CRIME : The Fabulous Hoax of Clifford Irving

  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 9)

That process began in November 1970. Gitlin read the chapters as they came in, and sent word to Dietrich that the book seemed "indifferent and rather average." In January 1971, Gitlin sent the manuscript to Simon & Schuster, which kept it for two weeks. Then in February, says Gitlin, Phelan on his own submitted parts of the book to Look magazine for possible serialization. Phelan denies that he ever approached Look.

In any case, a copy of the manuscript was out of Dietrich's hands for about three months early last year. Phelan completed the manuscript in April at just about the time Irving allegedly began having his first serious interviews with Howard Hughes. It is possible that Irving had already conceived a Hughes project when the Phelan manuscript fell into his hands. He had begun discussing the project with McGraw-Hill in January 1971, when Phelan was midway in his work.

Last June, Irving appeared at a house in Cathedral City, Calif., that belonged to Stanley Meyer's mother-in-law. There, Meyer says, he approached Irving, whom he had known in Los Angeles ten years before, and asked if he would be interested in rewriting the Phelan manuscript for Noah Dietrich. "No, I can't," Irving replied. "I'm already doing a book on the four richest men in the world [including Howard Hughes]." That was not unusual; all through the project, Irving disguised the fact that he was interested only in Hughes by saying he was doing a book on four of the world's wealthiest men. He did, however, brag to his cousin Mike Ham-ilburg that he was deeply involved in a book exclusively about Hughes. Meyer claims that he never showed the Phelan manuscript to Irving. Late last week Meyer was subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury in Los Angeles that will, like the federal grand jury already assembled in New York, look into the case.

When Irving first approached McGraw-Hill, which had published three of his books, he said that he had received three letters from Howard Hughes expressing tentative interest in having Irving write his authorized biography, living's editors were intrigued and told him to proceed with the project.

Then began Irving's intricately orchestrated moves, drawn out over the next ten months, to make the project seem authentic. McGraw-Hill editors received calls from various points —Mexico, Puerto Rico, Miami and other cities—where Irving reported his progress with Hughes. Irving said that he first met Hughes at 7 a.m. on Feb. 13 on a mountaintop in Oaxaca, Mexico. He reported that he had signed a letter of agreement with Hughes in San Juan on March 4. He brought the forged document to New York, and on March 23 signed with McGraw-Hill a contract providing for an immediate $100,000 advance. Eventually McGraw-Hill paid Irving $700,000 in advances, of which $650,000 was intended for Hughes and ended up in the "Helga Hughes" account in Zurich. Irving smoothly explained to the publishers that Hughes, in a stubbornly entrepreneurial spirit, wanted to be paid an honest price for his labors. Throughout the negotiations, Irving maintained a convincing air of plausibility.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9