List of impostors

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Cartoon of the would-be explorer Louis de Rougemont who claimed to have had adventures in Australasia.

An impostor (also spelled imposter) is a person who pretends to be somebody else, often through means of disguise, often to try to gain financial or social advantages through social engineering, but also often for purposes of espionage or law enforcement.

Notable impostors[edit]


False nationality claims[edit]

Frits Holm (1881–1930), Danish adventurer and self-styled "Duke of Colachine"

False Royal Heritage Claims[edit]

Academic impostors[edit]

  • Dr. Charlotte Bach (1920–1981), fringe evolutionary theorist who was not a doctor
  • Marvin Hewitt (b. 1922), who became a university professor without any credentials
  • James Hogue (b. 1959), who most famously entered Princeton University by posing as a self-taught orphan
  • Kent Hovind (b. 1953) who claims a doctorate but holds qualifications only from unaccredited organizations.
  • Marilee Jones (b. 1951), Dean of Admissions at MIT and best-selling author who claimed advanced degrees in science fields. After ten years in the post, she was revealed to have only a high school diploma.
  • George O'Leary (b. 1946), who, in 2001, was hired and fired within 5 days as the head football coach of the University of Notre Dame, when it was discovered that he did not have a master's degree from "NYU-Stony Brook University" (a non-existent institution), as stated on his résumé.
  • Scott Thompson (born 1957), who, in 2012, was hired as the CEO of Yahoo!, on the basis of holding a bachelor's degree in accounting and computer science. It was discovered four months later that he did not hold a computer science degree; he thus left the company.

False minority national identity claims[edit]

Multiple impostors[edit]

  • Frédéric Bourdin (b. 1974), "the French Chameleon"
  • Barry Bremen (1947–2011), known in the sports world as "The Great Imposter", after pretending to be an MLB umpire, an NBA All-Star, and a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, among other things
  • Ferdinand Waldo Demara (1921–1982), "The Great Impostor", who masqueraded as many people from monks to surgeons to prison wardens
  • Christian Gerhartsreiter (b. 1961), a serial impostor and convicted murderer who infamously posed as a member of the Rockefeller family and became the subject of several books.
  • Stanley Clifford Weyman (1890–1960), American multiple impostor who impersonated public officials, including the U.S. Secretary of State and various military officers
  • Laurel Rose Willson (1941–2002), who claimed to be "Lauren Stratford", a victim of satanic ritual abuse, and later on, Holocaust survivor, "Laura Grabowski"
  • Mamoru Samuragochi (b. 1963), who claimed to be a "deaf composer", though it was later revealed that his hearing ability has already improved and most of his works were written by Takashi Niigaki, conductor of "Onimusha Soundtrack", produced by Samuragouchi.

Women who lived as men[edit]

Many women in history have presented themselves as men in order to advance in typically male-dominated fields. In most cases their exact relationship to their male presentation was never recorded unambiguously or at all; if or how they would fit into modern Western transgender categories can never be certain.

  • James Barry (c. 1790 – 1865), born Margaret Ann Bulkley who successfully lived as a male military surgeon in the British Army
  • Frances Clayton (c. 1830 – after 1863), disguised herself as a man named Jack Williams in order to fight for Union forces during the American Civil War
  • Nadezhda Durova (1783–1866), a woman who, while disguised as a man, became a decorated soldier in the Russian cavalry, during the Napoleonic Wars
  • Catalina de Erauso (1592–1650), Basque nun-soldier in the Spanish colonial army
  • Pope Joan (fl. 850s or 1099), a woman who allegedly ruled as pope, although most modern scholars doubt the historicity of this account
  • Dorothy Lawrence (1896–1964), English reporter, who secretly posed as a man to become a soldier during World War I
  • Hua Mulan, legendary figure from ancient China who disguised herself as a man to join the army, when her father was too old for it
  • Deborah Sampson (1760–1827), a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War
  • Mary Anne Talbot (1778–1808), Englishwoman who wore male dress and became a sailor during the Napoleonic Wars
  • Loreta Janeta Velazquez (1842–1923), Cuban-born woman who claimed that she masqueraded as a male Confederate soldier during the American Civil War

Men who lived as women[edit]

  • Chevalier d'Eon (1728–1810), French diplomat, spy and soldier, whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman.
  • Dora Ratjen (1918–2008) was a male with intersex features, raised as a girl. He gained awareness to be male in his early teens. He competed in women's high jump, won the gold medal the 1938 European Athletics Championships and broke the women's world record in 1939. After a criminal investigation followed against him in the same year, he had to return the gold medal and his name was expunged from the records.

