In 2013 I was in the UK

In 2013 I was in the UK to interview director John Hough (The Legend of Hell House, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry) about the three kids films he’d made for Disney in the 1970s – Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), Return from Witch Mountain (1978) and The Watcher in the Woods (1980) – for the book Kid Power!, the first anthology published by my own micro-hobby-press Spectacular Optical. He lived on the far northern edge of London and came to pick me up at the train station to take me to his nearby bungalow. As an interviewer, when a famous person comes to pick you up instead of vice versa, they immediately mark themselves as unpretentious and disarming in a way that bodes well for the interview; I immediately felt a rapport, a mutual love of movies, and settled in for a good gab session. His place was full of ornate furniture he’d collected from his film sets – I was pretty sure the throne-like chair I was sitting in was from Twins of Evil or The Legend of Hell House. He offered me a glass of wine. It was ten in the morning, but I enthusiastically accepted just because it felt so decadent.

At some point, in the midst of talking about latch-key kids and Bette Davis, he detoured into a discussion about something called The Fan Club. “I had the world’s best job once,” he offered. “Columbia Studios were making The Fan Club, which was a book by the famous author Irving Wallace. And I was hired to do the film. And it was about this woman who was the world’s most beautiful woman. And four guys kidnap her, and they’re mundane guys, they’ve got very ordinary jobs. And they kidnap her and they’re going to rape her – in the book she’s a film star – and they feel that by raping the world’s most beautiful woman, they’ll have done something with their mundane lives. So they kidnap her and rape her, but she rapes them mentally. She breaks them all down one by one and gets her revenge. It was a really powerful book.”[1]

Now, I like rape-revenge films. I think that in the context of the 1970s, a decade that is both steeped in machismo as well as marked as the height of radical feminism – especially in the wake of the publication of Susan Brownmiller’s pioneering book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975) – there is a lot of subversive potential there. So I don’t get my hackles up if a director tells me he had the “world’s best job” directing a rape-revenge film the way some people might. But Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club predated Brownmiller’s feminist classic by a year, and though it posits itself as progressive it bears all the hallmarks of male privilege that its own narrative purports to question. The more I looked into this book, this film, and how it was conceived and fell apart, the more I wondered how a project like The Fan Club would fare in today’s climate.


“From the pen of one of God’s gentlest creatures has come a story of kidnap and savage rape,” wrote Marilyn Beck in her syndicated entertainment column in May 1974.[2]

That gentle creature was Irving Wallace, who by that time had written nearly 10 novels with combined sales of 92 million copies in 31 languages. As Roger Ebert pointed out in is interview with Wallace upon the book’s release, Irving’s daughter had said, “There’s the Bible, and then there’s Daddy.”[3]

As Hough recalled, the book is about four men – virtual strangers – who have a chance encounter in a bar one night and bond over their lust for the world’s most famous sex symbol, actress Sharon Fields, whose new film “The Royal Harlot” – a period Messalina picture not unlike those Decamerotics churning out of Italy at the time[4] – is being promoted on the television. The youngest of them, a would-be writer named Adam Malone, professes to be Sharon Fields’ number one fan, who – thanks to the incessant and sensational media coverage of her career, which he has collected and pored over for years – knows “more about her than she knows about herself.” He convinces the others – a mechanic, an accountant and an insurance salesman – that Sharon Fields is a nymphomaniac just dying to get laid by four normal guys.

A class divide is set up right from the beginning, with the rural-vs-city dichotomy so popular in 1970s horror most clearly illustrated in Kyle Shively, the mechanic from Lubbock, Texas – a ‘hick’ out of water in the high-rolling terrain of Beverly Hills. Battle-scarred from a tour in Vietnam where he was involved in the My Lai massacre, Shively seethes with resentment for the rich – a divide he equates with emasculation. However much of his hatred is directed toward the women who reject his aggressive advances, who he frequently refers to as “snotty rich chicks” and “uppity tight-assed broads.” The insurance salesman, Howard Yost, was a one-time football champ who’s succumbed to a dull suburban life and found himself light years from his glory days, invisible to women. Of the accountant Leo Brunner, Irving writes: “he was not meant to be a legend but a number, a number close to zero.”[5]

Although the most obvious villain is the mechanic Kyle Shively, it’s Adam Malone, the young handsome writer, who proves to be the greatest danger to Sharon Fields. Because while the others are content to dream, he dares them to realize those dreams; it is his encouragement that sets things in motion. Feeling beaten down by their lot in life, they are susceptible to this fantasy. After a series of clandestine “Fan Club” meetings, a plot is hatched to whisk Fields away to an isolated cabin for a two-week sex vacation in what they ironically dub “The Celestial Bed.”

