The Wolf of Wall Street: The True Story

We sort out what’s fact and what’s fiction in Martin Scorsese's glitzy new film about a real-life scammer

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Mary Cybulski / Paramount

Drugs, prostitutes, crashed helicopters — the debauchery in The Wolf of Wall Street is so outlandish that audiences might leave the theater thinking director Martin Scorsese took plenty of creative license in telling the story of Jordan Belfort, a New York stock broker who conned his way to earning hundreds of millions in the 1990s. But Scorsese’s film closely follows Belfort’s own memoir, also titled The Wolf of Wall Street.

That said, Belfort glorifies his vulgar antics in his book, so how much of his account is truly real is up for debate. After all, Belfort was a scam artist — he made a living by lying. Scorsese, knowing this, portrays Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) as an unreliable narrator in the film (see: the changing color of the car in the first scene and the driving while high on Quaaludes episode).

TIME fact-checks the movie against Belfort’s books (he also wrote a sequel entitled Catching the Wolf of Wall Street) and a series of Forbes articles that have followed Belfort’s scheming.

Belfort’s first boss told him the keys to success were masturbation, cocaine and hookers.
Ruling: Fact

According to the book, a broker named Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) gave him this advice early on in his career.

Belfort and his partner owned shares of a risky stock and had their brokers at Stratton Oakmont brokerage aggressively sell the stock to inflate the price. They then sold the stock themselves to turn a profit.
Ruling: Fact

Belfort and Danny Porush (called Donnie Azoff in the film and portrayed by Jonah Hill) utilized this age-old pump-and-dump scheme to get rich quick after graduating from scamming middle-class people into buying worthless penny stocks at a 50 percent commission.

Forbes magazine exposed Belfort, calling him a “twisted Robin Hood.”
Ruling: Fact

Though Belfort wasn’t on the cover, Forbes did run a profile of him in which they called him “a twisted version of Robin Hood, who robs from the rich and gives to himself and his merry band of brokers.” Though it was a scathing portrait, the promise of quick $100,000 commissions brought job applicants to Stratton Oakmont in droves.

Stratton Oakmont took Steve Madden public.
Ruling: Fact

Steve Madden did give a speech the day of the IPO, to which the Stratton Oakmont brokers responded with jeers. Madden, Belfort and Porush owned most of the stock and drove up the price. Belfort, Porush and Madden all went to jail for their scheme.

Belfort laundered his money into Swiss banks using his in-laws.
Ruling: Fact

His wife’s mother and aunt both helped smuggle the money into Switzerland.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Paramount Pictures

Now for the really ridiculous stuff…

Danny Porush (Donnie Azoff) was married to his cousin.
Ruling: Fact

They’re now divorced.

The driving on Quaaludes scene.
Ruling: Mostly fact

It was a Mercedes, not a Lamborghini. But the rest is true to Belfort’s memoir.

The office parties included a “midget-tossing competition.”
Ruling: Fact

…According to Belfort.

The company billed prostitutes to the corporate card.
Ruling: Fact

…And wrote them off in their taxes.

He crashed a helicopter in his front yard while high.
Ruling: Fact

On a related note, he also did at least attempt to sober up in real life.

He sunk a yacht in Italy.
Ruling: Fact

And the yacht used to belong to Coco Chanel.

He called his trophy wife “duchess.”
Ruling: Fact

Though her name was Nadine, not Naomi.

He served a reduced prison sentence after ratting on his friends.
Ruling: Fact

Turns out Belfort was even more of a jerk than they show in the movie. In the film version, Belfort tries to save his partner from incriminating himself. In reality, Belfort ratted out his partner Porush, among others, for a reduced sentence (the two reportedly no longer speak). Belfort spent only two years in prison and had Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong) as his cellmate. Chong convinced Belfort to write a memoir.

He scammed only the rich.
Ruling: Fiction

Some writers have criticized Scorsese for portraying Belfort’s lifestyle as glamorous without showing the victims of his scam. Though Belfort claims in his book and in the film that he only took from the wealthy, the New York Times reports that many small business owners are still trying to recover financially from Belfort’s scheme. (The government claims Belfort has failed to pay his restitution, and reports suggest that Porush is still running get-rich-quick schemes.)

91 comments
jdrewkelly
jdrewkelly

The only fiction you point to is that the movie says he scammed only the rich? The movie doesn't say that at all. Do you even know what you are talking about?

