While we are on the subject of hoaxes... here's a few of the most outrageous ones in the publishing world... hard to believe some of these people almost carried these off... but what's that old saying? "Fool me once, shame on me..."
1. Clifford Irving and the Howard Hughes biography: Tycoon, aviator, playboy, Hollywood legend-turned-hermit Howard Hughes intrigued the American public throughout his eccentric life. During the late 1960s to mid 1970s, the mystery surrounding him deepened. He became a recluse, so isolated that many believed him to be dead, whereas others thought he had simply gone completely crazy. This ambiguity fed the public’s fascination, which spawned a media obsession. Realizing that there was an opportunity to make a load of cash in the marketplace, author Clifford Irving set out to do what no one else had done. Clifford convinced his publisher, McGraw-Hill, that Howard Hughes commissioned him to write his biography. He told his representatives that the book would be based on interviews conducted with Howard. In actuality, he never met Hughes and faked the interviews, believing that "Howard Hughes was too ill to
come forward and repudiate the book.” After all, Howard had not been seen publicly since 1958 and as far as he knew the man could have really been dead. Of course, it all unraveled in the end. But the nonsense did serve to provoke Hughes to crawl out from under his rock to denounce the fraud and give the hungry public one more glimpse at the man behind the legend.
2. James Frey fools Oprah: A Millions Little Pieces, which purports to show how Frey's drug addiction landed him in a hospital, jail and, finally, rehab begins with this lovely image: "My clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit
and blood. Oprah Winfrey selected it for her book club in 2005 and sales rocketed. However, the smart cookies at The Smoking Gun smelt something suspicious and, rooting around, found out that his so-called "criminal record" and life in the underworld of drug abuse was highly embellished. Frey spent just 3 hours in jail, not the 87 days as he had claimed. Scandal ensued.
3. Oprah: Won't Get Fooled Again! You think she would have learned the first time. But shame on her. After the Frey debacle, Oprah got herself involved in another literary hoax. After chatting with Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat on her show as he promoted his memoir Angel at the Fence, O declared it was "the single greatest love story" she had ever heard. Unfortunately, like Frey, Rosenblat
had considerably embroidered his life story. That romantic part about meeting his wife after she began secretly tossing apples and bread to him over the fence at the Buchenwald concentration camp? Total balderdash. He actually met her years later! (I mean, who really cares that the entire plot, not to mention its title, is based on this assertion.) When numerous Holocaust scholars questioned the book's authenticity and noted that the physical layout of Buchenwald would not have been conducive to clandestine meetings, Rosenblat confessed. The book's release was cancelled. Rosenblat ranks right up there with disgraced author Misha Defonseca, whose A Memoir of the Holocaust Years about escaping the Nazis and being raised by wolves turned out to be not true in the least. (I'm shocked, simply shocked!)
4. Oprah's not the only one: The same publisher, Penguin Books, that was taken in by Rosenblat's Angel at the Fence bought and promoted Love and Consequences, the purported autobiography of Margaret B. Jones. The memoir tells of her childhood as a half white/half Indian girl living in a black foster home in gang-infested South Central LA. She passes time running drugs for The Bloods. When the book hit the bestseller list, the author's older sister recognized her photograph in The New York Times. Turns out that "homegirl" Jones is actually Margaret Seltzer, a thirtysomething Valley Girl raised by her biological parents, who attended a very white, very upscale Episcopalian school. At least Oprah wasn't taken in by this one! She knows a Vanilla wafer when she sees one.
Just goes to show you that a lot of people weren't listening to the professor in their Writing 101 class: if you are going to write about your life and add things that aren't true to spice it up a bit, you call it a "novel," not a "memoir."
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