Can You Ever Forgive Lee Israel?
I came across this letter in a collection with the signature of one of my favorites, the writer and wit, Dorothy Parker and the letter is so her eighty three Norma place Hollywood, California, the Joshua Allen told me to write an apologize. I'm doing that. Now while he dresses for Turkey dinner with the boys across the road. I have a hangover that as a real museum piece. I'm sure that I must have said something terrible the year this kind of exertion in the future. I'm thinking of having little letters runoff saying can you ever forgive me? Dr. Except that Dorothy Parker didn't actually write or sign that letter Lee Israel, did her book called can you ever? Forgive me tells the story of her years as a literary con-artist forging letters by all sorts of famous writers, then selling the memoir was just Apted into terrific new film, also called can you ever forgive me. It stars Melissa McCarthy as Israel. This. One line. Here was particularly clever. Don't you think it's wonderful. I love his writing and Dorothy Parker's while caustic wit. Caustic wit is my religion. With the film. Now in theaters I wanted to revisit my conversation with the real Li Israel. She died in two thousand fourteen but I talked to her when her memoir came out in two thousand eight so that isn't by Dorothy Parker at all. Well, there's one line the best line. Can you guess which it is? That's really Dorothy this have hangover that as a real museum piece. So the title of your book is from this purported letter by Dorothy Parker, but it's a real realign. Yes, I imagine Dorothy apologizing her waif-like way for some misdeed, and and I sat down, and I wrote it's in the spirit of kind of Judah spree. So how did you get the idea for this this racket of forging famous people's letters and selling them to dealers started? It was incremental as most things are in life. I I was in the library where I spent most of my time foraging, and they gave me a group. Of of letters. And I thought perhaps even one or two of those could pay for from Mike my kitties tests, and I shoot it. I took it a walked out of the library. And I sold it. I was told by the the woman who bought my letters that which I didn't know anything about the business, but she would pay more for better content. So I went home, and I typed up some better content. And then when you started forging after that instead of stealing what was the first thing before actually, I don't remember where I started. I have a feeling let me think I know it wasn't. I think of the first things I fought would know account letters and you bought not just one but a whole series of antique typewriters on which to do. We'll finally if I had knoll type on one typewriter Dorothy on another and and EDNA Ferber on yet another and Finally I had about six or seven of them in locker I rented on Amsterdam have Aminu looked like a very classy porn shop, but his pawnshop not a porn shop. Not a foreign chef. And it's amazing. How little regulation there is. I mean, for instance, the Noel coward letters, some of them were published in an anthology of his correspondent. That's right recently in highly regarded, well, reviewed book, cool, the letters of no coward. And they were two of my lettuce showed up in that volume. Can we hear one of your letters? Okay. Gotta find it. All right. I'll just this. Dear Kevin Sunday. And at the the letterhead as lays of all sumo shoes. Pardon my French, dear Kevin, I who doesn't exist. I am feeling years younger having lose this morning over perfectly packed snow. There is no substitute for oxygen in the lungs. It seems to release something very like morphine Marlene Marlene as perhaps mentioned to you. When we spoke was here for almost two week. She will never change in Detroit a four service folly, she moans endlessly about the ravages of aging the betrayal of friends the lonely. Of celebrity the Silio crowd addresses each of these problems, if she were the only beautiful and celebrated creature to experience reversals, I intend to have her in my life until one of us crooks, but she is possibly the most June grandmother in the history of our planet. It's a very good thing that I love her. I laughed uproariously at show dog dog arrow yours ever know flea. Israel's version of no account, and they were among the best letters. I think of his well what you don't I'll tell you why? Because he Kurt guess he didn't have to be knoll coward. When he wrote letters. He was writing letters. I had to try hard. I had to be no coward. And so they were lay will cavorted they camped they jumped high jet Jade around. I mean, he didn't write letters like that. I was I was doing it to please dealers and to do an imitation of disturbed sick man who didn't have to try to be no coward. How did you? Did you have to try to get into character? How much did? Immerse yourself in their work. Did you put on a hat like they were support yourself drink? What did you do? I'd never put myself drink because who was it who said John Cheever that old womanising alcoholic said even Sipa Sherry shows in his prose. So I never I never drank. When I ride I just I immersed myself in that wonderful thing that happens grade of people kind of trance the creative