Hoaxing for Fun, Fame and No Financial Gain
By Alan Abel
Published: March 15, 20010

    My hoaxing career began five decades ago when I launched a fake campaign to clothe all naked animals for the sake of decency, because “a nude horse is a rude horse.” It spread worldwide after Walter Cronkite discussed the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (S.I.N.A.) on his nationally televised CBS Evening News. I’ve heard he remained angry to the day he died for being fooled. Cronkite wasn’t still mad at Hitler, Mussolini or Hussein.  Just me!

    Over the past 50 years I’ve launched a hundred hoaxes and very few failed to attract media attention. I always had an outrageous fictitious story, and a competent cast to perform on the world stage, that was published as fact. Especially on a slow news day between the ax murders and serial killers who seem to fascinate people.

    It’s not easy to concoct a believable concept that amuses and has sociological significance. Jonathan Swift was an inspiration to me with his essay, “A Modest Proposal,” that urged starving people to eat their babies. When breastfeeding in public was being debated, I formed an organization to ban all breastfeeding because “it is an incestuous relationship between mother and baby that manifests an oral addiction, leading to smoking, drinking and, in Monica Lewinsky's case, even at the White House.”

     The media fell for this story and I did two hundred interviews, all by telephone on radio talk shows. Because I’m too readily recognized, I had to turn down Oprah, 60 Minutes, Dr. Phil and Larry King.     During the seventies I had a long running caper called Omar’s School for Beggars. Allegedly, I taught people how to earn hundreds a week with various ploys.  For example, putting ketchup on your sleeve and claiming you were stabbed and needed money for a taxi to the hospital. The media had a field day with this one. I wore a black hood to mask my identity for television appearances.

    After the Wall Street Journal published a scathing editorial denouncing Omar’s immoral school, New York Magazine ran an expose. They had a reporter infiltrate one of my fake classes (I had friends posing as student beggars). But he caught on and I confessed.

    The late Maxwell Sackheim, founder of the Book-of-the-Month Club, financed my larger hoaxes such as S.I.N.A. He was retired in Florida, worth millions and vicariously enjoyed my giving peopl a kick in the intellect. Nor did his checks ever bounce.

   If a major news story offended Max, he would call and ask me to create a media hoax to punish the culprit. When I did  Amin ravaged Uganda and fled to safety in Cape Town, Africa, Sackheim was furious. Because the U.S. State Department allowed his private plane, under diplomatic immunity, free access to America for luxury items.

    I suggested we embarrass the State Department by pretending Amin sneaked aboard the plane when it flew to Miami. Then he took a bus to New York City, married a WASP and became an American citizen. Max loved the concept and said, “Go for it! “

    I found a tall African-American man on the subway who weighed 260 pounds and he agreed to play Amin.  My associate, Frank Murgalo, rented the Presidential Suite at the ritzy Plaza Hotel and invited the press to attend the wedding.

    There were over 100 reporters in the crowded living room on April 1, 1979.  UPI and CNN ran  direct feeds to the world.  But it took several days before the real Idi Amin could be tracked down and the hoax revealed.   The State Department was embarrassed enough to deny Amin’s private plane any further landing rights in America.  And their officials breathed a sigh of relief after learning it was all a joke.

    Another campaign I enjoyed launching was having one of my merry pranksters advertise to lease his kidney for 99 years. (It’s against the law to sell an organ). This was a media blockbuster. The news conference had to be held in Grand Central Station to handle the unbelievable horde of reporters from all over the world.  And there was a huge splurge of organ donations as a result of this worthy caper.    Several years ago, Dr. Joe Vitale called me from Austin, TX. He is a well-known inspirational guru who lectures extensively and writes motivational books. His latest, “There’s A Customer Born Every Minute,” was about to be published and he wanted me to create a grand hoax, in the spirit of P.T. Barnum.

    I was in Los Angeles at the time, visiting daughter Jennifer and holding her dog Cecil. I wondered what he was thinking. That gave me the idea to stage a concert only for dogs in Austin. The music would be played on such a high frequency, humans couldn’t hear it. People had to bring their pets to the park and Joe’s book could be sold at strategic stands. That was the plan.

    The rock band pantomimed playing on the bandstand. At the end of each tune, hidden confederates blew high frequency whistles to excite the animals so they jumped around and barked in appreciation. There was also electronic testing equipment blinking on stage that supposedly elevated the music beyond human ears.

    This event was well covered by the media and “There’s A Customer Born Every Minute” became a best seller on One more mission accomplished.

     One time I did expose myself...just down to my jockey shorts...when HBO asked for men willing to talk about their genitalia. I claimed to be the smallest in the Guinness Book of Records (one inch erect) and they featured me on their special one-hour program,”Private Dicks, Men Exposed.” Although I used an assumed name, the network was  flooded with call explaining who I really was. It became one of HBO’s most popular shows.

    Jennifer and her partner Jeff Hockett spent eight years video taping a documentary on my exploits called “Abel Raises Cain.” It won a Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2005 and the Best Documentary Award at the Fargo Film Festival in 2009.

    During the past five years I’ve attended some 30 film festivals in the USA, England, Denmark, Spain and Canada where soldout audiences gave standing ovations after each screening. And a dozen more First Prizes were awarded.  (

    What better tribute could a daughter give her father, who presently has the longest running hoax on the Internet without discovery?  The website has been up for two years and receives thousands of daily hits. Viewers are amused, angry or confused. So be it.

                                                            Alan Abel is the world's most famous hoaxman and a humorous writer living in Connecticut and New York City.