Taking the Money over The Prize


To be one's self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity. -Irving Wallace

From Critics to The Fan Club

What comes the way of an Irving Wallace scholar is not all sneers and snickers. Because Irving Wallace is constantly being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for books before he writes them. LIFE decided that it was only fair to pay me for reviewing his latest book before I read it. Not pay me hundreds of thousands, of course. The standard price for a LIFE book review is $18.50, plus the employee's rate on purchasing The Life Book of Squids. Once I had the money and the squid book in hand, I decided not to bother to read Wallace's latest. Why be a sucker? -Calvin Trillin (1969)

In Soviet Russia, Trains Catch You

Those many years ago it was a hard overland journey for his teenage parents, from Narewka, Russia (Grodno Gubernia region, now in Poland) to get to Bremen, Germany. From that port they had to endure the seafaring portion of their emigration; and later Grandmother would say Bremen's electric lighting was superior to what they saw in their U.S.A. destination. His mother, Bessie Liss met her future husband, and his father, Alex Wallace, né Wallechinsky, in Chicago at the wedding of one his step-sisters, to not just a fellow countryman, but a Narewkan born groom.

Thus in the Windy City, on a brisk March 19th day, 1916, Irving was delivered and was named after his Talmudic scholar grandfather. This original family name, Wallechinsky, was retrieved and reinstated by Irving's son David (born 1948), who became an accomplished writer (Parade magazine, articles, books).

♪♫On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin

About a year after Irving was born, the family moved to small town America in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Alex, who was a salesman in Chicago, found work as a clerk at the North Side Bargain Store. But after that store burned down, he got together a new business with younger brother, Abe: the Wallace Brothers General Merchandise. Unfortunately the thirteen year-old Irving, who the Milwaukee Wisconsin News reported as "Norman," suffered with father and uncle, an armed robbery in 1929.

The family observed their Jewish Orthodoxy, attending a synagogue in town, but had not suffered any prejudice, getting along with all the other ethnic and religious flavors. As Irving recalled, "I never heard the word 'kike' until I was nineteen and going to college in Berkeley." However, though they pushed the Hebrew values of Landan and Chassid (learning and virtue), the melting-pot public school would be his literary influence, more than the schule. He was also aided by the parents who pushed not only a strong work ethic, but European and American classic literature on him. One was Balzac, whose name will come up again, later.

First String

While in Junior High, the sports fanatic was writing articles not only for their paper, the Winner, like "The Great Basketball Mystery" in 1931, but the thirteen year-old wannabe sports columnist was a 'stringer' (freelance writer, pennies per inch) for the sports section of the Wisconsin News. He also wrote for The Sporting News, while he simultaneously, unsuccessfully submitted to St. Nicholas Review and the Kenosha Evening News. Leaving as class president and news editor, he continued his journalism for the Kenews at Central High. The teen finally became a paid writer, getting five dollars by Horse and Jockey magazine for his piece, "The Horse Laugh," (an equine interview) which was previously rejected by The Saturday Evening Post. This honoree of the Quill and Scroll, and winner of two amateur journalism awards, was so busy getting work published, like his $12.00 first short story published on The Challenge of Nashville, "Sacrifice Hit," (subtitled, 'There's More to Baseball than Heavy Lifting As Willie Hansen Learned') it was a wonder he graduated. He beat 3000 entrees for Northwestern University's Medhill School of Journalism winning the Grand Gold Cup the year before he got finished in 1934. At this time he had tried unsuccessfully to publish, a book, Sorry, You're Wrong, a debunking of myths and old-wives' tales.

Searching for the Fountain of Blood

Starting that summer, he gathered two other friends that he likewise infected with inspiration from a classified drawn Honduran letter presenting the quest to find La Fuenteda Sangre. He later wrote embellished articles to the paper and an unpublished book about their travels that included climbing Mount Ixtaccihautl in My Adventure Trail. They finally made it to the place whose waters flowed crimson, and they, as the first white men there, bottled some souvenirs. Irving additionally worked for a while as writer and editor for the Southport (Kenosha's earlier name) Bugle until it played 'Taps' closing in 1935. He would not do political reporting again, until 1972 when he attended the Republican and Democratic national conventions reporting for the Chicago Daily News and Sun Times Wire Service.

