“Cliff lives in a world of fantasy”
Billionaire Howard Hughes was an aviator, founder of Trans World Airlines, billionaire, film producer, owner of RKO Pictures, bra inventor and much more, but it is for his eccentricities that he is best known. Hughes became a paranoid recluse and little-known novelist Clifford Irving decided to take advantage of this.
In December 1970 he decided to write the “authorized” biography of Hughes. Irving forged a correspondence between himself and Hughes and presented it to publishing executives demanding $750,000. On 7 December 1971 McGraw-Hill announced the book would be published on 27 March 1972. Rosemont Enterprises Inc., Hughes’s main company, denied the book was genuine. Irving explained that Hughes was so paranoid he had not even told his own men, an explanation that satisfied McGraw-Hill. Cheques were issued to an H.R. Hughes and deposited in an account at Credit Suisse, which had been opened by Irving’s wife, Edith.
At 6.45pm on 7 January 1972, from the ninth floor suite of the Britannia Beach Hotel in Nassau, Hughes made his first public utterance in 15 years when he denounced the book as a fake in a phone link to journalists at the Sheraton Hotel in Los Angeles. It was when the Swiss banks broke their traditional vow of secrecy to reveal that H.R. Hughes was a woman (Helga Rosencrantz Hughes) that the plot quickly began to unravel.
A friend of Irving’s said, “Cliff lives in a world of fantasy.” Hughes informed the IRS that he had not received any of the $750,000 advance and had no intention of paying tax on it. This caused the tax men to began an investigation. Signatures on the back of cashed cheques were re-examined. On 28 January 1972 Irving admitted that his wife was the mysterious H.R. Hughes.
New York City, USA
On 7 February Irving and his wife took the Fifth Amendment before a grand jury in New York. During the hearings singer, Baroness Nina van Pallandt, revealed she had travelled to Mexico with Irving during the time he had said he was interviewing Hughes.
On 16 June 1972, Judge John M. Cannella sentenced Edith to two years in prison, all but two months of which were suspended. She was then tried in Zurich and sentenced to a further two years’ imprisonment. She was released on 5 May 1974. Irving was fined $10,000 and sentenced to 30 months. Upon his release in 1974, he got divorced and wrote the story of the hoax. In June 1975, he was declared bankrupt with assets of $410 and debts of $55 million.