Clifford Irving
Clifford Michael Irving (born November 5, 1930) is an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 author of novels and works of nonfiction, but best known for using forged handwritten letters to convince his publisher into accepting a fake "autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

" of reclusive businessman Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was an American business magnate, investor, aviator, engineer, film producer, director, and philanthropist. He was one of the wealthiest people in the world...

 in the early 1970s. After Hughes denounced him and sued the publisher, Irving confessed the hoax
A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, or rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences or April Fools' Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.-Definition:The British...

 and was subsequently sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, serving 17 months.

Early life and writing career

Irving grew up in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, the son of Dorothy and Jay Irving
Jay Irving
Irving Joel Rafsky , known as Jay Irving, was a cartoonist notable for his syndicated strip Pottsy about a good-natured, dutiful New York police officer, Pottsy, who sometimes came in conflict with his sergeant....

, a Collier's
Collier's Weekly
Collier's Weekly was an American magazine founded by Peter Fenelon Collier and published from 1888 to 1957. With the passage of decades, the title was shortened to Collier's....

cover artist and the creator of the syndicated comic strip Pottsy, about a New York policeman. After graduating in 1947 from Manhattan's High School of Music and Art
The High School of Music & Art
The High School of Music & Art, informally known as "Music & Art", was a public alternative high school at 443-465 West 135th Street, New York, New York, USA that existed from 1936 through 1984, and then merged into the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing...

, Irving attended Cornell University
Cornell University
Cornell University is an Ivy League university located in Ithaca, New York, United States. It is a private land-grant university, receiving annual funding from the State of New York for certain educational missions...

, had a two-year marriage (to Nina Wilcox) and worked on his first novel, On a Darkling Plain (Putnam
G. P. Putnam's Sons
G. P. Putnam's Sons was a major United States book publisher based in New York City, New York. Since 1996, it has been an imprint of the Penguin Group.-History:...

, 1956), while he was a copy boy at The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

. He completed his second novel, The Losers (1958), as he traveled about Europe. He led an adventurous life and based himself for many years on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Ibiza
Ibiza or Eivissa is a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea 79 km off the coast of the city of Valencia in Spain. It is the third largest of the Balearic Islands, an autonomous community of Spain. With Formentera, it is one of the two Pine Islands or Pityuses. Its largest cities are Ibiza...

. In 1957, he sailed on a three-masted schooner from Mexico to France; in 1958, he spent many months in Marrakech working on a CBC-BBC documentary film production about vanishing aspects of Moroccan culture. On Ibiza, he met an Englishwoman, Claire Lydon, and they married in 1958, moving to California, where she was killed at Big Sur
Big Sur
Big Sur is a sparsely populated region of the Central Coast of California where the Santa Lucia Mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean. The name "Big Sur" is derived from the original Spanish-language "el sur grande", meaning "the big south", or from "el país grande del sur", "the big...

 in an automobile accident. Irving was married to English author Maureen "Moishe" Earl from 1984 to 1998 while living much of the time in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

On a Darkling Plain and The Losers were not financially successful but received excellent reviews. On a Darkling Plain was sometimes compared with another novel set at Cornell, Charles Thompson's Halfway Down the Stairs (1957). John O. Lyons, in an addendum to his 1962 survey "The College Novel in America: 1962-1974" (Critique, 1974), saw a tendency toward pranks and put-ons in Irving's early work (a critical analysis Irving dismissed as "nonsense"):
Richard Farina
Richard Fariña
Richard George Fariña was an American writer and folksinger.-Early years and education:Richard Fariña was born in Brooklyn, New York, of Cuban and Irish descent. He grew up in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn and attended Brooklyn Technical High School...

's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me (1966) continues the iconoclastic Cornell Bildungsroman
In literary criticism, bildungsroman or coming-of-age story is a literary genre which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood , and in which character change is thus extremely important...

of the fifties by Clifford Irving, On a Darkling Plain (1956); Charles Thompson, Halfway Down the Stairs (1957); and Robert Gutwillig, After Long Silence (1958). The oscillation between Weltschmerz
Weltschmerz is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul and denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind...

and pranks in these novels was undoubtedly an influence on "The Whole Sick Crew" of Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Jr. is an American novelist. For his most praised novel, Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon received the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature...

