Friday, 15 October 2010

David Angell: Deconstructing the Official Biography


One of the most striking aspects of the David and Lynn Angell story is the near identical biographies and anecdotes that appear on various websites. Considering that David was not just any old 'victim' of 9/11 but a multiple Emmy Award winning writer and producer (or so we're led to believe) one would assume that all sorts of personal friends and industry insiders could provide, and have provided, all sorts of biographical titbits, amusing anecdotes and insights into the mind of this alleged comedy genius. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case; what we're provided with instead is the same terse biographical narrative repeated over and over again ad nauseum.

It's tempting to assume that this replication is simply the result of websites and news outlets repeating official family press releases, but this too appears not to be the case: obituaries and memorials written by supposedly close friends fare no better. To take just one example, writer/producer/commentator Ken Levine's memorial blog entries simply regurgitate the biographical information available on David's wikipedia page, before moving swiftly on to tell us how kind, unassuming and generally wonderful David was, and offer a rather implausible account of how a mumbling, semi-coherent David was given his first writing assignment on Cheers.

In light of the above, it's extremely difficult to compile a coherent biography and time-line for David L. Angell. This post is an attempt to construct just such a time-line and assess the consistency, accuracy and believability of the 'official' biography.

1946 - 1969

We know nothing whatsoever about David's childhood except that he was born April 10th 1946 to Henry and Mae Angell (nee Cooney) and was the youngest of three children. His elder siblings are identified as Claire Angell (now Claire Angell Miller) and Kenneth Angell. Most sources state that he attended Providence College and joined the army upon graduating in 1969 with a BA in English Literature. Even at this early stage, it's telling to note that third party sources provide more detailed and nuanced information about David than does The Angell Foundation. For example, informs us that David considered following his brother's footsteps and joining the priesthood, before eventually choosing to attend Providence College. It seems strange that this titbit of information doesn't appear on the Foundation's website, especially when we consider that 'spirituality' is one of the Foundation's key funding areas.

In contrast to the above, a lengthier biography that appears in an Angell Foundation meeting summary states that David worked, and met his future wife, on Cape Cod before joining the army. Oddly, the Foundation does not provide a date for the first meeting of this perfect couple: the narrative states that David met Lynn "[w]hile working on Cape Cod one summer...". Similarly, the Foundation's website states that it was a "recently graduated" David who worked on Cape Cod. Is this lack of precision credible? One assumes that such information would be common knowledge given that some of David and Lynn's relatives supposedly sit on the Foundation's Advisory Committee, and the Foundation's president, Perry S. Oretzky, claims to have been David's friend and business advisor for sixteen years.

1970 - 1972

Sources that refer to their marriage all give the same date: 14th August 1971. Presumably, their supposed first meeting did not occur in the summer of 1971: this would create serious problems in the time-line, which tells us that their marriage occurred during David's three-year stint in the army, which ended in 1972. This leaves us with 1969 and 1970, although even 1970 is out of the question given the three year timespan and date David left his Pentagon job. This makes the Foundation's lack of precision even more puzzling. At the risk of re-stating the case, why would an organisation that boasts of such close ties to David and Lynn, in the form of Claire Miller (his sister) and Thomas Edwards (her brother), have such difficulty pinpointing the year in which their relationship began? Does this sound credible? Or does it sound very much like a cover story, one whose ability to withstand closer inspection is predicated on muddying the waters?

Moving on, The Angell Foundation's website informs us that their marriage took place in Birmingham, Alabama and that "by all accounts" David and Lynn "adored one another". It seems unusual to me that the writer would make a point of making this point; one tends to take this for granted when talking about newly wedded couples. The reference to "by all accounts" is doubly odd because it's exactly the sort of thing that might be said if one wished to imply that things were not quite as they seemed. It's also a catch-all qualifier, the equivalent of saying "I don't know, I'm only repeating what so-and-so said" when asked an awkward question.

The website then tells us that the couple "soon returned to David’s home town of Providence", leaving us to speculate as to how conservative or liberal the writer's definition of "soon" might be. Either way, there are some problems here: we're told that David worked at the Pentagon until 1972 and we know that the Pentagon is a very considerable distance from Providence and an even more considerable distance from Birmingham, Alabama. How, then, did he hold down his job? Was he stationed in West Virginia? Did he shuttle back and forth between Rhode Island and/or Alabama?

