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SELF-STYLED

CHASING DR. ROBERT VERNON SPEARS

This vivid account effectively captures the many reinventions of a daring grifter.

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A debut biography chronicles the life and exploits of a consummate American con man.

On Nov. 16, 1959, a National Airlines plane plunged into the Gulf of Mexico, killing all 42 people onboard. One of the ticketed passengers was Dr. Robert Vernon Spears, a well-known Dallas naturopath. But as Logan recounts in his absorbing book about Spears’ adventures, a medical career was another in a long line of self-inventions for a consummate con man, who, it turned out, never boarded the ill-fated Flight 967. Spears “could play any role,” the author writes. In fact, he was so good at “playing these parts, he could have had financial rewards aplenty—if he had chosen to play like everyone else. Or if he had been better at not getting caught.” Spears hasn’t achieved the notoriety of such celebrated American grifters as Frank “Catch Me If You Can” Abagnale, Charles Ponzi, or Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil. But he committed his first crime, a forgery, at age 16, and—often in cahoots with close friend William Allen Taylor—roamed the country in search of “marks,” taking money from “the fat cats who could afford it. Or big businesses that would barely notice.” “He’s the conman’s grandma, a real smooth article,” one associate said of him. Making extensive use of public records, Logan uncovers a veritable gold mine of grift and deftly traces Spears’ post–World War II transformation into a naturopath. With a forged medical degree, he became head of the Texas Association of Naturopathic Physicians before a corruption scandal thrust him into the even murkier world of backroom abortions. In July 1959, Spears was arrested in Los Angeles for performing a motel-room abortion. But in perhaps his most audacious con, he reinvented himself as a dead man when Flight 967 crashed. The book suffers from a dearth of information about Spears’ formative years, with the author suggesting only that the criminal was inspired by poverty and a “yearning for escape.” But Spears’ picaresque journey makes for compelling reading and, Logan asserts, may even “inform us about...the ways in which conmen become leaders, whether that involves presidency of a medical guild or a nation state.”

This vivid account effectively captures the many reinventions of a daring grifter.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-55834-9

Page Count: 362

Publisher: Glass Spider Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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