CarlaDatu
CarlaDatu

the truths doesnt make so much sense. deteriorating.

erness
erness

And to think all the revenues he got from the box office of this movie, his book surely increased sales after this, not to mention the attention and the glorification from all critics and multiple award shows' recognitions. 22 months in jail in exchange of all, incredible.

M.Zoabi
M.Zoabi

very very interesting , and extremely helpful . I did walk out of the theatre thinking like " nah , this couldn't have happened for real ", and now I know the truth , thanks to you .

McRoy
McRoy

what about this? he seduced his wife's aunt, was that true?

ChadSommer
ChadSommer

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RohitGupta
RohitGupta

Fact checking against Belfort’s memoir makes sense because he has always been a paragon of honesty. </sarcasm>

Cybdiver
Cybdiver

I'm not sure why everyone is so surprised by the truth.

xiaodre
xiaodre

Even though people get in trouble all the time for saying never, I'm going to go out on a limb.  Nobody can shut down Wall Street.  It can never happen.

Anonymous7777
Anonymous7777

Just one more reason to shut down Wall Street. We don't need it, it hurts everyone in the long run and it feeds despicable character traits across the board. Legalized gambling is all it is and the 'house' always wins. Time to shut it down and let real work equal real success.

msmedetres`
msmedetres`

This article does not tell you what really happened at Stratton Oakmont.For the real story read Master of the Straight Line due to be released in several weeks.

SteveMendel
SteveMendel

I thought he was a really cool guy, lots of fun, until he beats up his wife. At that point he turned into a pathetic little boy. You could feel the mood of the entire theatre change at that point.

AdamStevenson
AdamStevenson

The MOVIE EXPLICITLY SHOWS HIM SCAMMING REGULAR, MIDDLE-CLASS INVESTORS AS WELL. Apparently the person who wrote this article hasn't SEEN THE MOVIE. Why would you set up a straw man to knock it down, as this writer did? Oh, right. CLICKS.

BuckNekid
BuckNekid

If success comes from masturbation, cocaine, and hookers, I should be the richest man on the planet.

pseawrightb
pseawrightb

Martin Scorsese hasn't made a good movie since Goodfellas.

Ameribugger
Ameribugger

My problem is with the CONTINUED GLORIFICATION of these immoral criminals.  They may be SAYING that it shows what a creep the guy was, but MANY Americans (mainly men) will come out of the theatres thinking this guy was a God.  And while it's part of American culture to worship a successful criminal, these movies are one of the REASONS they do so.

AnthonyD.
AnthonyD.

@RohitGupta It wasn't just fact-checked against his memoir. Big incidents such as the sinking of the boat (which did happen) can be checked in news archives and police reports. Some of the things we'll never know without asking people who were there (like the midget-tossing) but a good deal of it can be fact-checked with reliable sources. The truth is often ugly, though, so it isn't surprising that people would rather dismiss it than face it.

JordonBelfort
JordonBelfort

Spoken like a true loser... America was built on the concept of making easy money through profiteering.

Simply buy something for $10 then sell it to someone else for $100 is the way to make real money. Hard work is for suckers and losers. Ebay selling is a great example of how to make easy money. Working at a job and earning a Bum paycheck will never get you anywhere.

By the way, I'm not the real jordon belfort. I just like the name... Ha ha

WilliamFairfax
WilliamFairfax

I agree with you SteveMendel. When he hit his wife the mood in the theater changed drastically to disapproval and disappointment. There were even a few gasps. Ruined the film for me.

motmaitre
motmaitre

@SteveMendel I guess you missed the part where she hit him first? She slapped him, he punched her. before that, she was shown repeatedly assaulting him by throwing water in his face.


But of course, these days domestic violence is okay as long as it's women hitting men. A man hits back, and he's a brute. That's sexism- against men. I'ma man and I take exception to the fact that I'm somehow worth less than a woman. Why is it okay for a woman to hit me, but not for me to hit her?


Equality is just that- equality. If a man hit him, he has the right to retaliate in self-defense. Any woman who assaults anybody deserves to be hit in retaliation. You can't give someone a blank cheque to go around hitting people just because they're female.

ridgebriar
ridgebriar

@SteveMendel 

Unfortunately, that is what psychopaths like Belfort do. They charm and manipulate their intended targets with no remorse ... but many times violence is also a part of their dysfunctional lifestyle.

VoxyBrown
VoxyBrown

Don't be naive. Yeah, clicks.

Where do you think you are? This is journalism.

drkoelper
drkoelper

@AdamStevenson: Perhaps if you re-read the article, you might find the part that says, "[Belfort and Porush] utilized this age-old pump-and-dump scheme to get rich quick after graduating from scamming middle-class people into buying worthless penny stocks at a 50 percent commission."

