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The Madera Tribune

‘Great Imposter’ came 50 years ago

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webmaster | 05/16/14

People called Ferdinand Waldo Demara the world’s greatest con man and for good reason. He had such persuasive skills that his life story was made into a book and a movie, the titles of which were, not surprisingly, “The Great Imposter.”

Born in 1921, by the time he was 30 years old, Fred Demara had found employment as a civil engineer, a lawyer, an editor, a teacher and a surgeon — without ever having spent a day in college preparing for these professions. Instead, he had smooth-talked his way into these jobs.

By 1960, the authorities caught this human chameleon, but instead of being incensed, they were enthralled; they wanted to learn more, so Fred obliged them. He sold his life story to Life Magazine, and author Robert Crichton wrote a best-selling biography, which was then adapted into a movie starring Tony Curtis as Demara.

All of that notoriety notwithstanding, Fred just could not completely give up his life of guile. He had to conduct just one more sting; that’s why he came to Madera County in 1963. Almost overnight Demara decided to become a counselor and open up a school for wayward youth. That’s what landed him in Judge Alec Brown’s court in Madera in May 1964...


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