The idea for the book came to Wallace when he was on a train and overheard several men talking big about how they would give up anything – their wives, their houses, their careers – for one night with Elizabeth Taylor. “That somehow started me thinking about an evening I’d spent at a party for Marilyn Monroe,” recalled Wallace in his interview with Ebert, “and about another party where Lana Turner was my dinner partner and how she’d talked about men she’d known, and how she’d handled them…I’ve known a lot of these women, the so-called sex symbols, and what they’re like, and how they think, and I thought it would be fascinating to create a character who tried to save her own life through manipulating the fantasies that her kidnappers had about her.”[6]

While he said the plot came to him fairly easily, Wallace admitted he found it difficult to write a book that is “two-thirds from the female’s point of view”[7] But is the book two thirds from Sharon Fields’ perspective, as Wallace boasts? No. In fact, it’s barely one third from her perspective. And that one third tends to be restricted to the rape scenes – I stopped counting at 16 but there were more. About half of these are presented in graphic detail.

The men justify their actions because according to her media-concocted biography, Fields is a nymphomaniac who willingly slept her way to the top and enjoyed every minute of it. Even if it was rape, they rationalized, according to her own words from interviews published in the celebrity rags, she was so used to sleeping with different men that she would soon forget all about it; they’d each be just one of dozens of men she’d had meaningless sex with. They refuse to believe her when she protests that her promiscuity is a thing of the past, seized upon by publicists to fashion a sensational persona, and that, in reality, she hasn’t had sex in a year. “It’s all a pack of lies,” Sharon says. “Those interviews were all made up by imaginative publicists, canned interviews put out in my name. I can prove it. And you, you poor, gullible fool, you swallowed it whole. Didn’t you think before you acted in this demented fashion? Didn’t you ask yourself – does any decent woman want to be taken by force against her will by a pack of strangers?”[8]

And while she lies broken and violated on the “Celestial Bed” wondering how exactly she got where she is, she runs over her past, her real past, the one where was exploited by men since childhood, from parental figures to agents and employers, who all wanted something in exchange for helping her on her road to security, freedom, identity and – so she thought – untouchability.

Turns out Fields was not so untouchable after all. But then, she starts to recognize the power in this ‘ideal’ the men have; she has slept with a lot of men. She has used and manipulated them for her own ends as much as she has been used by them for theirs. “After all, these were just more men, “ she thinks aloud, “and it did not matter much if they did more of the same since they had already violated her, and brutalized her body. From that fatalistic view, it seemed irrational not to bargain for something in return for what she would have to endure. Why not surrender at the price they asked?”[9] She comes around to their way of thinking and concedes to be complicit in her own repeated rape – as a survival tactic. She decides that she is the one who is actually in control of the situation: “She must take on the best role she had ever assumed, and give the best performance she had ever given in her life.” The problem with the male author Irving Wallace is that he buys into what he has written; he sees what he has created as a manifestation of female power. And certainly, when you have no power, it is easier to be complicit in your own exploitation than to face your victimhood. Just as her abusers rationalize, she rationalizes. If anything, the book is an interesting study in compartmentalization.

But two thirds of the way through the book, Wallace throws in another curveball: Sharon has an orgasm. According to her own inner thoughts, she “loses herself in her performance.” This calls to mind Sidney J. Furie’s adaptation of The Entity (1981), in which Carla Moran, a single mother repeatedly beaten and raped by a violent ghost, confesses to her psychiatrist that she had an orgasm during one of the attacks, prompting a psychiatric panel to grill her about her alleged ‘rape fantasies,’ to ask if “it would be a reflection on you as a woman if the entity left you, if you were cured?” The orgasm is a tough one to unpack in the context of rape, but it does happen. Lubrication and orgasm are physiological defense mechanisms experienced by over 20% of rape victims, according to a 2004 paper by Roy Levin and Willy van Berlo in The Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine – although the percentage may actually be much higher, given that rape victims are hesitant to report this.[10] But it’s an incredibly sensitive issue that is always a bit harder to stomach when it’s a male writer creating a fictional scenario – which is compounded by the fact that Irving Wallace has stated in interviews that he did no outside research in writing the book.

Still, the character of Sharon Fields is not without guile: where she succeeds in orchestrating her own rescue is in manipulating her rapists into buying her things – things such as imported cigarettes and a signature perfume – as well as convincing them that her massive bank account could benefit them if they were to ask for a ransom. She is known for being spontaneous and irresponsible; before they sent off a ransom letter, no one even knew she was missing. Her winning stroke is embedding a code into the ransom note that can be interpreted through one of her films.

