“Tricksters or fakes, assistants or ‘toons, they are exemplars of the coming community.”
Since the publication of his Autobiography of Howard Hughes in 1972, the life of writer Clifford Iriving has been nothing but adventure. That book was a “fake” and unauthorized biography of the eccentric aviator and film director Howard Hughes (1905-1976), an American tycoon billionaire who died in 1976 after being in reclusion the last years of his life. The so-called autobiography, a creative concoction of Clifford Irving and his conspirator Dick Suskind, caused a scandal when the reclusive Hughes declared it a hoax, ending in the imprisonment of the authors.
In an attempt to revisit the process and controversy of the book’s making, or say, the life of one its authors, Clifford Irving himself, Miramax produced the film The Hoax. Lying somewhere between dramatization and fictionalization, this film is loosely based on Clifford Irving’s story, narrated first and most accurately in a book by him with the same title. The film was released in 2007; the book published in 1981. Not surprisingly, the film is far from and adaptation of his book, and Clifford Irving claims it a hoax in itself.
Fakes. Hoaxes. Cons. Doubles. Re-makings. Multiple narratives. These are also the subjects of Orson Welle’s 1974 film F for Fake, wherein Clifford Irving plays himself—or not. Finally, we can get to know. This year, his autobiography, Phantom Rosebuds by Clifford Irving was published by Dexter Sinister and this along with the exhibition as event as book tour with the savvy title The Clifford Irving Show is produced by curator Raimundas Malasauskas. To date, it has been presented in California at New Langton Arts in San Francisco and at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in collaboration with Art 2102 in Los Angeles.
I had the luck of sitting next to Clifford Irving on an air-flight to China some weeks ago. It was a special flight, indeed, filled with coincidence and surprise. It was the perfect way to meet the man. Inspired by the writer’s lifetime and work, as well as by the self-designated Fake Market and shadow economies that I experienced while traveling in China, I interviewed Clifford Irving some days after we met on air. In this interview, below, learn about him, Phantom Rosebuds and The Clifford Irving Show.
SH: You are infamous for your “authorized autobiography” of Howard Hughes–a literary scandal during the 1970s well accounted in both your earlier book, The Hoax, which was made into a film last year, and again in Phantom Rosebuds. Do you consider this newest title about your life and times an authorized autobiography, too?
CI: I thought Hughes would never speak up. You know why? Because I too was like him, and the things I had done and seen had silenced me completely. And the lessons of history and being in that bomber, designed by Hughes, that had dropped the A-Bomb onto Nagasaki the day after Hiroshima. Want to know the truth? I don’t think it was Hughes who held that press conference denouncing me. It was probably Jason Robards or someone hired by the Hughes Corporation. The real Hughes was the man of my imagination, long fingernails, bottling his urine, naked all day long because he, I, couldn’t stand the thought of the way clothes are made. Who’s that Japanese designer who turned the seams inside out in his suits? Should have had him make my bathrobes, I mean the bathrobes of Hughes.
SH: Why did you feel compelled to write Phantom Rosebuds? Was it really your discontent with how the 2007 film based on your 1981 book The Hoax turned out to be–that it didn’t properly (or was it, “accurately”) represent you? In what way did you feel misrepresented, in terms of the facts or the intentions?
CI: Happy to say that I didn’t contribute a penny to this travesty of my life. Yes, I was a consultant, but fucking Lasse Hallstrom of Sweden ignored nearly everything I told him, or maybe his English didn’t extend to listening. Thirty years after ABBA: the MOVIE, director Lasse Hallstrom has yet to exhibit any signs of talent whatsoever as a director. Was he the man to do justice to this American story? Why did he cast Julie Delpy of all people as my Danish mistress, Nina Van Pallandt? Did she seem Danish to him? My people said to me, “He made What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? your favorite movie in jail.” But I’m here to tell you, Sofia, that a movie you like in prison isn’t going to be a good movie necessarily, it’s going to be a movie you can jerk off to, pardon my French. Yes, I downloaded it, if saying so won’t revoke my parole.
SH: Your Phantom Rosebuds and your earlier The Hoax are both confessional, but show different sides of you—the strategist, the opportunist, the illusionist. What do you believe is the main distinction between these, particularly in regards your literary “tactics”?