's V
V. is the debut novel of Thomas Pynchon, published in 1963. It describes the exploits of a discharged U.S. Navy sailor named Benny Profane, his reconnection in New York with a group of pseudo-bohemian artists and hangers-on known as the Whole Sick Crew, and the quest of an aging traveller named...


Irving's third novel, The Valley, is a mythic Western, published by McGraw-Hill
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., is a publicly traded corporation headquartered in Rockefeller Center in New York City. Its primary areas of business are financial, education, publishing, broadcasting, and business services...

 in 1960. In 1962, after a year spent traveling around the world and living in a houseboat in Kashmir, Irving moved back to Ibiza with his third wife, English model Fay Brooke, and their newborn son, Josh. In 1967, he married Swiss/German artist Edith Sommer, and they had two sons, Nedsky and Barnaby. On Ibiza he was friendly with art forger
Art forgery
Art forgery is the creation of works of art which are falsely attributed to other, usually more famous, artists. Art forgery can be extremely lucrative, but modern dating and analysis techniques have made the identification of forged artwork much simpler....

 Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr de Hory
Elmyr de Hory was a Hungarian-born painter and art forger who claimed to have sold over a thousand forgeries to reputable art galleries all over the world...

 and was asked by De Hory to write his biography, Fake! (1969). Irving and de Hory are both featured in Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

's documentary F for Fake
F for Fake
F for Fake is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering...



By 1958, Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was an American business magnate, investor, aviator, engineer, film producer, director, and philanthropist. He was one of the wealthiest people in the world...

 had become a recluse who hated any kind of public scrutiny. Whenever he found out that someone was writing an unauthorized biography about him, he bought the writer off. By the 1960s, he even refused to appear in court. According to various rumours, he was either terminally ill, mentally unstable, or even dead and replaced by an impersonator.

In 1970, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Irving met with an author and old friend, Richard Suskind
Richard Suskind
Richard Suskind was a children's author who participated with author Clifford Irving in creating a fraudulent autobiography of the reclusive entrepreneur Howard Hughes. Suskind was incarcerated for five months of a six-month prison sentence for his role in collaborating with Irving on the hoax...

, and spontaneously created the scheme to write Hughes's "autobiography." Irving and Suskind believed that because Hughes had completely withdrawn from public life, he would never want to draw attention to himself by denouncing the book or filing a lawsuit for slander. Suskind would do most of the necessary research in news archives. Irving started by forging
Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

 letters in Hughes's own hand, imitating authentic letters he had seen displayed in Newsweek
Newsweek is an American weekly news magazine published in New York City. It is distributed throughout the United States and internationally. It is the second-largest news weekly magazine in the U.S., having trailed Time in circulation and advertising revenue for most of its existence...


Irving contacted his publisher, McGraw-Hill
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., is a publicly traded corporation headquartered in Rockefeller Center in New York City. Its primary areas of business are financial, education, publishing, broadcasting, and business services...

, and claimed that he had corresponded with Hughes because of his book about de Hory and that Hughes had expressed interest in letting him write his autobiography. The McGraw-Hill editors invited him to New York, where he showed them three forged letters, one of which claimed that Hughes wished to have his biography written but that he wanted the project to remain secret for the time being. The autobiography would be based on interview
An interview is a conversation between two people where questions are asked by the interviewer to obtain information from the interviewee.- Interview as a Method for Qualitative Research:"Definition" -...

s Hughes was willing to do with Irving.

McGraw-Hill agreed to the terms and wrote up contracts between Hughes, Irving and the company; Irving forged Hughes's signatures. McGraw-Hill paid an advance of $100,000, with an additional $400,000 that would go to Hughes. Irving later bargained the sum up to $765,000, with $100,000 going to Irving and the rest to Hughes. McGraw-Hill paid by checks made out to 'H.R. Hughes', which Irving had his wife Edith deposit to a Swiss bank account that she had opened under the name of 'Helga R. Hughes.'