When the police are finally alerted to the fact that Sharon Fields has been abducted, they refer to it as the most “important” kidnapping since the Lindbergh case. But the timing of the book’s release fit perfectly with two sensational real-life incidents with eerie parallels: the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and the attempted kidnapping of Princess Anne.

Princess Anne’s marriage to a “commoner” in November 1973 had been all the buzz of the tabloids, and their televised wedding a media sensation. As with The Fan Club’s Sharon Fields, whose every movement was reported on by the media, leading her assailants to know exactly where she would be and when, it was announced on the radio that Princess Anne would at a charity film screening on March 20. [11] It was while in transit back to Buckingham Palace that her maroon Rolls Royce – carrying the Princess, her husband, her lady-in-waiting and her bodyguard – was blocked in the road by a white car. A lone gunman, an unemployed laborer from Northern England named Ian Ball, approached the Rolls with two guns held aloft. As he approached the back door, the bodyguard got out the passenger side and was immediately shot. The assailant managed to get the back door open and began tugging on Princess’ arm, imploring her to come out. “Bloody likely,” she famously said. A shootout ensued, with the bodyguard, chauffeur, a policeman, a passing motorist and a journalist all trying to subdue the assailant, which they eventually did. But his poorly-written ransom letter – in which he stated he would donate the ransom money to the National Health Services – created a link in the public imagination with an equally sensational event that had occurred a month earlier: the kidnapping of Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army, who had demanded a multi-million dollar ransom in the form of food for hungry Californians.

Wallace couldn’t have asked for better publicity for his book. The book was already off the press when Patty Hearst was kidnapped on February 4, and the incident with Princess Anne, which occurred a week before his book hit stores on March 29th, bolstered the book’s relevance even further. The idea of kidnapping a celebrity suddenly didn’t seem so far-fetched.


The earliest news I’ve sourced on the film came in January 24, 1974, in a Los Angeles Times article announcing that Columbia Pictures had bought Irving Wallace’s book ahead of its scheduled release the following March. “It’s going to be a bestseller, for sure,” predicted producer Lawrence Gordon, who had read the book ahead of its release. Columbia – then headed up by David Begelman, former power agent-turned head of the then-floundering Columbia pictures as of 1973 (and by all accounts the man who invented the “package method” where an agency put their clients together on projects)[12] – bought the film rights for more than $250,000.[13]

Wallace clearly saw his book and its film potential as feminist. “This can open up the whole glamor thing in pictures that has disappeared,” he said. “If it succeeds it will bring back women in movies – this is a man’s town now.”[14] But his first choice for a director doesn’t exactly align with a feminist mandate: Irving thought Sam Peckinpah would make a good director for it. “It takes his kind of violence,” he said.[15] The Peckinpah reference is interesting considering that the film would have fit neatly with the kinds of rape-centric home invasion films that were popular in the wake of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), such as Peter Collinson’s Open Season (1974) and William Fruet’s Death Weekend (1976). It also recalls John Fowles 1963 book The Collector (and its 1965 film adaptation by William Wyler), in terms of both the obsession that develops for a young art student by a socially undeveloped man who sees her as no different from the beautiful butterfly specimens he collects (at one point in the book of The Fan Club, the mechanic uses the terms of his trade to refer to the women he lusts after: “sometimes he even got the high-grade, high-octane stuff.”)

Wallace – who had started out as a screenwriter, penning over a dozen films and a handful of television episodes before retiring to become a full time novelist in 1959 – was offered the chance to write the screenplay himself, but declined. When John Hough was hired for the project in 1974, the script he was given was by Robert Dillon, who’d written Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut (1972) and John Frankenheimer’s 99/44 100% Dead! (1974) and would go on to write The French Connection II (1975) with his wife Laurie Dillon, who is also credited on the script for The Fan Club. Aside from what would have been The Fan Club, The French Connection II is Laurie Dillon’s only other movie credit, although the pair would also be among the 14 writers Warner Brothers burned through in making the script for the Streisand vehicle A Star is Born (1976).

The main hope this film had of successful ly mining its feminist potential lay in the fact that the script was co-written by a woman.

The script opens on Santa Monica Boulevard, with a massive billboard of Sharon Fields’ new film, the Royal Harlot looming over a series of sex shops, massage parlours and dive bars, instantly creating an economic and aesthetic division between the glamor of Hollywood and the sordidness of the common pornographic consumer: “They’re average sorts,” the script reads, “the kind of fellows who fork over hamburgers to their kids at backyard barbecues. Now, their eyes flick from photo to photo, igniting small inner fires.”

