Double booked: Identity theft among authors

We all know of plagiarism, the crime of stealing words without attribution. To deal with it, publishers used to ask for references when they wanted to use a story from a first-time author. But how do you deal with someone who pretends to be a famous author? Read on to find out how authors came to know about their doubles and what happened when they were found out.

Double or nothing

This article originally appeared in The Writer, June 1926. Some interesting names there:

Authors’ Doubles

The Authors’ League Bulletin, edited by Henry Gallup Paine, is attacking with wholesome vigor the practice of “doubling” an author to obtain credit or social prominence. These letters republished from the Bulletin, give some impression of the extent of evil.


Editor, Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Mr. Paine:

I have had many experiences similar to those already set down by sufferers from the “double.” In addition to what I might classify as usual experiences, here is one which I sincerely hope is rare indeed.

Some years ago I received a letter, in a feminine and to me utterly strange hand, whose substance and tone were about as follows:

Darling Leroy:

At last thru “Who’s Who in America,” I have found your address! Why, oh, why did you leave me without a word? Oh, how I’ve waited and longed for you! When, oh, when are you coming back to me to keep your promise?

The handwriting and expression indicated the writer to be a woman of some considerable culture even though at the moment entirely possessed by emotion. Her letter was one that compelled a reply from me. Several letters were exchanged — some from the lady’s lawyer—and a situation of the utmost gravity developed for me. I was compelled to establish my identity as the real Leroy Scott, which I did only by taking a great deal of pains, and to establish the further facts that I already had a wife and was the father of three children.

I at length succeeded in proving my innocence and sincerity so definitely to my correspondent that she gave me in full the brokenhearted story that was behind her emotional descent upon me. Here are the bare bones of that story.

She was in her early twenties. She had always been very food of current fiction, and of all current American novelists she best liked the books of Leroy Scott. She had never seen his picture but she had idealized Leroy Scott to the position of her own literary hero, and she regularly looked forward to his next book with the eager hope that it was going to be better than any that had gone before.

Some three months before her letter to me, she met a very attractive young man who had just come to her city. Naturally she talked current novels to this interesting stranger. It developed that he also was fond of fiction. With this kinship of taste established, she turned loose her pet enthusiasm — Leroy Scott.

Presently be confided to her, as a secret she must not violate, that he was Leroy Scott — come to that city where he was not known, and concealing his identity under a name not his own, in order to avoid the social pressure and all the complications of fame while he concentrated upon his newest and greatest novel.

Subsequently in a very natural manner he produced letters and documents that proved to her that he was Leroy Scott and, in his conversation he showed the author’s intimate acquaintance with Leroy Scott’s writings.

He paid her constant attention, and presently he proposed. She was madly in love with him. Being the wife of her literary idol was happiness beyond her wildest dreams. He insisted, however, that for the present the engagement be a secret, explaining that the hullabaloo following the announcement of his engagement would most seriously interrupt work upon the new novel. To this she consented.

A little later he came to her with sad news. He had unexpectedly had reverses — reverses so severe that, from sheer lack of money for actual living expenses, he would be compelled to drop his greatest novel. Under the circumstances he would have to return to New York and for a long period sell his soul into the bondage of pot-boiling.

She rushed to the rescue of Leroy Scott’s masterpiece. She had money! Since all they both had would soon be owned in common, why shouldn’t they share now? The book simply must not be allowed to suffer! He finally yielded to her arguments and accepted a sum sufficient to see him comfortably through the long months of hard work required to finish the great book.

The money paid over, she never saw her Leroy Scott again. It was at this point that I, the real Leroy Scott, entered her story — inheriting from my impersonator a heart-broken fiancee, the danger of a suit for breach of promise, and all the unpleasant consequences that attend the fraudulent obtaining of money from a trusting woman by the promise of marriage.

Very truly yours,
Leroy Scott.


Editor, Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Sir:

Since you have once mentioned the happy existence of “Doubles,” here is my contribution:

Two years ago I happened to be in Washington for a few weeks, and I asked my wife to go to the Brevoort and reserve a room for me.

