< Return to Latter-day Saint Characters in Movies

References to Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the book
Catch Me If You Can (1980)
and the feature film

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

"Catch Me If You Can"
Movie Poster

    Shortly afterward I was in Utah, a state notable for... its spectacular geography and Mormon history... I was reluctant to leave that Utah Utopia... If I lingered, my past was certain to catch up, and I did not want these people's image of me to be tarnished.
    - Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.

Catch Me If You Can
Back Cover

Catch Me If You Can
Front Cover
(Original 1980 edition)

Catch Me If You Can
Front Cover
(2002 movie tie-in edition)
The Book:
Catch Me If You Can, by Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding, Grosset & Dunlap: New York (1980). ISBN 0-448-16538-4. Complete title: Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man in the History of Fun and Profit.

The Movie:
"Catch Me If You Can" (2002)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Based on the book by Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. and Stan Redding
Screenplay by Jeff Nathanson
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale. Also starring Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken (as Frank Abagnale, Sr.) and Martin Sheen.

MPAA Rating: PG-13
U.S. Box Office: $164,606,800
Production budget: $52,000,000

In Frank Abagnale's autobiography he claims he was a sociology professor at BYU for one year. The 1980 edition of the book has a photograph of him ostensibly in his BYU classroom, with the caption "As a sociology professor at Brigham Young University, Abagnale kept a chapter ahead of his classes."

Abagnale reiterates this claim in a featurette on the initial release of "Catch Me If You Can" on DVD, a 2-disc DVD set distributed by DreamWorks Home Entertainment and released in 2003. On disc 2, which contains the special features, is a documentary extra feature titled "Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction." In a sit-down interview, illustrated by scenes from the movie and real photographs from his life, Abagnale outlines what he actually did during his spree assuming various careers. The first chapter is an introduction to him. The second chapter is about his time posing as a airline pilot. The third chapter of this featurette is titled "Frank's Careers." Abagnale's concluding narrration during this segment is as follows:

"What was supposed to be three or four days [a job as a doctor, in the position of a shift supervisor at a hospital] ended up almost being a year. And, after a year, no one the wiser, I just resigned and left.

"I went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana because I heard the attorney general's office was looking for lawyers, and I figured if you can be a doctor, you can probably be a lawyer. And Louisiana did not require a law degree to take the bar. So I was able to take the bar. They practiced under the Napoleonic criminal code of procedure, which they still do today. You had to study the code in order to take the bar. I studied it, passed the bar, and I went to work for then attorney general P. F. Gremillion in the civil division of his court, where I tried civil cases for about a year. No one ever doubted for a second I was not a lawyer.

"I left there and went to teach at Brigham Young as a professor of sociology. Wasn't difficult. Read one chapter ahead of my students. They never knew the difference.

"And, of course, through all of this I was writing checks. You know, I knew that sooner or later they would catch me. It was just a matter of time. I was just prolonging being caught."

I don't know if Abagnale claimed he was LDS while he taught at BYU. Many people believe Abagnale never actually taught at BYU. Ironically, actor Tom Hanks plays the FBI agent charged with capturing Abagnale in the movie. Hanks himself, according to his own words, was a Mormon for one year [David Gardner. Tom Hanks: The Unauthorized Biography. London, UK: Blake Publishing Ltd. (1999)].

In an completely unrelated matter, Gerald R. Molen, the Latter-day Saint who produced so many of Spielberg's movies, has a brief cameo appearance in "Catch Me If You Can" as an FBI agent looking for Abagnale at the LAX airport.

ABOVE: Academy Award-winning Latter-day Saint producer Gerald R. Molen (a long-time collaborator of "Catch Me If You Can" director Steven Spielberg) has a cameo as an law enforcement agent looking for Frank Abagnale. Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) spots Molen and other law enforcement officials when he comes to the airport to meet the young woman he intends to marry and run away with.

