Clifford Irving

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For the politician, see Clifford Irving (politician).

Clifford Michael Irving (born November 5, 1930) is an American investigative reporter and novelist. Although he has written and published twenty books under his own name, he is best known for a fictional "autobiography" of Howard Hughes in the early 1970s. After Hughes denounced him and sued the publisher, McGraw-Hill, Irving confessed to the hoax and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, of which he served 17 months.[1] Irving's 1981 book titled The Hoax is the author's version of events surrounding the fake autobiography. The book was made into a 2006 biopic of the same name starring Richard Gere as Clifford Irving. He is most active now as an author of electronic books available via Kindle and Nook.[2]

Early life and writing career[edit]

Irving grew up in New York City, the son of Jay Irving, a Collier's cover artist and the creator of the syndicated comic strip Pottsy, and Dorothy.[3] 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.[citation needed]

He completed his second novel, The Losers (1958), as he traveled throughout Europe. On the Spanish island of Ibiza, he met an Englishwoman, Claire Lydon; they married in 1958 and moved to California, where she died at Big Sur in an automobile accident on May 8, 1959. [4] Irving later married English author Maureen "Moish" Earl and from 1984 to 1998 lived mainly in the mountain town of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.[5]

Irving's third novel, The Valley (1960), is a mythic Western saga, published by McGraw-Hill.[6] 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 the painter's biography, Fake! (1969). Irving and de Hory are both featured in Orson Welles' documentary F for Fake (1974).[7][8]

Fake autobiography of Howard Hughes[edit]


By 1958, Howard Hughes was a recluse.

In 1970, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Irving met with an author of children's books and old friend, Richard Suskind, and created the fanciful scheme to write Hughes' "autobiography". Irving and Suskind believed that because Hughes had completely withdrawn from public life, he would never dare 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 create letters in Hughes' own hand, imitating authentic letters they had seen displayed in Newsweek magazine.[4]

Irving contacted his publisher, McGraw-Hill, and said he had corresponded with Hughes because of his admiration for the book about de Hory, and that Hughes had expressed interest in Irving's writing Hughes' autobiography. The McGraw-Hill editors invited Irving to New York, where the publishers drafted contracts among Hughes, Irving, and the company; Irving and his friends forged Hughes' 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. McGraw-Hill paid by checks made out to "H. R. Hughes", which Irving's Swiss wife Edith deposited to a Swiss bank account she had opened under the name of "Helga R. Hughes".[9]

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 interviews that he claimed were conducted in remote locations all over the world, including one on a Mexican pyramid, Monte Alban, near Oaxaca.[citation needed]

Irving and Suskind were given access to the voluminous files of Time-Life as well as a manuscript by James Phelan, who was ghostwriting memoirs of Noah Dietrich, Hughes' former business manager. Hollywood producer Stanley Meyer showed Irving a copy of the manuscript—without Phelan's consent—in the hope that Irving 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' forged handwriting that an expert forensic document analyst declared genuine. Hughes "experts" at Time-Life were completely convinced and McGraw-Hill announced its intention to publish the book in March 1972.[citation needed]

The investigation[edit]

Representatives of Hughes' companies expressed doubts about the forthcoming work's authenticity. 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 became convinced that it was genuine.[10]

McGraw-Hill and Life magazine, 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 lies.[11]

On January 7, 1972, Hughes arranged a telephone conference with seven journalists, whose end of the conversation was televised. Hughes claimed that he had never even met Irving. [12] [13] The journalists in turn claimed the voice on the phone was probably a fake.[14]

Hughes' lawyer, Chester Davis, filed suit against McGraw-Hill, Life, Clifford Irving, and Dell Publications. Swiss authorities investigated the "Helga R. Hughes" bank account. The Irvings by this time had returned to their home on the Balearic island of Ibiza. The Swiss bank finally identified Edith Irving as the depositor of the funds, and the hoax was revealed.[citation needed]

Confession and trial[edit]

The Irvings confessed on January 28, 1972. They and Suskind were indicted for conspiracy to defraud through use of the mails and pled guilty on June 16. Irving spent 17 months in prison, where he stopped smoking and took up weightlifting. He voluntarily returned the US$765,000 advance to his publishers. Edith, a.k.a. "Helga", served prison sentences in America and in Switzerland.[15]


Main article: The Hoax

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 characterized the film as a cliched 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 pointing out that the film added many events that had not occurred.[16] As the author of the source book, Irving is credited as a writer for the film.[17]

In spring 2012, the movie rights to Irving's nonfiction book, Fake!, were optioned by Steve Golin and Anonymous Content LLP.[citation needed] Irving was commissioned to write a screenplay for the movie. In 2015, Anonymous Content's option for the book's dramatic rights expired.

