Jordan Belfort’s memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, was a wild and crazy book filled with insane stories of debauchery, sex, drug use and criminal activates. Martin Scorcese’s same-named movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio follows the book very closely, including using much of the writing in the dialogue for the movie. So how accurate is the Wolf of Wall Street? That depends on what you mean by accurate.
The Wolf Of Wall Street, the book and the movie, are both essentially the products of a completely unreliable narrator, Jordan Belfort himself. Everything he says in the book, and therefore in the movie, needs to be questioned. Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Belfort, even lets in on that, pretty openly in his voiceovers. He’s selling stocks, sure, but he’s shoveling BS too, because he’s selling himself. So what makes you think anything he is selling in the movie is true?
Here’s the thing though – a lot of it is true. A lot of was proven by the FBI and in court. One FBI agent famously said “I tracked this guy for ten years, and everything he wrote is true,” which makes it all the more difficult to decipher the truth from the lies and exaggerations. But we’re going to try, so buckle up, because it’s a wild ride.
The Wolf Of Wall Street Is Based On Jordan Belfort’s Memoir
The memoir, also titled The Wolf Of Wall Street, as you can imagine, is filled with wild and crazy stories told by the convicted con artist that loves to promote himself. So again, he's the epitome of an unreliable narrator. It makes for an amazing read, but it’s also obvious that you can’t trust everything.
The book is not so much a warning of the perils of excess; it actually sets a new standard in the perils. It's also incredibly hard to verify how much of the debauchery is true. The incredible yarns Jordan Belfort spins of the insane office parties, the Quaaludes, the cocaine, booze, head shaving and dirty sex are enough to make Motley Crue blush. One fact that does appear to be true is the scene in the movie with Matthew McConaughey’s character, based a real life mentor to Belfort named Mark Hanna. He really did tell Belfort that the key to success was “masturbation, cocaine and hookers.” The chest thumping was not real though, that was all McConaughey.
Some of the most outlandish and unbelievable stories – like Jordan Belfort crashing his helicopter while wasted, or crashing his Lambo… while wasted, or having to get rescued by the Italian Navy for forcing his captain to navigate rough seas… while wasted, are all, incredibly, verified and true events. So if the craziest stories in a book full of wild stories are true, what does it say about the stuff that is hard to verify? Again, it’s a tangled web that is really hard to fact check.
Jonah Hill’s Character Is Not Accurate To The Real Story
Jonah Hill brilliantly plays a character named Donnie Azoff, essentially Jordan Belfort’s main partner in all the successes, all the crimes and all the debauchery. Hill’s performance is one of the highlights of the film. It’s also likely one of the least accurate parts of it. For starters, he’s based on a real person named Danny Porush, not Donnie Azoff; the name was made up for the movie and Porush has disputed much of events in the book and the movie.
One example is how Danny Porush and Jordan Belfort met, which wasn’t in a diner, as is portrayed in the movie. Instead, they were introduced through Belfort’s first wife, who met Porush because they shared a bus on their morning commutes and lived in the same apartment building. This is an innocent example of artistic license, though it is true that Porush married his first cousin!
The Offensive Scene With The Little People Might Not Have Been Real
One of the more offensive moments in the film is the “dwarf tossing” scene. The event, held at the Stratton Oakmont office, shows the brokers and traders at the company competing in a contest that involves throwing little people at a target and other shocking behavior. While “dwarf tossing” was (and sadly still is) an actual thing, it probably didn't happen at Stratton Oakmont.
People that were at the party, including Danny Porush, dispute that the tossing happened. They acknowledge that there were little people hired as entertainment for the party, and likely were subject to some inhumane and nasty actions, but they weren’t actually “tossed.” There are no pictures or any other way to verify which version of the story is true, but frankly, it’s kind of hard to believe that it isn’t true, given how terrible some of these people were at the time. Porush also disputes that there was ever a chimpanzee in the office, as there is in the movie.
Many Of The Names Are Changed In The Movie
In addition to Donnie Azoff, other names were changed, most notably Belfort’s wives names.
When Jordan Belfort started at Stratton Oakmont, he was still married to his first wife named Denise, but in the movie, her name was Teresa. Belfort’s second wife, who was actually a model as portrayed by Margot Robbie in the film, is named Nadine in real life, while in the movie her named was changed to Naomi. The name of Nadine’s Aunt Patricia, who really did help smuggle money to Switzerland, also has her name changed in the movie to Emma.
It’s not really clear why they bothered to change the names when the characters are clearly based on those real people and are definitely not composite characters or made up for the story, but they did. In the case of Donnie Azuff, that may actually be because there was some combining of his story with the story of other traders at Stratton Oakmont, but most of it was Danny Porush, or at least how Jordan Belfort “remembers” his contributions to the insanity.
Jordan Belfort Wasn’t Really Called “The Wolf Of Wall Street”
This is another outlandish claim that Danny Porush claims was made up or embellished for the book and subsequently the movie. No one at the firm or anywhere else ever called him that, as far as Porush knew, until Jordan Belfort made it up for the title of his memoir.
In the end, how true is The Wolf Of Wall Street? We’ll probably never get a definitive answer to that question. Clearly much of it really happened, but it’s also pretty clear that Jordan Belfort loves to embellish his stories a lot, so it’s likely at the very least, overstated, if not outright untrue.
It’s still a fantastic movie and never boring to watch/re-watch over and over, though there is a trend towards people that don’t get the message, much like some Oliver Stone fans do with Wall Street, or the other, less well known movie about the Jordan Belfort story, Boiler Room. This isn’t supposed to be a “how to” story, it’s supposed to be a “don’t do” story, and some people don’t seem to get that. That much we know is true.