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THE HOAX

About The Film's Origins
From fabricated books to faked news stories, the media hoax has become a staple of modern American culture -- one of the fastest and most irresistible routes to fame, fortune and adoration in a world that loves a good story, sometimes at any cost. But our current era of constantly erupting scandals was kicked off by perhaps the most spectacular swindle of them all: the Clifford Irving/Howard Hughes hoax of the early 1970s.

The true story of Clifford Irving was so outrageous that when THE HOAX's screenwriter William Wheeler first heard it, he thought it was made up – and things only got more complicated from there, as he and director Lasse Hallström decided to fictionalize this truth-inspired tale built on a series of deceptions and lies.

"When producer Josh Maurer and Mark Gordon first told me the concept for THE HOAX, I thought it was too absurd to be believed. Then they told me it was based on something true which made it even more incredible!” recalls Wheeler.

The basic facts of the story were these:

In1971, McGraw-Hill announced it had acquired for the then-immense sum of nearly a million dollars the rights to publish Howard Hughes' memoir. This would have been the publishing coup of the century. At the time, Hughes was the richest, most powerful man in the world, yet this prevailing icon was so reclusive that just about everybody wanted to know more about his mysterious, secretive and alluring personal life.

The fact that the purported author wasn't one of the country's leading journalists but a little-known writer named Clifford Irving did raise some eyebrows. Irving, in fact, had previously written a book entitled FAKE!, all about the inner workings of art forger Elmyr de Hory, which could have tipped someone off. But no. Instead, McGraw-Hill claimed that it was satisfied that Irving had obtained not only Hughes' blessing but extensive intimate interviews with the man who would allow no one else near him. After all, Irving had produced documents from Hughes that even passed the snuff of the publisher's so-called handwriting experts. But just as the Howard Hughes biography was about to hit the stands, Hughes made his first public statement in over a decade – holding an eerie, disembodied telephone press conference from the Bahamas to declare Clifford Irving and his book a giant fraud.

It turned out the Irving had fabricated the entire volume – in part from his own imagination and in part from a stolen, unpublished manuscript written by Noah Deitrich, Hughes' former right-hand man, as well as peppered with historically accurate facts obtained through legitimate research by Irving and Suskind. Indeed, Irving had never so much as spoken a word to Howard Hughes.

Ultimately, Irving would be named Con Man of the Year by Time Magazine and would spend more than 2 years in jail, as would his researcher and collaborator Dick Suskind and his Swiss wife, who became his financial accomplice. When he got out, Irving wrote a different memoir – his own this time, and one purportedly more factual, recounting the behind-the-scenes details of creating the bogus autobiography -- and called it The Hoax.

Irving's book wound up in the hands of producer Josh Maurer, who found himself drawn not only to the story of one of the first earth-shaking media scandals of our recent times, but to the idea of Irving as an wonderfully funny, unpredictable and irreverent movie character. He could, Maurer, realized be the ultimate "unreliable protagonist,” a man so brilliant at lying, he started to buy his own falsehoods. He also provided an intriguing path into a period in American history when both personal trust and the national trust were being shattered by changing lifestyles and political corruption.

"I loved all the elements of the story – the connection to Howard Hughes, the way this s

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