JohnBuchanan
JohnBuchanan

@BuckNekidI don't have a lot of money, but based on that formula, I've been rich since I came of age... nice to know.

motmaitre
motmaitre

@pseawrightb agreed. And even Goodfellas wasn't perfect. the ending sequence was too long, jarred with ther est of the movie and came off as a little silly.


Scorcese has a way of ruining his own movies with his bizarre indulgences. Gangs of New York could have been a masterpiece, but he had to ruin it with implausible plot points and bad casting (Dicaprio was terrible miscast as a tough gangster- and he killed Bill the Buther? yeah, right.)


Cape Fear was pretty good, and Hugo was what it set out to be, charming. Wolf of Wall Street, which I saw two days ago, was a disaster. Too long, no real plot, repetitive and boring. It was just a series of wild scenes stiched together with no real pacing or story development. I got so bored I had to take a timeout while watching it. 


It annoys me that this sloppy, overlong montage is being hailed as a masterpiece. I was disappointed.

drkoelper
drkoelper

@pseawrightb: Yeah, right. "The Departed" only won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2006, with Scorsese also taking the Oscar for Best Director. And "Hugo" was only the recipient of eleven Oscar nominations last year. 

StevenTanner
StevenTanner

@pseawrightb Goodfellas is among his masterpieces, but he's made some other spectacular films.  "Wolf" was good, in my opinion, and "the Departed" was brilliant.

davi.sousa
davi.sousa

@Ameribugger "but MANY Americans (mainly men)...."

Please, don't be foolish ! Comments like this has nothing to do with the subject !

AdamStevenson
AdamStevenson

@Ameribugger With respect, if you think the film "glorifies" this, then you haven't seen it. There's a difference between a film offering easy moralizing and leaving it up to the audience. One could say that "Taxi Driver" glorifies vigilantism because it doesn't offer easy moralizing. It doesn't. And neither does this film - if someone sees this and thinks it "glorifies" these characters, then, with respect, they weren't paying attention.

friendsaid
friendsaid

@AnthonyD.@RohitGuptaWhere did you read that this was "fact-checked' to more than just his memoir and those forbes articles?  No where does it say it was.  A good deal can be fact-checked but this did not appear to be done here. This is not fact-checking but rather verification of consistency between the movie and the books and Forbes articles. With undocumented events such as most of these are they will always remain speculative and not fact.

tw645
tw645

@motmaitre Obvious that you are nothing more than a woman abuser with such an absurd comment. It's right up there with the pedophile trying to justify that playing with little children was an acceptable practice in ancient Rome.


You see comments like you made will only will feel right to the "deranged" whereas the sain will see it as complete bull.

WilliamFairfax
WilliamFairfax

In addition to what Anonymous 777 and Linda sm said, which I agree with completely-- it is simply naive to believe that size and/or strength differential should not be taken into account. Also there is nothing equal about a woman's slap to a man's hit. "Equal" action with unequal force is not equality. You sound very immature and whiney. Retaliation is never advisable. And there's nothing lower than hitting/using force against someone weaker. Men should never hit a woman. You seem very bitter and angry. If being a man is too much of a burden to you perhaps you should get an operation and fix your problem.

Eagle1
Eagle1

@motmaitre  does a slap equal a punch? does a splash of water equal a punch?


verbal abuse and slapping and throwing water,etc is wrong.. but a punch is assault.


LindaSm87182426
LindaSm87182426

@motmaitreOh come on. You are just a creep. Don't make an excuse for cowardly behavior. I'm much larger than a toddler but yet I'd never deck them because it wouldn't be a fair fight.  I'd barely feel whatever a toddler did to me. Calling water thrown in your face an assault is a stretch and you know it. You are just looking fro an excuse to brutalize a woman or you aren't man enough to control your emotions.

Anonymous7777
Anonymous7777

@motmaitre Being "equal" and being the "same" are two different things. A woman's strength and a man's strength aren't even close to being equal or the same, so a woman hitting a man isn't going to do much to him. However, the reverse can be devastating and that's why men should never hit women. If she's going off on him, he can restrain her or walk/run away. But whatever the reason for the violence, a man should NEVER hit first or hit back...it's NEVER equal or the same. Learn how to differentiate.

ckenton
ckenton

@AdamStevenson  With respect, I've seen the film and it does "glorify" Belfort--quite a bit. To glorify simply means to "make admirable"--and while that's certainly in the eye of the beholder, it's obvious that plenty will find something to admire in a character portrayed by one of Hollywood's hottest stars as a handsome, fast-talking sales genius with women on each arm, mansions and beach houses, a garage full of Italian sports cars and a swiss bank account. If the film isn't glorifying Belfort, why did they embellish the driving-on-quaaludes story by significantly upgrading the car to a Lamborghini? As if that wouldn't make it more cool? 


