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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

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Irving Wallace (1916-1990)


American author, whose bestsellers have been translated into several languages, among others into Finnish. In his works Wallace combined careful research and inventive, readable storytelling. Although Wallace was often scorned by serious critics, his 16 novels and 17 nonfiction works sold some 250 million copies around the world. Among Wallace's best-known books is The Chapman Report (1960).

'Maybe we should both stop thinking. Maybe Shakespeare was right '
'Yeah, yeah, I know that one. Hello, Horation. "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horation, that are dreamt on your philosophy."
'You better believe it, Liz. I
I'm beginning to.'
(from The Miracle, 1984)

Irving Wallace was born in Chicago, one of two children of Bessie Liss and Alexander Wallace, a clerk in a general store. He was named after his grandfather, a bookkeeper and Talmudic scholar of Narevska, Russia. Both of his parents were born in Russia and emigrated to the United States in their teens. The Wallaces were orthodox Jews, but Irving grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in an atmosphere devoid of anti-Semitism. "I never heard the work 'kike' until I was nineteen and going to college in Berkeley," Wallace later recalled. He attended Williams Institute, Berkeley, California, and Los Angeles City College.

Wallace began his career as a journalist while still at school. Originally he planned to become a sports writer. 'The Horse Laugh', an imaginary interview about a thoroughbred racehorse, was bought by Horse and Jockey for five dollars. After graduating, Wallace traveled to Mexico, San Salvador, Panama, Colombia, and Cuba. His journal, entitled My Adventure Trail, was never published, but the experience emerged much later in his first novel The Sins of Philip Fleming (1959). Other unpublished works include a biography of Daniel Defoe, a memoir of celebrities Wallace had met, and a history of the French murderess Gabrielle Bompard.

Wallace studied creative writing at the Williams Institute in Berkley and from the mid-30s he worked as a free-lance correspondent, making good contacts with large national magazines. 'We'll Give America Wings,' an article published in Liberty as the work of Donald Douglas, the aircraft manufacturer, earned him an assignment in the Far East. Due to his comments on Japan's aggressive military and foreign policies, the Japanese government banned him from the country. A similar ban was granted in 1947 by General Franco, who disliked Wallace's article 'Will The Spanish Town Live Again,' and ordered him to never enter Spain.

Wallace's account on the Japanese situation, Japan's Mein Kampf, was turned down by five publishers. In 1941, Wallace married Sylvia Kahn; they had two children. During World War II, Wallace in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He was a writer in the First Motion Picture Unit and Signal Corps Photographic Center, working with directors John Huston and Frank Capra, scriptwriter Carl Foreman, and Ted Geisel, better known as the children's book writer Dr. Seuss. He also contributed to various periodicals, such as The American Legion Magazine, Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Collier's. Already in 1943, Wallace had finished 13 original screen stories, but they all were rejected. His first produced screenplay was Jive Juncion (1943), co-written with Malvin Wald and Walter Doninger, and directed by Edgar G. Ulmer.

From 1948 to 1958 Wallace made screenplays for routine Hollywood films, among them The West Point Story (1950), Jump into the Hell (1955), and The Big Circus (1959), earning seven hundred and fifty dollars a week and working steadily, but at the same time wanting to become a novelist. "At my lowest point, I wrote ten television scripts for six producers on order." Bad for Each Other (1953) Wallace co-wrote with Horace McCoy, who had published his most famous novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They in 1935. In spite of his success in Hollywood Wallace saw it as a place of "indignity, disrespect, disdain" – like many writers from Chandler to Faulkner. His friend included the acclaimed screenwriter Ernest Lehman, who was a member of "the Thursday night poker game." The next-door neighbors were Norman and Francis Lear, with whom Wallace smoked marijuana for the first time. It was delivered in a film can via Henry Mancini and Quincy Jones.

The Sins of Philip Fleming, about a young man who tries to build a career in professional writing, did not attract much critical attention. The Chapman Report, his breakthrough novel, was influenced by the Kinsey report. In the story Dr George C. Chapman conducts a study of female sex behavior in an American suburb, and raises with the arrival of his research group passions and controversy. The book was published in fourteen foreign countries. In West Germany, the Home Ministry threatened to ban it, but eventually authorities decided to back out. "Well, it's no fun seeing yourself, so often, attacked in print," said the author of the mixed reviews. Wallace's message, along with sex, was that there is more behind the relationships between men and women than a survey can ever reveal.

After The Chapman Report, which made a quarter of a million dollars in thirteen months, Wallace published mostly popular novels, and co-authored with his son David Wallechinsky The Book of Lists (1977) and its sequels. Wallace's daughter Amy became an apprentice (and later lover) of Carlos Castaneda, the author of a number of book describing the teaching of Don Juan, a Yaqui sorcerer and shaman.

