Fifty Plus Fools


Let us be thankful 

for the fools.

Without them,

the rest of us could not succeed.

Mark Twain



Between work and family duty, days easily slip by without a hearty laugh. I drive carpool and find it incredulous that most days, teens are stumped by the question “Any jokes today?”  April Fools is fun-tactic reminding us to enjoy being ridiculous!   May we escape the fate of those who take life all too seriously.

While the author of Fifty Shades of Grey was still toddling in her diapers, Long Island housewife Penelope Ashe was an overnight sensation with her tawdry, sex-filled romance novel Naked Came the Stranger. Except she didn’t.

Naked Came the Stranger was the brainchild of Mike McGrady, a Newsday columnist who set out to hit the bestseller list with an intentionally horrible book. He asked 24 Newsday colleagues to write a chapter full of sex, bad writing, and bad writing about sex. With a bunch of smutty nonsense in hand, McGrady edited the book to make it even worse. Apparently bad was good enough for an independent publisher to pick up the book. McGrady got his sister-in-law to pretend to be Ms. Ashe and the book sold 20,000 copies before the hoax was revealed,  They sold a hundred thousand copies sold in its first year and continues to sell to this day.



In 1962 before the advent of color TV, Sweden’s only television station announced that their “technical expert” was going to show people how they could get their black and white TV sets to show color. The expert claimed that research proves covering your television screen with a cut open pair of women’s stockings could alter the laws of physics and cause the light coming from the TV to appear in color.

Thousands of Swedish viewers fell for the hoax. Technology did catch up a few years later and Swedish TV actually did began broadcasting in color a few years later – on April 1, 1970.



Han van Meegeren was a small and dapper man, a Dutch artist of limited ability. His confidence made up for what he lacked in talent, successfully passing off his own paintings as newly discovered works by the renowned 17th century artist Jan Vermeer.  He ran the greatest art hoax of the 20th century pocketing the equivalent of $30 million before he was unmasked.

Edward Dolnick, author of The Forger’s Spell, explains how Van Meegeren made a career of Vermeer.



Van Mergeeren may have been even more successful if he had a genius accomplice like the husband and wife team of Helene Balltracchi and Wolfgang Fischer.  Helene came up with the fake history of a painting on the spot after a Christie’s expert asked her to explain the provenance of Girl with Swan, purportedly by Heinrich Campendonk. “I hadn’t planned anything,” she insists, “but my grandfather lived in Krefeld and so did the artist. So I could easily say they were connected.” To lend her account credibility, Wolfgang staged a black-and-white photograph of Helene impersonating her grandmother. Wearing a black dress and a strand of pearls,  posed in front of several paintings from her grandparents’ collection. The photo was slightly out of focus, and printed on prewar developing paper. Hanging on the wall at left is a fake Fernand Léger and at far right is a phony Max Ernst.

Click on “Leave a Comment” top left to share how your life’s been richer as a fool.



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