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The Old Man & the Gun: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek

Robert Redford
Born: August 18, 1936
Santa Monica, California, USA
Forrest Tucker
Born: June 23, 1920
Birthplace: Miami, Florida, USA
Death: May 29, 2004, FMC Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas, USA (natural causes)
Danny Glover
Born: July 22, 1946
San Francisco, California, USA
Theodore 'Teddy' Green
Born: c. 1915
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Tom Waits
Born: December 7, 1949
Pomona, California, USA
John Waller
Born: July 3, 1942
Birthplace: Napa, California, USA
Casey Affleck
Born: August 12, 1975
Falmouth, Massachusetts, USA
John Hunt
Born: c. 1942
Birthplace: Texas, USA

Questioning the Story:

When did the real-life story take place?

In exploring The Old Man & the Gun true story, we discovered that the actual portion of Forrest Tucker's life depicted in the movie took place mostly in 1981 when the real Forrest Tucker was approximately 61, about a decade younger than Robert Redford's character in the movie (Redford himself was 80 at the time of filming).

When was Forrest Tucker first imprisoned?

Like in the movie, the real Forrest Tucker embarked on his life of crime when he was a teenager. He was first arrested in 1935 for stealing a bicycle, and he first landed in prison at age 15.

Had Forrest Tucker really been imprisoned in Alcatraz?

Yes. While an inmate of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in the 1950s, Forrest Tucker (prisoner AZ1047) managed to escape when he was transferred to a county jail in November of 1956 to await a court appearance. Tucker complained of pains in his kidneys and was hurried from the jail to a Los Angeles hospital. Guards were placed at every door. While their heads were turned, he broke a pencil and stabbed himself in the ankle. The injury forced the guards to remove his leg irons. As they ushered him into the X-ray room, he sprung up and strong-armed two guards then fled out of the hospital. He was caught a few hours later in the middle of a cornfield, still in his handcuffs and hospital gown. -The New Yorker

Bank robber Forrest Tucker (left) circa 1953 and actor Robert Redford as Tucker in The Old Man & the Gun movie.

Did Forrest Tucker's impressive escape from San Quentin happen like it does in the movie?

Yes. The Old Man and the Gun true story confirms that Tucker's August 9, 1979 escape from California's San Quentin State Prison unfolded much like it does in the movie. A 59-year-old Tucker (in the movie he is said to be 70) and two fellow inmates, John Waller and William McGirk, constructed a makeshift 14-foot kayak using wood, plastic sheets, duct tape and Formica. They stenciled the name "Rub-a-Dub-Dub" and the words "Marin Yacht Club" on the side, which they had painted blue (the other side was left unfinished to save time). They snuck it from the prison lumber shop into the water and attempted to paddle away as the guards looked on. Their craft was sound, but strong winds caused giant swells to flood the boat. It sank before they made it past the edge of the prison property at San Quentin.

Fortunately for them, they were wearing sweatshirts and hats that Tucker had painted bright orange, with the logo of the nearby Marin Yacht Club. A guard spotted them clutching to their overturned craft as they kicked to the shore. He asked if they needed help. McGirk held up his wrist and shouted, "We just lost a couple of oars, but my Timex is still running." The guard laughed and returned to his post, still unaware that three prisoners had escaped. Waller and McGirk were captured within months and sent back to San Quentin. Forrest Tucker, however, was on the run for the next three years, during which time he and his gang, dubbed the "Over-the-Hill Gang", embarked on a spree of bank robberies. -The New Yorker

Top: The real makeshift kayak that Forrest Tucker and two fellow inmates used to escape from San Quentin in 1979.  Bottom: The makeshift kayak in the movie.

Are Forrest Tucker's accomplices, portrayed by Danny Glover and Tom Waits, based on real people?

Yes. Together, Forrest Tucker and his accomplices were dubbed the Over-the-Hill Gang by the authorities who pursued them. John Waller, who broke out of San Quentin with Tucker in 1979, is portrayed by Tom Waits in the movie. Danny Glover's character, Theodore "Teddy" Green, was a fellow bank robber and escape artist who Tucker had first met in Alcatraz in the 1950s. He was reportedly a Greek American, not an African American like in the film. The Over-the-Hill Gang is believed to have committed as many as sixty robberies in a single year.

Did bank employees really comment on how polite and friendly Forrest Tucker was when he robbed them?

Yes. In the movie, a bank manager tells police after being robbed, "He was such a gentleman." Friendly and courteous, Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) tells the bank employees he encounters, "I'm just making a living." In David Grann's New Yorker article that inspired the movie, the real Forrest Tucker looks back at two bank tellers and says, "Thank you. Thank you," as he makes off with packets of cash. You can read Grann's article in its entirety in his book The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession. Grann is also the author of The Lost City of Z, which inspired the 2017 movie of the same name that we researched here.

Police captain James Chinn, who was involved in Tucker's final capture in Pompano Beach, Florida, said that he had never met such a gracious criminal. Even a juror who voted in favor of convicting him commented, "You got to hand it to the guy—he's got style."

