Whenever the words 'Based on true events' appear on the screen, you always know the filmmaker has taken liberties with what actually happened. But just how far can a movie veer away from the real story?
'You could call it a hoax about a hoax,' Clifford Irving says on his website (www.cliffordirving.com), referring to The Hoax. 'It's a Hollywood version of what happened'
Irving sold the film rights to the story years ago and says the true story is quite different than what filmgoers will see on the screen. 'I would have preferred [my] main credit to be ‘Loosely and erratically based on the book by Clifford Irving,'' he told CityBeat in an interview. 'But they wouldn't buy that.' He says he was paid 'a pittance to be ‘technical adviser,' but I asked them to remove that from the credits. They did.'
Irving doesn't seem particularly bitter about the licenses the film takes. It's just that his recently reissued book, The Hoax, upon which the film is based, tells a different story. 'I didn't live in New York's Westchester County at the time. I lived on the funky island of Ibiza off the Mediterranean coast of Spain. But the producers didn't want to spend the money shooting in Europe.'
And there are other differences. His relationship with co-conspirator Dick Susskind never had the acrimony the film would have us believe. And although he hasn't seen the movie-he's read the final shooting script-Irving says his ex-wife Edith, played in the film by Marcia Gay Harden, watched just 15 minutes of it and said, 'It was fantastic. I loved the fact that they made practically all of it up. If they had told the truth, it would have been depressing to watch.'
Ironically, The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, the book that stirred up all the trouble way back in 1972, is long out of print and almost impossible to find. Irving offers up several chapters for free on his site and sells the entire thing (in PDF format) for a few bucks.