CRIME : The Fabulous Hoax of Clifford Irving

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Irving grew up in an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. His father, who changed the family name from Rafsky in the mid-'30s, was Jay Irving, a modestly successful cartoonist who drew covers for Collier's magazine and a comic strip called Pottsy—about a fat, amiable policeman—for the New York Daily News. The elder Irving was fascinated by cops and filled the apartment on West End Avenue with police memorabilia.

Those who knew Jay Irving, who died two years ago, are struck by the similarities between him and Howard Hughes' father. Each was self-centered, demanding of his only son but never close to him, a dominant, feared figure. About his father, Cliff Irving has told friends: "He was always pushing me to go to Hollywood. He had this image of me, I think, sitting beside a swimming pool under the palm trees, directing or producing movies." The elder Irving evidently wanted his son to achieve what he had never gained —influence, money and fame. But Cliff Irving's priorities, one friend says, are first money, then fame. Although father and son never really got along, Clifford said that before he died, Jay Irving "finally came round. He realized he couldn't change me, and what's more, that I was doing what he had always wanted to do."

Irving's mother, who died within six months of her husband, was apparently a remote figure in her son's life —"not a very Jewish mother," according to one friend. In Clifford's first and largely autobiographical novel, On a Darkling Plain, a main character, Mike Donnenfeld, muses: "He carried the burden of being an only child and had no idea of how to lighten the load except by creating this illusion of success."

Irving attended public schools in Manhattan and played curb ball with friends that included William Safire, now a speechwriter for President Nixon. Between games, they sat on the stoops and talked about girls. "Cliff was way ahead of us," says Safire. Even as a very young man, Irving was developing what some who knew him regarded as an extraordinary animal magnetism. Another old friend admits with a touch of awe: "The grip he has on women is incredible."

First Nina. In his later life, women and romantic fantasy have been a consistent theme. At the start, says an associate, "he sees them all like women in a Hollywood movie—beautiful, unharried, desirable. So he wants them. He gets them—boy, how he gets them. But once he has them, he gets bored very quickly. All the dreary little details of living together, raising kids, that drives Cliff right up the wall. So he creates a new fantasy, looks for a new woman and starts all over again."

Entering Cornell University in 1947, Irving plunged into books, freshman crew and Pi Lambda Phi fraternity, of which he was elected president in his senior year. Initially he wanted to be an artist. Then he read Ernest Hemingway, whose style in life and prose had a profound effect upon him. "Erom that point on," says a classmate, "he wanted to be a writer." He took creative-writing courses at Cornell, stayed on for a year after graduation on a creative-writing fellowship.

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