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Author of the week: Lee Israel
Twenty years ago, biographer Lee Israel stole or forged 400 letters, which she then sold to literary dealers. Her new memoir, <em>Will You Ever Forgive Me?, </em>describes how she pulled off these literary scams and escapades.</p&g
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iographer Lee Israel admits no real guilt about her criminal past, said Michael Riedel in the New York Post. Nearly two decades ago, the then-struggling author stole or forged some 400 letters, which she sold to literary dealers for roughly $100 apiece. At one point, she smuggled letters by actress Fanny Brice out of a New York library in her socks. She learned to ape Noel Coward so well that two of her forgeries slipped into a published collection of the playwright’s correspondence. Instead of putting these capers behind her, however, Israel has turned them into a new memoir, titled Will You Ever Forgive Me?. The forged letters were “fun,” she says. “Nobody got hurt, and everybody made money.”

Israel’s book offers similar rationalizations for her thievery, said Thomas Mallon in The New York Times. But what makes her book interesting are her descriptions of the work involved in both of her scams. For a while, Israel collected vintage stationery and typewriters by the closetful. She researched each literary celebrity she mimicked with the diligence she had once applied to her biographies of Estee Lauder and Tallulah Bankhead. The price she paid for her spree was a sentence of a mere six months under house arrest and five years on probation. The benefits now include a Hollywood option on her story. “It’s paying off big-time!” she says.

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