4 Ridiculous Lies ... From People With Even More Ridiculous Lives
We’re all guilty of white lies and exaggerations to make our boring lives seem more interesting. Maybe your dispute with the parking attendant at Trader Joe’s didn’t really spiral into an epic kung-fu battle through the mall, but people were starting to yawn at the story. What else were you supposed to do? But then there are people whose lives are so jaw-droppingly insane that they should never need to lie to get attention. And for some reason they keep doing it anyway.
Paula Abdul Won't Stop Saying She Was In An Entirely Undocumented Plane Crash
It’s kind of forgotten just how weird Paula Abdul’s career was. A successful choreographer who self-funded her first recordings, she shot to fame after releasing a music video where she sang about her love for a rapping cartoon cat. She then disappeared for years before resurfacing as a tipsy, contestant-dating judge on the world’s biggest singing show. Paula Abdul is interesting. Which makes it all the weirder that she keeps talking about a plane crash that really doesn’t seem like it happened.
According to Abdul, her mid-’90s career disappearance was prompted by a 1992 plane crash. In a story related on numerous talk shows, Abdul claimed to be in a small plane from St. Louis to Denver when both engines burst into flames (Abdul was probably playing “Straight Up,” the most fire track of the late '80s). The plane was forced to crash-land in an Iowa cornfield, doubtless converting it into delicious popcorn in the process. The seven passengers survived, although Abdul was left with life-changing injuries and forced to cancel the rest of her tour.
Map perverts will be aware that Iowa isn’t really on the route from St. Louis to Denver, but there are way bigger problems with this story. According to a terrifyingly detailed Jezebel investigation, there appears to be no record of a plane crash fitting this description in the early ‘90s. And plane crashes are like escaped circus lions -- people really tend to notice them, especially when they’re carrying ‘80s superstar Paula Abdul. Very few corn farmers will watch the burning corpse of MC Skat Kat crash through their barn roof, then just shrug and never bring it up again.
Abdul says she somehow persuaded the media to keep quiet about the incident (to avoid the shame of being in a plane crash, presumably), but that doesn’t even come close to clearing things up. Every plane crash in America is legally required to be documented by the National Transportation Safety Board, but their database has no record of an accident matching Abdul’s description. And remember, this wasn’t some minor “oh this gauge is malfunctioning, let’s land early” situation. An entire wing was on fire! Did Abdul and her backup dancers just shove the plane into a deep lake and walk away or something? We hate to be negative, but either her record label infiltrated the US government to pull off a Roswell-level cover-up, or else Paula Abdul has been discussing a completely fictional plane crash for 20 years.
Alice Marble: Tennis Superstar And Wonder Woman Writer (But Not A Secret Agent)
If you lived in the 1930s (and our market research shows that most of you did) Alice Marble was one of the biggest athletes in the world. Marble won 18 Grand Slam tennis titles, making herself a household name in the process. Instantly lapsed into a boredom coma at a mention of sports? Well, let us slam a syringe of geek juice directly into your heart by mentioning that she was also one of the original writers for the Wonder Woman comics, which got a big boost from having a famous athlete on the masthead. Marble also parlayed her fame into regular radio and TV appearances, befriended stars like Clark Gable, became a fixture in high society, and had a long relationship with one of the wealthiest men in the world. And that still wasn’t enough for one life -- she was also a talented singer who performed numerous concerts and later became a high-profile voice against segregation in tennis.
And then there was the time she was shot in the back by Nazi assassins while on a one-woman mission to avenge her murdered husband. According to her autobiography, Marble was married to an ace pilot named Joe Crowley (as a tennis star, she preferred to slam aces). When Crowley was killed during WWII, Marble agreed to join America’s OSS spy agency, who sent her to Switzerland. Her mission was to seduce a former lover who had become a powerful financier, then steal the details of Hitler’s Swiss bank accounts. But German spies discovered the plan and pursued her in a high-speed car chase through the Swiss Alps. Forced to stop to avoid toppling into a ravine, she was shot in the back and left for dead by the Nazis. Miraculously, she survived and was able to resume her tennis career after her wounds healed.
Now that’s the wildest story we’ve ever heard and we once spent a weekend trapped in a broken elevator with Werner Herzog and a case of Kahlua. Marble was basically like a jock Indiana Jones, breaking serves by day and Nazi necks by night. Unfortunately, it’s almost certainly not true. For starters, the American government apparently has no record of Marble ever being a spy. There’s also no record of Marble, a huge worldwide celebrity, being seen in Switzerland during the war. And Joe Crowley -- the husband she was avenging -- doesn’t seem to have ever existed in the first place.
Weirdly, the press reported Marble’s spy claims as true for years, including in her obituaries. It was kind of like if Serena Williams' autobiography turned into James Bond for one chapter, then moved on like nothing happened (“As Dr. Clawfist plummeted from the cliff, still firing his sex laser, I knew I’d face an even bigger challenge next week -- improving my game on clay courts”). People just went along with it, because why would Serena Williams lie about that? Although in Marble’s case it’s entirely possible that one of her Wonder Woman drafts just got mixed into the autobiography pages and everyone at the publisher was too polite to say anything.