When Sharon is brought to her country prison, now above the Celestial Bed is an endless collage of her own glamor shots, placed there lovingly by her superfan Adam Malone, oblivious to the irony that he’s now made Sharon Fields herself the sordid pornographic Object looked down upon by her own opulent image. There’s some other resonant imagery in the script too – the men stick playing cards in the door jamb of the bedroom door to demarcate their queue – the King of Hearts, King of Spades, etcetera. The rape scenes are significantly curtailed, not only in number, but in the intensity of their depiction. The Dillons also added some variation – instead of repeated rape, they would sometimes subject Miss Fields to other forms of degradation, such as being forced to dance in front of the men or crawl on the floor towards them like a dog. (It’s good to mix things up a bit.) The dialogue is for the most part, frank and dark. When Shively is the first to break the Fan Club’s agreed-upon consent rule, and his eyes gaze upon the in-between of her legs for the first time, he says, “That’s it, ain’t it? What they all want. Just that. Famous.

But it seems that the overriding concern was how to adapt the rape scenes, at the expense of some of the book’s character development and suspense. The last third of Wallace’s book – essentially the race against time toward the rescue – is quite gripping, whereas the script’s last act feels rushed and flat. But most importantly where the script surprisingly fails is in the character of Sharon Fields – not that she is given much of a character in the book, but the lack of detail here makes her appear far more vacuous that she should be, especially given that there is a female writer on the script. To add to that insult, they also commit the cardinal sin of having her speak all of her internal dialogue aloud.

John Hough has often described himself as a ‘craftsman’ rather than an auteur; he sees himself as a realizer of the writer’s vision more than a visionary himself. But he frequently sells himself short in this regard; he has proven he can take on virtually any genre and turn out a tight, intriguing and suspenseful film on both intimate (The Legend of Hell House, 1973) and global (Eyewitness, 1970) scales, and can win the confidence of children and the industry’s most jaded stars alike. Hough can most assuredly turn around weak material. So I’ve no doubt the shortcomings of the Dillons’ script – particularly its lackluster final act – would have been rectified through his direction.

But as far as the studio was concerned, the project would sink or swim based on who would play the lead.

When talking about the potential actress who could play this role, Irving surmised that she “could give us what we haven’t had since Monroe. A semi-unknown who can act and is beautiful,” adding rather untactfully that, “They seem to be either one or the other.” Several papers reported that at one point Brigitte Bardot was the top contender to the role – and wanted it – but refused to leave Paris. Columbia’s David Begelman refused to relocate the film, so the search for Sharon Fields continued.

“I was given the job of finding the world’s most beautiful woman,” says Hough, “And Columbia Pictures took out a two page ad in Variety that said ‘Columbia Pictures are Searching for The Most Beautiful Woman, Apply here…’ and it directed people to me. So I had to go on a tour, all over the US, to find the world’s most beautiful woman. What a job! And what happened was, each town, like San Francisco, there’d be a contact there, and that guy would present San Francisco’s most beautiful women. 200 of them I’d see in that day. I’d then fly on to the next town and see another 200. And I went cross crossing all over America, and I was on that for a year, travelling around.” The global scope of the search was corroborated by gossip columnist Joyce Haber in the LA Times in September of 1974, who reported that producer Larry Gordon was “busy now conducting a worldwide search for the leading lady.”[16]

In December of that year, entertainment columnist Dorothy Manners reported that Valerie Perrine – then getting rave reviews for her turn as Lenny Bruce’s wife Honey in Bob Fosse’s film about the groundbreaking comedian – “practically had the part sewn up.”[17] But she was only one of many names the press would bandy around over the next two years in association with the project, which at various times included Bardot, Jacqueline Bisset, Cybil Shepard, Carole Mallory, Candice Bergen, Sophia Loren and Raquel Welch.

“Raquel Welch wanted to play it, and so did Brigitte Bardot,” says John Hough. “Raquel Welch was a frontrunner for some time. But she didn’t want to do the nude scenes, she wanted a body double. And we had a problem with that. If it came out afterwards that it had been a double, well…Because Raquel Welch in a nude picture would have been really something. So that didn’t work out. And then I was interviewing all these women, and one woman read for the scene and I said “You know you’re not quite right for this, but a few doors down, they’re searching for Wonder Woman. So she walked down and got the job. It was Lynda Carter.”[18]

