BULL STREET - The art of the Con

The Biograpgy of Howard Hughes

Seems that there was a guy around at that time by the name of Howard Hughes that everybody had heard of but that was about it. No one had seen him for some time and he was hanging around with a group of Mormons that acted as bodyguards and kept him sanitized from the rest of us - riff raff. Hughes had a lot of weird tendencies but someone that was worth $1 billion when that was real money can really do whatever he wants. That was exemplified by the fact that he designed and flew custom made planes, produced movies and hired the most gorgeous of Hollywood’s female actresses to star in them and then took them home, owned several of the largest industrial companies in the United States and his estate funded the then largest charity. This was indeed a man that had the interest of the country and yet could never be found.

Rumors abounded that he was in poor health, that he had wasted away, that he was wearing a disguise and that he had left the country. All of them were probably true at one time or another. The public was clamoring for the real story and it was Clifford Irving that Howard Hughes agreed to meet with and give and exclusive story to. Everyone wondered why Hughes chose Irving but he was a reasonably good writer and people thought that Hughes had reached an agreement with him that he would tell the Hughes story in a way that would make Howard look bigger than god.

While this made a lot of sense, it wasn’t what really occurred. It seems that Irving; knowing that historically Hughes would never talk to anyone; he could make up whatever story seemed plausible make a fortune of the book. If it was not too outlandish, Hughes would never refute it. Irving started the scam by creating claiming to the press that he had been authorized to do a biography on the man and had already accumulated tons of manuscripts, letters from Hughes himself. Another trick that Irving had up his sleeve was the fact that Hughes had not spoken publicly for over a decade and that even if he did indicate that Irving was a fraud, who would believe it was really the man himself. Moreover, Irving biggest bet was that no matter what the circumstances were Hughes would never appear in person.

That was about the only thing that Irving was right about. He socked away a $765,000 from the publisher, McGraw Hill, as an advance for the autobiography supposedly to be written and edited by Irving as told by Hughes himself. For those days that was a literally obscene amount of money and the public literally began screaming for the book. This was the man that had created the brazier for Jane Russell in the movie the “Outlaw” a near porn movie at the time, but extremely tame be today’s standards. To some degree, this alone had made Hughes a folk hero.

Eventually excerpts of the book came out and while everyone loved it, there was not a ring of truth in the entire thing. In the meantime, Irving did the radio - television road show circuit and was superb. He was so good that in March of 1972, after it had already been revealed that the book was a con job, Irving was nominated as the best actor of the year by 60 Minutes. He also was dubbed “con Man of the Year” by time magazine. Everyone called him something, but for the most part it was very good. The whole scheme unraveled when Hughes agreed to be interviewed on the telephone by seven reporters, some of whom had talked to Hughes during his more formative years.

Irving had his fifteen minutes of glory and got 14-months in the slammer at Allenwood, a literal country club for white color criminals but was soon up-streamed to the big-house for his bad boy behavior. Before Irving had finished paying for his crime he would serve time in Lewisburg, mostly in solitary and in Danbury a maximum-security type of place where at one point he was accused of trying to kill the warden. Moreover, he had to return the money he had taken from McGraw Hill. As if to add insult to injury, his wife and supposed researcher, Richard Suskind also was given similar prison sentences. However, when the whole thing had ended, the public had gotten a great joy ride for their money. Irving, who had been a decent writer before the incident, slipped into oblivion and makes some bucks now and again by talking about his moment of glory.

 

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