THE NAKED PAGE
ADULT FILM NOVELIZATIONS AND THE SEXPLOITATION MARKET
Reading time 28 Minutes
At the Start
At the start of Stephen C. Apostolof’s nudie-cutie Orgy of the Dead (1965), pulp writer Bob explains to his girlfriend Shirley that a nocturnal visit to a cemetery is just what he needs to get his creative juices flowing for churning out some new monster stories. Ironically or not, the character of Bob recalls the film’s own screenwriter, Edward D. Wood Jr., who would himself write a paperback adaptation of Orgy of the Dead for Greenleaf Classics in 1966. Although this specific book was less a proper “novelization” than a collection of Wood short stories largely unrelated to the film, pulp paperback adaptations of sexploitation films were not uncommon during the 1960s boom in adults-only materials made possible by changing censorship restrictions in the United States.
Following landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions
Following landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Roth v. United States (1957) and Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), the types of published content that could be considered legally “obscene” were drastically narrowed (hardcore pornography was one noted exception, though it too eventually emerged onto public movie screens around 1969-1970), and far more material became legally permissible for adult consumers, so long as a cross-section of the American public might find it to have some sort of “redeeming social value.” From long-censored “classics” like Fanny Hill (1748) and Justine (1791) to boundary-pushing contemporary literature like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934) and William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959), the printed word became a new frontier for sexual material – albeit one with more descriptive freedom than screen content.
Much like the companies that made sexploitation films, many publishers of adults-only books and magazines were small, sometimes fly-by-night outfits that were prone to retitle or repackage old material in less-than-scrupulous ways. According to the 1970 Report of the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, between 80 and 100 publishers of adults-only books and magazines existed by the end of the 1960s, but only about twenty or thirty companies were of particular note. These larger companies collectively released about 200 new paperback novels per month, in print runs of approximately 15,000-20,000 copies per title. These larger publishing houses often had different divisions dedicated to magazines and books, but the more prolific staff writers who wrote copy for the magazines might pad their paychecks (to the tune of $1000) by also completing a novel. Distributed to around 850 adults-only bookstores (half of which were located in the 30 largest metro areas) and many more regular bookstores with segregated adults-only sections, these newly released paperbacks might only appear on bookshelves for three to four weeks before the unsold stock (about 55% of the total print run) would be unloaded to the remainders market. With this pressure for enough “new” titles to meet the quick monthly turnover, it is no surprise that paperback publishers turned to sexploitation films for readymade content – especially if nudity-filled production stills from those films’ press kits could be repurposed for inclusion in pulp paperbacks.
Not only did sexploitation films and adults-only paperbacks share many of the same types of subject matter, but photos often became the connective tissue uniting the print and screen industries, since the same photographers often supplied material for both. Common varieties of sexploitation films included sensationalized exposés of sexual liberalization (Censored ) Kinsey-style sexological/psychiatric case files (Suburbia Confidential ), and sex work (The Lusting Hours ); “sexed-up” literary classics (The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet ); and illustrated “marriage manuals” (Man and Wife ) – all topics which were also the purview of paperbacks only found in adult bookstores. As one author interviewed in Tom Brinkmann’s Bad Mags, Vol. 1 recalls, even in cases where a paperback writer bought the novelization rights to a sexploitation film, acquiring a package of production stills was of far more importance than a copy of the script, since stretching a novel-length book from the scant plot details contained in a pressbook might be good enough when lengthy sex scenes already made up the bulk of both film and book alike. B. B. Sales’ series of “Olympic Foto-Reader” books, for example, offered novelizations of sexploitation films by prolific directors like Manuel Conde (Nymphs Anonymous ), Joe Sarno (The Love Rebellion , Deep Inside ), Byron Mabe (The Acid Eaters ), Lee Frost (The Animal ), and Stephen Apostolof (College Girls ). As such, sexploitation novelizations and magazines were sometimes separated less by amount of content than merely by page size and paper type – hence the existence of magazine issues devoted to a single film, ranging from Adam Film Quarterly #1 on The Notorious Daughter of Fanny Hill (1966); to “Special Edition” magazines by B&B Productions and Camerarts on the EVI productions The Lustful Turk (1968) and The Head Mistress (1968); to Adam Film Special #2, which not only previews the upcoming adaptation of Candy (1968), but also reprints Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg’s once-censored 1958 novel in its entirety.
