It did not, of course, come as any surprise to me that Paul Arthur Crafton, alleged credit card prestidigitator and a man with something like 34 aliases, started down the slippery slope to multiple identities when he changed his last name from Cohen to Crafton and then to many others, none of them even approaching the original in distinction. I, too, did the same thing.
For years now, I have been writing under the name George Will. This might come as a surprise to you, but I think it is time to confess. I took the name Will about 12 years ago when under the name Cohen I was getting nowhere. Suddenly, by starting my column with a quote right out of Bartlett's and arriving at precisely the wrong conclusion, my career took off. In no time at all, I was widely syndicated and hired by Roone Arledge at ABC to give the network the class it so badly needed.
This was just the beginning for me. Like Crafton, I did not know when to stop. I had some spare time and so I started to write a column under the name James Kilpatrick. This was bit harder than writing under the name of George Will because it entailed a knowledge of the law, specifically Supreme Court decisions. I soon got the hang of it, though. If Brennan and Marshall were in the majority, I dissented. If they had dissented, I applauded the decision. Every once in a while, just to mix things up, I reversed the procedure. I got to like Kilpatrick for his fairness.
Next, I decided to become Joe Kraft. This was a fairly easy column to do--and fun to boot. I wrote from all over the world and interviewed all the world leaders I had always wanted to meet. Some of them wrote in to complain that they had never met me, but most of them, I found, were illiterate and did not read the press. After a while, I got cocky and invented interviews with rulers of imaginary countries. Nobody noticed. In fact, I decided to interview one imaginary ruler right here in Washington. Afterwards, Betty Beale mentioned she talked to him at a party and Diana McLellan said he was having an affair.
By this time I was working pretty hard. I was doing Cohen, Will, Kilpatrick and Kraft, but I decided, just for the fun of it, to create what I still think is my masterpiece: Evans and Novak. This was actually easier than it looks. I would find obscure items either on page two of the New York Times (the Africa page) or in the Congressional Record and then reprint them, using the terms "little noticed" (oh how true it was!) and "exclusive" (a bit of a reach there), trying all the time to put everyone in the worst light possible. You have to admit I succeeded.
I was by this time pretty busy, but I could not stop. I was, like Crafton, becoming obsessed with being an impostor. I knew that someday I would be caught, but I just kept on and on. One morning I woke up, sat down at my typewriter and the name William Safire just came out. He was my creation and I decided that he would be a columnist who would go through life seeking to exonerate the Nixon administration. He would seek out petty scandals in other administrations and compare them to Watergate. I even had him denounce Mike Deaver's diet book as unethical, but by this time my Safire persona was so well established, no one batted an eye.
I was becoming unstoppable. I started two astrology columns, making it all up like everyone else. (No letters, please.) I have been writing the Art Buchwald column ever since Walter Lippmann retired (that Lippmann was a stitch) and sometimes when I read Emmett Tyrell I think I must have made him up, only I did not. Someone else must have. I invented Ellen Goodman and wrote her column when I was in my "Tootsie" mood, and did Jimmy Breslin whenever I felt like having a beer. This made a lot of readers happy and kept me thin.
Then Crafton was arrested and I realized that sooner or later I, too, would be caught. It is hard to stop, though, without disappointing so many readers and, incidentally, losing all that income. (I make a fortune as Buchwald.) I would write Miss Manners to ask what to do, but I cannot.