In his novels Wallace blended sex, religion, politics, jet set life, epoch-making discoveries, intriguing villains from the Soviet Union, and all the necessary elements of the international bestseller of the Cold War period. A typical product was The Prize (1962), which penetrated into the lives of a group of Nobel Prize winners, who have gathered in Stockholm – a French husband-and-wife team of chemists, an American heart surgeon, and a German-born physicist sought after by the Communists of East Germany. The book sold in short time more than 100,000 copies in hardback. Despite his continuous popularity, Wallace once said: "If successful novelists had a formula, they would not have failures, and I know of no novelist who has not had failures at one time or another."

In The Word (1972) a gospel, ostensibly written by Jesus's brother, is discovered. The story combines this religious theme with international business and politics. The Fan Club (1974) was about Hollywood's sexiest star who is kidnapped by four men. The R Document (1976) was political thriller about Christopher Collins, the Attorney General, who fights with the FBI Director Vernon T. Tynan, who wants to get rid of the Bill of Rights with a new amendment to the Constitution. According to this 35th Amendment, "no right or liberty guaranteed by the Constitution shall be construed as licence to endanger the national security." The Pigeon Project (1979) explored the idea of the elixir of life and what happens if it were invented. The Second Lady (1980) focused on the true identity of the First Lady. The Almighty (1982) was set in the media world, in which the head of the New York Record uses terrorism and espionage to exceed the circulation of the New York Times. The Miracle (1984) was set in the near future, and based on the story of Bernadette, the young peasant girl who first saw Mary at the Grotto in Lourdes in 1958. Franz Werfel used the same subject in his novel The Song of Bernadette (1941), which was filmed in 1943 and won three Oscars.

In 1964 Wallace received Supreme Award of Merit and honorary fellowship from George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for writing The Man (1964). Wallace other awards include Commonwealth Club silver medal (1965), Bestsellers magazine award (1965), Paperback of the Year citation (1970), Popular Culture Association award of excellence (1974), Venice Rosa d'Oro award (1975). In 1972 Wallace was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News / Sun Times Wire Service at the Democratic and Republican national convections. Wallace died of pancreatic cancer on June 29, 1990 in Los Angeles.

Several of Wallace's novels have been made into films. The screen adaptation of The Chapman Report was made in 1962, directed by George Cukor. The director defended the film by saying that the novel "presented something contemporary about outwardly respectable women who were frigid and took lovers and went to psychiatrists". Shelley Winter played a married woman with a passion for a man who doesn't really love her. Glynis Johns seeks experience with a beach boy and Claire Bloom is a nympho who commits suicide after being gang-raped. Russ Meyer's version of The Seven Minutes  (1969) from 1971 dealt with pornography and freedom of speech. The Man was adapted to screen in 1972, starring James Earl Jones, Martin Balsam, and Burgess Meredith. It was a story about the first African American president of The United States, who is resented by white southerners and by blacks.

"The picture did have some virtues." (George Cukor on his film The Chapman Report, based on Wallace's novel)

The Prize, produced by Roxbury Productions Inc. (1963), was a disappointing at the box office. Starring Paul Newman (as a drunken, womanizing novelist and a Nobel laureate), Edward G. Robinson (a German physicist and his double), and Elke Sommers (his beautiful niece), it strived to be a sort of Hitchcockian thriller. Ernest Lehman, who had written Hitchcock's North by Northwest, made the screenplay. Swedish authorities objected the script, claiming it gave a wrong picture about the annual Nobel Prize awards. Newman appears in one scene in jockey shorts and in another finds himself in a nudist convention. Later he admitted that he had never read the novel. Allegedly Newman tried to base his characterization on the author Norman Mailer.

For further reading: Irving Wallace: A Writer's Profile by John Leverence (1974); Contemporary Popular Writers, ed. by David Mote (1997); Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda by Amy Wallace (2007) - See also other bestseller writers: Barbara Cartland, Louis L'Amour

Selected works:

