My boss, Stanley Kubrick, said to me, "It's that First World War
thing-the Rule of Three!," and indeed it was. That was how
it started. The first call we got saying that someone was going around
London impersonating SK was an "accident" (we could ignore
it). The second call a little while later was a "coincidence"
(still ignore it). The third call and then it was most certainly "enemy
action"! There was an impersonator, no ifs or buts.
I'd always been fascinated by con-men, fraudsters, impostors and their
like so when Stanley asked me to research whoever was doing this and
put a file together, I was cock-a-hoop. "Be discreet and be exhaustive,
Tony, and I want you knocking on coffins if need be!"
The culprit was a semi-educated but artful shady predatory gay ex-travel
agent in North London who neither looked like Stanley nor sounded like
Stanley named Alan Conway ("An aptly Nabokovian name," said
SK). He had a petty criminal record about six blocks long that covered
cheque kiting, fraud, embezzlement, burglary and similar and, not infrequently,
importuning in gents lavatories.
We subsequently learnt that Conway knew virtually nothing about Stanley
and had only seen "a bit" of a couple of his films and that
he "didn't much care for them." This prompted Stanley to say,
"What an ingrate! He steals my identity and yet my films aren't
good enough for him!"
So, how did Conway hoodwink so many people for so long? How did he convincingly
present himself as one of the world's most famous directors while knowing
almost nothing about his subject? There was, of course, his own chutzpah
but there was also a secret ingredient he could factor in that virtually
guaranteed success. What was this ingredient? It was celebrity!
Rational, intelligent people seemed to jettison their reason when Conway-as-Kubrick
arrived. Indeed they did. They were touching the hem of fame, of celebrity!
I built up a big fat file on Conway. I spoke to dozens of his "victims"
and researched his background. I knew more about him than he did himself.
Stanley presented the file to his lawyers and several weeks and thousands
of dollars later was told that there was basically nothing he could
do about Conway. Yes, he could go to court and seek an injunction against
Conway, but in order to do that he had to establish to the court's satisfaction
that Conway was, indeed, doing what he accused him of doing. In order
to do that we would have to get the "victims" to stand up
in court and say, "Yes, I was conned by Conway." Well, it
was bad enough being conned by Conway, but are you going to admit it
to the whole world? Thus the reluctance from the potential witnesses.
Stanley said he was still determined to get his own back on Conway.
"How?," I asked. "Easy," he replied, "I'm going
to go around pretending I'm him!" Testimony indeed to SK's humour.
However, events were unfolding elsewhere that resulted in a cessation
of Conway's fraudulence. He had co-signed a legal document in SK's name
for the lease on a gay bar in central London. Banks and lawyers were
suspicious and the police were called in. As soon as Conway got wind
of this he feigned mental illness and got himself admitted to a psychiatric
ward at his local hospital. Once the prosecuting services heard about
this, the legal proceedings were abandoned and we heard no more of Conway's
All of this was going on during the pre-production and shooting of Stanley's
last film, Eyes Wide Shut.
I looked at the file I had put together and was just about to deep-six
it in a filing cabinet when I decided this material was too good to
consign to oblivion. So I wrote as an "exercise" a screenplay
based upon the material and then deep-sixed that and the original file
and forgot all about it.
It wasn't until after Stanley's death some years later that I came across
the screenplay. I gave it to Christiane, Stanley's widow, in the hope
that she might find it an amusing read. The following day she said,
"Why don't you make it into a movie?" She said she had no
A few weeks later I saw Brian Cook, who Stanley regarded very highly.
Brian had started with him as assistant director on Barry Lyndon
(1975) and had done several other films with him, including Eyes
Wide Shut on which he was AD and co-producer. Brian loved the script
and gave it to John Malkovich, who also loved it and now you have the
film itself. As director, Brian has done a marvelous job bringing Conway
to the screen and John Malkovich's performance is, I think, of Oscar-winning
And what would Stanley have thought of the picture? When Brian and I
eventually catch up with him in the hereafter I'm sure he's going to
say to us, initially anyway, "Didn't you guys learn anything from
me?" But I know he'll be proud of us if for no other reason than
we actually made a film.