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Gordon Gekko’s Famous ‘Greed Is Good’ Line Was Inspired By An Actual Wall Street Criminal


Newsweek magazine (via the aforementioned Chicago Tribune) reported that Ivan Boetsky’s “Greed is all right” speech was “greeted with laughter and applause” at Berkeley in 1985. The reaction seems to have been very similar to what Oliver Stone depicted when he — in a bit of poetic thievery — transformed the line for the “Greed is good” scene in “Wall Street” two years later.

Stone’s film hit theaters in December 1987, a month after future U.S. president Donald Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” hit bookstores. Gekko’s movie quote perfectly encapsulated the excess of the 1980s, a time when then-president Ronald Reagan’s “free-market economics,” or Reaganomics, led to financial deregulation and “chaos capitalism,” as the real-life “Wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort, later termed it in his eponymous memoir.

Belfort also got started as a stocktrader in 1987, and he claimed in his book that Gordon Gekko was a nickname of his. One can well imagine him doing a quote-along with Gekko like the brokers played by Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel in the 2000 film “Boiler Room.”

In 2010, on the heels of the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession, Stone and Michael Douglas returned to the character of Gekko in the sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Three years later, Martin Scorsese delivered his adaptation of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort. It remains Scorsese’s highest-grossing film.

CNN later reported that the real Belfort, like Boetsky, was now addressing students at the New York University School of Law. Belfort had idolized Gekko, but he told the audience, “The biggest problem is [Gekko] didn’t take the fall in the movie. At least in the ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ I lose everything. I go to jail.”

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