Below: Still images (with subtitles) from the documentary featurette "Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction" (an extra feature on the 2003 2-disc DVD release of "Catch Me If You Can"): The real Frank Abagnale explains that he worked as a professor at Brigham Young University (BYU). (The scene from the movie used to illustrate Abagnale's account is not actually a scene in which he is a professor at BYU. Such a scene does not appear in the feature film. This scene is from a much earlier event portrayed in the film, when Frank impersonates a teacher in his own high school.)

From the book Catch Me If You Can:
Frank Abagnale's Sojourn Among the Latter-day Saints in Provo

Source: Catch Me If You Can, by Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding, Grosset & Dunlap: New York (1980). Complete title: Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Youngest and Most Daring Con Man in the History of Fun and Profit.

The text below is from the movie tie-in edition, published in 2002 by Broadway Books (New York City, New York), pages 110 to 115:

Using the same procedures that had enabled me to assume the alias of Frank Williams, a first officer for Pan Am, I created Frank Adams, an alleged co-pilot for Trans World Airways, complete with uniform, sham ID and counterfeit FAA pilot's license. I also assembled a set of duplicitous credentials that would allow me, in my posture as Frank Williams, to be a pilot for either Pan Am or TWA.

Shortly afterward I was in Utah, a state notable for not only its spectacular geography and Mormon history but also for its proliferation of college campuses. Having purloined a couple of college degrees, I thought it only fair that I at least acquaint myself with a university campus and so I visited several Utah colleges, strolling around the grounds and taking in the academic sights, especially the coeds. There were so many lovely girls on one campus that I was tempted to enroll as a student.

Instead I became a teacher.

While I was tolling around my motel room one afternoon, reading the local newspaper, my attention was drawn to an expected shortage of summer instructors at one university. The news item quoted the faculty dean, one Dr. Amos Grimes, as being most concerned about finding summer replacements for the school's two sociology professor. "It appears we will have to look out of state for qualified people willing to teach for only three months," said Dr. Grimes in the story. A vision of myself ensconced in a classroom with a dozen or so nubile beauties took hold of my imagination, and I couldn't resist. I rang up Dr. Grimes.

"Dr. Grimes, Frank Adams here," I said briskly. "I have a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University in New York. I'm visiting here. Doctor, and I see by the newspaper that you're looking for sociology instructors."

"Yes, we're definitely interested in finding some people," Dr. Grimes replied cautiously. "Of course, you understand it would be only a temporary position, just for the summer. I assume you do have some teaching experience?"

"Oh, yes," I said airily. "But it's been several years. Let me explain my position, Dr. Grimes. I am a pilot for Trans World Airways, and just recently I was furloughed for six months for medical purposes, an inflammation of the inner ear that bars me at the moment from flying status. I've been looking around for something to do in the interim, and when I saw the story it occurred to me that it might be pleasant to get back into a classroom again.

"I was a professor of sociology at City College of New York for two years before I joined TWA."

"Well, it certainly sounds like you're a likely candidate for one of our positions, Dr. Adams," said Dr. Grimes, now enthusiastic. "Why don't you come by my office tomorrow morning and we'll talk about it."

"I'd be delighted to do that. Dr. Grimes," I. replied. "Since I'm a complete stranger in Utah, could you tell me what documents I will need to apply for a faculty position with your college?"

"Oh, just a transcript from Columbia will do, really," said

Dr. Grimes. "Of course, if you can obtain a couple of letters of recommendation from CCNY, it would be desirable."

"No problem," I said. "I'll have to send for both my transcript and the letters of recommendation, of course. I came here unprepared on either score, since I didn't even contemplate a temporary teaching position until I saw the story."

"I understand, Dr. Adams," replied Dr. Grimes. "I'll see you in the morning."

I wrote Columbia University that afternoon, requesting a complete catalogue and any pertinent brochures on the school. I also dashed off a letter to the registrar of CCNY, stating I was a Utah graduate student seeking a teaching position in New York, preferably in sociology. I arranged to rent a box at the local post office before mailing off the missives.

My meeting with Dean Grimes was a very pleasant one. He seemed immediately impressed with me, and we spent most of the time, including a leisurely luncheon interlude in the faculty club, discussing my "career" as a pilot. Dr. Grimes, like many men with sedentary jobs, had a romantic view of airline pilots and was eager to have his exciting perspective validated. I had more than enough anecdotes to satisfy his vicarious appetite.

