Friday, July 25, 2008

Who Can You Trust?

...If you can't trust a biographer of Tallulah Bankhead? From the New York Times comes this bizarre story - one that goes to show that Nasdijj, JT LeRoy, and James Frey haven't had the last word in literary finagling, after all.

Writer Lee Israel, having hit a rough patch in the early nineties, apparently used her pitch-perfect grasp of various luminaries' styles to write and sell "autographed" letters, including some that have ended up as part of their putative authors' canons.

Israel's Miss Tallulah Bankhead sits on my shelf back home, one of the very first star bios I ever read and one I still remember as a glimpse into a world I very much wanted to know more about (and, if possible, inhabit).

Earlier this year, I read the new Letters of Noël Coward, which includes samples of Miss Israel's "work." I don't claim any special expertise, but I remember thinking at the time that Coward's catty comment about Julie Andrews (and her overbite) seemed somehow off - I suppose I attributed it to his having had too much Champagne the night before, and would certainly never have thought it an outright fraud.

I don't know how I feel about the author now having written a book more or less celebrating her derring-do. But I have a sinking feeling I shall probably read it...

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