Abscam for "Arab Scam," because the FBI agents involved made up a fake corporation and used a fake sheik to lure politicians into taking bribes.
Before "American Hustle," Weinberg's story was the basis for the book "The Sting Man" by Robert W. Greene.
The Oscars are set for March 2. American Hustle is up for 10 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Actress (Amy Adams), Best Supporting Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Supporting Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), and Best Director (David O. Russell).
Weinberg laughs at - and agrees with - the movie's disclaimer: "Some of this actually happened." Still, he's rooting big for Bale, saying, "I hope he wins. In fact, I hope they make a sequel."
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