Based on the true story. Would we lie to you?
In what would cause a fantastic media frenzy, Clifford Irving sells his bogus biography of Howard Hughes to a premiere publishing house in the early 1970s.
Although Fake!, his previous work about art forger Elmyr de Hory, sold poorly, executives at McGraw-Hill express interest in Clifford Irving's new effort, a novel called Rudnick's Problem, and he believes he has his breakout work at last, only to be told the publishing house has decided against releasing the book after a Life editor deems it unsatisfactory.
Vacationing with his friend and researcher Richard Suskind, Irving is ejected from his hotel at 1:00am when Howard Hughes arrives and demands the entire building be vacated. Returning to New York City to meet with his publishers, he is upset to find that he has been fobbed off onto one of the assistants. He storms into the board room and announces that his new project will be the "book of the century", and threatens to take it elsewhere if McGraw-Hill is not interested. He then struggles to come up with a suitable topic for his grandiose claim, rejecting numerous suggestions from Suskind. After catching sight of a magazine cover picturing Hughes, he decides to make him the subject of his book.
Irving approaches McGraw-Hill and claims he has been summoned by Hughes to help him write his autobiography and provides forged handwritten notes from Hughes as proof. When handwriting experts wrongly conclude the notes are genuine, the publishers strike a $500,000 deal for the book.
Because Hughes is so reclusive and notoriously wary of legal action, he is unlikely to sue Irving, and his eccentricities also mean any denials of the book's authenticity likely will be treated as misdirection. Irving is convinced his hoax is the perfect crime.
Irving is having marital problems with his artist wife Edith. His affair with actress/singer Nina Van Pallandt left Edith hurt and skeptical about her husband's ability to remain monogamous. Irving assures her he will remain faithful, and leaves to begin researching the book with Suskind. In order to create an authenticity that will fool even the experts, the two men devote days to studying documents pertaining to Hughes. They illicitly obtain a copy of a draft biography of Noah Dietrich, a retired Hughes aide, which provides details that add to the apparent authenticity of the work. Irving begins reciting passages for the book into a tape recorder in character as Hughes, going so far as to dress as Hughes and draw a Hughes-like mustache on himself during these sessions.
As work on the book progresses, a box containing explosive information about questionable dealings between Hughes and Richard Nixon is delivered to Irving. He assumes the package is from Hughes and convinces himself Hughes wants the damaging material included in the book, a sign he supports the autobiography.
As the publication date draws near, Irving steps up his pretense, including staging an aborted meeting between Hughes and the publishers. Denials that Hughes is involved in any way with the book are issued from his headquarters, but the McGraw-Hill executives are convinced it is a genuine work. Irving uses their increasing desire for the guaranteed bestseller to leverage larger payments for himself and (purportedly) Hughes, and he and Edith concoct a scheme for her to deposit Hughes' check, payable to H.R. Hughes, into a Swiss bank account using a forged passport with the name Helga R. Hughes.
Irving begins to become paranoid and experiences alcohol-fueled fantasies about being kidnapped by Hughes' people. His affair with Van Pallandt has continued, and the pressure of keeping up a pretense of fidelity with his wife adds to his stress.
In what is implied to be a favor to Nixon, Hughes goes public via a televised conference call and denies any knowledge of Irving or the book. Irving ultimately is arrested and agrees to cooperate if Edith is granted immunity. At a press conference, a government spokesman announces Irving, Edith, and Suskind have received short jail sentences. An overheard radio report details a sudden wave of legal decisions in favor of Hughes in a short period of time, ambiguously implying that Irving&