In 2012 Irving formatted and placed 12 of his books, including one unpublished novel, for sale on Kindle and Nook. In 2014 he added six more books to the total, including his prison journal. Sales have been brisk and the books receive highly favorable reviews from the reading public, most of whom are too young to remember that Irving was the author of the Hughes Hoax, although Irving is perfectly open about it and even offers the text of the hoax for sale in book form.

In May 2014 Irving also launched an official website,

In November 2014 the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas announced that they had acquired all of Irving's literary and personal papers. The archive includes material from more than 50 years, running from 1954 to 2012. Among the trove is Irving's correspondence with lawyers, publishers, colleagues and friends such as Graham Greene, Robert Graves and Irwin Shaw, his personal diaries and prison journals, many manuscript drafts, legal documents from lawsuits and from his 1972 bankruptcy, portions of his Howard Hughes manuscript and extensive handwritten notes and musings. In all, it fills 20 boxes in the research center archive.

“Clifford Irving is an important writer who has lived a colorful and controversial life, which has been a major source of inspiration for much of his literary work,” said Don Carleton, executive director at the Briscoe Center. “I’m delighted that his papers are now available to enrich scholarship here at the university.”


  • 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[18]
  • 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)
  • Boy on Trial (2004)
  • Clifford Irving's Prison Journal, aka Jailing (2012)
  • Bloomberg Discovers America (2012)

Works about the Hughes affair[edit]

  • Fay, Stephen; Chester, Lewis; Linklater, Magnus (1972). Hoax: The Inside Story of the Howard Hughes-Clifford Irving Affair.  Irving says this book is "mostly fiction".[citation needed]
  • Irving, Clifford; Suskind, Richard Suskind (1972). Project Octavio: The Story of the Howard Hughes Hoax. New York: Grove Press. 
  • Welles, Orson (1974). F for Fake.  Documentary film; includes a segment on Irving filmed around the time the Hughes autobiography scandal broke.
  • Henry, Kolarz (1974). Der Scheck heiligt die Mittel.  Documentary film on German TV. Richard Suskind portrayed himself.


  1. ^ Kaufman, T. (February 15, 1974). /gst/abstract.html?res=F50E15F9385B1A7493C7A81789D85F408785F9 "Irving Is Freed on Parole Here; Says He Owes 'About a Million'" Check |url= value (help). The New York Times. 
  2. ^ "Amazon author page Clifford Irving". Retrieved 3 February 2015.  External link in |website= (help)
  3. ^ Lambiek comic shop and studio in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. "Lambiek Comiclopedia: Jay Irving". Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  4. ^ a b "The Fabulous Hoax of Clifford Irving". TIME. February 21, 1972. 
  5. ^ Irving, Clifford Irving (1990). A Trial. Summit Books. p. 331. 
  6. ^ Irving, Clifford (1960). The Valley. McGraw-Hill. 
  7. ^ Wallace, Mike (July 2012). "Con Men: Fascinating Profiles of Swindlers and Rogues from the Files of the Most Successful Broadcast in Television History". 60 Minutes. 
  8. ^ Con Men: Fascinating Profiles of Swindlers and Rogues from the Files of the ... - 60 Minutes. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  9. ^ "The Secret Life of Clifford Irving". February 14, 1972. 1972-02-14. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  10. ^ Mick Brown (2007-07-28). "You couldn't make it up". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-08-06. 
  11. ^ Bell, Rachael. "Clifford Irving's Hoax". p. 7. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  12. ^ B. James Gladstone (2013-05-01). The Man Who Seduced Hollywood: The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer, Tinseltown's Most Powerful Lawyer. 
  13. ^ "Howard Hughes Creative Day – Fakes, Forgery and PhotoShop Part Two". 2013-09-07. Retrieved 2015-08-06.  line feed character in |title= at position 14 (help)
  14. ^ Mick Brown (2007-07-28). "You couldn't make it up". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-08-06. 
  15. ^ Associated Press (May 4, 1974). "Edith Irving to File for Divorce". Zurich, Switzerland. 
  16. ^ "Irving, Clifford. "The New Movie"". 2007-12-24. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  17. ^ "The Hoax (2006), full cast and crew". Internet Movie Database. 
  18. ^ Fake: the story of Elmyr de Hory: the greatest art forger of our time. McGraw-Hill. 1969. 

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