Westward Ho

A great school for the 'creative arts' was founded in 1917 by Cora L. Williams in Berkeley, California. That institution, which had some substantial authors, was where the budding writer decided to go when offered a scholarship in July, 1935. This was after turning down offers from Rippon, Wisconsin and Northwestern. It was not long (almost Christmastime of that year) before Irving realized he did not need more courses on magazine writing, especially when Williams' Institute could not give a degree, and he had done hundreds of those already, so he headed south for Tinseltown to pursue "The Dream."

Hooray for Hollywood and $7 an Article

That year his father was fed up with Kenosha and joined him in Southern California, and they roomed together. Irving continued to write, for little pay, magazine articles, and added plays to his repertoire in 1937. One, "And Then Goodnight," was published in an anthology in the next year. This should have been the stepping stone for his next jump, movie scripts. But, he was still in the magazine business, and before selling to Modern Screen, he and a partner, had tried to start their own, The Reel Hollywood. Even having only one issue did not dishearten Wallace from pursuing his writing career.

The same publisher, Dell, had Wallace do an article with Donald Douglas, "We'll Give America Wings," in the September, 7th, 1940 issue of Liberty, exactly a year after his magazine folded. The article, which assured readers Douglas could build planes to match the Nazi's war machine, impressed them. Thus, he became their Far East overseas correspondence: that is until the Japanese kicked him out for digging too deep, especially when reporting via Walter Winchell (who was banned from Japan, too) about a year before Pearl Harbor, that the Rising Sun was soon going to join the German's Twisted Cross. He had many run-ins with the Japanese Secret Police, one was an exceptionally narrow escape while he was looking into the issue of the Nipponese dumping of opiate narcotics into China.

Another interesting thing learned from Irving's time in Japan, was that if one did not interview the men, especially the military-minded, which he did finally, one might not think Japan would really want to expand their war when one could see their poverty. This was his opinion initially.

In a totally different kind of trouble, Irving's original interview of Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine's parents in Tokyo over the game of "Go" ticked the famed movie stars off when he hinted they should help them financially.

Jock Lawrence revoked his coveted Will Hays accreditation allowing him access in Hollywood after he cited William Morris' and Robert F. Sherwood's harsh words about the film industry.

You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To

In LA, the youngest editor for Dell West Coast, was Sylvia Kahn, "that beautiful blond girl, blue eyes, tilted nose, flawless complexion, good body, shapely legs. After our first meeting there was no question whom I wanted to marry." She was hired at 16 right out of her NY High School in 1933. Fate and Modern Screen brought them together and they wed in 1941. She continued to write, though less when busy with children, (their daughter, Amy writes, too) she also helped her husband with editing and research through his career. Later, she co-wrote with her kids. In 1976 she published her novel, Empress, echoing her experiences in La La Land.

Semper Fi When the Typewriters Go Rolling Along

Irving originally was joining the Marines, and passed all his physicals, except the crucial color test, and he was blind in that ocular area. But, he went to the Army Air Forces and handed his application to none other than Personnel Officer and Calvary Captain Ronald Reagan. The old Hal Roach studios were now the Army Air Corps location ("Fort Roach") of the F.M.P.U. (First Motion Picture Unit and pronounced fum-poo), this facility was essential for making recruiting films, especially for fly-boys.

