Retro Heaven

The Autobiography That Never Was

Clifford Irving and the Howard Hughes ‘autobiography’….

In March 1972 one of the great literary hoaxes of the last century unravelled as the legendary recluse Howard Hughes made a last minute phone call to thwart a $750,000 pay check for his so-called autobiography.

Clifford Irving (1930-2017) a novelist and non-fiction author of modest success read an article on the reclusive billionaire in a Newsweek article two years earlier. This piece about a man whose life fascinated people the world over inspired Irving to conjure up an elaborate plan to create an autobiography by Hughes with false letters and phone calls to his publisher from exotic locations which he claimed were meeting places with Hughes and a Swiss bank account opened by his wife using a forged passport under the name H.R. Hughes.

It was set to be a lucrative hoax for Irving, not only were McGraw-Hill, the publishers paying $750,000, so too Life magazine paid $250,000 for the serial rights with Dell paying another $400,000 to publish the book in paperback. So convincing was he that he managed to convince editors, lawyers and journalists who had met Hughes of the legitimacy of his book. He even pulled off an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes with presenter Mike Wallace who was convinced Irving was telling the truth.

Everything was going to plan until Hughes declared publically through his representative that he had never met Irving, he then followed that up, unusually for Hughes with a conference call with seven other Los Angeles journalists. Soon the Swiss bank account was discovered and Irving along with his wife and research assistant Richard Suskind, were jailed for grand theft and larceny.

Irving was quite a character, he married six times, lived in Ibiza, on a hose boat in Kashmir, Mexico and finally Florida where he died of pancreatic cancer.

Categories: Retro Heaven

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