Did bank robber Forrest Tucker ever carry a gun?

Yes. Like in the movie, the real Forrest Tucker carried a gun during his heists. He described it as being an essential "prop" necessary for any bank robbery. He thought of himself as being similar to a stage actor, someone who could hold a crowd's attention with the sheer force of his personality. He was never reported to have shot anybody and says he would normally just flash the gun so the tellers understood the situation. "To me violence is the first sign of an amateur," Tucker said.

A former FBI agent said of Tucker and his Over-the-Hill Gang, "You can't say how many lives they altered by sticking a gun in someone's face." -The New Yorker

The real Forrest Tucker circa 1983 and actor Robert Redford in The Old Man & the Gun movie.

How many times was the real Forrest Tucker married?

The Old Man & the Gun true story reveals that bank robber Forrest Tucker was married three times. None of his wives knew that he was a criminal when they married him, only when they were later told by police following his arrest. David Grann's New Yorker article reveals the true damage that Tucker caused in their lives. His first wife, Shirley Storz, who he married in September of 1951, had the marriage annulled after discovering the truth. She had believed that she was married to a well-to-do songwriter named Richard Bellow, who made daily commutes to the city. When Tucker went to prison, Shirley was left alone to raise their five-month-old son Rick. The authorities confiscated her possessions since they had been purchased with stolen money. She moved in with her parents and went to work in a factory to support her son.

"He blew my mother's world apart," his son Rick said later as an adult. "She never remarried." Shirley died of cancer with her son at her side, still heartbroken over the dreams that had been shattered long ago.

Is Sissy Spacek's character, Jewel, based on a real person?

Yes. When Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is in mid-getaway in the movie, he stops to help Jewel Centers (Sissy Spacek), who is stranded next to her broke-down pickup on the side of the road. He uses the situation for cover as the cops speed by. Tucker charms the divorced farm widow during a meal at a diner. A romance develops between them as they discover excitement and comfort in each other. Jewel is based on Tucker's third wife. In real life, they met in the early 1980s at a private club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, not during one of Tucker's bank getaways. Instead of being a farm widow who drives a pickup, the real Jewel (spelled "Jewell") was an heiress to a modest moving-company empire, Acme Moving and Storage. She was indeed a widow, having lost her first husband shortly before meeting Tucker. When she was younger, the attractive blond is said to have looked a little like Marilyn Monroe. They married in 1982.

Unlike Jewel in the movie, the real Jewel knew nothing about Tucker's criminal ways until after they were married and the police informed her upon his arrest. She thought he was a wealthy securities broker named Bob Callahan. Upon learning he was a criminal, she chose to stay with him and support him while he was incarcerated. As he pleaded for forgiveness, "All I wanted to do was hold him," she recalled. Tucker vowed to reform himself and was sent to San Quentin...again. She stayed married to him during his decade-long prison stint.

Sissy Spacek's character is based on Forrest Tucker's third wife, Jewell Centers.

Is Texas Lawman John Hunt (Casey Affleck) based on a real person?

Yes. In the movie, Casey Affleck's character, 40-year-old Texas lawman John Hunt, chases Robert Redford's Tucker from Texas to the East. A broadcaster challenges Hunt, saying, "Here’s hoping time doesn’t catch up with them before you do."

Hunt was indeed inspired by a real person, a 40-year-old sergeant who had worked for the Austin police department. "They were the most professional, successful robbers that I ever encountered in all my years on the force," Hunt, now retired, told The New Yorker. "They had more experience in robbery than we had catching them."

Did Forrest Tucker really wear a "hearing aid" that was actually a police scanner?

Yes. The real Forrest Tucker considered this his trademark. He wore a hearing aid that was actually a police scanner. It was wired through his shirt and allowed him to stay one step ahead of the authorities. In particular, it would help to let him know if any silent alarms had been triggered. -The New Yorker

Forrest Tucker's trademark was wearing a hearing aid that was actually a police scanner.

Was Forrest Tucker really shot several times during his 1983 capture?

Yes. After robbing a high-security Massachusetts bank in the spring of 1983 by pretending he and his accomplices were armored car guards, Tucker, 64, fled to Florida to hide out. Tellers had identified him through mugshots. While in Florida, he was in touch with an old friend from Alcatraz, Teddy Green. One day, Tucker went to meet his friend in a West Palm Beach parking garage. He pulled into the garage, and just as his friend walked toward the car, FBI agents jumped out and screamed, "FBI, don't move! You're under arrest." He was certain that his friend had "ratted me out."