Praise the Lord and The Pass the Pulp Ammunition

The irony is that Wallace, arriving there in 1942, (after only 3 weeks of Basic) had no experience writing screenplays. Mantz, who headed the unit, wanted him to write a pilot book for him, much to the consternation of Pvt. Wallace, who was afraid of even the smallest heights, let alone in airplanes. He was working alongside DeForest Kelley (Star Trek's Dr. "Bones" McCoy), and under Lt. Col. Jack Warner, Maj. William Wyler, and Maj. John Huston, among others. While serving with what he called, "paper bullets," he also continued to write privately various magazine articles, and he managed two screenplays, the produced Jive Junction, and the forgotten, He's My Uncle.

He got in trouble over calling the Andrews Sisters, less than beautiful in Coronet. His expert glamor witness, saved the day by, I guess somewhat patriotically, admitting that "...one of the sisters looked like Abe Lincoln."

I'm Beginning to See the Light

In 1944, wrote screenplays at his other placement in Los Angeles, the Signal Corps Photographic Center, notable from there is the Why We Fight series, and in particular, Know Your Enemy Japan. He got to be friends with John Huston at this time. Republic Studios paid him a hefty $2,430 for his Anything for a Laugh, and he got credit this year for the screen story, Ihat's My Baby. He wrote a book too, With Their Pants Down, but he started to think that he liked magazine writing better, he was his own employer, and it paid better.

Comin' In On a Wing and a Prayer

He was transferred to Signal Corps Long Island location in 1945, and when not participating in New York City's night life, he had assignments such as the one at Atlanta's Lawson General Hospital to write on amputees. He was discharged in early 1946. Back to his familiar haunt, he garnered $600 from The Saturday Evening Post for a piece on autograph dealer, Mary Benjamin, "The Keeper of the Names." The other publications that paid the bills were, Esquire, Collier's, The American Legion Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and of course, Liberty. His submission interviewing mystery storyteller Raymond Chandler once again brought censorship, this time from the interviewee regretting his heavy disrespect for Erle Stanley Gardner. Wallace's article, "Will The Spanish Town Live Again," earned him banishment from Generalissimo Franco's Spain in 1947.

And Baby Makes a Hungrier Three

Early 1948 brought challenges, they had just come back from a European gig, and now David was born. Fortunately he had an opportunity in New York to work on a Black Market cinematic expose, CID Agent, good thing he got the much-needed $2500 since it was never got behind a camera. But, more importantly, he had something on his resume that landed him in Warner's Hollywood Studios for the West Point Story. He had a wonderful Christmas that year with a bit more than 24K, almost more than what he made for the two previous decades.

Fiction or Semi-Biography

Irving would write another dozen screenplays, but he discovered, or maybe re-discovered at a more opportune time, another source of income, books. As he quipped about this time, "At my lowest point, I wrote ten television scripts for six producers on order." His first big break was with Knopf publishing The Fabulous Originals, about, as he put it, "extraordinary people who inspired memorable characters of fiction."

And from 1953 to 1959, he supplemented his screenplay work by authoring four non-fiction books, and one fiction. 1959, and this fifth one was his first published novel, The Sins of Philip Fleming. Though it was passed by for reviews, it gave him the impetus to break from the studios where he had done a lot of work for uncredited productions while on salary. Though he learned a lot about constructing characters, dialogues, and scenes from scripts, it caused him to be deficient in portraying the internal workings, and the evolution of persons.

He had some haggling with the publishing house over the contracted length, 80,000 words of his book The Fabulous Originals. He had to cut 45K's worth, as Wallace recalls:

Compromises in the publishing field, minimal though be, do exist, for reasons of an editor's personal prejudices or a publisher's economic concerns. After spending years preparing and writing my first published book, The Fabulous Originals, and receiving an advance of $1,000 and a beribboned {sic} contract from Alfred A. Knopf, I was stunned when he forced me to surrender a degree of my creative autonomy before my book went to press...