Raquel Welch was the actress most associated with the film throughout its ill-fated history, though she vehemently denies ever agreeing to be in it. “Right before I started shooting The Three Musketeers,” she explained in her 2010 autobiography Beyond the Cleavage, “I was offered a script for another film in galley form, based on a book called The Fan Club by Irving Wallace, about the kidnapping and gang rape of a famous actress by demented fans. The agents and producers involved in the project were proud to boast that it would stretch the boundaries of sexual propriety more than any other movie to date. They felt certain that it would clean up at the box office. After I read only a few pages of the galleys, I slammed them down and called my boyfriend, Ron Talsky, to confide my feelings. ‘I’m so insulted!’ I complained. ‘How could they think I’d be interested in doing this piece of garbage?’ I was repulsed by the whole concept and horrified by the kind of disregard they had for me. I put the script in a box and sent it back to my agent at the time, Guy McElwaine, with instructions to tell whoever had sent it to go to hell.”[19]

But after she returned from the Musketeers shoot in Spain, the script was brought to her again by a handful of agents from the company that represented her, who told her they were offering ridiculous amount of money that she couldn’t turn down. But she did turn it down. They threatened to send it to Brigitte Bardot. “Please do,” said Raquel. But the script came back a third time. “This time their attitude was nastier,” she said. “’Do you know what the lifespan is of a sex symbol is in this business,’ they bullied, ‘You should cash in on your image before it’s too late.’” The body double they proposed was not her idea of a compromise, nor was cutting down the rape scenes in the script from 10 to 6. (There are 6 in the Dillon script). They assured her the producer of the film was “a tasteful man,” and that this would put her career over the top. But again she refused, and she claims she was branded as ‘difficult’ as a result.[20]

Meanwhile the search for the most beautiful woman in the world continued. “It gave me all sorts of other problems, there were all sorts of doubts,” says Hough. “I was going all over North America and somebody came up and said ‘Well all the most beautiful women are in South America. The Mexicans, The Uruguayans, that’s where you ought to be looking for real beauty, not in America!’ And then I had the Swedes telling me, ‘Oh no, these blondes in Sweden, they’re real beauty.’ Then the Italians: ‘Oh! The Italian women are far more beautiful than Americans!’ Then the Chinese! There was all this stuff going on, it was brilliant, so I went all over, tested all these people. Well I read them all, but we tested six. I found six women, and the movie was very sexual, and they had to test both in the nude and dressed. I had to be sure that they would have no inhibitions when it came to the nude scenes, and they didn’t.”

One of these women was actress and model Carole Mallory, then just out of an engagement with Pablo Picasso’s son, Claude, who said that testing for The Fan Club is one of her great regrets. “I had been jilted by Claude and needed as new career,” she said in a 2018 interview. “I had quit modeling and filmed The Stepford Wives against Claude’s wishes. I was asked by Columbia Pictures to test for Irving Wallace’s The Fan Club, produced by Larry Gordon and Peter Guber. Raquel Welch, Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren had all rejected the script. Director John Hough told me there would be nudity, but my tummy would be on the bed.”[21] Despite this, Mallory recalls being pressured to do full frontal nudity for the test, which she objected to but eventually gave in to when it was reiterated that, in order to be considered for the lead role, it was required.

In several interviews Mallory gave regarding this incident in the wake of the Weinstein scandal in 2017, it is implied that Mallory had no idea what she was walking into when she arrived at the screen test that day, and was promptly chained to a bed and spread-eagled in various states of undress. To read it playing out it this way is horrifying. But it was no secret that this film would require taboo-breaking nudity and graphic sexual situations of its star. This is apparent through not only the book and script, but also in the various press reports throughout development, and even in boasts the producers made in trying to court Raquel Welch. As Welch stated, they were proud of how transgressive the film promised to be. And while Mallory’s situation could easily be attributed to an unscrupulous or neglectful agent who sent her into an uncomfortable situation unprepared, it is likely Mallory was aware of what was required of the role before that screen test took place.

In 1988, Carole Mallory wrote a novel called Flash. It is a brilliant, funny, frank and unapologetically sexual book about a directionless actress who screen-tests for a controversial film called The Starlet, the experience which forms the backdrop for the tumultuous year that follows, featuring clandestine affairs, excessive pill-popping and star-studded AA meetings, suicide attempts, exhibitionism, enemas, Hollywood scandal, and ultimately stardom and self-discovery. In the book, her character is summoned to a screen test by her agent, who tells her outright that it will require a ton of nudity. The protagonist concedes – she needs a job. Anything, she says. Though this book’s fantasy version of events sees her win the role – complete with subsequent Oscar nomination – it is clearly semi-autobiographical, because her description of the screen test for The Starlet matches almost verbatim with documented accounts of her audition for The Fan Club. Including what happened to the test reel.

