Aspen Times Weekly: Clifford Ivring’s papers, at home in Texas
A trove of material from Clifford Irving — the notorious novelist, journalist and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident — was recently acquired by the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas.
The collection of papers opened to the public in October, and is likely to bring the eyes of students and scholars to study the life and work of this singular literary figure in years to come.
“Having been processed by archival staff at the Briscoe Center, I’m hopeful that the imposition of some order will help make sense out of what often seems to me a chaotic, disordered and amoral life,” said Irving. “It’s not for me to say what students can learn from such a tale. It’s for them to say and for me to learn. ‘Ancora imparo,’ as Michelangelo said.”
Irving, 84, is best known as the author of an elaborately faked Howard Hughes autobiography, a transgression that brought the reclusive Hughes into public to fight Irving and led to Irving’s conviction for fraud. The first facility in which he was housed during a 17-month federal prison stint then kicked him out for smuggling a pint of vodka inside.
The archive includes material from more than 50 years, running from 1954 to 2012. Among the trove is his correspondence with lawyers, publishers and colleagues, his personal diaries and prison journals, legal documents from lawsuits and from his 1972 bankruptcy, portions of his Howard Hughes manuscript and other drafts and notes. It also has curiosities like childhood drawings, Irving’s school report cards and family photographs. In all, it fills 20 boxes in the research center archive.
“Clifford Irving is an important writer who has lived a colorful and controversial life, which has been a major source of inspiration for much of his literary work,” said Don Carleton, executive director at the Briscoe Center. “I’m delighted that his papers are now available to enrich scholarship here at the university.”
Though most well known for the Hughes hoax and his 1981 after-the-fact account “The Hoax” (which loosely inspired the Richard Gere film of the same name), Irving has published more than 20 books, dating back to 1956’s “On a Darkling Plain” and continuing through 2012’s “Bloomberg Discovers America.”
A graduate of Cornell University, he worked at the New York Times in the early 1950s, and as a Middle East correspondent for NBC in the early 1960s. His 1968 biography of the art forger Elmyr de Hory — “Fake!” — inspired Orson Welles’ 1973 documentary “F for Fake.”
At the Briscoe Center, Irving’s archive joins a research collection that also includes the papers of Texas legend Stephen F. Austin, journalist Walter Cronkite and blues musician Leadbelly.
The research center sought Irving’s papers because of his life’s historic reach.
“It’s a fascinating story that needs to be told again, and that speaks to a variety of subjects,” said Benjamin Wright, a spokesman for the Briscoe Center. “It touches on history, literature, art, morals, law — so we were very much interested in the archive.”
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