Long before there was the internet, there was fake news and gullible people. Alan Abel made something of a living as a menace exploiting TV news.
Like the time he created The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, an organization he created and foisted on people for several years, which believed that a nude horse is a rude horse and animals should be clothed.
He and comedian Buck Henry created G. Clifford Prout, its president, who made it to several network TV news shows, including CBS’s Evening News, where some employees reportedly recognized Henry, who also worked for CBS.
Why did so many people believe such a silly organization existed? Because it could, Abel said.
It was a good bit, almost as good as the time Abel died in January 1980 of a heart attack while skiing in Colorado. A day after the New York Times published his obituary, billboarding him as a professional hoaxer, he held a news conference to reveal that it was all a hoax he and 12 friends came up with to get some publicity for the fact he was a professional hoaxer.
No lie. Abel is dead now, the New York Times reported this week. He was 94 when he died in Connecticut of cancer and heart failure, according to the Times, which apparently double checked with a hospice facility.
Today, in the internet age, anyone can be a Nigerian prince. In Mr. Abel’s time, however, the hoaxer’s art — involving intricate planning, hiring actors, donning disguises, printing official-looking letterheads, staging news conferences and having the media swallow the story hook, line and sinker — entailed, for better or worse, a level of old-time craftsmanship whose like will almost certainly not be seen again.
A master psychologist, keen strategist and possessor of an enviable deadpan and a string of handy aliases, Mr. Abel had an almost unrivaled ability to divine exactly what a harried news media wanted to hear and then give it to them, irresistibly gift-wrapped. At the spate of news conferences he orchestrated over the years, the frequent presence of comely women, free food and, in particular, free liquor also did not hurt.
In his other hoaxes, he created the presidential campaign to elect Yetta Bronstein, a mythical Bronx housewife, on a campaign of national bingo, self-fluoridation, placing a suggestion box on the White House fence, and printing a nude picture of Jane Fonda on postage stamps, according to the website, The Hoaxes of Alan Abel.
He also engineered a mass fainting on the Phil Donahue Show.
“They need an audience, and the only way they’re going to get an audience is to have perversions and calamities galore,” Abel said of the silly TV talk shows of the ’80s that needed a constant supply of guests and ratings.
In a delightfully touching documentary, his daughter says her parents were always struggling to make ends meet, though they lived in one of the richest counties in the nation. They lost their house a few years ago. (Watch the video here)
Jenny Abel appeared on TV in one of her dad’s hoaxes when she was a young girl. Dad said she’d been raised by eating human hair.
She said in her documentary that her parents financial struggles can be pinned to his occupation, “though it was difficult to know what that was,” she said.
(h/t: Paul Tosto)