Cheatonomics Case Study: James Strauss

I think there’s a book in how people try to get ahead by relying on tricks that, to others, might seem morally dubious.

They range from the definitely naughty to the Perry Mason frown. On the naughty end there’s buying reviews to boost your books, hiring a company to buy your way on the best-seller list, and misrepresenting the amount of your sales to get a better movie deal.

Perry Mason frown

Your dad would give you this look when you told him nothing happened on the couch with your girlfriend.

On the frowny Mason end, there can be including your novella into a .99-cent ebook bundle so you can claim “New York Times bestseller” status, or claiming to be a Pulitzer Prize winner when your name on the certificate reads “staff” (ahem).

Take the case of “Steven King,” who published several horror stories under a name that, to the unwary, looked a lot like That Other Guy.

Steven King Amazon page

“Once they read mine, they’ll forget what’s-his-name!”

This went about as well as you’d expect:

Bad reviews for Steven King on Amazon

“Next time, I’ll try Jane Patterson. Or maybe Jack Grisham.”

Today, we’ll take a look at TV screenwriter and author James Strauss. Or, according to Lee Goldberg, NOT TV SCREENWRITER James Strauss.

james-strauss-2

For several years, Strauss has been appearing at writers conferences to talk about his Hollywood experiences writing for “House,” “Deadwood,” “Saving Grace” and “Entourage.”

A year ago, Lee appeared on a panel with the guy, and as he spoke, Lee smelled something fishy. He looked into it and wrote this post in April 2013, omitting the guy’s name.

You can tell that Lee’s not your usual Hollywood type, because he expected Strauss to listen to the warning shot and cut it out. And if that didn’t do it, the cease-and-desist letter from the friggin’ Writers Guild of America should have done it.

If I have to choose between claiming you’re a Navy SEAL and claiming a writing credit on a TV or movie covered by the writers guild, I’ll take my chances with the SEALS. They’ll only kill you. That’s how hardcore the WGA is.

Instead, Strauss doubles down, not only appearing recently at the Love Is Murder Conference, but being interviewed by the WYCC PBS station about his extensive screenwriting experiences. And by “extensive,” I mean “never happened.”

Also, note how he can speak the word “credibility” in the interview without his head exploding into flames and melting the camera lens.

This time, Goldberg calls out Strauss by name, pointing out that anyone who listened to this guy for 10 seconds should have realized that he doesn’t know shit about screenwriting:

Everything he said on his panels and in his talks about writing scripts and working on episodic series wasn’t just wrong, it was inane. Even in our personal conversations, he said some pretty stupid stuff about the business.

He reminds conferences to check out the credentials of the experts before they offer them cash to come out and bless the crowds with their pearls of wisdom. In Strauss’ case, it would have been as simple as asking IMDB to learn that he has no screenwriting credits.

What I don’t get is how so many conferences, libraries, and seminars could have invited this guy to speak, and paid his way to tropical locales, without doing even the most basic check of his credentials. In this day and age, if a guy says he wrote for some of the most acclaimed shows on TV, you should be able to easily confirm it with a simple Google search. And if you can’t, that should be a big, fat, red freaking flag.

Mislead people to get a trip to Hawaii and to meet Jane Smiley? Worth it!

Mislead people to get a trip to Hawaii and to meet Jane Smiley? Worth it!

(Conference organizers who have read this far should know that for a small consideration I’m always willing to have myself and my wife flown out to a tropical location to speak at your event. You don’t even have to be there to hear me. And if you want a screenwriter to talk about the business, Lee is fabulous and funny on stage. He killed at Malice Domestic two years ago.)

What’s sad about exposing Strauss is that he clearly doesn’t have much else to do with his time except live in his fantasy world. He published one book that’s now out of print. If he wasn’t misleading people who paid good money to attend these conferences and misleading conferences who paid for him to attend, it would be better off for everyone to ignore him.

Despite all this, he still has the utter gall not to be ashamed of himself. “I am under attack. For being what I am not supposed to be. For saying what I am not supposed to say,” he writes on his Facebook page (Lee’s post has the full quote, which is a model of gibberish).

Ladies and gents, we have this generation’s Rupert Pupkin: “Better to be king for a night, than schmuck for a lifetime.”

UPDATE: (April 25, 2014) Turns out James Strauss is also a convicted thief and swindler.

THE STORY GETS WEIRDER: (April 25, 2014, 1:04 p.m. (just in case): There’s questions that he faked his academic credentials as well as bragged in his work-in-progress about deceiving the rubes with his phony act.