The Real People Who Inspired Hollywood's Top Screen Crooks

Hollywood loves a good crime biopic, but what happens to the real-life criminals once the cameras stop rolling?
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Recently I sat down and watched Dog Day Afternoon for the first time. I pride myself on being a bit of a cinema fan, and this Pacino flick has been on my radar for a long time. However, I always think, with Pacino, you’ve got your great, subtle performances like Serpico and The Godfather, and then your films like Heat where Pacino does a Rob Brydon impression. Whenever I’d tried to watch Dog Day Afternoon, it seemed like this would be the later. However, it wasn’t until I read an interview with Brydon’s pal, Steve Coogan, in which Steve compares the new Partridge movie to Dog Day Afternoon that I decided to give it another shot.

Thankfully, Steve was right, and I now know Dog Day Afternoon to be an absolutely brilliant film. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say Pacino’s planned robbery goes wrong. (In fact, that’s the whole premise of the film). It might be more of a spoiler to say that at the end of the movie, Pacino’s character John Wojtowicz  goes down for a twenty stretch. This got me thinking, if films like Dog Day Afternoon are really based on real life crime capers, what happened to the main villains in real life? Once Pacino walked off that Brooklyn set and got on with his life, choosing to shout rather than act and deciding to keep the same haircut for the rest of his life, what was the real John Wojtowicz up to?

John Wojtowicz - As portrayed by Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon


Wojotwicz being sentenced for twenty years in chokey is all Al Pacino’s fault. Not because Al would later go on to portray him in a movie based on the robbery (that’s a bit of an ambitious plan for any robbery) but because before Wojtowicz waltzed into that Brooklyn bank, he’d just come out of The Godfather and been inspired by Michael Corleone’s descent into misbehavior.

The robbery was a partial success, though. Wojtowicz made $7,500 from selling the movie rights to his story and also received 1% of its net profit, all of which went towards his ‘wife’ Aron’s sex change op. After being sent down for twenty years, Wojtowicz ended up serving six, getting released in 1978, before being rearrested in 1986 for parole violation. Sadly, Wojtowicz died shortly after, of AIDS-related pneumonia, in 1987.

George Jung- As portrayed by Johnny Depp in Blow

If you haven’t seen Blow, slap yourself hard around the face, get on to Netflix and tell your mates/girlfriend the pub quiz will have to go ahead without you tonight. Blow’s a brilliant crime biopic and it’s one of Depp’s best performances. (The best ever is Dead Man, which is also ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF ALL TIME).

In the movie, Depp portrays George Jung, or Boston George to his pals/victims. In the 1970s, Jung was part of the Medellin Cartel, who were responsible for 89% smuggled into the early 80s. That’s more toot than a brass band full of Patrick Bateman’s could take care of.

If you’re familiar with Blow, you’ll know all about Jung’s run-ins with the law. However, what is perhaps the saddest part of Jung’s story comes at the end of the movie when he imagines his daughter visiting him in prison. This all happened because after going clean for a while, Jung was arrested with 706kg of marijuana and received sixty years in the slammer. Jung later testified in the trial of an accomplice and got his own sentence reduced. He’s currently looking at a November 2014 release, when he’ll be 72.


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Benjamin ‘Lefty’ Ruggiero - As Portrayed by Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco


This one’s a great movie and a fantastic Pacino/Depp double bill. It’s the complete opposite of the Californian glitz of Blow, instead Brasco deals with Depp’s undercover cop and Pacino’s mobster who unwittingly brings him into the New York criminal world.

At the end of Donnie Brasco, out man Depp is revealed to be the dirty double agent he is and the order comes down from the heads of the Bonanno Crime Family that everyone involved with introducing ‘Donnie’ to the gang is to be whacked. (Guess they couldn't just fuggedaboutit).Ruggiero’s associates shuffled off this mortal coil and a contract was put out on Lefty in 1981. Luckily, the FBI arrested him just as he was about to attend a meeting at his former associate’s club, which would almost certainly have led to his death.

The feds put Lefty into protective custody and tried to entice him into the government witness protection programme, however, ever the wiseguy, Ruggiero refused and even tried to bail himself out of jail. Due to this upstanding behavior, the mafia cancelled the hit and gave him a pass.

It wasn’t long until Lefty was in trouble again. In 1982 he was arrested on several charges and convicted in New York and  Florida for twenty years. He was released from prison in 1992, sick with testicular and lung cancer and later died of lung cancer in 1994, aged 68.

Jesse James Hollywood - As portrayed by Emile Hirsch in Alpha Dog

Alpha Dog is a great crime movie and features brilliant performances from Aton Yelchin, Ben Foster and erm, Justin Timberlake. However, it’s Hirsch’s turn as Johnny Truelove (based on real life felon Jesse Hollywood) that steals the show. The set up is that Foster’s character owes Truelove money. He can’t pay so Truelove kidnaps his brother, Yelchin.

According to the film, Yelchin's character has a right old time whilst kidnapped and gets to neck on with Amanda Seyfreid and just generally experience life, which is ironic as Truelove killed him shortly after.

Hollywood was arrested in 2005 as a fugitive in Brazil, but not sentenced until 2009, after the release of Alpha Dog in 2006. During filming a Californian District Attorney released case files to the film crew in an attempt to help get Hollywood  sent down. In February 2010, Hollywood was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole after being found guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder.

Frank Abagnale - As Portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can


In comparison to murder, kidnapping and drug smuggling, you could argue that Abagnale’s crimes of forgery were largely harmless, which is probably why he now works as a security consultant, using his strengths for cunning and trickery to point out weaknesses in companies’ securities, as well as lecturing for the FBI.

In his life as an outlaw, Abagnale claims to have used no fewer than eight identies to extort money, including a doctor, a prison’s agent, a pilot and a lawyer. He also escaped from police custody twice before the age of twenty one, before finally being caught by Tom Hanks and serving just under five years.

As well as movie success, working with the FBI and running his own consultancy firm, Abagnale has also had a hand in a Broadway adaptation of the film and a ghostwritten autobiography. Clearly, crime does pay.