The Distinguished Gentleman has never been seen as one of Eddie Murphy’s finest efforts. It did okay business back in 1992. It’s never been on Blu-ray. It ain’t on streaming, not even as a rental. It’s a lost movie (at least legally). Maybe it’s a forgotten gem! For one thing its plot seems to have predicted one of the battiest D.C. stories in years (not counting the one about the former TV star who’s controlled the GOP for nearly a decade despite his brain being mush, of course).
In a new piece for Politico, Jimmy Carter speechwriter-turned-Hollywood screenwriter Marty Kaplan points out that the story he conceived for The Distinguished Gentleman seems to have come true in the rise and drawn-out fall of Botox and OnlyFans fan George Santos.
What happens in The Distinguished Gentleman? Murphy plays a con man named Thomas Jefferson Johnson who scams his way into Congress by nabbing the name recognition of a newly deceased lawmaker named Jefferson Davis Johnson. He bets that most voters won’t recognize that their names are subtly different. He’s right, and off he goes to become flush with cash through corruption.
Santos wasn’t able to cruise into Congress by mere name recognition, so he had to settle for lying about things like his mom dying in the 9/11 attacks, being a college volleyball star, and producing one of Broadway’s biggest debacles.
“When I wrote the screenplay, I never imagined anyone could actually pull off a scam like that,” Kaplan writes. When he saw stories emerge late last year about Santos’ deceptive yet successful campaign, it was a “spit-take-your-smoothie moment for me.”
Kaplan added, “The Distinguished Gentleman may not exactly have been art, but life was all-in on imitating it.”
There’s one big difference, though, according to Kaplan: Santos was an amateur compared to Murphy’s Johnson:
If only he’d had Eddie Murphy to show him the ropes, George Santos’ grift could have been perfectly legal, and the House Republican conference might still be calling the con man from Queens and Long Island “the distinguished gentleman from New York.”
With Murphy’s character, Thomas Johnson, as his sherpa, Santos could have stayed within the lines, such as they are. Instead of using a campaign debit card to pay for Botox, OnlyFans and Ferragamo, a Santos leadership PAC could have whitewashed his self-care expenditures by bending, but not breaking, the rules. Instead of charging his campaign for getaways to Harrah’s and Caesars Atlantic City, Santos could have cultivated a circle of billionaires who enjoyed his company, flew him to glam locales and kept their largesse on the down low.