“Somewhere in California is this reel of film with these six tests on it,” Hough recalls, “We had to put it in a safe and we were all under oath to not have copies made, and it was supposed to be destroyed, but to this day I don’t know if it was destroyed or not.”[22]

In Mallory’s novel, the reel of six screen tests (even the number matches Hough’s recollection) is also put into a vault at the studio – but later resurfaces as party fodder for the houseguests of a powerful studio exec, who I’m assuming to be an analogue of Columbia head David Begelman. This also matches accounts Mallory has given in interviews regarding The Fan Club. Though the book is fictionalized, it remains an important document of what kinds of shenanigans ensue when major studio resources are poised to take advantage of the new permissiveness ushered in by the decriminalization of pornography, as they were then, in the early-to-mid 70s. Like Asia Argento’s Scarlet Diva decades later, Flash is an intensely personal artistic statement on how women often use humor and self-deprecation to process and neutralize traumatic experiences.

And Mallory was clearly not the only actress surprised by how far the studio expected her to go. The nudity required by a script was becoming a problem – not just for the actresses, but for the studio as well. “Columbia had second thoughts,” says Hough. “Most of it would have been X-rated, and at that point they put a hold on it.”[23] The film was originally supposed to shoot in January 1975, then was pushed back to March 1975. When that didn’t happen, there were rumors that Columbia was planning to drop the film altogether. Meanwhile, Hough was tiring of interviewing people and just wanted to get on with making a film, though it looked increasingly less likely that film would be The Fan Club. “I met up with Nic Roeg,” he recalls, “and Nic Roeg is my favourite director, from Don’t Look Now – and I met up with him in a bar and he said ‘John, you’ve got the best job in the world, I wish I had it!’ And I’d been on it for a year and I wanted to go and make other films. And I said, ‘Do you mean it Nic, you really want this job?’ And he said ‘Yeah!’ And I said ‘Can I go in and recommend you tomorrow?’ He said ‘Yeah!’ So I went in to Columbia and I said ‘Look, we’re not moving forward on this, and I need to get out there and make another film. But Nic Roeg wants to do it.’ So they hired him.”[24]

On March 17, 1975 Joyce Haber reported in the LA Times that despite rumors of cancellation by the studio, Larry Gordon confirmed to her that he had in fact assembled a new team, consisting of director Nicolas Roeg and screenwriter James Poe. Poe had not written a film since 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, but perhaps he came to mind because of his work on Bracken’s World (1969-1970), set in the glamorous world of the fictitious Century Studios in Hollywood. It’s uncertain what Roeg would have done with the film – he does not mention it at all in his 2011 autobiography The World is Ever Changing; it is only listed in the index among his unrealized projects. But following on Don’t Look Now (1973), with its famous sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, not to mention the psychosexual charade of Performance in 1970, the appeal of Roeg as a potential director was obvious. And though we’ll never know what he would have made of it, it’s possible he funnelled some its proposed sexual intensity into Bad Timing (1980) several years later.

Meanwhile, an “old fashioned Hollywood feud” was brewing behind the scenes. Joyce Haber reported in the LA Times March 17, 1975 that Raquel Welch had made some disparaging comments about the project that incensed novelist Irving Wallace. “The fact that Raquel Welch says she refuses to play in the nude is laughable,” Wallace said. “How did she make her reputation, by wearing a lot of clothes? Maybe her figure now has made Raquel want to hide it. Frankly, I think the reason Raquel doesn’t want to be in the ‘Club’ is that she might have to learn how to act. I’m sure that challenge was too much to face.”[25]

Or maybe it was because she’d already been gang-raped in a film – 1971’s Hannie Caulder – and didn’t feel like spending almost an entire film tied to a bed. The assumption that Raquel Welch – or any other major star – would want to do the nudity required by the script is ironic given its subject matter. And the vitriol with which Irving Wallace treats her when she refuses – to immediately attack her physical appearance – is evidence of the male entitlement at work here, despite the fact that Wallace told Marilyn Beck in her entertainment column that “My male chauvinist tendencies have been repressed considerably in recent years.”[26] How easily they turn.

But the press continues to confuse things as far as Welch’s involvement. The San Francisco Examiner coverage of the Oscars on April 10, 1975 quotes Raquel Welch as saying she was still considering the role. “They’re offering me so much money, it’s hard to turn it down,” she is quoted as saying. But less than a month later, on April 30, 1975 it was reported that the film would begin shooting on July 1, and that Brigitte Bardot “has agreed to do the nude scenes if she gets the role of sexpot Sharon Fields.”[27]