It's also obvious that, despite the screenwriter's protests to the contrary, the filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing in playing with glorification. They make a big point of the original Fortune article that trashed Belfort and Stratton Oakmont as scammers, and how such critical publicity only increased Belfort's attraction to a legion of fast-talking sales disciples. Do you really think the irony that a Hollywood film in the same vein would accomplish exactly the same outcome could be lost on Scorcese? Do you really think he didn't know his film would generate a new wave of Belfort fans and pretenders, even if it were "objective" and critical? He's either blindingly stupid, or winking at his own genius while playing his audience for fools. 

WilliamFairfax
WilliamFairfax

The stance that you should never hit someone weaker is not sexism. I firmly believe that a man should never hit a woman. But before you wimpy little mamasboys get your panties twisted, i also believe a woman should never hit an elderly citizen or child or disabled person. You and your buddy @motmaitre sure have a chip on your shoulders. Nobody's against you but wrong is wrong. A stronger person hitting a weaker person will always be worse than the other way around. In response to calling it a double standard, it's naive and illogical to think that strength should not be taken into consideration.

equiusss
equiusss

@Carthen @LindaSm87182426 Ok, Since we've gone politically correct and Anonymous777, Linda and Carthen have justified women hitting men as being acceptable ... let me make it clear, assault is assault, regardless of who commits it.  No feminist (sexist) argument will change a FACT.  Assault is assault regardless of who does it.  Equating "equality" with retaliation is misguided - but the sentiment is right.  You don't make two sets of rules for different groups (eg. men and women).


Also, don't underestimate how destructive "mental abuse" can be.  Any implication that "mental abuse" is ok (or not as bad, or justifiable) is sheer ignorance.


Society has to stop accepting double standards - whether they be from one of society's most sexist groups (ie. feminists) or anyone else (eg. chauvinists).  Take a stand - and let's truly push for gender equality.  It means denouncing feminism AND chauvinism, but that's a good thing.  If you see someone who openly declares themself as feminist or chauvinist, remind them they are a sexist pig.

BeardsNotBombs
BeardsNotBombs

@ckenton --- First I'd like to say you make remarkable and interesting points in your previous comments. Great insight. 

But to answer your question about switching from a Benz to a Lambo....it's simple. Both for humor and a wow factor. Watching him open the car door with his foot was funny (was intended to be anyway) and a Lamborghini just screams for attention (like, "hey look at me....I got money and I waste it")

I feel this movie did a great job of showing the duality of man. Belfort started out with good intentions & great ambition and then greed took over. Later pride for not walking anyway from his empire. Like a cancer his addiction was growing the entire film until he lost it all.

Great film which both glorifies outlandish lifestyles but also shows the sickening pitfalls that come with the territory. 

midnightinsummer
midnightinsummer

@ckenton @AdamStevenson Thank you ckenton. I remember reading about Michael Lewis' disappointment that his whistleblower book about his time at Solomon Bros & becoming revolted by the way they ripped people off. He hoped that by writing it it would lead to better regulating. Instead, college grads just wanted to know how they could get a job being a Teflon criminal stealing millions.

Americans have long devolved to having the morals, decency & lack of empathy of sociopaths.

douglas.mcfarland
douglas.mcfarland

@ckenton @douglas.mcfarland  It would be an over generalization IMO to say that the sole purpose of film makers is to make money. Certainly in order to continue telling stories in the media of film; those films need to generate a profit. The collaborative artistry of film making is what makes cinema so attractive to me.  A single Hollywood film employs many hundreds of people with engaging fulfilling work that they can in most cases be quite proud of. Art of any kind requires patrons to support it otherwise its practitioners starve or at the very least are forced to live ascetic lifestyles.


I really didn't mean to imply that you are wrong about the fact that SOME people will react by wanting to emulate Belfort. Again I think that is point the movie tried to make. If you are saying that the movie creates those people then I disagree. Those people are in an extreme minority which is why for instance I know they exist but have never met one. The attraction of people to movies about gangsters and murders etc. is precisely because they depict scenarios most of us will never experience.


