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Nowadays this caper would n’er work

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Edited by Maxwell Lewis Latham, Saturday, 27 July 2013, 15:32
Given the right references and enough self-confidence, it is possible to go far in the academic world. Marvin Hewitt had both, for he wrote the references himself. Though he had left school at seventeen without completing his studies, he posed as a Doctor of Philosophy in physics and lectured at several American universities for eight years.

Hewitt had an obsession for mathematics, but his family was not rich enough for him to go to University. On leaving school he worked in factories and goods yards for six years, before he saw an advertisement for a school teacher. He described himself as a post-graduate and taught for a term, but already he was more ambitious.

In 1945 he took a name from a University staff list and used it to become an ærodynamicist at an aircraft factory. But the name he chose was so well known that it was only a matter of time before he was found out.

Hewitt moved to Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, where he taught physics as Julius Ashkin of Columbia University.

The following year he went to a State Teachers’ College in Minnesota, where he impressed the college president with his impeccable - but imaginative - references. Here, he made something of an academic name for himself. This was unfortunate, because the real Julius Ashkin wrote to him gently suggesting that the masquerade should end.

Hewitt was not a man to give up easily. He successively became George Hewitt, ‘formerly research director of the Radio Corporation of America’, Clifford Berry, Ph D, and Kenneth Yates, Ph D. Once again his obsession for taking other people’s names caught him out. Somebody discovered that the real Kenneth Yates was working for an oil company.

This time the newspapers picked up the story, and the publicity was so great that Marvin Hewitt had no alternative but to find work outside the universities.

Jacobson, M., Kaiser, S. & Rondle, C.J.M. et al. (1976 [1975]) Strange Stories Amazing Facts: Stories that are bizarre, unusual, odd, astonishing, incredible ... but true, Reader’s Digest, London, p.455.


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