In June 1975 it was reported that the shoot was set for autumn of that year. But the female star had still not been found, even though some papers persisted in citing Raquel Welch as a hopeful. “Even in these permissive times, Columbia Pictures is having a difficult time finding a star willing to play the extended rape sequence,” reported gossip columnist Robin Adams Sloan.[28] On June 10th 1975, Marilyn Beck reported in Today that Raquel Welch or Julie Christie were likely to star – adding further that they each were “vying for the top role” (Christie probably due to the Roeg connection). On July 9 1975, gossip columnist Aaron Gold corroborated that negotiations were back on with Raquel Welch. Six months later, in January 1976, Marilyn Beck reported that negotiations with Raquel Welch were still ongoing, and that shooting would begin once Raquel wrapped on a then-planned adaptation of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle – ironically penned by The Fan Club’s ousted screenwriting team Robert and Laurie Dillon. But Welch maintains that all of these reports are patently untrue. “One might think that tons of actresses would jump at the chance to strip down for that kind of money,” she says, “and in years since, many have. But I knew the reason the script kept resurfacing: nobody else wanted to touch it. I guess I wasn’t the only ‘prude.’”[29]

On June 25, 1976, in response to a reader query, Marilyn Beck reported that Columbia had finally given up on the project. “Columbia Pictures finally has decided to take the on-again, off-again project permanently off its schedule,” she wrote. “During the two years producer Lawrence Gordon tried to get the steamy best seller off the ground, half the actresses in Hollywood (and some, like Brigitte Bardot, who aren’t), were rumored for the lead. But when it finally came down to contract signing, none of the names who count could be counted on – and the studio appeared afraid to gamble with a no-name.”[30]

Still, there was one last gasp: in the Dec 22, 1976 Chicago Tribune, Aaron Gold reported that Barbi Benton – then on the tail end of her relationship with Hugh Hefner – was being “seriously considered” for the role.

Then no one heard of The Fan Club ever again.


“Once more, to believe it, he did what he had done frequently in recent days. He tried to fasten his mind on its beginning, and to review the entire process of transformation, fantasy soon to be converted into reality, step by step.”

-Irving Wallace, The Fan Club

The most surprising thing about the saga of The Fan Club is how oblivious its producers were as to what kind of film they were making, and how this was potentially alienating to the major stars they were courting for the lead. Despite its graphic sexual material, they kept insisting it was a prestige project, a classy film that would benefit any actress ‘brave’ enough to take on the role. But how is The Fan Club really that different from the 1960s roughies that preceded it? Or even complex adult films like A Climax of Blue Power (1975) that pair a frank discussion of class and emasculation with pornographic material? Is The Fan Club just a roughie wrapped in fur instead of leather?

In some ways, it would have been a perfect meta vehicle for a sex symbol looking to expand on that image – but the machinery of it was so dominated by male desires and expectations that there’s no way whoever would have played that role wouldn’t have been exploited by the studio. There would have been something very cynical about any woman taking on that role in that context. But there is absolutely an interesting film of The Fan Club to be made right now, today – if led by a team of women. But even women at the time were not the greatest allies. Gossip columnist Joyce Haber – seemingly oblivious to the fact that its ‘sex scenes’ were in fact ‘rape scenes’ – referred to the book as “the most erotic recent novel since Portnoy’s Complaint and Fear of Flying.”[31]

In the context of the mid-1970s, with second wave feminism at the height of its radical thrust, and American society aware of it to the point where the New Hollywood responded by defensively reclaiming masculine ideals and even sitcoms and Saturday morning cartoons felt compelled to address the question of feminism (with varying degrees of success and/or sympathy), the despicable characters of The Fan Club would have been obvious villains to anyone likely to read a 600+ page book. But transported to the 1980s, even the author’s comfort with lines like, “The greatest equality-maker in the world was a man’s cock. A good stiff eight inches did more to promote social justice than all the big brains in the world” could have been interpreted as an endorsement of those attitudes. In the famously shallow 1980s, audiences were not encouraged to critically engage with difficult discussions in the same way they had been in the 1970s, and suddenly the gender-fuelled horror story of The Fan Club seemed dangerous, a risk not worth taking for a major studio that likely underestimated its target audience’s intelligence (see the response to the 1982 Sam Fuller picture White Dog, which was held from release because Paramount didn’t have confidence that audiences wouldn’t interpret its basic premise as racist). But I do maintain that, regardless of how ugly things get in the book, and how wrong-headed the approach of some of the executives on the aborted film project, there is subversive potential in The Fan Club to be mined.

Ultimately The Fan Club addresses the dangerous dissociation invited by celebrity culture, even though the circumstances surrounding its failed production as a film seems to mirror that dissociation. The Dreamer, Adam Malone gets sullen re-watching one of Sharon Fields’ films after having raped her, because he realizes he prefers the fantasy version of her to the real Sharon Fields. And he’s not the only one who can’t see the irony in the fact that her cinematographic record has more resonance for him than her real life. After they figure out the code that leads to her rescue, even one of the cops says, “That movie we were watching in there? Someday I’d like to see the rest of it. I want to know if she made it.”

