I picked up this 1969 book, Naked Came the Stranger, at the library knowing that it is a literary hoax. It’s an erotic parody of the American literary culture of the 1960s. A Newsday columnist, Mike McGrady, came up with the idea to write a deliberately terrible book full of sex to prove that crap sells if it has sex in it.
It was written by 24 journalists though the cover said the author was Penelope Ashe. Penelope was portrayed by Billie Young, McGrady’s sister-in-law, in photographs and meetings with publishers.
It became a bestseller in 1969, so I guess he proved his point. When the hoax was revealed, the book became even more popular. What does that prove?
The writers were 19 men and 5 women including two Pulitzer Prize winners (Gene Goltz and Robert W. Greene) and journalist Marilyn Berger. Each chapter was written by a different author so the “style” varies. Supposedly, some chapters had to be severely edited because the first draft was “too good.”
The plot is about the hosts of a New York City morning radio talk show “The Billy & Gilly Show.” Gillian and William Blake seem to be a perfect couple, but Gillian finds out that Billy is having an affair. Her revenge is to cheat on him with a lot of men. The bulk of the book is those sexual adventures that allowed the many authors to have their own “short story.”
It’s hard to say that I would recommend this book. There are plenty of better books to read, but it is an interesting literary hoax. I did skim some chapters. It succeeds at being amusingly terrible. It falls short on eroticism.
McGrady made a few more bucks off the hoax by writing ‘Stranger Than Naked, or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun and Profit’ about the hoax the following year.
There was also an “adult” film based on the book also titled ‘Naked Came the Stranger.’ It was made without any involvement from the book’s authors.
Another literary hoax that I have written about here is the 1956 novel I, Libertine which started as a practical joke by late-night radio raconteur Jean Shepherd. Shep was grumping about the way bestseller lists were compiled then. In the 1950s, the lists were determined from sales figures and from the number of requests for new and upcoming books at bookstores.
Shepherd’s practical joke was to tell his listeners to go to bookstores and ask for Frederick R. Ewing’s novel, I, Libertine. He said it was about a very libertine woman of the 1700s. It was a 1950s sexual tease plot.
The joke got legs when some of Shep’s devoted listeners (“night people”) decided to not only ask for the book and try to get it on the bestseller lists, but they also planted references to the book and author in the social media of the time – newspapers, letters to the editor etc. It was a hoax on the “day people” and publishers and the bestseller lists.
Demand for the book got it on The New York Times Best Seller list even though it didn’t exist. A publisher (Ian Ballantine), a novelist (Theodore Sturgeon), and Shepherd met for lunch and decided to capitalize on the hoax for real. Sturgeon was hired to crank out a novel in a month based on Shep’s outline.
There was a planted rumor that the book had been “banned in Boston” even before its release. On September 13, 1956, Ballantine Books published I, Libertine simultaneously in hardcover and paperback editions. Shepherd was shown as author Ewing on the book’s back cover. A few weeks before publication, The Wall Street Journal exposed the hoax, though word had gotten out already.
At least with this literary hoax, the proceeds were donated to charity.