Thursday, January 22, 2015


George DuPre was, for a time, famous. Then he was infamous.

Dupre came had an amazing story after WW II. He served in the Canadian-American Secret Service and

"performed great deeds of derring-do in Paris for the underground. He had been captured by the Nazis, but never talked although they tortured him for weeks. Finally he escaped and went back to Canada, where he was hailed as a great hero and raised fortunes for various Canadian funds by speaking in churches and government buildings and schools." -- from AT RANDOM, THE REMINISCENCES OF BENNETT CERF by Bennett Cerf

Wartime writer Quentin Reynolds went up to Canada, to write about this amazing young man for the Reader's Digest. He liked the guy a lot. He phoned his editor Bennett Cerf, telling him he thought there was enough material there for a book in addition to the Digest article. Bennett gave Reynolds the green light to write Dupre's story.

The book was called THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T TALK.

Here's Cerf again:

"The book got good reviews and was a substantial success.

"Then one night when we were having dinner up at Mount Kisco, I had a long-distance call. The editor of the Calgary Herald was on the phone. I said to Phyllis [Cerf's wife], 'What the dickens does the editor of the Calgary Herald want in my young life?' I soon found out! He said, 'I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Mr. Cerf. Your Mr. DuPre has just collapsed and confessed that his entire story is a hoax. There isn't a word of truth in it. His adventures are things he read in various news stories and spy magazines. He spent the entire war in England and then in Canada and never got to France at all. The business of his being captured and tortured and the underground stuff was just his imagination. He couldn't stand the strain any longer, his conscience was bothering him. He is a nice little man and he didn't realize his deception was going to be blown up to these dimensions. He was just romancing a bit and suddenly found himself a national hero! We're printing the whole story tomorrow morning, and I thought I'd give you a little advance notice.'"

I was thinking about this situation when I heard about Alex Malarky. You know Alex Malarky, or at least you heard about him: he's the 6 year old boy who was in a coma for two months after a car crash and who then, fortunately, woke up. He was a quadriplegic, but he was alive. And Alex told his parents that he had just come back from heaven. Alex and his dad, Kevin Malarky, cowrote a best seller about it called THE BOY WHO CAME BACK FROM HEAVEN.

Tyndale House Publishers, a Christian book publisher was in the news this past week when it decided to pull the all copies of THE BOY WHO CAME BACK FROM HEAVEN from the stands when it was revealed that the book was a lie. (The Christian Post, among other sources, claim the family and publisher have known this was all made up for over a year.)

As young Alex, now a teenager, wrote on a blog:

"I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible."

So, what does a publisher do when their nonfiction book suddenly becomes fiction?

Like all people who know history, we know that there is nothing new in the world. These things have happened before. In the case of that "nice little man" DuPre, who had lied and inadvertently showed up  the Reader's Digest and Quentin Reynolds and Bennett Cerf as total dupes, it was the same situation: what do you do?

Tyndale House and Random House handled it differently.

Here's how Bennett Cerf handled it when THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T TALK turned out to be a fake. He called the Digest publisher DeWitt Wallace on the phone later that same night:

"I said, 'Well, I've had a little time to think about it, and there's only one thing to do. Imagine this little Canadian country boy fooling the entire Canadian government, not to mention Reader's Digest, Quentin Reynolds and Random House! The only way we can get out of this is to laugh it off. I'm going to call a press conference tomorrow. I'm going to tell them exactly what happened, and I'm gong to say, 'Imagine this little man fooling all of us. Isn't it hilarious? We're gong to announce that this book isn't nonfiction, but fiction, and we're gong to change the name of it immediately from THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T TALK to THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T TALKED TOO MUCH.'' Wally [DeWit Wallace] was still worried, but he said, 'Let's see what happens.'

It worked like a charm. The press was delighted with the whole story and played it up, as I had hoped, as a harmless deception. Nobody was really hurt. The interesting thing is that the book sold about five times as well after the exposure and it did before.

"... It's another example of how you can laugh things off. If we had gone into a frenzy, we'd have made fools of ourselves. This way, everyone laughed with us. Quent laughed right along with us too, but he continued to say, 'He's a great guy, despite everything.'"

AT RANDOM, THE REMINISCENCES OF BENNETT CERF by Bennett Cerf is copyright 1977 Random House.

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