Walter Shaw, the long-time South Florida burglar who may have stolen as much as $50 million in jewelry, will be entering more homes than he ever imagined in his criminal heyday, thanks to a publicity machine that aims to make him a darling of the talk-show circuit.
"I'll be a household name by Christmas," promises Shaw, who in the months since he was profiled in these pages ("It Took a Thief," September 16) has hired an agent and a publicist. He was a consultant for a 20/20 segment about home protection that is expected to air soon. He appeared this past Friday on a segment of Sally Jessy Raphael taped a week earlier at the Fontainebleau Hilton in Miami Beach. The Maury Povich appearance is set for next month, with more talk shows to follow. There's even a chance Shaw will be featured in the pages of People magazine.
"I feel good," Shaw says of his newfound celebrity. "Things are coming together."
The publicity is geared toward heightening interest in a movie Shaw has been working on for almost a year with producer Randy Turrow, who wrote a screenplay based partially on Shaw's life. The movie, tentatively titled Prybar, was to have starred Mickey Rourke, who collaborated on some of the story ideas after striking up a friendship with Shaw a year ago. The actor and Shaw had a falling out, however, after Rourke reportedly tried to wrest control of the movie away from Shaw and Turrow.
"Mickey tried to steal the project," charges Richard Wolfe, the attorney handling Shaw's entertainment deals. The jewel thief, who spent twelve years in prison, also has retained a criminal attorney and is still under investigation.
According to Wolfe, Rourke's attorneys claim the actor actually authored the script. "They sent us a threatening letter, so I sent them a threatening letter, and we haven't heard from them since," says Wolfe, who has also represented Kathy Willets and members of the 2 Live Crew.
(Jayne Katchmer, Rourke's agent, did not return phone messages for this story.)
Rourke, according to Wolfe, was paid $15,000 -- in cash -- to lend his name to the project and sit for several interviews with Turrow, during which the star of The Pope of Greenwich Village, Angel Heart, and Diner outlined the type of character he wanted to play. "When the script was finished, he read it and he loved it," says Wolfe, adding, "It's one of the best scripts I've ever seen."
Now that Rourke appears to be out of the picture, Shaw says other actors are being considered, including Andy Garcia, Alec Baldwin, Don Johnson, and Patrick Swayze. If financing for the $10 million movie comes together, filming could start in Miami as early as next May.
The movie has been Shaw's dream for years, a final shot at gaining respectability after a life of criminal behavior. Previously, when he attempted redemption by starting his own ministry, it failed. When he produced a home-security video, distribution was stymied after the State of Florida sued, claiming Shaw shouldn't be allowed to profit from his crimes. The suit was unsuccessful.
"They hate to see me succeed," explains Shaw, who has pre-emptively filed his own suit against the state, seeking to have its so-called Son of Sam law ruled unconstitutional.
If the recent taping of the Sally Jessy Raphael show is any indication, Shaw will be a hit with talk show audiences. The 3000 or so people in the grand ballroom of the Fontainebleau ooohed and aaahed at his stories, groaning incredulously when Shaw said his notorious past was attributable to the fact that he is "a product of [his] environment."
"Sure, there are regrets," Shaw, dressed in designer purple slacks and shirt, told the crowd. "I'm not proud of my past."
"Walter," Sally admonished him at the end of the program, "we'll be watching for you.