"I have no doubt at all that we can use you this summer, Dr. Adams," he said on my departure. "I'm personally looking forward to your being here on campus."

The materials I had requested from Columbia and CCNY arrived within the week, and I drove to Salt Lake City to purchase the supplies necessary for my current counterfeiting venture. My finished "transcript" was a beauty, giving me a 3.7 grade average and listing my doctoral thesis as a dissertation on "The Sociological Impact of Aviation on the Rural Populations of North America." As I had anticipated, the reply from the registrar of CCNY was on official college stationery. I clipped off the letterhead and, using clear white plastic tape and high-quality bond paper, created a fine facsimile of the college's stationery. I trimmed it to regulation typewriter-paper size and then sat down and wrote myself two letters of recommendation, one from the registrar and one from the head of the sociology department.

I was cautious with both letters. They merely noted that I had been a sociology instructor at CCNY during the years 1961-62, that the faculty rating committee had given me very satisfactory marks and that I had resigned voluntarily to enter the field of commercial aviation as a pilot. I then took the letters to a Salt Lake City job printer and had him run off a dozen copies of each, telling him I was applying at several universities for a teaching position and thus needed extra copies on fine-grade bond. Apparently mine was not an unusual request, for he did the job perfunctorily.

Dr. Grimes barely glanced at the documents when I presented them to him. He introduced me to Dr. Wilbur Vanderhoff, assistant head of the sociology department, who also gave the instruments only a cursory examination before sending them on to faculty personnel for filing. I was hired within the hour to teach two six-week semesters during the summer at a salary of $1,600 per semester. I was assigned to teach a ninety-minute freshman course in the morning, three days a week, and a ninety-minute sophomore course in the afternoon, twice weekly. Dr. Vanderhoff provided me with the two textbooks to be used in the classes, as well as student attendance ledgers. "Any other supplies you might need, you can probably find in the bookstore. They have standard requisition forms on hand," said Dr. Vanderhoff. He grinned. "I'm glad to see you're young and strong. Our summer sociology classes are usually large ones, and you'll earn your salary."

I had three weeks before the first summer semester started. On the pretense of refreshing myself, I audited several of Dr. Vanderhoff's classes, just to get an idea of how a college course was conducted. At night I studied the two textbooks, which I found both interesting and informative.

Vanderhoff was right. Both my classes were large ones. There were seventy-eight students in my freshman class and sixty-three students in my sophomore course, the majority in both instances being female students.

That summer was one of the most enjoyable, of my life. I thoroughly enjoyed my role as a teacher. So did my students, I'm certain. My courses were taught by the book, as required, and I had no difficulty there. I just read one chapter ahead of the students and selected what portions of the text I wanted to emphasize. But almost daily I deviated from the textbook in both classes, lecturing on crime, the problems of young adults from broken homes and the effects on society as a whole. My departures from textbook contents -- which were largely drawn from my own experiences, unknown to the students -- always sparked lively discussions and debates.

Weekends I relaxed by immersing myself in one or the other of Utah's scenic wonderlands, usually accompanied by an equally wondrous companion.

The summer was gone as swiftly as the desert spring, and I knew real regret when it ended. Dr. Vanderhoff and Dr. Grimes were delighted with my work. "Keep in touch with us, Frank," said Dr. Grimes. "If ever we have a permanent opening for a sociology professor, we'd like a chance to lure you down from the skies," said Dr. Grimes.

At least fifty of my students sought me out to tell me how much they had enjoyed my classes and to wish me good-bye and good luck.

I was reluctant to leave that Utah Utopia, but I could find no valid reason for staying. If I lingered, my past was certain to catch up, and I did not want these people's image of me to be tarnished.

I headed west to California. There was a storm building in the Sierras when I crossed the mountains, but it was nothing compared to the whirlwind of crime I was soon to create myself.

Webpage created 25 September 2004. Last modified 2 April 2005.