The manuscript

Irving and Suskind researched all the available information about Hughes. To reinforce the public perception of Hughes as an eccentric recluse, Irving also created fake interviews that he claimed were conducted in remote locations all over the world, including one on a Mexican pyramid.

Irving and Suskind also gained access to the private files of Time-Life
Time–Life is a creator and direct marketer of books, music, video/DVD, and multimedia products. Its products are sold throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia through television, print, retail, the Internet, telemarketing, and direct sales....

, as well as a manuscript by James Phelan, who was ghostwriting memoirs of Noah Dietrich
Noah Dietrich
Noah Dietrich was an American business executive, who acted as Chief Executive Officer of the Howard Hughes empire from 1925 until 1957, when, according to his own memoir, he left the Hughes operation over a dispute involving putting more of his income on a capital gains basis. The manuscript of...

, former business manager to Hughes. Mutual acquaintance and Hollywood producer Stanley Meyer showed Irving a copy of the manuscript—without Phelan's consent—in the hope that he would be willing to rewrite it in a more publishable format. Irving hurriedly made a copy of it for his own purposes.

In the early winter of 1971, Irving delivered the manuscript to McGraw-Hill. He included notes in Hughes's forged handwriting that an expert forensic document analyst
Questioned document examination
Questioned document examination is the forensic science discipline pertaining to documents that are in dispute in a court of law...

 declared genuine. Hughes experts at Time-Life were also convinced. McGraw-Hill announced its intention to publish the book in March, 1972.

The investigation

Several representatives of Hughes's companies and other people who had known the businessman expressed their doubts about the forthcoming work's authenticity. Irving countered that Hughes had simply not told them about the book. Meanwhile, Frank McCulloch, known for years as the last journalist to interview Hughes, received an angry call from someone claiming to be Hughes himself. But when McCulloch read the Irving manuscript, he declared that it was indeed accurate. Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace (journalist)
Myron Leon "Mike" Wallace is an American journalist, former game show host, actor and media personality. During his 60+ year career, he has interviewed a wide range of prominent newsmakers....

 interviewed Irving for a news broadcast. Wallace later said his camera crew told him Irving was not telling the truth. "They understood. I didn't. He got me."

McGraw-Hill and Life
Life (magazine)
Life generally refers to three American magazines:*A humor and general interest magazine published from 1883 to 1936. Time founder Henry Luce bought the magazine in 1936 solely so that he could acquire the rights to its name....

, which had paid to publish excerpts of the book, continued to support Irving. Osborn Associates, a firm of handwriting experts, declared the writing samples were authentic. Irving had to submit to a lie-detector test, the results of which indicated inconsistencies but no outright lies. For weeks, there was no sign of Hughes.

On January 7, 1972, Hughes finally contacted the outside world. He arranged a telephone conference with seven journalists who had known him years before. It took place two days later; the journalists' end of the conversation was televised. Hughes denounced Irving, said that he had never even met him, and said that he was still living in the Bahamas. Irving claimed that the voice was probably a fake.

Hughes's lawyer, Chester Davis, filed suit against McGraw-Hill, Life, Clifford Irving and Dell Publications. Swiss authorities investigated the 'Helga R. Hughes' bank account; they found that $750,000 had been deposited and that the Irvings, who by this time had returned to their home on the Balearic resort island of Ibiza, were denying everything. When Swiss police visited the Irvings on Ibiza, Clifford Irving tried to hint that he might have been dealing with an impostor. Then, James Phelan read an excerpt of the "autobiography" and realized that some of its factual information had come not from Hughes, but from his own book. Finally, the Swiss bank identified Edith Irving as the depositor of the funds, and the fraud was revealed.

Confession and trial

Eventually, the Irvings gave up and confessed on January 28, 1972. They and Suskind were indicted for fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

, appeared in federal court on March 13, and were found guilty on June 16. Despite the efforts of Irving's lawyers, Maurice Nessen and Philip Lorber, Irving was convicted and spent 17 months in prison at the federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut and at the Federal Correctional Complex, Allenwood in Pennsylvania, where he stopped smoking and took up weightlifting
Weight training
Weight training is a common type of strength training for developing the strength and size of skeletal muscles. It uses the weight force of gravity to oppose the force generated by muscle through concentric or eccentric contraction...

