Sunday, April 6, 2014
Five literary hoaxes
1. Laurel Rose Willson/Lauren Stratford/Laura Grabowski : Satan’s Underground
Laurel Willson took advantage of the ritual child abuse scare of the ‘80s to come out with this book. Published under the name Lauren Stratford, it’s the story of how she escaped a Satanic cult. One of her claims was that her children had been murdered by the cult—either in snuff films or sacrificed to Satan.
When her story started coming under scrutiny, according to an article in Cornerstone Magazine, she reinvented herself as Laura Grabowski, a Holocaust survivor—basically, replacing Satan with Josef Mengele.
The best part? As Laura Grabowski, she befriended Binjamin Wilkomirski, who had written a memoir of his time in two concentration camps and the murder of his parents by the Nazis. Wilkomirski was compared to Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank, before a journalist exposed his memoir as fiction. One of Wilkomirski’s claims was that he’d known Laura Grabowski from the camps.
2. Herman Rosenblat : Angel at the Fence
This memoir of a romance began when a little girl outside the concentration camp threw food over the fence to a little boy inside. The film rights were bought for $25 million and Oprah Winfrey described it as “the single greatest love story” on her show.
Unfortunately the truth turned out to be right up there with James Frey, partly because guards in concentration camps didn’t allow prisoners to approach electrified fences to pick up care packages. I can only imagine what the Holocaust deniers made of this. Hopefully the money was worth it for Mr. Rosenblat.
3. Clifford Irving : Autobiography of Howard Hughes
Back in the ‘70s, Irving made use of Hughes’ reclusiveness and some forged letters, claiming that Hughes had authorized him to write an “autobiography”. The publishers’ check was made out to H. R. Hughes, so Irving’s wife opened an account in the name of Helga R. Hughes and deposited it there.
A telephone conference between Hughes and seven journalists who had known him years ago started unraveling the deception. Irving was sent to prison for 17 months.
4. Sylvester Clark Long : Long Lance
In 1928, the autobiography Long Lance, written by the son of a Blackfoot chief, was a huge bestseller. The author became a sought-after guest in high society.
After his death, it turned out his father was a janitor at a school—and black. In white society, Sylvester Clark Long clearly found more acceptance as an exotic Native American chieftain’s son. When he landed a starring role in a motion picture in 1929, he was hailed as the first Native American character to play the lead role in a film. He committed suicide in 1932.
5. Norma Khouri : Honor Lost/Forbidden Lies
Norma Khouri’s best friend when they were growing up in Jordan was Dalia. But when Dalia fell in love with a Christian man, her father stabbed her to death.
This was the premise of a Random House bestselling memoir which turned out to be a sham. Khouri left Jordan for the US when she was three years old, and her life since then has included a lot more unethical activities than just a literary lie. The Jordanian National Association for Women claimed that despite promises, they received less than $100 from Khouri.
A common theme for the hoaxers these days is to catch a hot trend and ride it for all it’s worth before the scheme falls through. There are plenty more such fake memoirs—including one by another supposed Holocaust survivor who was adopted by a pack of wolves. Mowgli of Belgium later ‘fessed up. But while it lasts, there’s money and sympathy. And so people will keep doing it.