The man at the desk answered that I could have a room if I were not as “disgustingly drunk as usual.”

This came as somewhat of a surprise to those who despair of my dry propensities and I hardly liked it, and went forth to do battle upon the miserable clerk who had sullied my water-logged reputation.

The man was profuse in his apologies. He had mistaken me for the other and drunken variety of the genus van Lora, but be could not give me any further particulars about this unfortunate double.

Then, a year ago, the smoking-room steward of one of the Holland-America Line boats informed me that he had just taken my brother to Europe.

Said I: “How come?”

Said he: “Your brother, the clergyman.”

Said I: “What sort of a clergyman?”

Said the honest steward: “One of those clergymen who wear their shirt the wrong way around.”

Said I: “You mean an Episcopalian?”

Said he: “Yes, that was it.”

As I have no brother, never had a brother, have not a single van Loon relative outside of my own two sons, I asked for further particulars. And having assured the steward that I am and always had been an only son, I heard that there had been a Rev. Dr. van Loon on the ship who had made a damned nuisance of himself by prinking to excess; who, when in his cups, had made an additional nuisance of himself by being too pleasant to the female passengers; and who, when asked by the officials to desist and to sober up, had loudly proclaimed that he had great influence with the line, because be was “the brother of Hendrik van Loon, the writer.” This swine was then let loose upon my erstwhile native land, there to increase the doubtful reputation of his innocent namesake.

Meanwhile, and what is more to the point, is there any law, bylaw, constitutional amendmeat, or ukase which offers us the rightful protection of our hallowed names? It would of course be absurd to expect redress from our courts.

But can one copyright a name? In France the newly-rich stole the coats-of-arms of the

old-rich until the old-rich registered their arms like so many trademarks. Couldn’t we do that with our names? Or would the numerology lobby in Washington object?

Sincerely yours,
Hendrik Willem van Loon.


Editor, Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Friend:

You asked about authors who have doubles. It must be that I am too handsome, or something.

What I have is not a double, but a brother. He goes by the name of James Sinclair, and it seems that be travels all over the country, and so far as I know, he behaves himself. But it so happens that I am an only son.

Come to think of it, there is a person who gave a banquet at a Los Angeles hotel, and I was told by one of the waiters that he gave my name and they thought he was myself. My only quarrel with him is that he was baldheaded, and I am more fortunate, so far.

And the other day a man called on the telephone from Los Angeles and said he was Harry Leon Wilson, and wanted to meet me. So you might ask Mr. Wilson for the adventures of his double. Mr. Wilson was in San Francisco at the time.

Upton Sinclair.


Editor, Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Mr. Paine:

I am delighted that the Bulletin has taken up this matter — nay menace — of the impersonator, who runs bills, and seeks entree, in the name of a writer.

What I want to know is, how they get so much credit? We writers need a working knowledge of that sort of thing.

Some years ago, I was served with a summons by the New York Telephone Company, to show cause why I had not paid a large telephone bill. As I always live in hotels, when in that city, and have never had a telephone in my own name there, I was amused and amazed. It was not so amusing however, when I discovered that the woman who had run the bill in my name was living on Riverside Drive with a newspaper man, who was not her husband.

Later, a New York hotel called me up, and inquired in no gentle terms, why I had dripped without paying my bill. I had never even heard of that hotel — but I had some difficulty in convincing them that it was “none of I.”

Then, a lot of prisoners at Auburn started writing me, saying how pleased they had been to meet me, and asking favors. I have never been in Auburn — even as a prisoner.

Next, I heard that I had been giving talks to women’s dubs in Birmingham, Alabama — where I have never been. And later, a man from California told a friend of mine that be had met Helen Rowland out there, and that she was not a “decent woman.” I was not within three thousand miles of California at the time, and I deny the latter part of his statement, too.

Now, a woman is going around to American Legion meetings in Chicago, impersonating me — and heaven knows what her game is. Worst of all, she is said to look like the terrible photographs of me that run in the newspapers.

