Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Can I Ever Forgive Her?

A while back, I discovered Letters of Note, a groovy
site, filled with an wonderful selection of written
correspondence from all sorts of folks. I took it upon
myself to grab this delightful Dorothy Parker note
and then began to wonder.

Do you know who Lee Israel is? She's a terrific
writer, having authored Miss Tallulah Bankhead,
Kilgallen and Beyond The Magic
(An Unauthorized Biography of Estee Lauder). Though the book on Estee wasn't all that great, her first two bios were superb. Of course, Lee chose fascinating subjects, women whose lives had been overstuffed with far too many tasty tidbits. Still, Ms. Israel is a gifted writer. I've returned to her books countless times, not only to reread what she wrote about, but how she wrote it. Ah, to write like her!

Seems life got pretty good for Lee after the Bankhead bio and continued on the upward after Kilgallen. Then came Lauder and that book did nothing, but Miss Israel had become accustomed to a certain level of living. She'd also run out of money. There were temp jobs and welfare, neither of which she liked.

While doing an article for a small magazine, her research brought her to the library at Lincoln Center. It was here that she happened upon some letters of Fanny Brice's and figured out that she could write letters as good as Fanny, if not better. So, she wrote; and sold. Lots. Noel Cowards, Edna Ferbers, Louise Brooks', Lee did quite well. Ultimately, she got nabbed by a savvy dealer and some Noel Coward missives. Seemed Lee had gone too far, putting words into Noel's mouth that he never would have uttered. Words that spoke to his sexual orientation.                        

In her book, Lee writes of how Dorothy Parker's, "epistolary legacy is spare" and that she could only limit herself to four years in the Sixties when Dot resided in Hollywood on Norma Place. (Such a lovely name for a street, dontcha think?)


These are two of Lee Israel's Dorothys

How are we ever to know what is real and what is not?
As for my opening question, I can forgive her, easily 
she continues to write.


  1. I found your comment there. A fascinating story. Autograph dealers are a strange lot, very strange, all my sympathy for Mrs. Israel. A good forgery IS a work of art.

  2. why 63mago, i think you need to hang the
    shingle "super sleuth" outside the door of your blog!

  3. How ironic that I just finished the Lauder book that I picked up in a garage sale. Maybe not the best but certainly showed up fine line between drive and ambition verses just being a total bitch.

  4. pete...hi!....i surely said it wrong. the lauder book was good, problem was, there wasn't all that much to write about and her secrets weren't all that revealing, especially if you knew a bit about her. if you haven't read her others, do so now. you'll love them. and thanks for stopping by!

  5. I have to say, if those letters are products of Lee's feverish imagination; may I catch the same virus! She captures Parker perfectly.

  6. Double checked my library (or piles of books) and found the Kilgallen book I had was her's. That was a real eye opener simply because I knew little about her except for "What's My Line". I'll look for the two others. That's the sadness or bonus; people get rid of books like garbage these days.


Please, we're all ears!