The book meant as a hoax that became a reality,
remains, in many of its aspects, a mystery.
I think it would be good to enumerate what’s known, what’s a assumed, and what is unknown–except maybe, to those who know but ain’t tellin’. We know that some heard the broadcasts, and probably at least a couple recorded parts, but nothing so far has turned up. (Why are these people waiting for their ignorant heirs to toss the holy grail tapes in a dumpster?)
Note that many statements herein are preceded by such qualifiers as
“seems to be.”
WHICH COVER SEEMS TO BE THE “REAL” ONE?
WHICH MIGHT SELL MORE COPIES, AND
WHO HAD THE SHAMELESSNESS TO PERPETRATE IT?
BASE STORY OF THE HOAX
Shepherd, during his overnight radio shows from January 1956 to mid-August 1956, began to create a hoax with his listeners regarding lists and best sellers. Said to be in April, he began, describing how he went into a bookstore (said to be Doubleday on Fifth Avenue about 56th Street), and asked for a book he knew existed (said to be transcripts of some “Vic and Sade” radio broadcasts by Paul Rhymer). The clerk, upon checking sources regarding the title, claimed (so it’s said) that the book, as it was not listed, could not exist.
Shepherd described the incident on his show , and, it’s said, he was so upset that he decided to play a joke on the book industry and all those who control what we have available to read, and those who depend on lists. It’s said that at that time, newspaper “best seller lists” were compiled not only by number of book titles sold, but number of book titles reported to have been requested for purchase.
Why not create a non-existent title and author, it’s said that he said, and request it in stores. The fictitious publisher was “Excelsior Books, an imprint of Oxford Press.” If the sales clerk asked who the publisher was, the answer should be, “It’s ‘Excelsior’, you fathead!” It’s said that he made up a fake biography of the author.
Listeners asked for the book, some wrote essays on it for school, someone slipped a book index card into a library’s catalog, people claimed to have read it, airline personnel took the hoax overseas, a columnist claimed to have had a meal with the fictitious author, etc., etc., etc.
Indicative of the book’s widespread distribution is the London hardcover edition (that reached a second printing), available from used book dealers in England, Australia, and New Zealand. Dated 1957, there is no copyright notice. The dust jacket, in putrid purple (the New York hardcover sported putrid pink), depicts an eighteenth-century roué eyeing a very modern-looking young blonde disrobing, a far more lurid illustration than the witty and ironically suggestive one on the American edition.
English hardcover edition
Nor does this edition include the witty photo by Roy Schatt of Shepherd posing as the dissolute author, Ewing. Either innocent of the entire nature of the hoax or simply participating in the joke, the English publisher precedes the author bio with: “We do not vouch for the accuracy of this paragraph which is quoted from American sources.” Maybe this was a knowing British wink—a contribution to the mischievous confusion. At any rate, the British public was probably largely ignorant of the hoax (unless airline personnel told individuals about it). Too bad they missed out on the literary fun! I missed out also because, in the spring of 1956, when I was told that there was this late-night guy on the radio, his 1-5:30 AM broadcast hours were far too late for me.
My searches also turned up a London paperback edition. The full-color cover does the London hardcover artwork one—or two—better. A handsome young eighteenth century fellow in full period formal wear including tricorn hat and puffy shirt, charges through the open iron gate of a stone dungeon. The half-naked male prisoners in despair and chains, can only imagine, along with the viewer, the potential delights of what occupies, in prominent foreground, the left side of the scene— a lovely young woman with hands tied high over her head, dark tresses draped over one breast, her well-endowed body partly covered by a torn green dress, one thigh and knee revealed. She is not yet aware of her imminent rescue—her eyes gently closed, her full lips slightly parted as though already experiencing easily imagined post-rescue pleasures. This provocative scene is found nowhere in the text. (See image above.) One wonders how many dissatisfied English customers followed Frederick R. Ewing’s writing all the way to its less-than-orgasmic consummation, to say nothing of the undoubtedly unsatiated bloke whose copy of the tome found its way to a used bookseller in Australia.
I suggest that knowledge of the American hoax didn’t cross the Pond or the Pacific, but that publication in the land of Shakespeare and in the land of the Crocodile Hunter only happened because the publishers perpetrated a different and very common-place hoax on its customers— a provocative title embellished with salacious covers.
Previous comments by me have included other illustrations and words of great import.
See Part 2, soon to come (not a hoax)