The fact that adults-only films and books
The fact that adults-only films and books alike seldom had consistent nationwide distribution and did not last long in any given locale meant that their modules of sexual content – whether textual or visual – could be recycled and recombined in different forms for years. Production stills from Orgy of the Dead, for instance, appeared in not only the 1966 “novelization,” but also in magazine pictorials in Adam Film Quarterly (1967), Torrid Film Reviews (1967), Daring Films (1969), and The Reel Thing (1972); and some of Wood’s short stories from the 1966 Orgy paperback were later reprinted in Pendulum Press magazines. In a more blatant example of this reversibility, Wood’s existing novel The Sexecutives (Private Editions, 1967) was adapted into Don Davis’s sexploitation film For Love and Money (1968) – but Wood’s novel was subsequently recycled/rewritten as an Olympic Foto-Reader “novelization,” released under the slightly altered title For Love or Money and illustrated with many production stills. As Rudolph Grey and David C. Hayes observe in their respective books on the unlikely auteur, Wood also published the paperback Parisian Passions (Corinth, 1966) after financing fell through for Apostolof to direct his script titled 69 Rue Pigalle, and Suburbia Confidential later became the title of an unrelated Wood novel (Triumph News, 1967).
When publisher Bernie Bloom left Golden State News to form his own adults-only company Pendulum Press in 1968, he invited Wood to join him as a staff writer. Although Wood’s growing alcoholism resulted in his intermittent dismissal and re-hiring by Bloom over the next five years, Wood was valued as a prolific writer – or, in many cases, re-arranger of previously published material – capable of writing several magazines’ worth of material per month, in addition to periodically writing paperbacks. As writer Joe Blevins’ research indicates, Pendulum would also move into film production by the early 1970s under the short-lived Cinema Classics shingle that produced Wood’s hardcore film Necromania
(1971), whose plot Wood would recycle in his short story “Come Inn” (Young Beavers, Pendulum, November/December 1971) and his novel The Only House (Little Library Press, 1973) – not to be confused with Wood’s unrelated sexploitation film The Only House in Town (1970). Although Wood contributed to other Apostolof films into the early 1970s, his uncredited influence on scenes of male cross-dressing fetishism also appears in Apostolof’s Suburbia Confidential (1966) and Office Love-In (1968) – ample evidence that a paraphilia cannot by itself be copyrighted!
Because there was no guarantee that a given adult film would ever come to your town, neither the writers nor the readers of sexploitation-themed magazines or paperback novelizations apparently needed to actually see the films covered in their pages. Nude stills from these films circulated more widely and were the underlying erotic draw for both the films and books/magazines in the first place, so merely the capsule plot description taken from a film’s pressbook would often suffice, even if this meant that descriptions of the action occurring in a given photo might misconstrue the corresponding film’s actual narrative context. The short-lived sexploitation magazines Flicks (1966-?) and Cinemacuties (1967-?) even used production stills as mere fodder for bawdy joke captions, while the lone Adam Adult Cinemastrip issue more closely resembles Italian fumetti in using speech bubbles over an issue-long sequence of stills to re-tell the film The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio
(Corey Allen, 1971).
Even more brazen were publishers who created books and magazines devoted to entirely nonexistent films – from the Olympic Foto-Readers books She-Master (1967), A Different Kind of Love (1968), The Red Whip (1968), and Girls Together (1968), all closely resembling and advertised alongside the series’ heavily illustrated novelizations of real films; to Wood’s 1968 Pendulum paperbacks Raped in the Grass and Bye Bye Broadie, both misleadingly marketed as “novelizations” of sexploitation films; to Pendulum’s Unreleased Blazing Films magazine (1970) and Jaybird Enterprises’ one-off magazine The Making of the Marquesa de Sade Movie (1970). Unless one worked at the U.S. Copyright Office during this pre-internet era, most readers would be practically unable to discern between “unreleased” films and “never-to-be-released” films – but if these publications delivered enough nude photos, generated during photo sessions that cost far less than producing a feature-length film, then presumably everyone was kept happy.
