Clifford Irving

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Clifford Michael Irving (born November 5, 1930) is an American investigative reporter and writer. He is best known for a fake "autobiography" of Howard Hughes in the early 1970s. After Hughes denounced him and sued McGraw-Hill, the publisher, Irving confessed the hoax and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison, serving 17 months.[1]

Early life and writing career[edit]

Irving grew up in New York City, the son of Dorothy and Jay Irving, a Collier's cover artist and the creator of the syndicated comic strip Pottsy.[2] After graduating in 1947 from Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, Irving attended Cornell University, graduated with honors in English, and worked on his first novel, On a Darkling Plain (Putnam, 1956), while he was a copy boy at The New York Times.

He completed his second novel, The Losers (1958), as he traveled in Europe. In Ibiza, he met an Englishwoman, Claire Lydon, and they married in 1958, moving to California, where she died at Big Sur in an automobile accident.[3] Irving was later married to English author Maureen "Moish" Earl and from 1984 to 1998 lived mainly in the mountain town of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.[4]

Irving's third novel, The Valley, is a Western, published by McGraw-Hill 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 photographic model Fay Brooke, and their newborn son, Josh. This marriage ended in divorce. In 1967, he married Swiss/German artist Edith Sommer, and they had two sons, John Edmond (aka "Nedsky") and Barnaby. In Ibiza he was friendly with Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory and was asked by De Hory to write his biography, Fake! (1969). Irving and de Hory are both featured in Orson Welles's documentary F for Fake (1974).[5]

Fake autobiography of Howard Hughes[edit]


By 1958, Howard Hughes was a recluse avoiding the public.

In 1970, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Irving met with an author of children's books and old friend, Richard Suskind, and 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 Irving and Suskind believed that because Hughes had completely withdrawn from public life, he would never want to draw attention to himself by denouncing the book or filing a lawsuit for libel. Suskind would do most of the necessary research in news archives. Irving started by enlisting the aid of artist and writer friends on Ibiza in order to forge letters in Hughes's own hand, imitating authentic letters they had seen displayed in Newsweek magazine.[3]

Irving contacted his publisher, McGraw-Hill, and said 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 said 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 interviews Hughes was willing to do with Irving.[citation needed]

McGraw-Hill agreed to the terms and wrote up contracts between Hughes, Irving, and the company; Irving and his friends forged Hughes's signatures. McGraw-Hill paid an advance of US$100,000, with an additional US$400,000 that would go to Hughes. Irving later bargained the sum up to US$765,000, with US$100,000 going to Irving and the rest to Hughes. McGraw-Hill paid by checks made out to "H. R. Hughes", which Irving's Swiss wife Edith deposited to a Swiss bank account that she had opened under the name of "Helga R. Hughes".[6]

The manuscript[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Irving and Suskind gained access to the private files of Time-Life, as well as a manuscript by James Phelan, who was ghostwriting memoirs of Noah Dietrich, 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.[citation needed]

In late 1971, Irving delivered the manuscript to McGraw-Hill. He included notes in Hughes's forged handwriting that an expert forensic document analyst declared genuine. Hughes experts at Time-Life were also convinced. McGraw-Hill announced its intention to publish the book in March 1972.[citation needed]

The investigation[edit]

Several representatives of Hughes's companies and other people who had known the businessman expressed doubts about the forthcoming work's authenticity. Irving replied that Hughes had simply not told them about the book. 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 said that it was indeed accurate.[citation needed]

McGraw-Hill and Life, 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.[7] For weeks, there was no sign of Hughes.[citation needed]

On January 7, 1972, Hughes 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.[citation needed]

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 US$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 hinted that he might have been dealing with an impostor. 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. The Swiss bank identified Edith Irving as the depositor of the funds, and the fraud was revealed.[citation needed]

Confession and trial[edit]

The Irvings confessed on January 28, 1972. They and Suskind were indicted for fraud, appeared in federal court on March 13, and were found guilty on June 16. 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. He voluntarily returned the US$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.[8]


In July 2005, filming began in Puerto Rico and New York on The Hoax, starring Richard Gere as Irving, Alfred Molina as Suskind, and Marcia Gay Harden 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, opened on April 6, 2007, with a DVD release following on October 16. The majority of reviews were favorable.[citation needed]

Irving 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 saying that the film added events and scenes that did not occur in real life.[9] As the author of the source book, Irving is credited as a writer for the film.[10]

In spring 2012 the movie rights to Irving's nonfiction book, "Fake!," were optioned by Steve Golin and Anonymous Content LLC, and the author was commissioned to write a first draft screenplay based on the work. English director Malcolm Venville ("Henry's Crime") has signed on to direct.


  • On a Darkling Plain (1956)
  • The Losers (1958)
  • The Valley (1960)
  • The 38th Floor (1965)
  • The Battle of Jerusalem (1967)
  • Spy (1968)
  • Fake: the story of Elmyr de Hory: the greatest art forger of our time. McGraw-Hill. 1969. 
  • Autobiography of Howard Hughes (1971)
  • The Death Freak (1976)
  • The Sleeping Spy (1979)
  • The Hoax (1981)
  • Tom Mix and Pancho Villa (1981)
  • The Angel of Zin (1983)
  • Trial (1987)
  • Daddy's Girl: The Campbell Murder Case A True Tale of Vengeance, Betrayal, and Texas Justice (1988)
  • Final Argument (1990)
  • The Spring (1995)
  • I Remember Amnesia (2004)
  • Jailing: the Prison Memoirs of 00040 (2012)
  • Bloomberg Discovers America (2012)

Works about the Hughes affair[edit]

  • Fay, Stephen, Lewis Chester and Magnus Linklater. 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 (London: Allison & Busby, 1977; originally New York: Grove Press, 1972)
  • F for Fake, a documentary film by Orson Welles (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[edit]