The 6 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published as Nonfiction
If you write an outrageously implausible story and get it published, congratulations -- you've just added yet another novel to the pile of thousands that come out every year. But if you write the exact same outrageous crap and put it in the biography section, then you've got yourself a best-seller and become a media sensation.
Authors know this, so the next time you read a biography filled with unusually inspiring, heartbreaking, or just plain awesome stories, keep in mind that there's a solid chance it's all complete and utter bullshit. For example ...
Go Ask Alice Was a "Troubled Teen Diary" ... by a 54-Year-Old Mormon
Go Ask Alice is the diary of a 15-year-old girl whose drink is spiked with LSD during a party. Two years and several doobies, heroin shots, and blow jobs for money later, she's dead from an overdose. There's a good chance that your school either made you read this book or banned you from even looking at it. It's very popular with teachers, partly because of its "painfully honest" anti-drug message and partly because you can easily tell a student didn't actually read it when they call the unnamed protagonist "Alice" (that's the name of another character).
In a plot twist, the narrator's true name is Tyler Durden.
In the four decades since its publication, the book has sold millions of copies around the world, and yet no one has been able to find out the identity of the stoner Anne Frank who wrote it. It's weird that none of the people who knew her have stepped up by now, huh? They're probably all dead from pot overdoses.
Wait, no, we do know who wrote the diary. Here's that young, troubled adolescent:
Cheri Oteri was a heroin addict?
That's Beatrice Sparks, a Mormon youth counselor of dubious qualifications and master of the bullshit teen diary genre. Originally, Go Ask Alice was credited only to "Anonymous," but after it became a hit, Sparks came forward as its "editor," claiming in interviews that she transcribed a real teenager's diary, but she can't show it to you right now because, um, she left it in her other pants or something. Suspiciously, she was also the book's sole copyright holder. Oh, and there's the small fact that later editions had a disclaimer that flat-out said, "This is a work of fiction."
None of this fazed Sparks, who continued cranking out "real diaries" about teenagers having a shitty time, all written in the same mom-like style and lacking any of the inane stuff teens write about.
Realistically, 90 percent of these should be terrible song lyrics.
But did any adults fall for this crap? The parents of 16-year-old suicide victim Alden Barrett apparently did, since they approached Sparks to publish their son's journal. Which she did ... after replacing most of it with a story about Satanism that she pulled out of her ass, of course.
The Real Sybil Said She Never Had Multiple Personalities
Back in the '70s, multiple personalities were all the rage; teenage girls thought they were burly construction workers, bored housewives turned into Victorian empresses, Klan members became Native American tribespeople, etc. And it all started with the book Sybil, which documents the psychiatric treatment of a young woman of that name who has 15 other personalities living inside her head. Her psychiatrist, Cornelia Wilbur, discovers the traumas behind each "alter" and finally merges all of them into one Megazord of mental health.
The book has been adapted twice, most recently in the 2007 Jessica Lange feature of the same name:
Seen here applying the classic Freudian therapy technique of gawking stoically.
Here's the thing: Psychiatrists aren't entirely sure that multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder) actually exists -- in fact, some of them are positive it doesn't. Before Sybil came out in 1973, there were fewer than a hundred reported cases in Western medicine; now we're at over 40,000 (and most of them are in different people). Whether you believe DID is a thing or not, there's no doubt that Sybil's case influenced both patients and doctors to be on the lookout for her condition ... when there's a good chance she didn't even have it herself.
The real "Sybil," Shirley Ardell Mason, was being treated (read: given lots of drugs) by her friend Dr. Wilbur, and one day she started talking like a little girl and said her name was Peggy. We're sure the drugs had nothing to do with that.
"Oh good, now we can get movie tickets at half price."
Wilbur smelled a book deal and brought in schlocky writer Flora Schreiber to turn Mason's strange case into a literary hit. Letters between the women suggest they intentionally exaggerated the story to make it juicier, including faking grisly details about Mason's family. They were giving her a pseudonym anyway, so it's not like anyone could check.
