Welcome to Relics, the official blog of the Philip Musica documentary.
Philip Musica was my grandparent’s boss, then their brother-in-law, and finally their fascination. My grandmother dedicated a good part of her precious life to preserving his story. My documentary is a sequel to the work and relics she left behind.
Philip is in the history books as the greatest single American fraud of the Twentieth Century and yet few know his name. Up until the financial collapse in the fall and winter of 2008, there was barely a mention of him on the entire Internet. A Google search for Philip+Musica brought up Philip Glass, the musician.
As The New Yorker, The New York Times and Time Magazine have made their archives searchable, the old articles have surfaced, but the only thing newly published is a Wikipedia entry. It is sadly inaccurate for their standards, and I am not being sarcastic. I believe in the Wikipedia and its worldwide multitude of watchful online editors.
I forgive the Wikipedia’s failure, not because I think they are anything less than exacting, but because their subject in this instance is Philip.
In addition to being a major example of the confidence man, he is also a matchless historical subject. No other figure presents such a challenge. When I think of Philip, I think of that last great line from Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects.
“And like that… he is gone.”
Philip Musica spent his life, like every ambitious American, making himself more than he already was, except Philip was a pioneer and a genius at it. When he came face to face with obstacles, he transformed. When he came face to face with the law, he became Houdini.
As a media subject in the early second decade of the last century, he was sensationalist fodder for muckrakers. When he was revealed as a better Gatsby than Gatsby at the end of the Great Depression, a man whose entire biography was falsified, the reporters had license to make up anything they wanted about him.
And I am amazed at the license they took. Often I did not need the facts myself to see the bias; I just had two reputable sources conflicting to the point one was blatantly wrong. One, the other, or both, were either printing the hearsay or just outdoing themselves. Who wasn’t telling a tall tale about Philip, including Philip?
Friends and family have asked me for some time why this project is taking so long.
Because I want to get it right.
No one has researched Philip since the Fifties. Whenever an Enron or a Madoff appears, he comes up in minor conversation or an article, but no one has done anything more than review and rehash those yellowing yellow articles in sixty years. The two-issue New Yorker article by Robert Shaplen is the best of the bunch, and even he admits he couldn’t nail things down.
Philip is much more than a character for the true crime section. The truth is far more fascinating, engaging, and significant.
Rarely does a writer go looking for a story and find it sealed in his own house. Rarely does a writer find a story that is a dare to the empirical method. Rarely does a writer find such a story.
Join me. I am on the trail of a puff of smoke.
Robert Kalm teaches writing at Quinnipiac University and is producing a documentary on his grandparent’s brother-in-law, Philip Musica. Visit dotkalm.com/musica.