Author of the forthcoming novel, The Only Living Man With A Hole In His Head, inspired by the true story of Phineas Gage.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

History vs. Hollywood

History vs. Hollywood
My Top Five List of Historical Inaccuracies in Hollywood Movies

My upcoming novel, “The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head”, is based-on-a-true story. I tried to remain faithful to the historical facts as much as possible. Having watched numerous “based-on-a-true-story” movies, only to be disappointed that the facts, dates, characters, etc. were wrong – or simply made up – I was determined to not take liberties with the important case of Phineas Gage. Having stated that, there were a few instances where getting a bit creative was necessary. One reason was because there were a few gaps in the Phineas story. Taking place in the mid-nineteenth century, there were time periods (such as when the main character was working as a stage coach driver in Chile) that were not well documented. Also, I added Elisa, a romantic interest for Phineas, to help demonstrate his change in personality post-injury and to help humanize the character. One other change from historical fact I took a liberty with was this: after Phineas's death in San Francisco, the body was exhumed and his skull and tamping iron (the object responsible was his gruesome injury) were sent to Boston to Dr. John Harlow, the physician whom had treated him after the accident. I felt it would be more dramatic and serve the story better if the good doctor actually made the trip out west to ask Phineas's mother for her permission to exhume her beloved son's corpse, in the name of science. Other than that, I was careful to keep the dates accurate, desciptions of the time period accurate (food, clothes, technology, kedical terminology, etc.) and even had a copy of Dr. Harlow's actual journals to help with my research.
I have always planned the novel as a movie as well and will do as much as possible to keep the overall truth of the actual events in the film.

Hence, I share with you my top five historical inaccuracies in movies:

The Elephant Man
Even though John Merrick was born with a congenital birth defect and Phineas Gage's disformity was the result of an accident, many readers may draw similiarities between the two men's life experiences.
As both men suffered as outsiders and psychologically. In the film, The Elephant Man, directed by the always interesting David Lynch, Dr. Treves rescues Merrick from a sadistic freak show manager, then brings him to a hospital. But, then the wicked manager returns to kidnap Merrick. In reality, there was no wicked manager. His real manager treated his main attraction quite well. On top of that, Merrick did not become a resident of the hospital until two years after he left the freak show.

Bonnie and Clyde
A landmark film when it was released in 1967, it does get many of the facts sbout the criminal duo's exploits wrong. Beginning with how the two met. On screen, Clyde first meets Bonnie when he tries to steal her mother's car. This did not really happen. The two partners in crime actually met under more ordinary circumstances, in the greasy spoon where Bonnie worked as a waitress.

Melvin and Howard
This 1980 movie about gas-station operator Melvin Dummar, who supposedly was left a good sum of money by Howard Hughes, after giving picking up the reclusive billionaire whom he found hitchhiking in the desert years earlier. The film glosses over many of the details that cast doubt on Dummar's claims. One example is that Dummar claimed no knowledge of the “Mormon Will” when the discovery of it was made public by the Latter-Day Saints. In the film version, however, an agent of Hughes or the Mormon Church conveniently left it on his desk at his gas station. After a court battle, a court determined the will to be a forgery.

Catch Me If You Can
An entertaining Steven Spielberg directed movie based on the real life exploits of con man/imposter/check forger extraordanaire Frank Abagnale, Jr., who began his criminal career at the age of 16. In the movie, as an internationally wanted criminal, he telephones, annually on Christmas Eve, his nemesis – the FBI agent played by Tom Hanks. That never happened. As Abagnale said, “Why would I do that? I didn't want the FBI to know where I was.”