But, how do they manage to get so much credit? Last summer, when I was away from my country house at Shoreham, Long Island, I failed to receive my telephone bills. So the company cut off my telephone. No credit for me.Hotels, where I live, too, are just as arbitrary — all except the Algonquin, which has a sweet, childlike faith, and trusts me like a mother.

But seriously, isn’t there anything somebody can suggest to cure this thing? An author’s fair name is about his most valuable possession — particularly, if he happens to be a “she.”

Yours for shooting them at sunrise — the impersonators, not the authors.

Helen Rowland.


Editor, Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Mr. Paine:

My double was such a gentlemanly fellow that I am reluctant to complain about him.

Two years ago Mr. Bankson, of the Spokane Chronicle, wired Mrs. Marshal) very tactfully as follows:


The point was, that he did not care to come right out and say that he was suspicious of the young man who had called at his office. If he turned out to be the real article, no harm was done.

Mrs. Marshall promptly wired back as follows:


This settled the matter in Mr. Bankson’s eyes. He arranged a little trap for “Marshall,” who was too smart to fall into it. The man has reappeared two or three times since; and,

from what I hear, does me considerable credit.

He is a neat dresser, talks charmingly, and runs no bills. He explained to Mr. Bankson that he was looking for newspaper material and would therefore take a position on his paper for a few weeks at a handsome salary. He offered to write two nice pieces — “Points for Beginners” and “Collecting Fiction Data in Alaska.”

I suppose every author has a whole dock of doubles. Once I met a young fellow who confessed to me, with no great reluctance that his, pen name was Edwin Lefevre. At that time I did not know how Mr. Lefevre looked, so I talked shop with him a little. It developed that he did not know his own onions. He said that Sam Blythe (just like that) gave him material for some political stories he was then writing. He claimed readily, at my suggestion, a series of stories written by Melville D. Post. Finally it developed that he did not know the name of the editor of the Frank A. Munsey publications, and then I had him.

Cordially yours,
Edison Marshall.


Editor. Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Sir:

Captain Dingle’s letter in the February issue of the Bulletin reminds me of two experiences of my own. One of them may perhaps concern the lady mentioned by Captain Dingle.

Three or four years ago there appeared in California a person who represented herself as “Mrs. Holworthy Hall.” She registered at

hotels under this name, gave certain publicity to my work, and even delivered two lectures before women’s clubs on the subject: “What an Author’s Wife Can Do for an Author.”

Unfortunately for herself, she didn’t know that “Holworthy Hall” is a pseudonym, nor did she know that my father lives in Pasadena, where the comedy ended rather abruptly. I am sorry that she disappeared before my father could ascertain her real name. But I have always been thankful that she paid her bills, and didn’t attempt to borrow money.

About ten years ago, when I was really submerging my identity, a member of my own university succeeded in persuading his friends — and for a period of nearly a year — that he was “Holworthy Hall.” It was plausible enough because at that time I was writing chiefly stories of college life, and the pen- name was obviously appropriate to any man from that particular university.

My double became engaged, and his fiancee wrote to a cousin that she was about to marry “Holworthy Hall.” The cousin, who happened to live across the street from me in White Plains, and happened to know my pen-name, answered to the effect that this would be bigamy, inasmuch as I was already married and had two children.

During the next six months I received at least fifty letters from people who had been deceived by the double. Incidentally, I had two from the fiancee. She broke the engagement. The man is actually a fairly well-known writer in a specialized field, and I suppose that it is only prejudice which makes me dislike his stuff. But what would you?

Harold E. Porter.


Editor, Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Sir:

My double nearly cost me a week in hospital.

I was lecturing in Detroit. After the lecture. a young man accosted me. I remembered afterward that he was accompanied by a dozen other young men, who stood around during our conversation in expectant attitudes.

“Are you Will Irwin?” he asked.

“Yes.” I held out my hand, but he didn’t take it.

“Were you ever in Cropopolis, Ohio?” (For reasons which will become obvious, I am going to disguise all the proper nouns except my own name.)

“I lectured there once.”

“Weren’t you there in 1913?”

