R. Paul Wilson On: Stealing Stuff From Crazy Gideon’s With A Fake Pregnancy Suit
A couple of us liked to call ourselves “The Gang Who Couldn’t Cheat Straight” since the necessities of television production forbade us from certain tactics, while the fact we were often doing these things for the first time meant we were learning the hard way what does and doesn’t work.
The Job: Steal Without Getting Caught
Like The Real Hustle that would follow it, production was a nightmare as cameras and crew tried to capture our adventures and if something could go wrong, it usually did.
On reflection though, we did a pretty good job of being the guys casinos and businesses would allow to play against in these little war games of cat and mouse.
None of us had been to jail so none of us were real criminals in the eyes of Nevada’s Gaming Board or, in this case, the apparently insane owner of the eponymous Crazy Gideon’s Discount Electronics Warehouse.
For this episode, we were tasked with stealing as much as we could from Gideon’s downtown Los Angeles store without getting caught.
True to his TV persona (Gideon’s late-night commercials were the stuff of legend), Crazy Gideon swore that his store could never be ripped off and told several stories about catching unfortunate thieves who regretted (possibly to this day) ever messing with Gideon’s place.
So the producers, ever optimistic, convinced me (at that time I was ever-naive and happy to please) to steal several items in several different ways.
The Plan: Shoplift A Projector With A Fake Pregnancy Suit
Luckily for us, we decided our job was to entertain as well as inform so we decided to “go Hollywood” with our attempts to steal.
In addition to some “crackerjack timing” we fitted the ever-stoic Michael Zurich with a prosthetic arm (stolen from a manikin) and practiced using his (real) concealed arm to lift items from the counter or shelf without alerting security who, according to the agreement with producers, would have no idea we were there to steal merchandise.
Michael was so successful we kept sending him back in an effort to have him caught for a story beat!
The ever-optimistic ray of sunshine John Lovick was equally adroit but eventually it came down to myself and Jennifer Zorbalas (then Erholm) to go for the big steal, which we had identified days earlier: an enormous, heavy projector worth thousands of dollars.
There were two problems.
First, the projector had a loop of strong meshed wire that anchored it to a heavy base, screwed into the floor.
That part was easy – a pair of wire-cutters would do the trick.
The second problem was more of a challenge.
The projector was large and heavy, and bags were not permitted in Gideon’s store (for all his bluster, he was a smart operator) and there’s no way we could slip this under my coat.
The solution was that Jennifer had to be knocked-up; when we entered the store, she was apparently eight months pregnant!
Let’s take a moment to consider our situation.
We had requested minimal on-body camera gear but technology being what it was at that time, it soon became obvious that I would have to be both the mastermind gentleman thief and the camera crew for our little jaunt to Crazy G’s.
The solution sounded acceptable until I saw it.
If you’ve ever seen Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible series, you’ll have seen spectacles with a camera hidden inside, usually revealed as the character removes those glasses and we see a shot from some tiny, hidden lens.
This is what I imagined when they told me I would be rocking the same type of technology but while Tom’s glasses were wire-framed and ultra-light, the set that was brought to me were thick, plasticky and attached to an enormous clamshell recording device about half the size of the projector we were supposed to steal!
To make matters worse, the glasses were attached to the clamshell by a thick cord that would run down my back and the lens on the frames was about as obvious as you could imagine.
Welcome to reality, 2005.
Another problem was the jacket we needed to contain the clamshell looked enormous and exactly the kind of coat you might wear if you wanted to fill your pockets at Crazy Gideon’s and then get thrown in the dumpster by his staff.
At least our method for stealing the projector was clever and effective.
Jennifer Erholm, dear friend and gifted actress, wore a long summer dress over a padded pregnancy suit and underneath that, a harness strapped tight to her body with a large carabiner clip attached to that harness at her crotch.
The Big Steal
From the moment we left the coffee shop across the street, I was convinced I was heading for disaster and thanks to Jennifer playing her part perfectly, the journey was a long one as she waddled under the imagined weight of her impending baby.
As we approached the store through the parking lot, I could see the staff looked like they were on day release from a prison movie, each one of them certain to be registered with central casting.
We entered without attracting too much attention and found our way upstairs to the cinema room where I checked the security cameras, which we had sneakily adjusted on our recce to create a blind spot where the projector was on display.
A quick snip and the device was free.
I lifted it by the handle as Jennifer lifted her dress to reveal the waiting carabiner.
Without pausing to acknowledge the awkward indignity of our current situation, I clipped on the handle and gently lowered the device till it hung between her knees.
Jennifer dropped her skirt, covering the projector and we began waddling back to the front of the store.
As we headed for daylight, I could hear the harness straining with the weight it was carrying, and Jennifer was now not acting since she needed to hold the thing between her legs with her knees to stop it swinging.
Her discomfort was obvious as we walked outside and realised that the ramp we had easily walked up might be almost impossible as we walked down to street level.
So obvious that the staff outside immediately rushed forward and offered to help us!
Supported by two kind members of Gideon’s staff, Jennifer made it down the ramp and we thanked them as we made our escape with their boss’s property under Jennifer’s skirt!
Naturally, Gideon played the part perfectly as we revealed what we stole and how we stole it but the goal for him was free publicity and our little stunt didn’t trouble him in the least.
As he pointed out to me in private, they spot 99 percent of thieves before they set foot in the store just by knowing “the look”.
That being said, he promised to pay more attention to “supposedly pregnant” women in the future and if I ever wanted a good deal on outdated electronics, I knew who to call.