  • Screenplays: Jive Junction, 1943 (with Malvin Wald and Walter Doninger); He's My Uncle, 1943 (shelved); Anything For a Laugh, 1944; That's My Baby, 1944; The West Point Story, 1950 (with John Monks Jr. and Charles Hoffman); Meet Me at the Fair, 1953; Desert Legion, 1953 (with Lewis Meltzer); Split Second, 1953 (with William Bowers); Bad for Each Other, 1953 (with Horace McCoy); Gun Fury, 1953 (with Roy Huggins); The Gambler from Natchez, 1954; Sincerely Yours, 1955; Jump into Hell, 1955; The Burning Hills, 1956 (novel by Louis L'Amour); Bombers B-52, 1957, The Ballad of Oscar Wilde, 1958 (teleplay); The Solid Gold Patrol, 1958 (teleplay); Comanche, 1959 (teleplay); Loot from Richmond, 1958 (teleplay); House of Doubt, 1958 (teleplay); The Push-Button Giant, 1958 (teleplay); Man in the Moon, 1958 (teleplay); Letter of the Law, 1959 (teleplay with Jack Roberts); The Big Circus, 1959 (with Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett)
  • And Then Goodnight, 1936 (play)
  • Because of Sex, 1937 (play)
  • Death Incorporated, 1937 (play)
  • Murder by Morning, 1938 (publ. in Fourth Yearbook of Short Plays: 1938, ed. Leon Owen Snook)
  • Ego-Maniac, 1939 (play)
  • The Fabulous Originals: Lives of Extraordinary People Who Inspired Memorable Characters in Fiction, 1955
  • Square Pegs: Some Americans Who Dared to Be Different, 1957
  • The Fabulous Showman: The Life and Times of P.T. Barnum, 1959
  • The Sins of Philip Fleming: A Compelling Novel of One Man's Intimate Problem, 1959
  • The Chapman Report, 1960
    - Tohtori Chapmanin raportti (suom. Aira Sinervo, 1961)
    - film 1962, dir. by George Cukor, starring Shelley Winters, Claire Bloom, Glynis Johns, Jane Fonda, Efrem Zimbalist Jnr.
  • The Twenty-Seventh Wife, 1961
  • The Prize, 1962
    - film 1963, dir. by Mark Robson, starring Paul Newman, Edward G. Robinson, and Elke Sommers, screenplay by Ernest Lehman.
  • The Three Sirens: A Novel, 1963
  • The Man: A Novel, 1964
    - film 1972, dir. by Joseph Sargent, starring James Earl Jones, Martin Balsam, Burgess Meredith, adapted to screen by Rod Serling.
  • The Sunday Gentleman, 1965
  • The Plot: A Novel, 1967
  • The Writing of One Novel, 1968
  • The Seven Minutes: A Novel, 1969
    - film 1971, dir. Russ Meyer, starring Wayne Maunder, Marianne McAndrew, Philip Carey, John Carradine.  "His films are exaggerated live-action cartoon, overstated satires on sex and violence unlike any others." (from VideoHound's Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics, 1996). A bookseller is arrested for disturbing an obscene novel, and many people are unexpectedly involved in the court case. Full of 'daring' words and cameo performances.
  • The Nympho and Other Maniacs, 1971
  • The Word: A Novel, 1972
    - TV miniseries in 1978, dir. by Richard Lang, starring David Janssen, John Huston, James Whitmore, Eddie Albert, Florinda Bolkan, Geraldine Chaplin.
  • The Fan Club: A Novel, 1974
  • The People's Almanac, 1975 (editor, with David Wallechinsky)
  • The R Document: A Novel, 1976
  • The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists, 1977 (editor, with David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace)
    - Listojen kirja (suom. Kalevi Haikara, 1979)
  • The Two: A Biography, 1978 (with Amy Wallace)
  • The People's Almanac #2, 1978 (editor, with David Wallechinsky)
  • The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists #2, 1978 (editor, with David Wallechinsky, Sylvia Wallace, and Amy Wallace)
  • The Pigeon Project, 1979
    - Pakopaikka (suom. Pentti Kuusikko, 1980)
  • The Second Lady, 1980
    - Vaihdettu nainen (suom. Minna Lehtonen, 1981)
  • The People's Almanac Presents the Book of  Predictions 1980 (editor, with David Wallenchinsky and Amy Wallace)
  • The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, 1981 (editor, with Amy Wallace, Sylvia Wallace, and David Wallechinsky)
  • The People's Almanac #3, 1981 (editor, with David Wallechinsky)
  • The Almighty: A Novel, 1982
    - Kaikkivaltias (suom. Sirkka Salonen, 1983)
  • The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists #3, 1978 (editor, with David Wallechinsky and Amy Wallace)
  • Significa , 1983 (editor, with Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky)
  • The Miracle: A Novel, 1984
    - Ihme (suom. Marja Haapio, 1985)
  • The Seventh Secret: A Novel, 1986
  • The Celestial Bed, 1987
  • The Golden Room, 1988
  • The Guest of Honor, 1989
    - Kunniavieras (suom. Heikki Sarkkila, 1989)

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