“No. Why?”

To my surprise, he changed the subject.

“What is your real name?” he asked.

“Will Irwin,” said I.

“Isn’t your name McCaleb?”

Naturally. I was irritated.

“My name,” said I, “is Will Irwin. It’s the only name I have. It’s the only name I ever had.

“Didn’t you cover the Smathers murder case in Cropopolis?”

“I remember the Smathers case. Every one does. But I didn’t report it.”

“Well, that’s funny!” said he.

“Very funny.” said I. “To sum up. My sole and only name is Will Irwin. I never saw Cropopolis until last year. And I didn’t cover the Smathers case.” With this, I turned away.

I got the answer next morning.

Smathers was one of the most notorious American murderers. As the time approached for his execution, he became a Roman Catholic. Thereupon a yellow newspaper sent this McCaleb. a crook who had once studied theology, to impersonate a priest, to get Smathers’ confession, and to give it out for publication.

The plot failed.

While he was hanging ’round the jail, McCaleb told the other reporters that he wrote for the magazines under the “nom de plume” of Will Irwin.

The young man who accosted me after the lecture was a cousin of Smathers. He had been brought up to believe that his kinsman got a raw deal in every way. And he had sworn that if ever he met this McCaleb, alias Will Irwin, he’d beat him to a jelly.

My lecture was his opportunity. He had brought along his gang to insure him a free hand. As he was a fine young heavyweight and I am past my Fighting Prime, there would have been nothing to it. Only the frank innocence of my denial stayed his hand and saved me from an awful beating.

I challenge any other member of the League to produce a dirtier double!

Will Irwin.


The January Bulletin has just reached me with its inquiry of Richard Connell’s, “Have You a Double?”

One! Mr. Connell is lucky! I have three legitimate doubles, so to speak, and at least one illegitimate one.

A few years after I first took my typewriter in hand, I came across my first legitimate double in another Helen Bennett, who was then on the Record-Herald of Chicago. On one of my trips there, Katherine Leckie gave us a Helen Bennett dinner at which we sat side by side.

A year later, when visiting in Alabama, I met another Helen Bennett, who was also a writer, who came from somewhere in Texas. She informed me that a fourth Helen Bennett lived somewhere in the Carolines and also wrote. I believe that the fourth Helen is a poet. This accounts for the three legitimates.

The two Helen Bennetts I know are charming, cultivated women, which helps matters greatly. For, as I travel, I occasionally meet their friends, who view me with puzzled suspicion, melting to amusement as I explain matters. Only a few weeks ago Mr. William Chenery, Editor of Collier’s, came forth to greet an old acquaintance when my name was sent in to him, and looked at me in absolute bewilderment when I assured him that I was I.

But this isn’t so bad. To be sure, I have many times re-routed mail intended for Helen Bennett of Chicago, whose middle initial is E, while mine is C. At least I suppose it was mail intended for her. One gentleman writing a sweetly sentimental letter full of references to times when we had played in each other’s back yards in Oregon or Montana or some Western state, was not recognized by either of us. I had never been in the vicinity of the back yards mentioned and Helen E. Bennett, while admitting that she had, said she had never known the man in question; or if she had, she had quite forgotten him.

Once I received a delightful letter from the president of a western railroad who also claimed to be a childhood playmate and who was so happy over finding me that I wrote back in real sorrow at not being able to be his old friend. No Helen Bennett I knew corresponded to his description, so there must be more of us to discover.

But the climax of my tale comes! Several years ago. I took a trip to Pittsburgh to obtain material for an article for the American Magazine.

I remained there about five days. As I was tired and it was hot. I spent every evening save one cooling off in my hotel room, and that one evening I spent with a cousin who lived in the suburbs.

Six months later I returned from another trip, to find on top of the accumulated mail on my desk a letter. This letter had been opened by my husband, as all my mail except obviously personal letters is opened by my husband during my absence from home —

and from this you may judge the exact terms upon which Friend Husband and I stand. The letter mentioned was seemingly a business letter, inasmuch as it was addressed in care of the magazine and had been forwarded. I opened to read. The writer was the president of a manufacturing company in a middle western state.