Military impostors[edit]


In fiction[edit]



  • The Associate, 1996 film starring Whoopi Goldberg who disguises herself as a white man to get a job on Wall Street
  • Anything for Love, 1993 comedy film starring Corey Haim as a bullied teenage boy who disguises himself as a girl to escape the high school's bully.
  • Big Momma's House, 2000 American crime comedy film where Martin Lawrence disguises himself as a rotund grandmother
  • Catch Me If You Can, 2002 American biographical crime drama film based on the life of Frank Abagnale, who successfully conned millions of dollars worth of checks as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and legal prosecutor
  • Can't Buy Me Love, 1987 teen romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson about a nerd at a high school in Tucson, Arizona who gives a cheerleader $1,000 to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month to be more popular
  • Changeling, 2008 American drama film, based partly on real-life events – the Gordon Stewart Northcott case in the 1928 "Wineville Chicken Coop Murders"
  • Coming to America, 1988 American romantic comedy film starring Eddie Murphy as a rich African prince who pretends to be poor in the hope of finding a wife
  • Connie and Carla, 2004 American comedy film where two women pose as drag queens
  • Dave, 1993 comedy-drama film starring Kevin Kline who has a side job impersonating the President
  • Don't Tell Her It's Me, 1990 comedy film starring Steve Guttenberg as an overweight cartoonist who poses as a biker from New Zealand
  • Face/Off, 1997 American science fiction action thriller film starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, who assume the physical appearances of each other
  • Genius, 1999 American made for television teen comedy film where a 13 year-old whiz kid takes on a bad boy image to make friends his own age
  • Houseguest, 1995 comedy film starring Sinbad who pretends to be a rich dentist
  • I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, 2007 American comedy film where two straight firefighters pose as homosexual lovers
  • Impostor, 2001 American science fiction film based upon the 1953 short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick
  • The Imposter, 2012 British-American documentary film about the 1997 case of the French confidence trickster Frédéric Bourdin
  • Just One of the Guys, 1985 comedy film about a female high school reporter who poses as a teen-aged boy
  • Juwanna Mann, 2002 American sports romantic comedy film about a basketball star becoming a female impersonator joining women's basketball, after being banned from men's basketball
  • A Knight's Tale, 2001 medieval adventure film featuring a peasant who poses as nobility to compete in a jousting tournament
  • Little Man, 2006 American comedy film about a diminutive, but adult, criminal pretending to be an infant
  • Little Sister, 1992 American comedy film about a college freshman who poses as a woman as a fraternity prank to be pledged into a sorority
  • Mrs. Doubtfire, 1993 American comedy film starring Robin Williams who disguises himself as a pleasant, elderly British nanny
  • Motocrossed, 2001 Disney Channel Original Movie about a young girl who secretly poses as her twin brother to win the big motocross race for him after he is injured
  • The New Guy, 2002 American teen comedy film about a high school geek who poses as a dangerous criminal to be more popular
  • Overboard, 1987 American romantic comedy film about a poor carpenter who tricks a rich heiress into believing that he is her husband
  • The Ringer, 2005 comedy film starring Johnny Knoxville who pretends to be mentally challenged to enter the Special Olympics
  • The Secret of My Success, 1987 American comedy film starring Michael J. Fox as a kid from the mail room pretends to be an executive
  • She's the Man, 2006 American romantic comedy film where a female soccer star pretends to be a boy to play on their team
  • Sister Act, 1992 American comedy film starring Whoopi Goldberg as a Reno lounge singer who pretends to be a nun to avoid the mob
  • Some Like It Hot, 1959 American comedy film starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, where two men disguise themselves as female band members after accidentally witnessing the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre
  • Soul Man, 1986 comedy film about a man who undergoes racial transformation with pills to qualify for a black-only scholarship at Harvard Law School
  • Tootsie, 1982 American comedy-drama film starring Dustin Hoffman as a struggling actor who pretends to be a woman in order to get a job
  • True Identity, 1991 American comedy film starring Lenny Henry as a black man who disguises himself as a white man to escape the mob
  • Two Much, 1995 romantic screwball comedy film starring Antonio Banderas as a man who wants to date two different women, so he pretends to have a twin brother
  • Victor Victoria, 1982 film starring Julie Andrews as a woman who poses as a female impersonator
  • While You Were Sleeping, 1995 romantic comedy film starring Sandra Bullock about a subway fare collector who fools a family into believing she was engaged to their comatose son
  • White Chicks, 2004 American buddy cop comedy film about two African American FBI agents who disguise themselves as two Caucasian women
  • Working Girl, 1988 romantic comedy-drama film starring Melanie Griffith who plays a secretary who takes on the role of her boss, a player on Wall Street
  • Wedding Crashers, 2005 American comedy film starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as two party crashers who trick a wedding party into believing they were invited
  • Yentl, 1983 American romantic musical drama based on the 1975 play of Singer's short story "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy" where Barbra Streisand as a Jewish girl who disguises herself as a boy to enter religious training
  • Zelig, 1983 American mockumentary film by Woody Allen who plays Leonard Zelig, a nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, takes on the characteristics of strong personalities around him

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CNBC pundit and hedge-fund operator at heart of $4 million Ponzi scheme". NY Daily News. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  2. ^ von Lüpke, Marc (1 November 2013). "Doktor Dreist" [Doctor Brazen]. Der Spiegel (in German). 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Barrett, William P. (11 October 2004). "The Fakes". Forbes. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 

External links[edit]