Special thanks to John Hough, Paul Hough, Carole Mallory, Stephanie Trepanier and David Gregory

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, Owner/Artistic Director of Spectacular Optical Publications and founder of The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (2012, currently in development as a series with Rook Films) and contributed chapters to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (2014) The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (2017). She co-edited and published the anthology books KID POWER! (2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (2015), Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017) and Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television (2017), and is currently co-curating (with Clint Enns) an anthology book on the films of Robert Downey, Sr. and writing a monograph about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter. She serves on the boards for both Fantastic Fest and the American Genre Film Archive.

[1] John Hough, personal interview

[2] Beck, Marilyn. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, May 10, 1974.

[3] Qtd in Ebert, Roger. “Irving Wallace: The Fan Club” June 2, 1974. Accessed at

[4] In its strictest definition, the ‘Decamerotics’ refers to medieval Italian sex comedies derived from Boccaccio’s The Decameron, but almost any period sex comedy made in the 1960s and 70s, including those based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the Classical Roman-era exploits of Messalina are categorized as ‘Decamerotics’ by Italian film historians.

[5] Wallace, Irving. The Fan Club. Simon & Schuster, 1974.

[6] Qtd in Ebert, Roger. “Irving Wallace: The Fan Club” June 2, 1974. Accessed at

[7] “Irving Wallace’s Books Make Move Moguls Drool” by Howard A. Coffin, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 5, 1974

[8] Wallace, Irving. The Fan Club. Simon & Schuster, 1974.

[9] Wallace, Irving. The Fan Club. Simon & Schuster, 1974.

[10] Goldstein, Dana. “How the Body Reacts to Sexual Assault” in The Nation. Aug 20, 2012.

[11] Interestingly, Wallace himself could have just as easily been a target for a deluded fan: a lot of the articles about Wallace describe his Brentwood home, its size, style – even its layout, which makes an interesting complement to The Fan Club, since the assailants largely fashion their first plan of attack based on media descriptions of the starlet’s Bel-Air estate.

[12] Begelman is most famous for his repeated embezzlement scandals – from forging Cliff Robertson’s checks to blackmailing his own client Judy Garland with nude photos under a false name – which caused him to be ousted from Columbia in the late 70s. He then bounced through a series of studios where he produced the likes of Poltergeist, Wargames, Mr. Mom, Weekend at Bernies and The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai – the latter also with some fraudulent accounting – and his financial woes reportedly led to his suicide in 1995.

[13] $350,000 according to Joyce Haber in the May 22, 1974 Los Angeles Times.

[14] Qtd Kleiner, Dick. “Best Sellers on Film have Glamor and Bite” in The Anniston Star, May 19, 1974

[15] Qtd. Bacon,James. The Baltimore Evening Sun, April 3, 1974

[16] Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times, Sept 3, 1974

[17] Manners, Dorothy. Mansfield News-Journal, December 3, 1974

[18] John Hough, personal interview

[19] Welch, Raquel. Beyond the Cleavage. Weinstein Books, 2010

[20] Welch, Raquel. Beyond the Cleavage. Weinstein Books, 2010


[22] John Hough, personal interview

[23] John Hough, personal interview

[24] John Hough, personal interview

[25] Qtd in Haber, Joyce. Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1975.

[26] Qtd in Beck, Marilyn. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, May 10, 1974

[27] Gold, Aaron. “Celebrity Ticker “ column in Charleston Daily Mail, April 30, 1975

[28] Adams Sloan, Robin. York Daily Record, June 2, 1975.

[29] Welch, Raquel. Beyond the Cleavage. Weinstein Books, 2010.

[30] Beck, Marilyn. Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sept 3, 1974

[31] This coming from the same woman who participated in an FBI black-op by planting an unfounded rumor in her column in 1970 about actress Jean Seberg. She stated that the then-pregnant actress (whose name was removed by her editor, fearing a libel case) was carrying the baby of a prominent Black Panther – as opposed to her husband, French writer and diplomat Romain Gary. Seberg was a known Black Panther supporter and it was intended as a ruse to “cheapen” her image, a common tactic at that time by the FBI in their fight against radicals. Romain Gary later wrote the autobiographical story that would become Sam Fuller’s White Dog as a partial comment on Seberg’s empathy for the Black Panthers, but Seberg’s anxiety over the situation caused her to give birth prematurely, and the baby (Gary’s) died two days later, eventually leading to Seberg’s suicide. Fitting that in The Fan Club, Sharon Fields refers to a gossip columnist as “a smiler with a knife.”