Even though Wood’s Orgy
Even though Wood’s Orgy paperback is more short-story anthology than proper “novelization,” the short story is actually a better fit for adapting sexploitation films (especially for nudie-cuties like Orgy of the Dead, which consist of little more than a simple framing story and long periods of nude dancing or posing) – hence why writers of sexploitation novelizations might simply adapt from a film’s pressbook instead of its script. Most sexploitation films are already on the shorter side of feature-length duration (60-75 minutes), padded out with extended scenes of nudity and barely enough narrative context to justify a feature film (small wonder, then, that prolific sexploitation director Barry Mahon also produced many short vignette films to pair with a feature and thus further pad out a complete program). When adapted onto the page, the sexploitation film’s variously rearrangeable modules of erotic spectacle are simply better suited for short forms like short stories and picture-book-like magazine pictorials – again, padded out with a plethora of production stills in place of the filmed spectacle – because such films are not constructed to deliver the novelistic development of characters or classical narrative structures.
A good example of this potential mismatch between sexploitation film and novelization can be found in The Starlet (1969), adapted by celebrity ghostwriter Leo Guild from the script for EVI’s film Starlet! (Richard Kanter, 1969). Part of the “Cinemabook” series – along with novelizations of The Hellcats (Robert F. Slatzer, 1968) and All the Loving Couples (Mack Bing, 1969) – published by Holloway House, the paperback wing of Adult Film Quarterly publisher Knight Publishing Corp., The Starlet is illustrated by many lurid photos from the film. Yet, the novelization contains a whole narrative third act that is missing from the film Starlet! which suggests that it was adapted from a script that was abruptly abbreviated during production. Although I have not seen an original copy of its shooting script to confirm this hypothesis, the extant version of Starlet! is already far more narratively ambitious than most sexploitation productions. Led by Starlet!’s screenwriter and producer David F. Friedman, EVI’s bigger films already operated at the higher end of the budgetary scale for sexploitation, at around $100,000 each – and the film’s satire of the movie business, filmed on location on the old Monogram lot, even portrays an alternate universe where sexploitation companies like EVI have become the major Hollywood studios.
In the film, struggling actor Carol Yates sleeps her way into a contract with EVI after making an impression on studio boss Kenyon Adler by appearing in a stag film shot by moonlighting EVI director Phil Latio. Latio later date-rapes Carol’s virginal roommate Linda when Linda and her fiancée Forrest accompany her to one of Adler’s wild parties; Latio subsequently blackmails Forrest into staying quiet if he wants to keep his directorial job making a pilgrim-themed nudie for EVI. Meanwhile, EVI’s aging contract star Maxine Henning is in danger of being put out to pasture to make room for Carol’s rising stardom, so Maxine seduces Carol’s other roommate, Allison, and convinces Allison to steal a copy of the secret stag film that will ruin Carol’s career. At the film’s end, Allison accidentally dies while escaping with the stag reel, Maxine is farmed out to shoot an Italian western, and EVI’s new contract star Carol rejects further sexual advances from Adler and Latio because she is about to be married to her old stag film co-star Doug, with whom EVI quickly signs as the other half of the studio’s new power couple. (Ironically, Friedman would use a similarly abrupt ending, and some identical character names, in Matinee Idol [Henri Pachard, 1984], a hardcore film that he scripted later in his career – while one of Starlet!’s films-within-the-film, “A Youth in Babylon,” also became the title of Friedman’s 1990 memoir.)
