Thursday, April 12, 2007


William Wheeler, Harriton High class of '85, wrote the tricky, funny, fascinating screenplay for The Hoax, the Lasse Hallstrom-directed true-life tale of author Clifford Irving's infamous 1971 scam in which he convinced a New York publishing house that he had the authorization, and cooperation, to pen a biography of billionaire recluse Howard Hughes.

After reading an account of Irving's extraordinary lie and the lengths he went to perpetrate it (and cash in a $1 million check), Wheeler flew to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to meet with the convicted felon. Irving had written a memoir about the hoax, originally called Project Octavio, and first published in 1977. (A new movie tie-in paperback, The Hoax, is out from Hyperion Books.) Richard Gere plays Irving in the film, out now.

"I went to see Clifford Irving," recalls Wheeler, 39, the son of former KYW TV news reporter Judi Barton and former area kiddie show host Gerald Wheeler. "I remember that I went in trying to have more of a journalistic stance towards him, where I wanted him to open up and tell me things… But he was so charming and engaging and compelling and persuasive that it was one of those things that by the end of the dinner, after a few glasses of sake, I was like, `Hmmm, maybe you’re right, maybe it should be like Butch and Sundance with you as the hero riding off into the sunset. Maybe I’m coming at this all wrong.'

"At that moment I had a glimpse into the incredible persuasive powers in this man's possession."


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