It's also interesting to note that the Foundation does not make clear the reason behind David's decision to join the army. The Vietnam war was at its height in 1969, so we might assume that he was drafted. However, The Angell Foundation gives the distinct impression that this was a voluntary act on his part: the narrative clearly states that David joined the army, not that he was drafted into the army. This seems like an extremely odd career choice given David's background, doubly so given that his wife's biography suggests that she held anti-establishment views.

Oddly enough, not one source can shed any light on David's actual role within the armed forces: he doesn't appear to have joined the army in any particular capacity. A third party source simply states that David's role at the Pentagon was a "clerical assignment". To put this in context, numerous sources identify the roles he performed in subsequent employments between 1973 – 1978 (see below), whereas sources that refer to his army career state that he just 'joined the army' and 'worked at the Pentagon'. Doing what, exactly? Was he writing war-time propaganda pieces for Uncle Sam?

1973 - 1978

Moving on, the next five or so years are extremely hazy. The Angell Foundation reports that the couple moved to Providence and that David worked for an insurance company, writing insurance policy guides. Other sources state that he worked as a methods analyst for an engineering firm before taking the insurance job. This too would see like a very odd role given David's background. What experience had David gained between 1969 and 1972 that enabled this English Literature graduate to work in such a role? More to the point, why do third party sources appear to know more about David's life during this period than The Angell Foundation itself? One source, even provides us with the name of the television program that supposedly stimulated David's desire to become a scriptwriter!

Another subject on which The Angell Foundation is strangely silent is the matter of when exactly David and Lynn relocated to Los Angeles. According to the IMDb database the couple relocated to LA in 1977, although this seems a little problematic. The Angell Foundation tells us that the couple agreed to indulge David's script-writing ambitions for no more than five years, which would set a deadline of 1982 based on a relocation date of 1977. However, we're informed that David's first real break came the year after, in 1983, when he joined Cheers as a staff writer. This would put the relocation date somewhere in 1978. If so, why does The Angell Foundation not say so? Why does The Foundation provide so little information, and why is the information it does provide so vague? Given that the Foundation claims to represent its founders' values and life experiences, why does it not provide a more comprehensive and intelligible biography?

1978 - 1983

Almost every biographical source refers to David working "every temporary job known to mankind" during this period, although none can actually provide an example of one of these temporary jobs. As a relatively young man (David would have been in his early 30s) with an undergraduate degree under his belt, it's difficult to understand why he worked 'every temporary job known to man' rather than secure a permanent, low responsibility 9-to-5 position that would bring home the bacon whilst still leaving him free to pursue his ambitions without the distractions or demands of a career. Are we really to believe that this Bachelor of Arts washed dishes and hauled trash for five years? Could he not have secured a more relevant job, as a proof-reader for example?

This part of his biography makes little sense, except when viewed from a scriptwriter's perspective. In other words, it adds the all important 'hard luck' aspect required to make David's life a textbook version of the American Dream: hard work and trials and tribulations, then a lucky break and fame and fortune. The 'lucky break' supposedly came at a party, where David met a talent agent who agreed to submit one of his scripts. And when did this happen? Just as David and Lynn were packing their bags and preparing to return to the East Coast after David's fruitless five-year attempt to break into Hollywood! It's a good story, isn't it? A little too good to be true, don't you think?

1984 - 1999

David's career, first as a staff writer and supervising producer on Cheers, then as producer, co-creator and occasional scriptwriter of Wings and Frasier, is well documented throughout this period. Undoubtedly, someone calling himself David Angell is credited with writing sixteen episodes of Cheers, five episodes of Wings, and co-writing four episodes of Frasier, in addition to being listed as co-creator and producer of the latter two shows. However, it's perfectly possible that this David Angell is nothing more than somebody's nom de plume, which was subsequently 'backstopped' with a life history as artificial as the photographs analysed in my first and second posts.

