Recommended Book of the Week: Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel
PUBLISHED: 08:38 24 February 2020 | UPDATED: 08:38 24 February 2020
Before turning to her life of crime—running a one-woman forgery business out of a phone booth in a Greenwich Village bar and even dodging the FBI—Lee Israel had a legitimate career as an author of biographies.
Her first book on Tallulah Bankhead was a New York Times best-seller, and her second, on the late journalist and reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, made a splash in the headlines.
But by 1990, almost broke and desperate to hang onto her Upper West Side studio apartment, Lee made a bold and irreversible career change: inspired by a letter she'd received once from Katharine Hepburn, and armed with her considerable skills as a researcher and celebrity biographer, she began to forge letters in the voices of literary greats. Between 1990 and 1991, she wrote more than three hundred letters in the voices of, among others, Dorothy Parker, Louise Brooks, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, and Noel Coward—and sold the forgeries to memorabilia and autograph dealers.