Though no gun was ever found, several agents reported that they saw a pistol in his hand. The true story confirms that they opened fire, hitting Tucker three times. "They all opened up on me and hit me three times," recalled Tucker, "in both shoulders with M16 rifles, and with buckshot in the legs." He ducked down and floored it out of the garage, crashing as he exited. He stumbled from the car into the street. A woman passing by with two children offered the bloodied Tucker a ride, believing that he had been hit by a car. It wasn't until she was pulling away with him in the passenger seat that she noticed someone in the rearview mirror holding a rifle. Her six-year-old son screamed, "Criminal!" A half-mile chase ensued and they ended up on a dead-end street. Tucker signaled that the woman could exit the car with her children. He then stepped out and passed out in the street. -The New Yorker

How much money did Forrest Tucker steal during his career as a bank robber?

Tucker is estimated to have stolen millions of dollars during his career as a bank robber and criminal. He also stole the equivalent of a fleet of sports cars. As a member of The Over-the-Hill Gang alone, he is believed to have stolen more than $1 million in cash and jewelry in the early 1980s. -Los Angeles Times

Did Forrest Tucker really have a daughter?

Yes. Bank robber Forrest Tucker had a daughter and a son. They did not know him, as he had no part in their upbringing. "I thought he died in an automobile accident," said his son Rick Bellow. "That's what my mom told me to protect me." Rick didn't learn the truth about his father until his mom told him when he was in his early twenties. After his father was arrested when Rick was a baby, the authorities confiscated almost everything they had, including their furniture. "He left us with nothing. He turned our world inside out," said Rick.

After striking up a correspondence with his father, Rick discovered that he had an older half sister named Gaile Tucker, who was employed as a nurse in Florida. They eventually met and tried to piece together the details they had learned about their father. "I don't have any ill feelings," Gaile said of her estranged father. "I just don't have any feelings."

Forrest Tucker's daughter is represented by actress Elisabeth Moss in the movie. Gaile's name is changed to Dorothy. -The New Yorker

How many times did Forrest Tucker escape from prison?

According to Tucker himself, he escaped from prison "18 times successfully an 12 times unsuccessfully." His first escape happened in 1936 at age 15 after he had been imprisoned for car theft. He was arrested for the last time in 1999 at age 78 after committing a string of small-time bank robberies from Texas to Missouri. -The New Yorker

The real Forrest Silva Tucker escaped from prison 18 times.

Does the movie use footage from one of Robert Redford's earlier films to depict the character when he's younger?

Yes. During a montage of Forrest Tucker's jailbreaks, instead of turning to prosthetics or CGI to make Robert Redford's character look younger, they included footage from his 1966 crime drama The Chase.

Is the montage of escapes shown in the movie based on Forrest Tucker's real-life prison breaks?

Yes. In addition to building a kayak to escape from San Quentin, which starts the period of Forrest Tucker's life depicted in the movie, he had many other impressive escapes. They are chronicled in more detail in David Grann's article, which can be found in his book The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession. On one occasion in the early 1950s, Tucker escaped from county jail by feigning severe stomach pain. He was rushed to the hospital and the doctors concluded that it had to be appendicitis. They removed his appendix, and while he was recovering he picked the lock on his shackles and strolled out of the hospital, unnoticed. Losing his totally-fine appendix was a "small price to pay," said Tucker.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession by David Grann contains his article "The Old Man & the Gun" that inspired the movie.

Did the real Forrest Tucker hope that his life would be turned into a movie?

Yes. In the 1990s, Tucker wrote two manuscripts chronicling his life, the 261-page Alcatraz: The True Story and a more ambitious account titled The Can Opener. In Tucker's eyes, a Hollywood movie was the ultimate culmination of his life as an outlaw. "I called Clint Eastwood's secretary, but she said, 'Unless you have an agent, he won’t read it,' " Tucker said. Convinced that he needed to become legendary like Bonnie and Clyde, a 78-year-old Tucker went back to robbing banks in 1999. He passed away in prison in 2004, more than a decade before his life story was turned into the Robert Redford movie (watch the trailer). -The New Yorker

Did Forrest Tucker return to robbing banks after going to prison for his crimes as part of the Over-the-Hill Gang?

Yes. Upon his release in 1993 at age 73, Tucker went to live with his wife Jewel who had purchased a peach-colored house for them in Pompano Beach, Florida. In 1999 at age 78, after trying his hand at giving clarinet and saxophone lessons, and attempting unsuccessfully to get his life story turned into a movie, he returned to robbing banks. He was captured and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Though Jewel remained by Tucker's side until his death in prison in 2004 at age 83, finding herself on her own was difficult to take. "The silence is unbearable," she told an interviewer. -The New Yorker

The real Forrest Tucker (left) started robbing banks again in 1999 at age 78, six years after his release from prison. Robert Redford (right) portrays the aging bank robber in the film.

How did bank robber Forrest Tucker die?

Since his incarceration in October 2000 following several bank robberies, he had had a number of strokes and became increasingly frail. A cardiologist determined that various blood clots were slowly cutting off oxygen to his brain. Forrest Tucker died in the Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth, Texas on May 29, 2004 at age 83. -The New Yorker

The Old Man & the Gun Trailers and Related Videos

Watch the trailers for the movie about bank robber Forrest Tucker and his Over-the-Hill Gang.