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Jewish World ReviewJune 6, 2000 / 3 Sivan, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

Steven who? A close encounter of mistaken identity -- AT FIRST GLANCE, the case of the Steven-Spielberg's-nephew-imitator seems like a once-in-a-million-years kind of thing.

The case has unfolded in Fairfax City, Va. A student at a private high school there -- a student known as Jonathan Taylor Spielberg -- pleaded guilty this month to one count of forgery.

This fellow was known to students and teachers as the nephew of filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Jonathan Spielberg applied to the school in 1998, and showed up for classes driving a blue BMW with the license plate "SPLBERG." He reportedly handed out money to fellow students; he said he had transferred from the Beverly Hills Private School for Actors.

However, it turns out that there is no such acting school -- and that Jonathan Taylor Spielberg is not really Steven Spielberg's nephew. In fact, he is not even high-school aged. Young Mr. Spielberg is really Anoushirvan D. Fakhran (or at least he was, until he legally changed his name to Jonathan Taylor Spielberg in 1997). He is not from Beverly Hills, but from Iran. And he is 27 years old.

This all came to light when school officials made a call to Steven Spielberg's office in California, and found out that Spielberg had no nephew by the name of Jonathan Taylor Spielberg -- and certainly had no nephew who hailed from Iran.

Now . . . as was mentioned at the beginning of this column, you would think this is a bit unusual -- a man going around passing himself off as a relative of Steven Spielberg.

But in fact I have a friend who gets mistaken for Steven Spielberg all the time. He doesn't do anything to make this happen -- but there is nothing he can do to stop it.

He'll call me and say, "It happened again," and I'll know what's coming.

It only happens when he wears a baseball cap; without the baseball cap, he bears only a slight resemblance to Steven Spielberg.

With the baseball cap, though, there is an undeniable similarity. Evidently Spielberg wears baseball caps a lot when he is directing films -- and people have seen photos of him in the cap.

So my friend -- a mild-mannered sort who would never lie about anything -- is constantly being treated as if he is Steven Spielberg. And when he says that he really isn't Spielberg, people take that as proof that he is Spielberg.

It will happen in prestigious New York restaurants; there will be a one-hour wait for tables, and he will walk in and the maitre d' will look at him and escort him right to a table (even though he's wearing a baseball cap in the restaurant). "We're honored to have you with us," the maitre d' will say. When my friend will say, "I'm not who you think I am," the maitre d' will wink.

My friend will check into a hotel under his real name -- what other name is he going to use? -- and when the bellman will take him to his room, the bellman will say: "Your secret is safe with me."

He will go to more casual restaurants, and the proprietors will ask him to sign the wall. When he will say, "Believe me, you don't want me to sign your wall," they will get all huffy. So Mr. Big Shot Steven Spielberg is too important to sign our wall.

At plays, the cast members will come out after the performance, look longingly into his eyes, and thank him for coming.

What's nice is that we live in an age in which a Steven Spielberg lookalike can be treated in such a way. Guys who look like Tom Cruise -- and there aren't many of them -- have always had an easy path through life. But guys who look like Steven Spielberg -- well, there are entire suburbs full of guys who look like Steven Spielberg. (Although not anywhere near as much as my friend does -- with the baseball cap, it's pretty uncanny.)

In an earlier age of celebrity -- say, the Clark Gable-Cary Grant age -- most Americans would know what Gable or Grant looked like, but few would know what Darryl F. Zanuck looked like. Today, though, an immensely talented filmmaker and studio head can be as recognizable as a movie star. This is good; Spielberg didn't get where he is because of his looks, and it's nice that he is recognizable because of his talent, not because of pretty teeth or a dimple in his chin.

With this news out of Virginia, I have suggested to my friend that he get his nephew involved in the act. The private-school guy from Iran wasn't related to anyone of note; at least my friend's nephew has an uncle who people refuse to believe isn't Steven Spielberg. He can probably get into Harvard on that.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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