Meanwhile, Mason just went along with it and brought out more and more alternate personalities, until she got tired of it and sent Wilbur a letter confessing she'd been lying the whole time. Wilbur went, "No you weren't," and continued with the treatment. Eventually, Mason was cured (we're sure discontinuing the drugs had nothing to do with that) ... until the book came out and the resulting attention ruined her life again. Whoops.
Frances Farmer's Biographer Made Up Her Lobotomy
Shadowland chronicles actress Frances Farmer's stardom, alcoholism, and various run-ins with the law before the state decided to grant her a free mallet to the brain. You might recognize Farmer's name from the Nirvana track "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle," a lovely ditty about her lobotomy. Or maybe you saw the biopic Frances with Jessica Lange, which climaxes on the same thing.
Talk about being typecast.
Farmer was a huge Hollywood star in the '30s and '40s, but this is her whole legacy now -- she's the famous lady whose brain got squashed by The Man.
And it isn't even true. The movie ends with a tragic scene from the book where a post-lobotomy Farmer is interviewed on TV and she "barely uttered a word." Since most people weren't about to go digging in the archives of a TV network, they assumed this was the truth ... but we have YouTube now. Here's the interview the book says she was "catatonic" in:
Yeah, that's not a lobotomy patient. Farmer was in Western State Hospital at a time when lobotomies were performed there, but there are no records of her being one of the lucky recipients. Her family, her friends, and the hospital staff all said there was no lobotomy. Her "biographer," William Arnold, just made that up, because apparently he wasn't too clear on his job description.
In fact, the whole book is filled with dozens of bizarre errors, starting with the year of Farmer's birth. Honestly, we're not sure if Arnold was completely aware of who Frances Farmer was.
"I cribbed chapters 5 through 9 from an episode of Bonanza."
Ironically, it was Arnold himself who eventually called bullshit on himself. You see, the producers of Frances never obtained the rights to adapt Shadowland, so when Arnold noticed that the totally made up portion with Farmer's lobotomy was in the movie, he sued the studio for copyright infringement. How dare they try to pass off his lies as their own? Shockingly, he lost, and Frances Farmer's lobotomy became another piece of Hollywood folklore, like Walt Disney's frozen head and Richard Gere's ass gerbils*.
* They were actually hamsters.
The Education of Little Tree Was Secretly Written by a KKK Member
The Education of Little Tree is the touching autobiography of Native American author Forrest Carter. Get it? "Little Tree" grows into "Forrest." That is but one of the many ways this magical story will blow your mind. In the book, Carter writes about the life-changing spiritual lessons he learned during his enlightening childhood with an old-fashioned and wise Cherokee grandpa.
Aka Killer Bob from Twin Peaks.
The book became an international sensation in the '70s, and its message of harmony and tolerance turned Carter into an icon of the Native American people. Here's an example of the nuggets of wisdom you can find in this classic: "Little Tree, I must go. Like you feel the trees, feel for us when you are listening."
And here's another sample from the same writer: "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" Forrest Carter, the tree-loving gentle soul who touched and inspired millions, was secretly Asa Earl Carter, the white supremacist dickhead who wrote an infamous segregation-loving speech for Governor George Wallace of Alabama.
Both pictured here, on the verge of collapsing into an asshole singularity.
This isn't a case of "He was in the Hitler Youth when he was 5 years old" -- the dude was literally a Ku Klux Klan leader whose paramilitary group assaulted and castrated people. Only a few years after running for governor on a "kill blackie" platform in 1970 (he came in last), Carter reinvented himself as a Western writer, penning the book that inspired the Clint Eastwood spitfest The Outlaw Josey Wales. At some point he must have gotten a little mixed up, because he started pretending the bullshit he was writing about actually happened to him. And just like that, this champion of the white race was suddenly half-Cherokee.
It was only in 1991, when Carter was long dead and rotting in the corner of hell devoted to race-faking racists, that his full story was finally exposed ... which didn't stop his still-beloved book from (temporarily) making it into Oprah's Book Club and getting adapted into a sentimental family movie.
And from then on, Oprah was diligent about making sure the books on her list were 100 percent factual.