In order for some thing to be glorified it must make that activity seem glorious such that people of average appetites and proclivities would want to emulate said activities. The Lamborgini scene while quite funny as depicted certainly didn't make it seem like a good idea to take quaaludes and wreck million dollar vehicles or $80,000 one for that matter.

ckenton
ckenton

@douglas.mcfarland I'm pretty sure the whole point of the movie was to make money. 


You see the excessive hedonism and are repulsed. Good for you. Really. That doesn't mean a whole lot of people won't see the excessive wealth and draw a different conclusion--about who wins and who loses in our society, and how to be a winner. If you think I'm wrong, just track the sales of Belfort's books on Amazon. 


Regarding glorification, again, just look at one, simple, concrete point in the movie. Why did the filmmakers embellish the story of Belfort driving on quaaludes by changing the car to a Lamborghini? That wasn't *true* to life. Why change it--and how is that not glorification? 

douglas.mcfarland
douglas.mcfarland

@ckenton I thought that was the whole point of the movie to make us AWARE that there is a small but significant contingent of people who are most likely psychopaths who will do anything they think they can get away with for money and there own personal benefit.


Those people exist already. They have been depicted in this movie among many others. Again I fail to see how the film "glorifies" this or will do anything to make more. Greedy hedonistic psychopaths exist and will be drawn to money and power. Most people will never see the excesses and depravity that some humans indulge. Unless they watch this movie.  

ridgebriar
ridgebriar

@drkoelper @ckenton  

Unfortunately, finding this movie's events either flattering or unflattering ... is totally dependent on whose eyes are viewing it.  We all perceive things differently, and we all have different definitions of what is moral and immoral behavior.  


Example, recently Miley Cyrus put on a very raunchy, provocative, unorthodox performance on a televised awards show - yet many of her young fans thought she was amazing and enviable for her boldness and edginess - bringing her more fame, adoration and wealth as her album sales shot up.   

There were another group of people who found this former child star's performance to be vulgar, demeaning and reprehensible. 

Lesson - just because one group of people find something revolting and deplorable - does NOT mean all people will feel this way, and likely the young and impressionable will be the most vulnerable group, and find this type of behavior that brought a young girl massive wealth and fame ... something to aspire to, rather than finding it offensive and repugnant. The same will be true for those observing Belfort's outrageous lifestyle played out in a much hyped, big budget glitzy film. Unfortunately, there will be an impressionable demographic who will find Belfort's lifestyle quite desirable.

ridgebriar
ridgebriar

@ckenton @AdamStevenson 
I agree.  When I first saw the film I had mixed feelings about the message it sent those seeing it.  

After a couple of hours, I felt there was enough debauchery, ruthless greed and lewdness in this movie to paint a very negative image of that lifestyle to theater goers.

Then ... after a couple of days, I finally realized that what message this movie ends up sending - is totally dependent on the particular individual's eyes this imagery was filtered through. And now I  thoroughly believe there is a demographic who will come to worship and idolize Belfort and his reprehensible lifestyle after seeing this movie. 

We all react differently to any given situation - and this movie is no exception. It is likely there will be a demographic that will be inspired by the life of Belfort as portrayed in this movie - most likely the same demographic that enthusiastically supports raunchy websites, the local drug dealer ...  and does not hesitate to lie, cheat and steal if they think it will make them a buck. From this 'charming' group of people - will likely come Belfort's new loyal and admiring minions. Ugh.

ckenton
ckenton

@drkoelper @douglas.mcfarland  I guess you're not familiar with the mindset that will only see the path to cars, women and cash portrayed by this film. You know, the mindset that brought us the financial meltdown? Maybe you think this film is the perfect antidote to greed--that upon seeing such grotesque behavior, the greedy will be chastened, and not perversely inspired. Tell that to the wall street bankers who cheered during the worst excesses of the film


drkoelper
drkoelper

@ckenton: "The Wolf of Wall Street" hardly presents a flattering portrait of Jordan Belfort. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. What exactly did you find so admirable about that drug addicted con artist?

douglas.mcfarland
douglas.mcfarland

@ckenton I guess everyone sees things differently. I was disgusted and appalled at the behavior of Jordan Belfort when I saw the film. One has to wonder why you think it is glorious to bilk poor people, demean most of humanity, spread STDs and ruin peoples lives including their own??? I really can't fathom why you think that it is glorious to be an overindulgent, slime ball, thief, wife beating, misogynist, drug addled, egotistical POS.


Does the movie make you want to be like Jordan Belfort? Let me guess your moral fiber is a cut above but the masses of weak willed humanity that see the film will only see massive overconsumption and waste and greed as a good thing to be emulated.