15 June 2016

The art of faking letters

The practice of faking letters and documents has existed ever since men started putting pen to paper. While the earliest forgery dates back to the 8th Century and was about gaining political power, now the forger's aim usually is profit. I only recently read about Lee Israel who was a master literary forger in the 1990s. A biographer and editor, Israel had a hard time finding work in the early 1990s and for more than a year, while broke and addicted to alcohol, she made a living manufacturing and selling numerous letters that she said had been written by famous (dead) people. Israel meticulously researched her subjects, bought several period typewriters and stole vintage paper from the library to make her letters appear authentic. (Two of Noël Coward's letters that she forged even ended up in The Letters of Noël Coward, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2007.) Later Israel even stole original letters from libraries which she would replace with her forgeries, and the originals she then sold. In June 1993, after having been arrested by the FBI, Israel pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months house arrest and five years probation. Israel's memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger was published in 2008.

The only names of Hollywood actors I found in connection with Israel are Humphrey Bogart and Louise Brooks. Of Bogart Israel did a one-off letter, but Brooks was a subject she used more often. The following Brooks letter is one of Israel's forgeries.

source: vice

Here are three more letters which are not by Israel but which I believe are fake as well. 

Allegedly written by Barbara Stanwyck, the first letter has Barbara call Vivien Leigh a "whore". Seeing that Barbara was such a professional and was even shocked by Joan Crawford's language in this letter, I believe she would never have called Vivien that. But more importantly (as others have pointed out before me), the letter seems to have been written on a computer instead of a typewriter. (Incidentally, I saw the letter being offered on several auction sites, so someone did try to sell it as an authentic Barbara Stanwyck letter.)

via: via margutta 51

The second letter is a letter Bette Davis allegedly wrote to Joan Crawford on the occasion of her birthday and was reportedly found in Bette's desk drawer. I have serious doubts about the stationery used here, it's very unlike the type of stationery I've seen of Bette. And would she really have written this to Joan, calling her "sluttiest MGM star" and "most psychotic" (not to mention the rest of the letter)? But then again, Bette was reported to have said some nasty things about Joan, like when Joan died: "You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good... Joan Crawford is deadGood." Ouch. 

At any rate, I very much doubt this letter is authentic. Makes for fun reading, though.

via: the frisky

And then there's the following note. It was supposedly written by Marlene Dietrich to Elizabeth Taylor, two women who also hated each other. I don't believe this note is genuine either. It looks like someone was trying hard to copy Marlene's handwriting. (For comparison, see this letter where Marlene writes both in small letters and capitals.) As for the content —even though she hated Elizabeth, would Marlene really have written this?

via: opera queen
During a visit to the set of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), Marlene Dietrich reportedly said to Elizabeth Taylor: “Darling, everyone is so fantastic! You have a lot of guts to perform with real actors."

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