The Author of Three Cups of Tea Faked His Taliban Kidnapping
Three Cups of Tea tells the story of Greg Mortenson, a philanthropist, mountaineer, and general all-around ball of goodness. His quest started the day he got lost during a hiking trip in Pakistan and wound up in a tribal village, where he noticed the kids didn't have a school. Touched, he promised to build them one -- and he did. Then he built another, and another, and so on, forever.
"Hooray, math. Can we have some food now?"
From that point on, he went around the world building schools in poor areas and raising money for his charity, the Central Asia Institute. That doesn't mean he stopped having crazy adventures, though; in 1996, during a trip to Waziristan to find an empty spot to fill with classrooms, he got kidnapped by the Taliban. To give us an idea of how scary that was, his book includes a photo of his evil captors:
"Aashir, you can clean your rifle any time. Memories are forever."
Thankfully, after eight days, Mortenson managed to convince the Taliban to free him just by being his awesome self. Phew!
Hey, here's another picture of Mortenson and his "kidnappers." See him? He's the one holding the AK-47.
The dude in blue is really committed to that chest purse.
Oh, right. Those aren't Mortenson's kidnappers, those are the people who protected him against kidnappings. He never saw the Taliban in Waziristan, because there were no Taliban in Waziristan in 1996. In reality, Mortenson spent most of his time there chilling with those dudes in their homes, as their guest. And that whole story about getting lost in Pakistan? His own hiking buddies say it only happened in his imagination.
Of course, this doesn't mean that Greg Mortenson hasn't helped a lot of children. He has. His charity built lots of schools around the world ... many of which are now abandoned or destroyed because financial support was cut off. To be fair, Mortenson's charity had more important things to do, like spend almost $3 million on book-related costs -- or funding private jets, expensive clothes, and even iTunes downloads for his family. Because if you can't use someone's donation to buy the latest Ke$ha single, then the terrorists win.
Pictured: Mortenson and the dangerous terrorists who forced him to spend all that money.
The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams Is Outrageous Bullshit
Brace yourselves, because the book's title is the least ridiculous part of this story.
The Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams is the critically lauded first book by an author known only as Nasdijj, who tells the story of his adopted son who died from fetal alcohol syndrome. The book was a hit, so Nasdijj followed it up with another autobiographical work, this one about the other kid he adopted, who had AIDS. Holy shit, this guy can't catch a break.
Two seconds after this picture was taken, that dog spontaneously combusted.
Nasdijj was hailed as an important new voice in the world of nonfiction, and his books became popular for their raw description of Native American life. What's that? We didn't mention he was claiming to be Native American? Huh, probably should have started there.
We weren't being completely accurate when we said The Blood was Nasdijj's first book -- years earlier and under a different name, he'd published novels with names like Mineshaft or My Brother, My Lover. We'll let you guess what the plot is about.
OSHA approved mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
Yep, the solemn Nasdijj was actually a gay leather bondage porn writer, but there's nothing wrong with using a pseudonym to hide the fact that you used to write something embarrassing, like hardcore erotica or list comedy articles. There is, however, a lot wrong with pretending to be Native American when you're a white dude named Tim Barrus (as you'd think writers would fucking get by now), and with writing "real" books about your dead children who never existed.
Barrus and his ex-wife did adopt an autistic boy in the '70s, but he didn't die; they gave him up. It also turned out that this wasn't Barrus' first shot at the autobullshitography genre -- in the 1980s, he was blacklisted from the gay erotica industry (a not unimpressive feat) for passing off other writers' stories as his own, and in the '90s, he wrote a book about his nonexistent affair with a commanding officer during his nonexistent tour in the Vietnam War.
He was excused from military service due to a gross penile deformity.
After LA Weekly published an expose of him called "Navahoax" (obviously), Barrus/Nasdijj fessed up to the entire thing, and he now lives a simple life somewhere in America, most likely stalking fanfiction.net for ideas for his next juicy novel.
Related Reading: Speaking of lies, check out these oddly specific lies we believe about foreigners. And for your further edification, our forum members have put together a list of lies you've read online today, revised for accuracy. Hey, did you know your favorite companies (including Apple) have gone to court for the right to lie to you? It's sad but true.