CRIME : The Fabulous Hoax of Clifford Irving

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At that moment, the last of the boxes was being opened. When Phelan's version of the Dietrich book is read in tandem with the Irving manuscript, one essential source of Irving's material becomes obvious (see story, page 17). The instances of duplicated material are numerous. In some cases, the books are virtually identical in detail. In others, they are substantively the same, although the Irving manuscript has been reworded and otherwise disguised. One curiosity: the writing in the Irving manuscript is much better than that in the hastily drafted Phelan version. It is ironic that Irving may be more convincing as a forger than as an author in his own right —just as Elmyr de Hory, Irving's Ibiza friend and the main character in his book Fake!, is much better at doing Picassos and Modiglianis than he is at doing De Horys.

TIME'S discovery of the link between the Phelan and Irving manuscripts left Irving duly impressed, but he warned there might be surprises yet to come. "It's more complex than you ever think," he told a TIME reporter. "You haven't seen the bottom line yet. There is going to be some big news breaking. So be careful."

One question still to be fully answered is exactly how Irving got the Phelan manuscript. Noah Dietrich began working on a book about Hughes in Los Angeles during 1969. Jim Phelan, his collaborator, is a widely experienced newspaperman and investigative reporter who has written five magazine articles on Hughes. Says Dietrich: "Phelan would come up to my house in Benedict Canyon and I would dictate to his tape recorder. One hundred hours of tapes. Then he digested this and wrote down a lot of questions, and I dictated a whole batch of memos to my secretary for him."

Phelan Phase. The project dragged on into 1970. Eventually Dietrich became dissatisfied with Phelan's work ("It was his first book and I guess he was going for the Pulitzer"). Dietrich and Phelan signed a $40,000 settlement. Dietrich hired another writer, Associated Press Hollywood Correspondent Bob Thomas, who finished the book off in six weeks. Dietrich had been having trouble finding a publisher, and was about to accept a mere $5,000 advance for his book when the Irving story broke last December. Dietrich negotiated a $65,000 advance from Fawcett, which will bring out the Thomas version next month.

During the Phelan phase of the work, the manuscript had been sent to several intermediaries in the search for a publisher. At some point, it evidently stopped at a Xerox machine.

Rather Average. Stanley Meyer, an old friend of Dietrich's and a sometime Hollywood producer, learned that Dietrich was preparing a Hughes book and said he could help find an agent. On the advice of Novelist Irving Wallace (The Prize), Meyer suggested Wallace's agent in New York, Paul Gitlin, who handles other authors such as Harold Robbins. Meyer took the manuscript from Dietrich and channeled it, chapter by chapter, to Gitlin in New York.

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