In the early 1990s, Lee Israel, a biographer with a modicum of writing success, has fallen on hard times largely of her own doing. Her choice of subjects is in general not of interest to today’s book buying public, and she, in her only true friends being her aged cat Jersey and a scotch and soda in not really liking people and people in turn not really liking her, has burned bridges with everyone her agent Marjorie has built for her. She will have to start from the ground up again if she wants a writing career, as, hiding behind her subjects, the book buying public will not buy a “Lee Israel” on the strength of her name in not knowing who she is as a writer or person. This situation has led to her being months behind in rent as she spends whatever little money she has on alcohol and Jersey’s medical needs. In doing research for her latest book on Fanny Brice – with no advance from Marjorie – and selling a cherished personal memento of a handwritten letter from Katharine Hepburn in needing the money, Lee discovers there is a market for such celebrity memorabilia, and in the process decides, with her writing talent, to go into the fraudulent business of creating and selling fake personal documents purportedly by dead celebrities, especially of writers with strong public personas, such as Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward. She ends up befriending a gay past acquaintance from her literary circles, Jack Hock, also having fallen on hard times, Jack, not only becoming her drinking buddy, but her partner in crime. As they are able to get out of their financial holes in this business, Lee may begin to have second thoughts in also befriending Anna, one of the rare bookstore owners who likes Lee for Lee, an unusual position for her. But as the fraud looks like it may catch up specifically to Lee, she, feeling like these fakes are at least stretching her writing muscles, only becomes more resolute in at least the creative pursuit of what she’s doing.—Huggo
A pile of Lee Israel books (“Beyond the Magic”, an unauthorized biography of Estée Lauder) are shown on sale at a bookstore for 75% off. Lauder was publishing her own memoirs and initially tried to pay Israel *not* to write her book, but she refused and rushed her book to publication. The autobiography was released in October 1985 and Israel’s biography one month later. The book buying public chose to buy the Lauder autobiography rather than the Israel biography. Lee Israel later said she regretted not taking the money when it was first offered.