“The Letters of Noël Coward,” a critically acclaimed book published by Alfred A. Knopf last year, includes a short, gossipy note from Coward on the subject of Julie Andrews.
“She is a bright, talented actress,” Coward writes. “And quite attractive since she dealt with her monstrous English overbite."
But the letter, and another much like it, were actually written by Lee Israel, a biographer and editor in New York who spent two years writing forgeries from her studio apartment on the Upper West Side and then selling them to autograph dealers around the country.
Or so Ms. Israel says in her new memoir, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” in which she confesses to a host of offenses, both criminal and literary, and recounts how she was eventually caught by a dealer who took his suspicions to the police.
“For me, this was a big hoot and a terrific compliment,” Ms. Israel gleefully writes in her book, as she notes that two of her phony letters were “taken to be the real thing” by Barry Day, who edited the book on Coward.
Yet despite her admitted fakery of more than 400 letters, Ms. Israel insists that her own memoir, which will be published by Simon & Schuster in August, is true to the facts. Her editor, Sarah Hochman, said the publisher had thoroughly vetted the book and stands by its accuracy. (A disclaimer in the book notes that “the characteristics of some individuals and chronology of some events have been changed.”)
“Even when we read these things and get excited about them, they’re done on a case-by-case basis,” Ms. Hochman said. “We try to think about what the author is saying and how she is saying it.”
These are tough times in the publishing industry for memoirs, since several books recently have been partly, if not completely, discredited.
Lot of fakers out there in wood-pulp land!