Diana B. Henriques of Hoboken is keeping her fingers crossed that soon, you’ll see the HBO movie based on her book about disgraced financier Bernie Madoff.
Henriques, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, even plays herself in the biopic, but she’s keeping her expectations at bay.
“I never expected the book to be optioned. When it was optioned, I never expected it to actually be made. When they decided it was going to be made, I never dreamed in a million years that I would be in it. Now that it’s been filmed, I’m perfectly prepared to wind up on the cutting room floor,” she said, in an interview at her home.
Nevertheless, a swarm of people was able to see Henriques on Nov. 18 at Little City Books – a quaint 1,200 square-foot bookstore at 100 Bloomfield St. in Hoboken that opened in May. She discussed her 2011 book, “The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust.”
According to IMDB.com, HBO’s television film, which kept Henriques’ title, “The Wizard of Lies,” is set to premiere in 2016 starring Robert DeNiro as Bernie Madoff and Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife Ruth.
The man behind the curtain
You may already be familiar with Madoff, who orchestrated the largest and first global Ponzi scheme in recorded history.
When investors were asked to file claims in federal bankruptcy court in early 2009 following his conviction, Henriques said, a throng of 16,519 claims were submitted. Of those, 5,300 were from investors who had accounts directly with Madoff. Others were from funds with hundreds of individual investors or families and their children – making the number of victims touched by the mammoth fraud difficult to pinpoint.
“As we have noted in prior updates, the Madoff fraud represents what we believe to be the largest theft ever committed. To date, Madoff Victim Fund (MVF) has received claims from 63,737 persons in 135 countries,” reads a statement on MadoffVictimFund.com.
“When they decided it was going to be made, I never dreamed in a million years that I would be in it.” – Diana B. Henriques
“Unfortunately, the special master has not yet verified those claims; some may be invalid or, in fact, totally bogus,” said Henriques.
On the day of his arrest, the value of Madoff’s customer accounts was $64.8 billion. Technically those investors lost $20 billion out of pocket cash, but really felt a loss of $64.8 billion since that’s the amount they thought made up their accounts.
During her talk Henriques said she got the idea for the title because, during court, a judge referred to Madoff as “the man behind the curtain” – a reference, of course, to The Wizard of Oz.
Reporter, author, Hobokenite
Henriques, born in Texas, moved to the mile-square city in July 1988. She joined the Times in October 1989 and climbed the ranks to financial senior writer. She stepped down from full-time work in 2012 but by that time had already published “Fidelity’s World: The Secret Life and Public Power of the Mutual Fund Giant” (1995) and “The White Sharks of Wall Street: Thomas Mellon Evans and the Original Corporate Raiders (2000).”
Though financing was always her forte, Henriques said it was the palpable family drama that emanated from Madoff’s story that led to her book.
“I knew by the time I arrived home on the day of his arrest that he’d been turned into the FBI by his two sons, and I was just hooked at that point. I knew there was some family tragic story here. Either his sons were his accomplices, turned on him and turned him in, or,” Henriques said at her home before pausing, “they were his victims.”
It was ultimately proved that in addition to stealing from his sons, Madoff had made away with funds from hundreds of thousands.
On June 29, 2009, he was sentenced to the maximum time allowed in prison: 150 years.
“The biggest challenge is your writing a story that everybody knows the outcome to,” said Henriques.
In “The Wizard of Lies,” Henriques attempts, and by most accounts succeeds, in painting a picture of Madoff as a human being instead of the character that the lens of the media portrayed.
“Ponzi schemers tend to be a type. They are the life of the party…over in the corner telling jokes and buying drinks…determined to win your respect and admiration, have you think they’re the smartest guy in the room,” she told the Reporter, before looking off as if recalling conversations with him. “And Bernie was just exactly the opposite. Bernie made you feel like you were the smartest person in the room.”
The thoroughly researched biography even includes interviews with Madoff himself.
A bookstore for a little city
“I love the store’s collection of books about writing,” said Henriques just an hour before her talk at the store. She describes Little City Books as a “wonderfully curated bookstore” that offers a broad collection of books, with respect of course to Symposia on Washington St. (a popular store that sells used books).
The shop was collaboratively opened by independent singer/songwriter Kate Jacobs, former investment banker for Goldman Sachs Donna Garban, and Stonesong literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen.
“I think she’s so generous to come and support our store,” said Jacobs after the talk. “I thought she was a terrific speaker.
Henriques’ website says she met with executive producers over coffee in mid-July, and after a long conversation with Director Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”), she was asked to play herself in a scene interviewing Madoff in prison.
Caron Claes, a Hoboken resident, stood in line waiting to talk with Henriques and get her book signed. “I enjoyed her having done those interviews and hearing her experience writing the book,” she said.
“I haven’t read [“The Wizard of Lies”] yet…but yes I plan to buy it. I thought it was pretty interesting,” said Hoboken resident Patrick Freeman. “I’m a finance guy; I’m a banker. So it’s interesting getting an outsider’s perspective on the industry.”
Garban curated the author talk, having known Henriques and her husband, Larry, prior to the event.
“She is a really respected journalist and a brilliant writer,” Garban said. “It’s emblematic of this community. There are a lot of neat people who live here.”
Steven Rodas can be reached at email@example.com.