'The Hoax' Tells a Real Story About a Fake In the early 1970s, Clifford Irving got a million-dollar advance for what turned out to be a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes. Irving's fake was discovered, and he went to jail — where he wrote a best-seller about how he nearly got away with it. That entire adventure has been turned into a movie, The Hoax, starring Richard Gere and Alfred Molina.
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'The Hoax' Tells a Real Story About a Fake

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'The Hoax' Tells a Real Story About a Fake

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'The Hoax' Tells a Real Story About a Fake

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Few literary con men have had the audacity of American writer Clifford Irving. In the early 1970s, Irving got a huge advance for what turned out to be a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes. And when his deception was discovered, Irving wrote a bestseller from jail about how he nearly got away with it. That bestseller, "The Hoax," is the basis for a movie opening tomorrow.

In a moment, we'll speak with Alfred Molina, who plays Irving's researcher and co-conspirator in the film. First, Bob Mondello has a review.

BOB MONDELLO: Con men, if they are shameless enough, are almost always a hit with audiences, and they don't come much more shameless than Richard Gere's Clifford Irving. This guy's an operator, fraudulent to his hair follicles, which have been darkened quite elegantly here. And he's come up with a really good idea for a book. He's going to write an authorized autobiography of the world's most eccentric billionaire, Howard Hughes.

This would, of course, be a better idea if Irving had actually been authorized, or had met, or even been in contact with Hughes. Alas, that's not the case, which makes his friend and researcher, Dick Suskind, a wee bit nervous.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hoax")

Mr. ALFRED MOLINA (Actor): (as Dick Suskind) He has his own private CIA, ruthless advisers.

Mr. RICHARD GERE (Actor): (as Clifford Irving) His advisers don't know anything about the book because he's too paranoid to tell them. And he'll never come out of hiding long enough to denounce me because he's a lunatic hermit. And I am the spokesperson for the lunatic hermit. So the more outrageous I sound, the more convincing I am.

MONDELLO: Outrageous he does sound. And the more bizarre his faked letters, audiotapes and monetary demands become, the more the publishers' experts throw up their hands. Even when they've actually got him dead to rights - caught in a lie - they discover he's just too slippery to hold on to.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hoax")

Unidentified Man: I will prosecute you to full extent of the law for grand larceny and mail fraud unless you tell me right now just what is going on.

Mr. MOLINA: (as Dick Suskind): I have...

MONDELLO: Nothing. He has nothing.

(Soundbite of "The Hoax")

Mr. MOLINA: (as Dick Suskind) Off-the-record material.

Unidentified Man: I'm going to tell Howard, either he shows his ant-bitten face, or I release it. I've had it.

MONDELLO: You've got to love this guy. And in Lasse Hallstrom's snappy screen version of his story, you've got to feel sorry for his wife and for his buddy, Suskind, who is the one who ends up doing much of Irving's dirty work. Alfred Molina makes Suskind a sweet, needy wreck of a man, easily bullied, ultimately guilty, and somehow still the moral center of the story. The screenplay takes many liberties, some of them even with the liberties taken by Irving.

In one nifty twist, it suggests that this consummate scam artist might have been the victim of a scam himself. The audience, in fact, may be the only folks not scammed by "The Hoax," which as entertainment, is the real thing.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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