. He voluntarily returned the $765,000 advance to his publishers. Suskind was sentenced to six months and served five. Edith, a.k.a. 'Helga', served time in America and in Switzerland.


Following his release, Irving continued to write books, including several bestsellers, notably Trial, Tom Mix and Pancho Villa, Final Argument and Daddy's Girl. He lived for a time in East Hampton; then San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; then Santa Fe; and finally settled into a quiet and semi-reclusive life near Aspen, Colorado, where, in his own words, he "writes, paints, gardens, practices tai chi and yoga, chops firewood, and counts his blessings."

The fraudulent autobiography was published in Santa Fe in a private edition in 1999 and has been out of print, but, in March 2008, John Blake
John Blake (journalist)
John Blake is a British journalist and publisher. He lives beside the River Thames near London with his wife Diane.-Debut:Blake first came to prominence in the early 1970s as a pop columnist for the Evening News in London...

 Publishing, a British company, issued Howard Hughes: The Autobiography. All the events of the experience were described in detail in Irving's The Hoax, published by The Permanent Press in 1981.


In July 2005, filming began in Puerto Rico and New York on The Hoax, starring Richard Gere
Richard Gere
Richard Tiffany Gere is an American actor. He began acting in the 1970s, playing a supporting role in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, and a starring role in Days of Heaven. He came to prominence in 1980 for his role in the film American Gigolo, which established him as a leading man and a sex symbol...

 as Irving, Alfred Molina
Alfred Molina
Alfred Molina is a British-born American actor. He first came to public attention in the UK for his supporting role in the 1987 film Prick Up Your Ears...

 as Suskind, and Marcia Gay Harden
Marcia Gay Harden
Marcia Gay Harden is an American film and theatre actress. Harden's breakthrough role was in Miller's Crossing and then The First Wives Club which was followed by several roles which gained her wider fame including the hit comedy Flubber and Meet Joe Black...

 as Edith. On March 6, 2007, Hyperion reissued Clifford Irving's The Hoax in a movie tie-in edition. The film, directed by Lasse Hallström
Lasse Hallström
Lars Sven "Lasse" Hallström is a Swedish film director. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for My Life as a Dog and later for The Cider House Rules .-Life and career:...

, opened on April 6, 2007, with a DVD release following on October 16. The majority of reviews were favorable.

Irving, however, decried the film as a distortion of the story and "a hoax about a hoax," citing the film's portrayals of himself, Suskind and Edith Irving as "absurd even more than inaccurate" and claiming that the film added events and scenes that did not occur in real life. As the author of the source book, Irving is credited as a writer for the film.

Works about the Hughes affair

  • Fay, Stephen, Lewis Chester and Magnus Linklater
    Magnus Linklater
    Magnus Linklater is a Scottish journalist and former newspaper editor.-Life:Linklater was born in Orkney, and is the son of Scottish writer Eric Linklater. He was brought up in Easter Ross, attending the local school at Nigg before moving to high school in Dunbar, East Lothian, and then on to Eton...

    . Hoax: The Inside Story of the Howard Hughes-Clifford Irving Affair (1972). Irving says this book is "mostly fiction."
  • Irving, Clifford, and Richard Suskind. Project Octavio: The Story of the Howard Hughes Hoax (1977)
  • F for Fake
    F for Fake
    F for Fake is the last major film completed by Orson Welles, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Initially released in 1974, it focuses on Elmyr de Hory's recounting of his career as a professional art forger; de Hory's story serves as the backdrop for a fast-paced, meandering...

    , a documentary film
    Documentary film
    Documentary films constitute a broad category of nonfictional motion pictures intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record...

     by Orson Welles
    Orson Welles
    George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

     (1974), includes a segment on Irving filmed around the time the Hughes autobiography scandal broke.
  • Der Scheck heiligt die Mittel, another documentary film by Henry Kolarz on German TV (1974). Richard Suskind portrayed himself.

External links

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