E.T., the Extra-Teenager

For some people, high school was the best years of their lives. For others, those four years are, well, something they’d rather not relive. But in either case, once high school is over, you can’t go back — at least, not as a student.

Unless, maybe, you’re the nephew of a famous movie producer — in your mind, at least.

Starting in the fall of 1998, a 14-year-old student Jonathan Taylor Spielberg was enrolled at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia. Like many boys his age, Spielberg had a way of calling undue attention to himself. First, there was the car — a BMW with vanity plates reading “SPLBERG” which he often parked in the principal’s parking spot. Second, and more importantly, the young Mr. Spielberg had a habit of absenteeism — he was skipping school repetitively, and for days if not weeks each time. School officials took this second issue very seriously, and in late 1999 or early 2000, challenged Spielberg’s excuse. The student said that his uncle was Steven Spielberg — you know, the guy who made E.T. and Jaws and a billion other movies you’ve probably seen multiple times — and claimed that Uncle Steven had wanted Jonathan on set at various times while making new movies.

The school reached out to the older Mr. Spielberg, according to the BBC, connecting up with his production company — and that’s when the school discovered that Steven Spielberg only had nieces. For Jonathan, everything started to unravel. The young Mr. Spielberg wasn’t Steven’s nephew, or a Spielberg, or a Jonathan for that matter. Oh, and he wasn’t a teenager, either — he was 27 years old, give or take. “Jonathan Taylor Spielberg” was his legal name, but only because he legally changed his name in 1997. He was born in Iran, and for most of his life was known as Anoushirvan Fahkran.

Spielberg/Fakhran told his side of the story to the New York Post:

I always wanted to attend high school in America because I was abused and mistreated at school in Iran. But I thought if I go back to high school, I was going to be the most popular, trend-setting student. Being Steven Spielberg’s nephew would give me the notoriety I wanted.

And for a while, it worked. But the price was significant. The impostor was charged with various types of fraud and forgery in early 2000, and ultimately either pled guilty or was convicted. According to a later report, Spielberg/Fakhran  was sentenced to two months probation, was given “an 11-month suspended jail sentence, ordered to receive mental health counseling, perform 100 hours of community service and avoid contact with anyone under age 18.” And he had to drop out of high school, too. (He probably got to keep the BWM, but it’s unclear if he had to surrender the vanity plates.)

Life as a teenager came to a screeching halt, but Spielberg/Fakhran didn’t let his run-in with the law stop his desire to be popular. The Post further reported that he hired an agent to see if Hollywood had interest in turning his story into a movie. (Of course.) To date, though, no one has shown much interest.



Bonus Fact: In the movie E.T., the protagonist alien finds a snack he really likes — Reese’s Pieces. The product placement was a goldmine for the Hershey’s corporation, the company which makes Reese’s: according to People magazine, sales of the peanut butter candies tripled shortly after the film’s release. That product placement almost never happened, though. The original screenplay had E.T. eating M&Ms, but Mars, Inc. (the company that makes M&Ms) declined to involve their product because, according to TIME, “the company found the creature too ugly and potentially upsetting to kids.”

From the Archives: E.T.? No Going Home: Why astronauts went from the Moon to the sea, and then into quarantine..

Take the Quiz: Can you name the seventeen English words spoken by E.T. in the movie?

RelatedA collection of Steven Spielberg movies. None star his fake nephew.