Being A Handless Celebrity Private Eye Wasn’t Quite Enough For Jay J. Armes
Back in 1972, Marlon Brando was just coming off the success of The Godfather when his estranged ex-wife had their 12-year-old son kidnapped and taken to Mexico. This perhaps wasn’t the best custody battle maneuver, especially since she neglected to pay the kidnappers, who then kidnapped the kid a second time, demanding a huge ransom. Brando knew that there was only one man who could save the day: famed private eye Jay J. Armes and his mighty gun hands of justice.
When Armes was young, he blew both his hands off while playing with railroad torpedoes (which are apparently small dynamite charges and not some kind of superweapon for 19th-century train warfare). Fitted with prosthetic metal hooks, he became a judo black belt, a talented tennis player and an enthusiastic amateur artist. In the 1950s, he had a working .22 magnum implanted in one of the hooks and set himself up as a private detective, working cases that varied from warehouse thefts to New York jewel heists. After being hired by Brando, Armes managed to locate the movie star’s son and wrestle him away from the kidnappers. Armes then returned the kid to the US, where he grew up to shoot his sister’s boyfriend, leading to one of the most high-profile trials of the 1990s. (We love a happy ending.) And all of that is completely true, including the fact that he had his own action figure:
That said, verything else about Jay J. Armes is a little murkier. By the mid-’70s, he was claiming to run the biggest private detective agency in the world, with over 600 agents in El Paso alone. A glowing profile in Newsweek declared him “perhaps the best private eye in the country,” adding that he “keeps a loaded submachine gun in his $37,000 Rolls Royce as protection against the next—and fourteenth—attempt on his life.” But when a writer for Texas Monthly actually drove to El Paso he found Armes living in a bizarre Tiger King-style compound outside town, complete with tigers and leopards roaming everywhere. During the interview, Armes took long calls with a CBS producer to discuss his upcoming TV show, even though the producer had been dead for two years. He also bragged about flying everywhere in his private helicopter, which was visibly covered in rust (it turned out to be a non-functioning prop that formerly decorated the driveway of a local business).
It gets weirder. Armes boasted about his movie career, listing numerous titles he shot with gorgeous celebrity co-stars. Except that when Texas Monthly checked, none of the movies were real (in fairness, there was no IMDB at the time, so it was much easier to say stuff like “Yeah, I starred in The Man Who Was Too Good At Sex, weird that you never saw it”). And while he did work as a private eye, his cases were mostly the “cheating husband and lost cats,” type, not the international mysteries he claimed. Even his beloved mentor Professor Max Falen apparently never existed.
Armes might actually have been his own worst enemy in his long-standing goal to get a TV show based on his life. Because while “detective with metal gun-hands rescues a celebrity’s son” is a pretty great pitch, adding “while constantly lying about insane bullshit” might be a dealbreaker.
A Stamp Collector Parlayed His Hobby Into Becoming A Yemeni Warlord ... While Also Claiming To Be The Rightful King Of France
Bruce Conde was born Bruce Chalmers in 1913. As a lonely kid living in California, all he wanted was a friend to share his favorite hobby of stamp collecting. Unfortunately, his beloved collection was incomplete, as he was unable to find any stamps from Yemen, a country that might as well have been on the Moon as far as people in California were concerned. At age 12, he ended up writing a letter to the King of Yemen, asking if anyone in the country would like to send him back a stamped letter. As luck would have it, the king had a son around Conde’s age and wanted him to practice his English, so he ordered him to write back to this weird American kid. Conde and the prince hit it off and ended up becoming regular pen pals. It was a lovely story, worthy of a Disney Channel original movie.
Conde grew up to lead an adventurous life, serving in World War II and travelling widely in Africa and the Middle East. In 1958, he arrived in Yemen and met up with his old pen pal, whose father still reigned as a semi-mad tyrant while dodging frequent assassination attempts. Conde and the prince rekindled their friendship and he pitched a bold plan to save Yemen’s economy. No, it wasn’t to put on a big musical and hope it became a hit (the country of Nauru tried that and it did not go well). Instead, he suggested stamp collecting! Since Yemeni stamps were still very rare, Conde proposed issuing countless special edition stamps, which were sure to be snapped up by collectors around the world. The prince immediately appointed Conde to head up the post office, which he turned into a major source of foreign exchange.
Conde was eventually exiled from the country after losing a power struggle with the communications ministry. But when war broke out, he rushed back to support his old friend, retaking control of the post office and using his stamp sales to fund mercenaries and weapons imports. He rose to become a general and one of the king’s key supporters in the North Yemen Civil War, regularly fighting through enemy attacks to keep the stamps flowing. He ultimately fought a losing battle for eight years before fleeing into exile in Morocco, where he died in 1992. It was an amazing life, and that’s before you find out he was supposedly the long lost king of France.
Seriously, throughout his adult life, he claimed to be descended from French royalty and insisted on styling himself Bruce, Prince of Conde. He even tried to boost his claim by seeking out and marrying one of the fake Romanoffs who littered Europe impersonating Princess Anastasia or her sister Maria. Their claims eventually passed to Conde’s stepson, who spent his life launching wild schemes to become king of Serbia while insisting people call him Prince d'Anjou Durazzo Durassow Romanoff Dolgorouki de Bourbon-Conde, which would be too many names for a purebred dog, much less some random guy. But Bruce Conde’s royal fantasies were particularly weird. Like, dude, you were a random Cali kid who became a stamp-based warlord for eight years. It would be less impressive if you were secretly a prince the whole time.