Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer (Hardcover)

Hustling Hitler: The Jewish Vaudevillian Who Fooled the Führer Cover Image


From acclaimed journalist Walter Shapiro, the true life story of how his great-uncle—a Jewish vaudeville impresario and exuberant con man—managed to cheat Hitler’s agents in the run-up to WWII.

All his life, journalist Walter Shapiro assumed that the outlandish stories about his great-uncle Freeman were exaggerated family lore; some cockamamie Jewish revenge fantasies dreamt up to entertain the kids and venerate their larger-than-life relative. Only when he started researching Freeman Bernstein’s life did he realize that his family was actually holding back—the man had enough stories, vocations, and IOUs to fill a dozen lifetimes. Freeman was many people: a vaudeville manager, boxing promoter, stock swindler, card shark and self-proclaimed “Jade King of China.” But his greatest title, perhaps the only man who can claim such infamy, was as The Man Who Hustled Hitler.
            A cross between The Night They Raided Minsky’s and Guys and Dolls, Freeman Bernstein’s life was itself an old New York sideshow extravaganza, one that Shapiro expertly stages in Hustling Hitler. From a ragtag childhood in Troy, New York, Shapiro follows his great-uncle’s ever-crooked trajectory through show business, from his early schemes on the burlesque circuit to marrying his star performer, May Ward, and producing silent films—released only in Philadelphia. Of course, all of Freeman’s cons and schemes were simply a prelude to February 18, 1937, the day he was arrested by the LAPD outside of Mae West’s apartment in Hollywood.
            The charge? Grand larceny—for cheating Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. In the capstone of his slippery career, Freeman had promised to ship thirty-five tons of embargoed Canadian nickel to the Führer; when the cargo arrived, the Germans found only huge, useless quantities of scrap metal and tin. It was a blow to their economy and war preparations—and Hitler did not take the bait-and-switch lightly.
            Told with cinematic verve and hilarious perspective, Hustling Hitler is Shapiro’s incredible investigation into the man behind the myth. By reconstructing his great-uncle’s remarkable career, Shapiro has transformed Freeman Bernstein from a barely there footnote in history to the larger-than-life, eternal hustler who forever changed it.

About the Author

In addition to chronicling the hokum and hustles of his con-man great-uncle, Walter Shapiro has covered every presidential campaign since 1980. A columnist at Roll Call, Shapiro is also a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU and a lecturer in political science at Yale. He won the 2010 Sigma Delta Chi Award for best online columnist for his work as a senior correspondent at Politics Daily. During his four decades covering politics, Shapiro has been a columnist for USA Today, and Esquire, and the Washington bureau chief for Salon. He has been on the staff of Time, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. His book on the prelude to the 2004 Democratic presidential race, One-Car Caravan, was published in 2003. Shapiro served in the Carter White House as a presidential speechwriter. For a decade, he performed standup comedy at clubs in New York and claims that his on-stage career is merely on hiatus. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, writer Meryl Gordon.

Praise For…

"'Hustling Hitler' packs a real punch—a true story about a street smart New York promoter, whose activities seemed impossible to believe, but which are fully and carefully documented by Shapiro in this fascinating volume." —St. Louis Jewish Light

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780399161476
ISBN-10: 0399161473
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Publication Date: June 14th, 2016
Pages: 448
Language: English