Madoff Scandal Parallels 1905 Play

The saga of disgraced Wall Street kingpin Bernard Madoff reads like a David Mamet play. And several years back, Mamet did adapt an old play about a Ponzi scheme — The Voysey Inheritance, written in 1905. Financial blogger Felix Salmon talks to Andrea Seabrook about the parallels between Voysey and Madoff.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

SEABROOK:

My next guest has been watching the financial headlines with a spooky sense of deja vu. What pricked his interest was the Bernard Madoff scandal. He's the investment adviser who just admitted to running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Well, financial blogger, Felix Salmon, just felt like he'd seen this story before. And he had. Where did you see it?

Mr. FELIX SALMON (Financial Blogger): David Mamet's Theater in New York, the Atlantic Theater Company.

SEABROOK: Felix Salmon, you're in the studios of KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to the show.

Mr. SALMON: Thank you very much.

SEABROOK: So you saw a play about this?

Mr. SALMON: Harley Granville-Barker, he wrote a play called "The Voysey Inheritance." It's all about this family patriarch called Mr. Voysey, and he's using his clients' money as his own. He's using money coming in from new clients to pay the redemptions from old clients just like Bernie Madoff. He admits the whole thing to his son, just like Bernie Madoff. He's finally undone by a big wave of redemption requests which all come in at once, just like Bernie Madoff. It goes on and on.

SEABROOK: Wow. Wow. I mean, it mean it must seem eerie now. When did you see it?

Mr. SALMON: It was on a couple of years in Chelsea, in New York.

SEABROOK: So, David Mamet, it was at his theater, and you said he adapted this script for modern times. Now, that's interesting because you could see David Mamet writing a play about Bernie Madoff. I mean…

Mr. SALMON: Absolutely. He's very attracted to confidence schemes, and one of the key scenes in the play, which is, with his incredibly - as you say - is spookily reminiscent of what's going on with the Madoff case, is the one where the family patriarch, Mr. Voysey, explains that the whole reason that he managed to get away with this was precisely because he was so rich and successful and trustworthy.

SEABROOK: Is there anything different, significantly, between the Voysey situation in the play and the Madoff?

Mr. SALMON: Well, I mean obviously it's the scale, it's by far the biggest difference. Voysey was running money, but he wasn't running $50 billion. That's just completely mind-boggling amount of money, and that's the kind of thing which is really, really hard to get an impression of just how much money that is.

SEABROOK: OK, so tell me this - as we watch the real life saga of Bernie Madoff unfolding - maybe coming to an end, going to court, how does the play end?

Mr. SALMON: Well, the patriarch, Mr. Voysey, actually dies at the end of act two.

SEABROOK: Hmm.

Mr. SALMON: And in the end, his son takes over, actually. His son, Edward, takes over the scam, at least for a short amount of time before he is found out.

SEABROOK: Felix Salmon, he's a financial blogger for portfolio.com, and he joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Thanks.

Mr. SALMON: Thank you.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.