The Unraveling Lives of the Rich and Famous

The drawing power of the show's popularity reflects an ongoing fascination with the Beales and their fierce independence and refusal to confirm, accompanied by an all-American hunger for celebrity.

That they belonged to America's version of royalty, and nevertheless, fell from grace provides additional fuel for onlookers.

Ultimately, Edith and Little Edie also reflect the best and worst about the mother-daughter relationship and its mix of love, rage and co-dependence.

The Beales have often been compared to Homer and Langley Collyer, the educated, wealthy, aristocratic brothers who were the subjects of Richard Greenburg's play, "The Dazzle."

Suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and disposophobia, a fear of throwing anything away that eventually became known as Collyer Brothers Syndrome, Homer and Langley filled their Upper Fifth Avenue mansion with 136 tons of junk.

Of all the subjects that fit comfortably into the rich-but-crazy genre, Howard Hughes reigns as the leader of the pack.

At least five motion pictures, including Martin Scorsese's 2004 "The Aviator," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a young Hughes, have dealt with the billionaire's stupendous achievements and struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and long-term effects of syphilis.

The latest movie, "Hoax," inspired by Clifford Irving's memoir and scheduled for release on Thursday, reprises the story of the writer who wrote a 1971 fake autobiography of Hughes, never expecting the reclusive billionaire to conduct a telephone news conference to debunk the carefully calculated deception.

Richard Gere stars as Clifford Irving.

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