Ed Wood
This 1994 Tim Burton film is based on the life of notoriously incompetent film director, Ed Wood (played by Johnny Depp). His most infamous film was Plan 9 From Outer Space. Though Wood did enjoy dressing in women's clothes, Burton showed him directing some of his films in drag. That really only happened on the set of Glen or Glenda, and that was because Wood was in costume for his role. In another scene, Ed Wood meets another director that he greatly admired, Orson Welles, in a Hollywood restaurant. Such a meeting had never occurred.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Power of a Press Release

Marketing & Promotion

You may have written the greatest book since the Jurassic Period, or for that matter, invented a revolutionary new mousetrap. But, if the world doesn't know about it, then what good is it? Marketing and promotion is key to lettimg the public know about your wonderful new brainstorm.

Coming from a business background, I am keenly aware of this fact. With my business, New Look Products, we advertised products on television, radio and in catalogues. While we paid for most of those spots, we did get free publicity as well, including write-ups in newspapers, magazines, etc. If you have a new and unique product and/or service, the media will usually take notice. Our Inspiration Clock, which played Amazing Grace on the hour, generated such free piblicity. QVC actually took notice and sold it on their network. “Soft news” stories, the feel-good ones you see at the end of a newscast or in the local section of a newspaper, are always in demand.

How To Get $1,000,000 of Free Publicity: The Power of a Press Release

There are numerous ways to get the word out about your product or book, including television ads, radio spots, print ads, bus bench ads, newspaper ads, banner ads, hiring a public relations firm (usually an expensive proposition), paying people to hand out fliers, to name just a few.

But, hands down, what I have found, is that crafting and sending out a well written press release can do more to get the word out – and possibly change your life – than anything else. To illustrate an example of the power of the press release....

In 2010, I started a business called Rent-A-Grandma (, a domestic referral agency specializing in hiring out older, mature women for nannying, elder care, house care, pet sitting, etc.
We were focused on doing business in the Los Angeles market, but I wanted to get the word out to the world (especially since we were planning on franchising). So, I carefully crafted a press release (posted below) with the hope that maybe a few newspapers, even small-market ones, would pick it up and that would lead to some interest in the franchises. That was my modest hope anyway.

Early on a Monday morning, I used PRWeb to send out the release. They do a great job and are reasonably priced (in this case, $360). I've also used Marketwire as well in the past. A few hours hence, I knew something was going on when my phone started ringing. A lot! More than a lot. Women were calling who wanted to work as grandmas, radio station talk show producers were calling, our web traffic was spiking with ten of thousands of unique visitors, newspapers were calling. The craziness that would ensue for the next few weeks had begun. In short order, I did interviews with Fox Business News, Business News Daily, appeared live on The Laura Ingraham radio show on 325 radio stations, will be featured in the October issue of Entreprenuer Magazine, AARP Bulletin, taped an episode of a major prime time ABC televisiomn show (can't dislose it right now, they made me sign a confidentiality agreement), to name just a few. Often, one media mention leads to many others (we were talked about on Good Morning America, CNBC, Today show, television news shows across America, in England, to name just a few!).

Never before have I sent out a press release for a book, but being that the Phineas Gage case is fairly well known, and something different, I have high hopes. You never know who will pick up the story, review the book, word of mouth it will generate, where things will lead. The press release for “The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head” is included below.

As always, my literary friends, keep on believing. Until next blog...

Rent-A-Grandma Press Release:


Rent-A-Grandma domestic services agency is franchising. Due to overwhelming demand, our Grandmas are coming soon to your area!

Los Angeles, CA. June 06, 2011

Always Trust Your Grandma”

Rent-A-Grandma is a revolutionary concept for quality domestic staffing needs. Our Grandmas are carefully screened mature (age 50+) women who are only the most professional, experienced staff and meet the standards our customers will demand for their own Grandmas. RentAGrandma is pleased to announce the national franchising of the company.

Rent-A-Grandma ( sets a standard unequaled in the industry. Our agency carefully screens and background checks each applicant. Our trusted Grandmas possess the wisdom that only comes with age/life experience. And, our Grandmas don't text or tweet while watching your kids!

