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.

2 comments:

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.