5 Fascinating Literary Scandals


Jeff Feuerzeig’s documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story, about the Laura Albert/JT Leroy literary scandal that started in the ‘90s and saw Albert’s persona exposed in 2005, hit theaters this weekend. Albert, author of The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, created the LeRoy persona, insinuating that her stories were based on true-life experiences. While playing LeRoy, Albert started to correspond with the who’s who of the literary world, including Dennis Cooper and Mary Karr — all who were none the wiser. We look at five other fascinating literary scandals, below.

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This is what happens when Shia LaBeouf makes a movie, doesn’t credit his inspiration, and then apologizes using an apology lifted from Yahoo. From the LA Times:

Aactor Shia LaBeouf made a movie last year about a film critic who writes a scathing review about the work of someone he really admires — but for reasons that are more personal than artistic. The film screened at Cannes and this month he posted it online. Not long afterward, as The Times’ Carolyn Kellogg wrote, comic book fans began noticing a strong resemblance to Daniel Clowes’ 2007 piece ‘Justin M. Damiano.’ ‘Not only was it the same idea — unhappy film critic — LaBeouf’s film opened with a voice-over that is a word-for-word match with Clowes’ text,’ Kellogg wrote. Clowes had never met or spoken with LaBeouf. And the film actor quickly took to Twitter to fire off a series of apologetic tweets: ‘Copying isn’t particularly creative work,’ LaBeouf wrote. ‘Being inspired by someone else’s idea to produce something new and different IS creative work.’ Later, LaBeouf explained. ‘I lifted the text, probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.’ Later still, another series of apologies followed after it was revealed that LaBeouf had copied his original apologies from articles about him on other websites. So LaBeouf was in the strange position of apologizing for his apologies.

Herman Rosenblat wrote a Holocaust memoir called Angel at the Fence, in part about a girl who passed him food through a concentration camp fence and later became his wife. The tale won the attention of Oprah. Rosenblat was given a book deal by Penguin Group publisher Berkley Books and plans were in the works to adapt the story into a $25-million movie called The Flower at the Fence. But the part of the author’s story about his wife turned out to be false.

Augusten Burroughs’ 2002 memoir Running with Scissors, about his bizarre childhood growing up with his mother’s unconventional psychiatrist, was the subject of a lawsuit in 2005. The real-life Turcotte family, the basis for the “Finch” family in the book, filed a suit saying the author fabricated parts of their lives to sensationalize them. Burroughs denied the accusations, stating: “It’s still a memoir, it’s marketed as a memoir, they’ve agreed one hundred percent that it is a memoir.”

The story of a deceitful “nun” who wrote a scandalous (fake) bestseller:

Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures was first published in January, 1836. In it, Monk exposed various scandalous events that, according to her, had occurred at the Hotel Dieu convent in Montreal. She claimed convent nuns were having sexual relations with priests from the neighboring seminary who supposedly entered the convent through a secret tunnel. All babies born of these illicit encounters, Monk claimed, were baptized before being strangled and dumped in a lime pit in the basement of the convent. Maria Monk said she had lived in the convent for a total of seven years before becoming pregnant by a priest. Unable to bear the thought of having her child killed and dumped in the basement, she finally fled. . . . [A] fuller investigation, concluded there was no evidence Maria Monk ‘had ever been within the walls of the cloister.’

Novelist Clifford Irving wrote a fictional autobiography of the famously reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes in the 1970s, while Hughes was still alive. Irving served jail time for the offense. More on the bizarre story from Time:

The serial revelations in the Howard Hughes-Clifford Irving affair became an extraordinary popular entertainment, a top of the TV news, a front-page divertissement that evoked the distractions of an earlier, less desperate age. Like the Americans who once crowded the docks waiting for the latest chapter of Dickens to arrive by boat, devotees anticipated the next surprises.