A hoax interview about a hoax movie about a hoax book

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks

irvingsuskind200.jpgCaveat emptor: Robert Hilferty, critic for Bloomberg News talked with Clifford Irving about “The Hoax” movie. Irving also writes about the movie (which he says he has not seen) on his Web site, where you can download a pdf version of “The Autobiography of Howard Hughes”. A few chapters are free. The whole book is $5.95 which he says, “is a discount of $154 from the Amazon.com price,” although as of today, the book is unavailable on Amazon.com.

Clifford Irving Faked Hughes Book for Fun, Derides ‘Hoax’ Film
By Robert Hilferty

April 25 (Bloomberg) — Clifford Irving, who spent more than a year in prison after writing a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes in the 1970s, says the new Richard Gere film about the hoax is also phony.

“From the first time I read the script, I thought it was a silly, defamatory story about a crackpot, desperate man who by some coincidence bears the same name as mine,” Irving, 76, said last week in a telephone interview from his home in Aspen, Colorado. The movie is supposedly based on his own account, “The Hoax,” written before he went to jail.

Hilferty: Do you consider the “The Autobiography of Howard Hughes” to be your masterpiece?

Irving: No. It’s just a very good book. I’ve written better books, but the autobiography is unique insofar as it is a novel in the form of an autobiography. It’s the most famous unpublished book in America.

Hilferty: It certainly took a lot creativity to make up those conversations.

Irving: We didn’t make them up. We actually had the conversations. My friend Dick Suskind and I set a Sony tape recorder on the table and we’d switch playing the roles of Howard Hughes and Clifford Irving. We got into it as actors.

We had access to a number of examples of Howard Hughes’s syntax, metaphors and speech patterns. I also had a number of transcripts of long, impassioned telephone calls that Hughes had made that were extremely useful.

Hilferty: How close do you think you got to the truth of Howard Hughes?

Irving: We were not aiming for the truth. But we achieved a more interesting, more searching Howard Hughes.

Not for Money

Hilferty: Did you know you were committing a crime?

Irving: No. That was my problem. We were sufficiently naive or stupid enough not to see that it was a crime. We thought all we had to do was return the money, have a good laugh with the publishers and we might possibly be completely forgiven.

Hilferty: Then the real Hughes came out of his lair and you had to pay back your huge advance of $750,000. Yet the new movie makes it seem like you were a financially struggling writer.

Irving: The truth is that I had a four-book contract with McGraw-Hill, owned a 15-room house in Spain with no mortgage, and had a Mercedes and yacht. My wife had an income of her own. Life was good. The producers missed the point that it was my close relationship with the publishers that enabled things to work. I had no overt motive for committing the hoax.

Hilferty: So why did you do it?

Irving: I don’t remember, and I probably didn’t even know then. I just felt like doing it.

Monet Novel

Hilferty: Was it just for the thrill of it?

Irving: Yes. Had we encountered any serious doubt or opposition in the early stages, we would have scuttled out of there without seeing our dust. But the publishers were so enthusiastic, so encouraging and so eager to overlook any possible snags or doubts, that we saw our chance. They were our co-conspirators.

Hilferty: So what are you working on now?

Irving: My wife Julie and I were in France recently, in a small village, in a dusty attic. And in an old iron trunk I came across a handwritten manuscript, “The Autobiography of Claude Monet.” Now I’m translating it into English.

Hilferty: No way!

Irving: I like to joke. What I’m actually doing is writing a novel about Monet’s struggle against poverty, the classical art establishment and a doomed early marriage. Monet is one of my heroes because he rose above the past and his paintings are always in the now. And I like to live in the now.

Irving’s “The Hoax” is available in paperback (Hyperion, $14.95), and the movie is in theaters nationwide. You can download the entire “Autobiography of Howard Hughes” on http://www.cliffordirving.com.

(Robert Hilferty is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

© 2007 Bloomberg.com