transits it's as good as it gets. We'll have more of my interview with Lee Israel in just a minute. But first I wanted to take this opportunity to remind you to follow us on Twitter and Instagram at studio three sixty show. And now back to the podcast now, let's let's rewind before you ever got into this. You were of successful bog refer when I was in my early thirties. I wrote a book about Dorothy Kilgallen, I wrote a book about to Lula Bankhead. I did finally book that wasn't so good about Estee Lauder after the Lord of book, my lights dimmed a bit, and they stopped taking me to Lynch, and and you were on welfare. And and it was it was really rough. It wasn't. It wasn't just that. You were no longer a bestseller. What is rough? I mean, I wasn't eating roots and Niger, but in terms of my life. It was bad. It was I was alone. She was alone. And you and you had a sick cat as well. I had. Sick the romance of the whole thing, and how much did you get for that those? I I think the forty dollars a piece something like that. So it wasn't a lot of money per letter. Forty bucks, forty bucks. Allowed me to take my cat to the vet and find out baby. What was wrong with her? It was enough to keep me as I say finally in in lunch and cigarettes and rent. It was not a lot of money in terms of the letters you forge a part from the marketability of a given author or figure how how did you choose who you wanted to do? I've been thinking about that. I I know that I have certain hide certain criteria which had to be bet they the signature mostly had to be doable, easy, so EDNA, for instance, EDNA Ferber or some EDNA Ferber. She signed her letters with a period. Very simple writing. No, no loops. No swirls. No, no were jumps. Same thing. Knowles was a little harder. Dorothy, Parker had an easy signature. They had to present a challenge to me. They had to have literary epistolary styles that I thought I could duplicate and have fun doing. And I guess those are the criteria fun is interesting to me because they are also nearly all sort of swan. You naughty, people of a certain period and certain certain habits with alcohol and certain age, which meant that if I shook a little in the signature, it wouldn't tell so much, but they would all you. No, one would want to go to the cocktail party with all most of these people all of them, maybe EDNA Ferber. I was gonna say. How many letters did you right now? I think about four hundred really, yeah. You can see you can see as we sit. There's a loosely with copies basically two or three a week for the three years something like that. I guess I didn't you do the math. I did. I did whatever I needed to do them. There was one deal in New Hampshire who would call and say, do you have something Greta Garbo will have you something which George q-car is mentioned. Now, I always satisfied is demands that what did he think I mean, really? And where would you say? Yeah. Maybe I do I have a feeling maybe they may be in the country. You know, like I had a country home. I'll check and I o. I always I wasn't. I not even smart enough to say, oh, no. I couldn't I always was eighty ninety one hundred dollars. Ed was the Noel coward letters that finally done me in because I overdid and because one of the one of his friends who was in the market to buy Noel coward. That is was shown some of mine in new. Full. Well, that know having lived at a time when homosexuality was jailing offense never would've put so many campy funny allusions in his letters and the stuff that's homoerotic etcetera. I got from his his diaries, but Noah would have been much too careful to disclose his. I did what happened. Finally is that one. Once the man friend of Knowles discerned that there was something rotten in Denmark. He told the dealer who told other dealers and finally the well was toxic, and I could no longer sale. And then as soon as the the federal agents showed themselves didn't arrest you mmediately. You went off trying to thinking we're going to get rid of the typewriters destroy the guy rid of everything I could get my hands on scissored everything. I I took the typewriters from the locker one by one and they were very heavy. You know, we're talking nineteen forties. Nineteen fifties at I place them up and down various trash receptacles on Amsterdam avenue. So you were you were. Finally nabbed prosecuted went to trial. You got off pretty easy. I did. Well, I had I got six months house arrest, which is not so easy. If you saw my apartment at the time, not only did you not go to jail. You you have this lovely book. That's come out. That is getting good reviews and kind of kind attention, nobody that I've seen seems to be saying how dare this thief and forger getaway with this. I know, and I'm really, but I I have a knowledge that what I did was was wrong. But I don't I don't feel that in the pit of my stomach the bloggers not being so so kind blinders do, yeah, I know one of them called twit, and I hope he spelled it right? Somebody else called me, an intellectual terrorist. I beat so that happens, but mostly the the community of writers and not so much scholars of writers. And peers of of a liking it and are being very kind to me non-judgmental. I know what I did was for honest, Ana.