Todd Pliss, the founder and CEO, a former “studio teacher” whom has worked with children in the entertainment industry (including the Jonas Brothers), brainstormed the idea after hearing many of the parents on sets complain about how difficult it was to find competent staff and after listening to their horrific tales of the help, often in their late teens/20's, they had hired. Another benefit, explains Pliss, “Many Grandmas, after experiencing much age discrimination, with tears in their eyes, have thanked me.”

Rent-A-Grandmas are:
*Nannies *Housekeepers
*Chefs *Companions/Caregivers
*Pet Care *Personal Assistants

Rent-A-Grandma has been featured on the Fox News Network (segment available on YouTube, under With the huge percentage of two-parent working families and single-parent households in America, the demand for reliable childcare and household services has never been greater. Interest and response has been overwhelming. Rent-A-Grandma franchises cost less than buying most new cars, with very low operating costs and a great bottom line! Reserve your Grandma today!

Contact information:
1-855-7-GRANNY toll-free


The Only Living Man With a Hole in His Head Press Release:

An iron rod removed a chunk of his brain but not his courageous will to live...

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Todd Colby Pliss brings the amazing tale of Phineas Gage to life with his new novel, The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head, from SB Addison Books.

Niles, Ohio – August 11, 2011 – In his new book, Todd Colby Pliss vividly recounts one of history's most unusual events with the captivating historical narrative non-fiction tale of railroad worker Phineas Gage.

The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head”, tells the incredible true case of railroad foreman Phineas Gage, whom in 1848, had a three-foot long, inch-and-a-half in diameter, thirteen pound iron rod blast though his skull, taking out part of his brain, and the doctor who treated him, valiantly battling the medical establishment to prove the authenticity and merit of the case as Phineas Gage entered a journey into changed personality, the P.T. Barnum freak show and driving stage coaches across South America. It ends with medical science forever changed and redemption for Dr. John Harlow, the physician who was ridiculed for his research on the case.

Like The Elephant Man, this project brings a fascinating, but marginally known inspirational story into the national consciousness,” said Pliss. “People only hear of the injury and that Phineas's personality changed because of it, but they don't know the real back story of the case as well as the physician's twenty-year dramatic struggle to prove that what he had published about his patient was correct.”

About Todd Colby Pliss
Todd Colby Pliss is a novelist, screenwriter and teacher. Since relocating to Los Angeles from his native Long Island, New York, Todd, who holds teaching credentials in the social sciences, has a passion for history and its fascinating characters. Todd has written and directed the award-winning short films, Execution at County Jail and Einstein's Brain. His screenplay for the feature film, “The Art of Trash”, has been produced and has had a successful DVD release. Todd is the author of the best selling book, Catabolic Diet, as well as the founder of the popular business Rent-A-Grandma.

About SB Addison Books

Media Contact:
Lauren Hammond
Senior Marketing Manager
SB Addison Books


News Facts:
The Only Living Man With A Hole in His Head transports readers back to an era when an often used cure-all was leeches, surgeons operated in street clothes and anathesia usually meant getting the patient drunk.

The case of Phineas Gage was famously featured as a “Ripley's Believe or Not” cartoon.

Phineas Gage has become a textbook example case taught in high school and college psychology courses throughout the world.

Dr. John Harlow, the physician who treated Phineas after his accident, would go on to become a Massachusetts State Senator.

Phineas Gage's story was the historical beginnings of the study of the biological basis of behavior.

Dr. Harlow donated Phineas Gage's skull and tamping iron to the Harvard Medical School's Warren Anatomical Museum, located in the Countway Library of Medicine, where it still resides today.

A feature film version of The Only Living Man With a Hole in His Head is being planned.

The Only Living Man With a Hole in His Head is published by SB Addison Books, a new author-focused, eco-friendly press.

Phineas Gage, psychology, history, brain injury, old west, railroad, historical fiction, small press publishing, medicine, inspirational, Barnum, stage coach, Vermont