cover image King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age’s Greatest Impostor

King Con: The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age’s Greatest Impostor

Paul Willetts. Crown, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-451-49581-5

In this extensively detailed biography, Willetts (Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms) traces the brazen and bizarre life of Edgar Laplante, an early 20th century drifter and conman extraordinaire. Laplante came of age as a traveling vaudeville performer who was at first content to capitalize on small-scale schemes impersonating celebrities while collecting speaking fees in small-town venues. Over time, he became bold enough to make up identities of his own, the most famous being American Indian “Chief White Elk.” Adorned in a feathered headdress, he addressed spellbound crowds as he spoke of the plight of “his” embittered Native people—all the while profiting off the ticket sales of those who paid to see him speak. Later, Laplante fell into the good graces of two Austrian countesses whose “heaven-sent gullibility” allowed him to leech off their vast wealth and reach the pinnacle of his hustler life, soliciting hefty loans from the family while staying in Europe’s fanciest hotels. Willetts’s biography occasionally gets bogged down by detail—a passage about Laplante’s short-term residence at the Montana Soldier’s Home leads to a long tangent about his education at the Sockanosset School for Boys 17 year earlier—but he keeps the narrative alive with the colorful anecdotes from Laplante’s remarkable life. [em](Aug.) [/em]