He began by chaffing me gently about an article of mine which was printed in the current number of the magazine, and then to my horrified amazement referred to meeting me in Pittsburgh and to a period of some days we had evidently spent there together! He warned me he was coming to look me up in New York, asked me to wire reply to an assumed name at a special address, and closed with a little chaffing.

A tight hand closed around my throat as I realized that the time he referred to in Pittsburgh coincided exactly with that I had spent there!

I stood with the letter in my hand thinking dully:

“This is one of the things that can’t happen!”

Then it occurred to me that ladies had been shot for less, and I hurried to find my husband. When I reached him, I wildly waved the letter in his face and inquired.

“What does this mean?”

“That,” he replied calmly, “is just what I want to know.”

Well — in the end he believed me.

I hastened to write the head of the manufacturing company that whatever Helen Bennett he had met she was not I, and to assure the editor in New York that if any manufacturer from the Middle West inquired for me at the magazine office, I was a respectable female, a chaste wife and mother, etc., and knew no such person. Mr. Siddall dismissed the situation with a cheerful smile.

“You ought to feel complimented,” he said, “to think that you are so famous that any one wishes to impersonate you.”

I didn’t. I never got over it. I received an “apology” from the head of the manufacturing company, in which he said he had met the lady at a “party,” and had no reason to doubt her statements. He had forgotten entirely, it seemed, the implications of the remainder of the letter.

I affirm, Richard Connell, that the delivery of a circus at your door is a small thing to be apprehended compared with the fear under which I labor. Suppose, when I am away on a trip, some illegitimate double of mine goes man-hunting again, and I receive a second letter. Could I ever prevail upon a perfectly good, reliable, long-suffering husband to believe me, twice?

Helen Christine Bennett.


Editor, Authors’ League Bulletin

Dear Editor;

Richard Connell’s letter about the man who impersonated him amused me, because I have had so many similar experiences. It might be a good, wholesome, rib-tickling jape to carry this thing a bit farther, and make it a feature in your Bulletin.

Here, for instance, are some of my own items, and I am not, or ever have been, important enough to be worthwhile as a sucker.

A namesake of mine, traveling from China to California, met a lady, who gushed over him as being the author of sundry sea stories in the Saturday Evening Post. On arrival, he temporarily settled, and was soon billed for many hundred dollars’ worth of the lady’s purchases. She claimed wifeship with him and fame for him.

Adventure magazine wrote me last year enclosing a letter from a Mr. Leyton, or Leyland (I forget which), saying that a man who said he was Captain Dingle of Sea Story notoriety had tried to buy a ship without money, and would Adventure vouch for him?

Last year, also, broadcasting station WEAF wrote me saying that somebody had claimed my name, and was going to speak over the radio on a certain night; but something about him caused them to try to identify him through Adventure which turned him over to my agent. I arranged to be at my radio, with a telephone at my elbow when the man broadcasted. He did not broadcast.

Recently I received this accompanying letter:



Cap’n Dingle:

I met you in Athens after you had eaten the raw steak —do you remember? —A late U. S. N.

I also crossed over to Charlotte Harbor two weeks later, but found no ketch.

Do you need a good sailorman — as cook, or any other rating — tenth-class mess boy, if nothing else? If so, drop us a line.

The address appended was not that of the letterhead. This letter was sent to the Saturday Evening Post, addressed to ‘’Captain Dingle,” care of the editors, with an underlined message on the envelope, Please forward to Cap’n Tarrant.

Naturally, anything addressed to Captain Dingle was sent on to me, since I have no other name. I may as well say here that I have never eaten raw steak, nor have I been in Athens, or Charlotte Harbor, or owned a ketch, or sported any other name but my own.

It is a fair sporting chance that if all members of the League who have had similar experiences would blurt ’em out through the Bulletin, something might be done, if only through sheer word-of-mouth broadcasting, to make the stunt more hazardous for future personality bandits.

Yours very truly,
A. E. Dingle.

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