Clinical Sex Sells

Irving Wallace was on the map with his 1959 best-selling, and most remembered, The Chapman Report, an imaginative narrative of horny women in the 'burbs, paralleling the factual "Kinsey Report", a.k.a., Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. This book was almost banned in Germany. Not only did he get a $25,000 advance from Simon and Schuster, but Zanuck bought the movie rights for $175,000. Several years later, Hollywood ignored the negative criticism of the money-maker, and to Knopf's loss, they made it into a 1962 George Cukor film. It featured Shelley Winters, whose character's husband had no desire, Glynis Johns, she wanted a beach boy Jane Fonda, Cloris Leachman, Claire Bloom portrayed the suicidal nympho gang-raped, Harold J. Stone, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. It did not win, but did get nominated for these Golden Globes Awards: Best Motion Picture for Drama; Best Motion Picture Actress for Drama, Glynis Johns; Best Motion Picture Director, George Cukor; and Best Supporting Actor; Harold J. Stone.

As somebody wanting to write novels that were respected like Fine Arts literature, he was very hurt when the ones he hoped would applaud his books, instead booed them. This, of course, was primarily because of its sexual nature. He retorted defensively:
I have not and cannot write obscenely or immorally. I have written of love and sex in candid terms, and I shall again. In The Chapman Report I was writing not to stimulate, but to reflect an area of American Society with which I am deeply acquainted. Too, I wished to explore certain aspects of female unhappiness and frustration in today's world. I wrote of American women I know--but perhaps I wrote of all women.

If The Suit Fits, Don't Wear It!

While associates begged Wallace not to write responses to criticisms, he did anyway, and he wanted to sue TIME and Knopf; and on top of that, he was legally under fire from the real sexologist, Dr. Kinsey. Wallace publicly complained that they did not have a monopoly on sex. Daryll Zanuck was thrilled with the publicity, however. So in 1961 he started on his hopeful Pulitzer, writing about the Nobel one, The Prize. Like many of his books, it featured more than just lust, and drama, but intrigue: in this case involving East Germans on the run from the Communists. And it sold hundreds of thousands quickly. A 1962 New York Times "Book Review" by James Kelly compared the work to Honoré de Balzac, (someone the Wallaces would focus on later in one of their works.This would be a big screen vehicle for Paul Newman, who not having read the book, based his alcoholic philandering character on Norman Mailer. It also had veteran actor Edward G. Robinson, and the German bombshell, Elke Sommer. As usual, he irritated folks, this time the Peace Prize host nation, Sweden.

The Man Ahead of His Time

Like some kind of prophecy written in 1964, and filmed in 1972, screenplay by Rod Serling, Wallace has envisioned a situation where an African-American, Douglas Dilman, becomes President of the United States after some catastrophic events. Along with James Earl Jones, it also starred Martin Balsam, and Burgess Meredith. George Washington Carver Memorial Institute awarded Wallace the Supreme Award of Merit, even though in the story not only rednecks looked down on this black leader, but so did others of his race.

The Sexven Minutes

His films are exaggerated live-action cartoon, overstated satires on sex and violence unlike any others.--VideoHound (1996)
This book from 1969, The Seven Minutes, and brought to the theaters in 1971 by R rated specialist Russ Meyer was ahead of its time looking at a trial against a bookseller with supposed pornography.

Code Word

In 1972, three decades before Dan Brown's DaVinci Code, was The Word by Wallace an Italian archeologist discovers an ancient papyrus scroll in Roman seaport of Ostia Antica penned containing the supposed Gospel of James, by Jesus' baby brother. His 1974 The Fan Club (gets more higher ratings today, than his other books) had a starlet kidnapped by four men, the one survivor of the rescue goes to start another star's fan club.

R U?

The Document, out in 1976 featured an FBI Director wanting to get rid of the Bill of Rights, with a 35th Amendment stating: "...no right or liberty guaranteed by the Constitution shall be construed as license to endanger the national security." Similarly, The R Factor in 1979 predates in a similar fashion, our paranoid Homeland Security in this novel. That year he looked at the consequences of a "fountain of youth," in The Pigeon Project. Who is that First Lady, well read The Second Lady (1980) and find out. Does the media make the news, well they did With extreme measures in 1982 in The Almighty. In the 1984 Grotto of Lourdes, a girl had The Miracle, not unlike Franz Werfel's The Song of Bernadette, and Oscar winner.