CI: Yes, I have different sides, but so do all of us to one extent or another. You must remember, Sofia, that when I was your age it was not uncommon to hear the word “genius” thrown about in my presence. My first two novels, On a Darkling Plain and The Lovers were like fiery saboteurs mounting a break or die attack on the cold war landscape of literary conformity. When I walked into a room, people whispered first about my genius, only later about my four young English brides. They asked if I had a little bit of anglophilia in me. Am I a strategist? Yes—I gave Bobby Fischer chess advice, Spassky too. Am I an opportunist? If going for their balls makes you an opportunist, I guess I became one, I had to. An illusionist? The thing Orson Welles loved about me is that, late one night when we were filming F for Fake and Orson, shall we say, had availed himself of far too much of the Paul Masson wine that, he claimed, he would not sell before its time. You know Orson had his own magic act? he asked me to get into the long box and said he’d saw me in half. I knocked him out cold while Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston looked on, appalled. Days later when Orson returned to the set, his skull and beard all bandaged in gauze, he shook my hand and hugged me, muttering, “You love me, you destroy me,” after our favorite French writer, the amiably wry Marguerite Duras.
But you can buy all these stories in my book, hint hint.
SH: Can you name some of your literary influences, and talk about how they can be “traced” in Phantom Rosebuds?
CI: Duras, of course, and Isak Dinesen. It was I who pointed Orson to the little gilt volume of Dinesen’s stories that contains the immortal Immortal Story. She wrote of the strange, the grotesque, the Gothic if you will. In Phantom Rosebuds, the title of which of course I borrowed from Isak Dinesen, I tell the story of a group of disparate flowers that banded themselves together into one bouquet, to form a strange alliance against death. Some were rosebuds by birth, and some by “imitation.” The moral? Not all of us have the luck to be born rosebuds, my dear. Naturally, Dinesen took her original image of the phantom rosebuds from Orson’s famous speech in Citizen Kane. They ask him what his favorite toy was as a boy, and he replied, “Rosebud.” People thought it was a sled, but no, far from it.
Barney’s a big man, psychologically speaking. It would have been grand to have him on our side during the Six Day War.
SH: Tell us about your premier book launch of Phantom Rosebuds in Los Angeles? I heard from some that the event didn’t actually happen, that it was only a communication piece made up by Art 2102 in conspiracy with Museum of Jurassic Technology, an invitation without an event so to say. I even heard rumors that the book didn’t even exist, which, of course, is untrue as I read it just now. Anyway, was there an actual event-and if so, what did you prepare for it?
CI: My appearance was a project of the visiting curator Raimundas Malasauskas (born in the Soviet time in Vilnius, modern day Lithuania). I had met and impressed Malasauskas last summer in Basel when Elaine Stuyvesant, whom I’ve known just forever, introduced us under the eye of her dealer, august and rangy Anthony Reynolds.
Before I quite knew what was happening Malasauskas had dreamed up what he called The Clifford Irving Show at New Langton Arts in San Francisco in April, an evening in which he screened the trailer for F for Fake, presented a magician, had different variety acts come on, all as teasers for my appearance reading from my new memoir, Phantom Rosebuds. The Irish art writer Francis McKee wrote the script, I delivered it to wild cheers. The publisher of Phantom Rosebuds, Stuart Bailey, was in attendance, handed me two copies—sweet!
LA was much the same story, only the venue changed and the artists as well. In LA, I had Mario Garcia-Torres, Amy Robinson, Nicholas Matranga, Morten Norbye Halvorsen in attendance. Well, all the young boys and girls want to reach out and touch a legend. It’s natural. It’s like me when I was a boy, at the High School of Music and Art in New York, and my mom had Theodore Dreiser come and give me private writing lessons. Who would say no to a master? I was just a kid and he was Theodore god-damn Dreiser, I’d have sucked his big stick of a cock had he given the nod. It’s all about transmission, you know?
SH: Where is the book tour taking you next?
CI: I don’t know, doll, where do you want to take me?
Phantom Rosebuds by Clifford Irving was published in April 2008 in an edition of 500, on the occasion of The Clifford Irving Show at New Langton Arts in San Francisco, CA and Art 2102 in Los Angeles, CA. It will also be included in Issue 16 of Dot Dot Dot.
The Clifford Irving Show is produced by Raimundas Malasauskas as part of F for Park, a project in search of a parallel science of beats and concepts.
The title of this entry is drawn from: Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, translated from the Italian by Michael Hardt, U.S.A., Minnesota University Press, 1990, 1993/1998, p. 11.