Why would anybody want to do this? My guess is that the real perpetrators needed to 'personalise' the events of 9/11. David Angell was an ideal candidate because Cheers, Wings and Frasier were watched, loved and known by millions the world over. His 'death' provided 'ordinary' people with a link to the events of 9/11, a link that simply would not exist had the list of dead comprised clock-punchers alone. Vitally, David's was a 'safe' death, inasmuch as his face (I use the term in the loosest possible sense) became known only after his 'death'. It would have been impossible to pull off the same stunt with a high-profile celebrity without killing off a real person. More generally, killing off a contrived pseudo-celebrity or two lent credence to the "no one is safe, it can happen to anyone, anywhere" atmosphere of media-fuelled fear and loathing that swept through America in the aftermath of 9/11. This greased the rails of the perpetrators' domestic and foreign policy agendas.

In addition to the above three shows, some sources give Angell production credits on Encore!Encore!, a late 90s sitcom that ran for just eleven episodes before being canned due to poor ratings. However, IMDb does not link him to this show, although David Lee and Peter Casey are given director and producer credits. IMDb does credit him, alongide Casey and Lee, as a producer on The Pursuit of Happiness, a mid-90s sitcom that appears to have run for just seven episodes. Not that it matters in any case: as things stand the faked images point to Angell and his wife being nothing more than a bunch of pixels, rather than real, flesh-and-blood human beings.

It's worth noting that someone claiming to be David Angell appears with Peter Casey and David Lee in a 1999 documentary titled The Frasier Story. Oddly, the interview with these three was filmed with a 'fish eye' lens, which badly distorts the interviewees' features. Even so, it can be discerned that this David Angell is quite bony and angular, and as such it's difficult to reconcile him with the much 'fleshier' and and 'cherubic' versions presented to us in the faked photographs. In some cases, (e.g. when compared with the David on the set of Cheers picture) it's completely impossible to reconcile the two: they are very obviously two completely different individuals. An analysis of this documentary will follow shortly. In the meantime, I've added a number of stills from the video to the end of this post, for you to compare with the images that appear in my first two posts.

Outside his showbiz career, David Angell is portrayed as a devout Catholic and philanthropist who donated sizeable sums of time and money as his fortune grew. Recipients supposedly included his alma mater, Providence College, along with children's charities, such as the Hillsides children's home his wife supposedly worked for in a voluntary capacity. In this context, David is portrayed as the antithesis of the Hollywood stereotype: caring, humble, and unselfishly generous as opposed to cynical, ego-maniacal and greedy. Here, David's success is touted as proof that nice guys don't always finish last. Unfortunately, the script-writers and eulogisers seem unable to resist the temptation to go over the top: one source states that David and Lynne had a "marriage made in heaven" and another that David and Lynn were the sort of couple "you wanted to be". Again, isn't this just a little bit too good to be true?

2000 - 2001

It should be noted that there's some confusion surrounding the reason for David and Lynn travelling to Cape Cod and thus for their alleged presence as passengers on American Airlines Flight 11. According to The Angell Foundation, David and Lynn had just hosted a family wedding at their home on Cape Cod and were flying back to LA to attend the Grammy Awards. Other sources state that the couple had spent the entire summer holidaying at their home on Cape Cod. A number of sources claim that the couple had travelled to the Cape in order to observe the final stages of construction of their new home there. Did the Angell's host a family wedding at a house that was still a construction site? Where exactly has this conflicting information come from? Does it exist for any other purpose than to provide alternate versions of a deniable 'truth' that can be wheeled out in the event that one particular version is discredited as demonstrably false?


Although there's a very high level of consistency amongst sources, in terms of the basic so-called "facts" that everywhere are repeated almost verbatim, the David Angell biography is full of holes, loose ends and conflicting information. Many of these facts are verifiable, in the sense that they point to sources that can be queried and asked to provide information. However, how we would verify the validity of the information they may or may not choose to provide is a moot point given that documents and database entries can easily be forged. Much additional work needs to be done in this area and it remains to be seen how forthcoming some of these sources will be in their responses.

Video Images

Compare these video stills with the images that appear in my first two posts. Ignoring the fact that the public domain images are crude forgeries, is this the same man?

David Angell

David Angell

David Angell

David Angell

David Angell

David Angell

David Angell

David Angell

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