The publisher has changed the cover and reissued a movie tie-in edition of Israel's book, depicted below. Read the original New York Times review of the book, which mentions Brooks, HERE. Also, check out the Los Angeles Times review HERE. And the NPR story can be read or listened to HERE.
Israel's first book on actress Tallulah Bankhead was a New York Times bestseller, and her second, on the newspaper reporter and columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, made a splash in the headlines. (Bankhead and Kilgallen were both friends of Brooks; Bankhead and Brooks socialized, and Kilgallen wrote of Brooks a number of times in her columns beginning in 1941, and did so until 1957.)
But by 1990, almost broke and desperate to hang onto her Upper West Side studio, Israel 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 the famous and great. Between 1990 and 1991, she wrote more than three hundred letters in the voices of, among others, Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O'Neil, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, and Noel Coward—and sold the forgeries to memorabilia and autograph dealers. Until she got caught....
HERE. And so do many of the early reviews of the film, like this Associated Press review and this piece in the UK Daily Mail. [I haven't seen the film, and don't know for sure, but I was told by someone involved in scripting the film that Brooks is mentioned in the film itself.]
Why Louise Brooks? Israel's forging of letters from the actress coincided with the resurgence of interest in Brooks following Barry Paris' celebrated 1989 biography. It was widely written about, and so was Brooks.
After her memoir was published in 2008, Israel turned to selling her forged letters (as such) on eBay. As I noted on this blog at the time: "The eBay description reads, 'Lee Israel, author of the recently published Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, which The New York Times called 'pretty damned fabulous,' is offering several letters for sale – the hilarious forgeries that experts from coast to coast could not distinguish from the extraordinary letters written by the silent film star. These are the letters Lee Israel had not yet sold when the FBI came knocking at her door. $75 each, suitable for framing to bamboozle your literary friends. Letters of inauthenticity provided."
I didn't buy any of Israel's forgeries, but did email her. We exchanged a couple of notes, but all-in-all, she was reticent to talk about what she did. In an interview with Vice magazine, she said this:
VICE: Well, it could’ve been that they didn’t fuss because you went to such great lengths to make the content of the letters believable and entertaining.
LEE ISRAEL: Yes. For instance, my Louise Brooks letters were based on her actual letters. In the beginning, I spent weeks reading these fabulous letters by her in the library. I got into her soul and her sensibilities and gained lots of knowledge about her life. So when I sat down to do the forgeries, I was just taking baby steps. In the beginning those letters were mostly Louise’s words with a bunch of stuff just changed around. But when they started to sell like hotcakes, I got surer of myself and moved farther and farther away from the model. The Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber stuff was not even based on real letters. I was using things written in other forms and incorporating them into my work.