The End

...somebody out there loves and respects what you do and thinks what you do may make money for them... -Irving Wallace
Before the pipe-smoking author succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1990, he had a career that he chronicled in fiction and fact, some figures say a 120 million copies. We can be amazed, like the other billions of readers when we read about his crossing paths with famed personages such as, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Art Buchwald, Frank Capra, Huey Long, James Earl Jones, W.C. Fields, Alfred A. Knopf, Clifford Irving, Ray Bradbury, Polly Adler, Raymond Chandler, John Huston, and Paul Newman.

Les Prix

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)

His Works


The Sins of Philip Fleming, 1959
The Chapman Report, 1960
The Prize, 1962
The Three Sirens, 1963
The Man, 1964
The Plot, 1967
The Seven Minutes, 1969
The Nympho and Other Maniacs, 1971
The Word, 1972
The Fan Club, 1974
The Pigeon Project, 1979
The R Document, 1979
The Second Lady, 1980
The Almighty, 1982
Significa, 1983 (with Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky) The Miracle, 1984
The Seventh Secret, 1986
The Celestial Bed, 1987
The Guest of Honor, 1989


The Fabulous Originals, 1955
The Fabulous Showman: The Life and Times of P. T. Barnum, 1959
The Sunday Gentleman, 1965
The People's Almanac (with David Wallechinsky), 1975
The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists , editor (with Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky), 1977
The Two: A Biography (with Amy Wallace), 1978
The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Predictions, editor,(with Sylvia Wallace, Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky), 1980
The People's Almanac Presents the Book of Lists No. 2 editor (with Sylvia Wallace, Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky), 1980


Jive Junction (with Malvin Wald and Walter Doninger), 1943
He's My Uncle (shelved), 1943
Anything For a Laugh,
1944 That's My Baby, 1944
The West Point Story (with John Monks Jr. and Charles Hoffman), 1950
Meet Me at the Fair, 1953
Desert Legion (with Lewis Meltzer), 1953
Split Second (with William Bowers), 1953
Gun Fury (with Roy Huggins), 1953
The Gambler from Natchez, 1954
Bad for Each Other (with Horace McCoy, {They Shoot Horses Don't They}), 1954
Jump Into Hell, 1955
Sincerely Yours, 1955
The Burning Hills, 1956
Bombers, B-52, 1957
The Ballad of Oscar Wilde, (teleplay) 1958
The Solid Gold Patrol, (teleplay) 1958
The Big Circus (with Irwin Allen and Charles Bennett), 1959
Comanche, (teleplay) 1959
Loot from Richmond, (teleplay) 1958
House of Doubt, (teleplay) 1958
The Push-Button Giant, (teleplay) 1958
Man in the Moon, 1958 (teleplay)
Letter of the Law, (teleplay with Jack Roberts) 1959
The Seven Minutes (1969 film version directed by Russ Meyer)
The Word, (television miniseries; aired 1978 with David Janssen, John Huston, James Whitmore, Eddie Albert, and Geraldine Chaplain)


The Sunday Gentleman: A Daniel Defoe biography, (1936)
Ecetera, a collection of magazine articles, (1938)
Japan's Mein Kampf, (1941) about the Tanaka Memorial
With Their Pants Down (1944): Wallace memoirs of famous acquaintances
Gabrielle, (1950) The (un-submitted) story of the deadly Frenchwoman, Gabrielle Bompard.



*Paper back writer

(John Lennon, Paul McCartney)

paperback writer
(paperback writer)

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

It's the dirty story of a dirty man
And his clinging wife doesn't understand.
His son is working for the Daily Mail,
It's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Paperback writer
(paperback writer)

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few,
I'll be writing more in a week or two.
I can make it longer if you like the style,
I can change it round and I want to be a
paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights,
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Paperback writer
(paperback writer)

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