'American Hustle' portrayal of conman Weinberg's wife wrong
Reporter who interviewed Marie Weinberg, played by Jennifer Lawrence, recounts her tragic end and how the movie does her no justice.
In the recent film "American Hustle," which is based on FBI informant/conman Mel Weinberg and the controversial 1980's Abscam investigation resulting in the conviction of seven congressmen, a key figure in the movie is based on the conman's late wife, Marie Weinberg.
In the film, her character is portrayed as a drunken adulteress, who has been described by those involved with the production as "manipulative," "really sick," and "crazy." However, the truth is something far different. The real story had ended in tragedy.
By 1981, the Weinbergs were living in central Florida, and Marie discovered that Weinberg had a longtime mistress, Evelyn Knight, 39 (and 11 years Marie's junior), who he had set up in a condo 15 miles away.
The name "Weinberg" was posted out front, and she soon discovered that Knight had legally changed her last name to her own. Marie had been devoted to Weinberg and their son. I, as did others, knew her as a kind, generous and friendly woman.
Weinberg immediately began to warn her to remain quiet, because a movie deal was planned for John Belushi to portray Weinberg as a hero. He also wanted her to remain silent about the fact that he had extorted expensive gifts and pocketed bribe money during Abscam, something that others were alleging, and the FBI then began to harass Marie as well, both by phone and in person.
She immediately moved for a divorce, and fought back the only way she could: by going public. She turned to investigative reporter Jack Anderson and myself, and the intimidation from Weinberg soon became both public and private. After a number of explosive articles, she appeared on ABC's 20/20 in January 1982.
They verified Marie's allegations (as government investigators would later), and at that point the intimidation intensified. Weinberg had promised that he would spread ugly stories about her, which he immediately did, in order to have their son taken from her. A pastor that she had turned to was worried she might attempt suicide, which she denied.
But five days after the broadcast, and after three months of both public and private intimidation, she apparently took her own life by hanging herself, leaving a note behind blaming her husband. Afterward, he continued to attack Marie and blamed others — including Jack and myself — for her tragic demise.
The initial movie did not materialize, but after several attempts over the years it finally has, with the Weinberg character as the likable conman. The same words noted above to describe Marie's character in the new film mirrored the words that Weinberg used 30 years ago while continuing to demean her.
And Weinberg admits being paid a quarter million dollars for the film, and even now continues to attack his late wife, telling Newsday that she was a "wacky broad." To celebrate Mr. Weinberg at this point would not only boost the ego of a corrupt and amoral man, but would further demean a woman who was one of history's most tragic victims.
Indy Badhwar was a reporter for syndicated columnist Jack Anderson. He reported extensively on Abscam in the early 1980s, including interviews with Marie Weinberg. Ronald Kolb is a Texas-based freelance journalist.