Every book and every author needs a great testimonial from someone high up in the book subject’s niche, or you need one from someone famous or an industry leader to speak on your behalf. Every author knows this, so this is why I reached out to George Jung for my testimonial.
About 9 years before my biography of legendary bank robber, and uncle, Leslie Ibsen Rogge was published I watched the movie Blow with Johnny Depp. I was as intrigued as anybody with the movie, but for me it was for my own reasons. I realized that the man Depp was portraying was actually George Jung, the man who developed the cocaine market in the US in the 80’s, but what was clear was that George was the same kind of man as Leslie Rogge. He was just in a different industry. They were both very smart, non-violent criminals who turned their talents to illegal industries and lived illegal lifestyles. Both had stunning criminal careers, and both ended up in federal prison. The movie and the book Blow was an inspiration.
Skip forward 8 years and I’m putting the final touches on the edited book, and I decide to put a hand-written letter in the mail to George Jung. I introduced myself, told him that his story paralleled my uncle’s story, they were active in the same decades, they were the same age, they had similar friends and they only differed in their industry of choice. I offered him a review copy if he was interested, and he accepted in only a way George Jung would by writing a poetic response that indicated that Les and George were seemingly brothers and pirates. He said pirates need to stick together, and he agreed this story needed to be told. I sent him a book, and since prisoners have a bit of time on their hands I believe he read it the day he got it. Within a few days I received a poem/testimonial for the book that was glowing. I managed to understand enough of it to know that he respected Les, enjoyed the story, enjoyed my writing and wanted to see the story told. For the next few weeks I widdled the 3 pages down to one sentence and slapped the words on the back cover, front and center. I had an industry leader, a famous crime figure’s testimonial on the cover, and the book had its final touches. When the final version came out I sent him a copy with his words draped, and I thanked him for his time and wished him luck in his remaining 4 years on his sentence.
A few weeks later I received another letter from my new famous friend. I then realized I was pen pals with two of the biggest criminals in US history. If my phones weren’t tapped before they sure are now! This letter told me that he liked my book so much that he now wanted to turn it into a movie, and he thinks that Depp should play Leslie. This was a fun letter. We just shook our heads and said, “Sure! Let’s do it!” I always knew that my book Wanted: Gentleman Bank Robber would make a great movie, so perhaps this was my ticket to Hollywood. Wanted had all the makings of a movie with action, love, smarts, it spanned decades and took the FBI decades to get close, so if George could indeed entice Depp to be involved then this was absolutely worth my time to pursue. As it turned out George was indeed friends with Depp still and occasionally talked to Depps’s sister, but it turned out to be too good to be true. I talked to George a few times on the phone during the process, and he was apologetic. It was worth the attempt.
One great thing that came out of my relationship with George was meeting a friend of his on the outside who introduced me to a well-established screenwriter in NYC by the name of Peter Himmelstein. Peter has a few movies in theatres that he wrote or wrote and directed with his last movie Peep World, and Peter ended up really liking the Wanted and eventually taking on the project. We received a half dozen interested calls regarding the movie rights from screenwriters, producers and agents that didn’t turn out, but we currently are negotiating an option for the book and the script with another Hollywood producer as I write this with nothing in ink yet. At least we are actively playing the game. The script is currently called Bankrobber.
It’s fun to know celebrities even if they are infamous. There is something about notoriety that elevates these people to hero status even when they haven’t done anything close to heroism. Even so you can’t help but smile when you get a letter from a celebrity directed right to you. I reached out with a simple letter with the intensions of finding a famous crime figure to give a blurb about my book, and I ended up being pen pals with the man who was personal friends with Pablo Escobar and made over $200 million dollars selling weed and cocaine and being the drug-father of the US. This was a bit more than I expected. I asked for a testimonial and got a Kingpin.