REMPEL STORIES: News to Books to Screens

William C. Rempel Portrait 2014
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REMPEL IS AN AWARD-WINNING investigative journalist with 36 years experience covering foreign and national projects for the Los Angeles Times. His reporting on the corrupt regime of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos led to disclosure of the Marcos diaries and his first book, Delusions of a Dictator for Little, Brown & Co. (1993). Rempel spent nearly a decade in secret contacts with a former Colombian drug cartel figure in the federal witness protection program before writing  At the Devil’s Table for Random House (2011). That book has since been published in Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and Polish. Under its Spanish title, En la Boca del Lobo, it was developed as an 80-episode telenovela by Sony-Teleset in 2014. First aired by UniMas, it can now be viewed on Netflix (with or without subtitles). English language film rights were optioned to Warner Brothers. The author is now at work on the Kirk Kerkorian biography for publisher Harper Collins.

COMING SOON: Biography of self-made billionaire Kirk Kerkorian

My latest project is the incredible rags-to-riches story of Kirk Kerkorian — the daring aviator, gambler and business tycoon — who bet billions based on gut instincts in a career spanning eight decades. He became one of America’s richest and least-known financial giants, transforming Las Vegas with mega-resort hotels and casinos, bringing change to Hollywood as he bought and sold MGM Studios three times, and shaking-up Detroit trying to buy all three major car companies. The cast of characters in his story includes business titans Howard Hughes, Ted Turner and Steve Wynn, and celebrities Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley.

Kirk Kerkorian on his private jet
Kirk Kerkorian on his private jet

I have to admit, his story has been a challenge for this investigative reporter. He made few public appearances and strenuously avoided personal publicity. As billionaires go, he couldn’t have been more unlike Donald Trump. But he was no eccentric recluse like Hughes, either. This son of poor immigrant farmers from Armenia simply liked to walk and jog in his Beverly Hills neighborhood unrecognized, to attend a movie in nearby Westwood Village without the paparazzi, to be just a guy named Kirk.

When he died last year at the age of 98, Kirk had outlived many of his friends, family and business associates. But pieces of his life story have been found scattered in war records, corporate archives and court documents, in yellowed news clippings and the recorded memories of old pals and relatives.

Some of the most valuable stories and insights have been shared with me by insiders of all ranks who say they want the legacy of Kirk Kerkorian preserved for history.

Publisher HarperCollins has scheduled its release for January 23, 2018. The book’s title is The Gambler: How penniless dropout Kirk Kerkorian Became the Greatest Deal Maker in Capitalist History. Here’s a preview of this work in progress…

At the Devil’s Table: Who Do You Trust?

A Rare Photo of Jorge Salcedo

THE EYES OF JORGE SALCEDO have seen too much — too much violence, too much graft, too much greed and lawlessness. He was once chief of security for the richest crime syndicate in the history of crime. He still knows enough to be a menace to some of the most ruthless and powerful crime bosses on the globe. That’s why Jorge and his family finally fled Colombia for a new home, new names, and the protection of federal marshals somewhere in the United States. When he agreed to meet with a journalist and share his story publicly, Jorge risked more than having to face difficult questions and uncomfortable truths. He had to trust the author with his life story… and with his life. Every meeting posed a potential risk to the security of Jorge and his family, making the story behind the story a drama of its own. The result: AT THE DEVIL’S TABLE: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel (Random House, 2011).




To Binge, or Not to Binge: Spanish TV Series a Netflix Favorite

IN THE TELENOVELA BASED on Rempel’s book, the real-life Jorge Salcedo is powerfully and accurately portrayed by actor Luis Fernando Hoyos as a flawed and complex common man — and as something especially rare in modern narco-dramas, an authentic if all-too-human hero. Another acting standout in this superb cast is Lucho Velasco. He plays the Cali cartel boss of the bosses, based on the real-life Miguel Rodriquez Orejuela. Actor Velasco’s performance is so convincing that one of the former U.S. drug agents who arrested the real crime lord raves: “He’s a better Miguel than Miguel!” The cast of this sprawling epic is, like the book, filled with some of the most intriguing characters found anywhere in nonfiction. All 80 episodes are available on demand in Spanish with or without English subtitles on Netflix.



Read more about EN LA BOCA DEL LOBO (In the Mouth of the Wolf), the story, the TV series  and the popular soundtrack.

Making History: The Dictator’s Diary

Marcos V Sign

WHEN THE ONCE-ADORING CROWDS TURNED on the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in 1986, the couple was forced to flee Manila with a few billion dollars in cash, jewels and fine art looted from their impoverished nation. Left behind with their legacy of excess and oppression were more than 2,000 pairs of designer shoes and a stack of plain cardboard boxes with the ousted leader’s diary — a  truly unique piece of history tracing lies, plots and palace intrigues during the couple’s descent into authoritarian rule.

To guarantee that those presidential papers would be shared with the world, not destroyed or suppressed, sources in the Philippine government sought out an independent journalist with a track record challenging powerful forces. And then, at great risk to their jobs and reputations, those still-unnamed sources entrusted thousands of pages of sensitive records to Rempel at the Los Angeles Times, delivered cloak-and-dagger style in a series of secret handoffs and exchanges in lobbies, at restaurants and on street corners.

READ MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND eBOOK: Diary of a Dictator – Ferdinand & Imelda: The Last Days of Camelot

Tales From the Morgue

Los Angeles Times Building“THE MORGUE” IS AN OLD NEWSPAPER TERM that to journalists of a certain age refers to the mildew-scented repository of dead stories — the clip files. Today it’s more likely to be called the editorial library. Of course, in the electronic age there’s no longer a place for actual paper clippings. But progress has advantages. Stories are no longer logged away in those musty drawers and lost to easy access. Here’s a digital sampling of timeless stories from the author’s byline collection, retrieved from the printed pages of the L.A. Times:

RACING TO AMERICA — One rust-bucket of an old ship and its passenger manifest filled with “undesirable aliens” defies a stormy Atlantic and swelling anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S. to beat out richer and more acceptable migrants in the great Quota Race of 1923. It’s a time much like today with raging debate against foreigners and the political forces trying to stem their influx. Among those 1920s “undesirables” are displaced Eastern Europeans, Armenians, Greeks, Russians, Jews, pacifist Mennonites…and the author’s family.

IRANIAN SPIES, ASSASSINS — He was Iran’s prime minister when the Islamic revolution forced him from office and into exile in Paris. For the next decade Shapour Bakhtiar uses France as his sanctuary and platform from which to wage a public relations war against religious hardliners. His brutal murder by Iranian government assassins exposes a network of spies and assassins deployed against Tehran’s critics around the world. A story based on rare access to French investigative reports may also help explain some of the West’s continuing distrust of Tehran’s regime.

TERROR IN NEW YORK CITY — After a devastating terrorist blast, how do federal bomb investigators piece together bits and fragments of seemingly worthless rubble to find markers that identify who did it? The author gains special access to the crack ATF forensics team that had swiftly unraveled just such a mystery — the deadly World Trade Center bombing of 1993.

ARIZONA PRISON BREAK — Three kids break their father out of the state penitentiary in hopes of staging a family reunion across the border in Mexico. Their audacious plot is carried out in broad daylight without firing a shot and no one gets hurt. Not at first. Could this true crime story be the stuff of legends? The author explores the dark side of family love and loyalty in exclusive interviews with the boys’ mother.