Friday, March 26, 2010

The Strange Case of the Argento Movie Tie-in Novel...

This is the paperback tie-in paperback published in 1971 to accompany the US release of The Cat O’Nine Tails. I never knew it existed until I was walking down Broadway one day and stopped to look at some tatty used books being sold from a blanket spread out on the sidewalk. And there it was. To the best of my knowledge, The Cat O’Nine Tails is the only English-language Argento-movie tie-in novel.

The author was Paul J. Gillette and the publisher was Award Books, a small, New York-based house that was eventually bought out by and absorbed into Berkeley Books, an imprint of Penguin. I don’t know much about Award Books, but they seem to have been in business from the early 1960s through the mid-’70s. Their early titles included books about the drug culture and other “daring” topics, but starting in the late ‘60s they specialized in movie and TV tie-ins. They published original novels inspired by popular shows like Gunsmoke, Adam-12, Medical Center and Then Came Bronson, as well as novelizations of movies ranging from Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets to Radley Metzger’s Carmen, Baby. Award also published a number of science fiction books in the mid ‘70s.

It looks to me as though many — maybe most — of Award’s tie-in books were published under pseudonyms, but a handful bore names like David Gerrold (Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973) and poet/artist/writer/Paul Buck (The Honeymoon Killers, 1970). Literary agent Agnes Birnbaum of Bleecker Street Associates worked for Award, as did Tor/Forge Books editor James Frenkel, but the company itself is a will o’ the wisp.

Gillette was a cat of a different color: He translated Petronius and the Marquis de Sade, and was nominated for two Pulitzer prizes. He worked for mass-market magazines ranging from Esquire to Playboy, hosted the TV shows Camera Three and Enjoying Wine With Paul Gillette; and edited the trade magazine Wine Investor. Gillette’s nonfiction books included Inside the Ku Klux Klan and The Lopinson Case, about a notorious 1964 double murder in Philadelphia.

In addition to The Cat O’Nine Tails, he wrote the tie-ins for Play Misty for Me (1971) and How Did a Nice Girl Like You Get Into This Business? (1968), adapted from a briefly notorious, German-made sexploitation movie whose claim to fame was a brief appearance by the 18-year-old Barbi Benton. She parlayed her seven-year stint as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend into a fairly successful career as a singer and actress, to which I can only say, “Run, Barbi, run!”

Gillette died in 1996 at the age of 57 and curiously, all the obituaries I tracked down describe Play Misty for Me and The Cat O’Nine Tails as original novels that were turned into movies.

That pretty much sums up what I know, but I’m dying to find out more about Award Books… partly because I’m fascinated by vintage pulp magazine/paperback publishers in general and partly because NYC-based houses exercise a particular hold over my imagination.


James said...

This is great! Gillette sounds like quite an interesting character. Did you pick up the copy you saw on the sidewalk? Or is that a silly question!? ;o)

miss flickchick said...

But of course! As Oscar Wilde once said, "I can resist anything but temptation." Especially if it's only going to cost me a dollar, which is why I'm never in such a hurry that I fail to stop and see what the books-on-blankets guys have for sale. You never know what might be hiding under a Danielle Steele novel.