The goods on the Gardner heist

Arnie Reisman and Nat Segaloff’s screenplay lays out how it went down.

0
Arnie Reisman won the Electric City Screenplay Contest with his screenplay with Nat Segaloff, titled "Rembrandt Has Left the Building." —Lexi Pline

Arnie Reisman isn’t your average poet laureate. Turns out the Island’s 2014 poet-in-chief is also a crime sleuth in a pretty major way.

Resiman and his pal, Hollywood guy Nat Segaloff, say they have solved half of the mystery of America’s biggest and sexiest art heist, that night in 1990 when $500 million worth of paintings walked out of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

They know the details of whodunit, and Resiman will tell you on Thursday, Sept. 12, at 7 pm at the Vineyard Haven library who the thieves were, how he and Segaloff got their info, and why they believe the 13 pieces will never be found. Of course, Arnie being Arnie, the disclosures will also come in the form of an awardwinning screenplay, “Rembrandt Has Left the Building,” that he and Segaloff are trolling through Hollywood now.

Reisman and Segaloff did not gin this story up. They interviewed the perps and got a deathbed confession from one of them. Reisman writes funny, and “Rembrandt” will have darkly humorous moments, but it’s for real.

“This is a perfect Matt Damon/Ben Affleck film,“ Reisman enthused to The Times last week. Could happen. Both writers have the chops and the right phone numbers. Reisman was Oscar-nominated for his documentary about 1950s blacklisting. Segaloff is a reporter, author of numerous books, and a film historian and producer.

The pair recently beat 152 other playwrights to win the grand prize at the Electric City screenplay competition hosted by Film Schenectady (N.Y.), which included a trophy and two grand in walking-around money.

“Rembrandt Has Left the Building” — the title suggests a comedy of crime and manners — was profiled on the acclaimed 2018 “Last Seen” NPR podcast series by Kelly Horan, a “Rembrandt” press release notes, adding, “The script shows how the robbery was committed, and the dryly funny reasons the investigation ran aground almost from the beginning.” 

And that’s a great subplot. The FBI’s Boston office was not on a roll, being gamed by mob boss Jimmy (“Whitey”) Bulger, something they probably knew but we would not for several years. 

Tips were coming in from legions of professional and semipro Boston criminals, claiming “knowledge” of the theft. The theft was so alluring that, in the tenor of the times, if you made your living stealing things, being a “person of interest” was terrific for your creds. Then there’s the $10 million for safe recovery of the pieces. 

One Boston FBI special agent in charge, as Reisman retells it, “held a press conference announcing they had solved the case and arrests would follow shortly. No arrests. The only thing that happened was the FBI boss’s transfer out of town inside of three weeks,” he said. 

“It’s [the theft story] quite simple, In its simplicity; Nat and I wrote it as a comedy, Then a ‘60 Minutes’ segment and a New York Times story, both within a two-year period, named one of our sources as the prime suspect. Now the script has gone to Kevin Walsh, who works with Affleck and Damon. We’ve given all our information to the FBI, and they have chosen to do nothing with it. 

“We know who stole the paintings,” Reisman told the Times. While he doesn’t believe they will ever be recovered, the hunt goes on, from reported backyard burials to the IRA in Ireland.

Most of us know we get a lot of funny in Reisman’s work, but we get a ton of serious as well. He wrote a documentary film, “Hollywood on Trial,” a 1976 Oscar-nominated account of 1950s blacklisting in the film business during Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s pretty nutty but serious Commie-hunting crusade that blasted lives and careers without cause. Reisman also serves on the board of the ACLU.

On Thursday, you can hear the story of America’s most glamorous and expensive art theft.