Even from this simplified synopsis, it is easy to see that Starlet! contains far more narrative twists and turns than Orgy of the Dead’s “story” of a young couple stranded in a graveyard and forced to watch a seemingly endless series of burlesque dances for Criswell’s amusement. Whereas Starlet! ends quite abruptly, at a turning point when most feature films would be starting their third act, its novelization continues on for another 90 dialogue-heavy pages with the introduction of a new aspiring starlet, Lynn, who is slated to appear in Forrest’s next film. Latio attempts to do to Lynn what he had previously done to Linda, but Lynn stabs him in the back in self-defense and she(!) is later sent to prison – but not before a threesome with Forrest and Linda that encourages the latter to break off her engagement. Forrest is later removed from the director’s chair and, when Latio steps in to take over the production, the newly single Linda gradually forgives for the newly reformed Latio and becomes EVI’s latest star. Even if we put aside the obviously regressive implications of Linda falling in love with her former rapist, the novelization’s ironic ending of Linda, who never shared her former roommates’ drive for stardom, finding success at the price of her relationship with Forrest, strikes a far more bittersweet tone than the film’s ending. Because the film already clocks in at 100 minutes, dropping the third act was presumably a concession to balancing narrative density with sexploitation’s generic expectation of delivering lengthy nude scenes. To accompany this unfilmed section, the novelization merely recycles stills from scenes that made it into the finished film. The book’s first clear photo of “Lynn” on page 172, for example, is actually just a still of a topless auditionee who, in the first part of the film, tries out for the pilgrim nudie – as already pictured in an earlier chapter of the novelization on page 55. The Hollywood-style, three-act narrative in Friedman’s original script, then, might have made it to the screen if not for the fact that so much narrative was more compatible with a novelization than a feature-length sexploitation film.
Although EVI was among the most ambitious sexploitation producers, Radley Metzger’s distribution company Audubon Films took the less bawdy tactic of elevating their releases by uniting sexy subject matter with high-gloss, European-style sophistication. From spicy foreign imports to Metzger’s own productions, Audubon’s mix of “high” and “low” tastes took a page from Barney Rosset’s Grove Press in releasing sexually scandalous and avant-garde content (such as uncensored editions of the novels Tropic of Cancer and Naked Lunch) under a serious literary imprimatur. As Kevin Heffernan notes in his essay “Prurient (Dis)Interest: The American Release and Reception of I Am Curious (Yellow),” for instance, Grove Press published a heavily illustrated paperback containing I Am Curious (Yellow)’s complete scenario (a traditional screenplay would not suffice for a film comprised of so much documentary footage and improvisation) when their planned U.S. distribution of Vilgot Sjöman’s 1967 film was held up on obscenity charges. Because print materials could typically get away with more sexual explicitness than moving images, Grove’s publication of the paperback adaptation of the film was an attempt to legally circumvent the ban by reproducing as much of the film’s content in print – and, indeed, when the film finally bowed at the Grove-owned Evergreen Theater and New York City’s Cinema Rendezvous in early 1969, Grove’s book of the film was advertised in the showcard alongside their earlier book adaptation of Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959). Grove Press, who had previously published Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel in 1968, would use a similar strategy again with their heavily illustrated 1970 paperback scenario for Warhol’s Blue Movie (1968), the first theatrically released feature film with long scenes of unsimulated sex – although in that case, the film had already been publicly screened and found obscene before Grove’s release of the tie-in book.
Meanwhile, Metzger commissioned novelizations of several Audubon Films releases for publication as a subdivision of his own company, using both the Award Books and Audubon Books imprints – including adaptations of the imported films Madame O (Seiichi Fukuda, 1967), The Libertine (Pasquale Festa Campanile, 1968), The Laughing Woman (Piero Schivazappa, 1969), and Her and She and Him (Max Pécas, 1970), as well as Metzger’s own directorial efforts Carmen, Baby (1968) and Camille 2000 (1969). Like Grove’s tie-in books for I Am Curious (Yellow) and Blue Movie, Audubon also published an illustrated edition of Metzger’s screenplay for The Lickerish Quartet (1970), while Dell had reprinted Violette Leduc’s 1966 novel Thérèse and Isabelle as an illustrated tie-in edition to coincide with Metzger’s 1968 film adaptation. Metzger’s inspiration from Grove Press came full circle when the latter reprinted Jean de Berg’s 1956 novel The Image as a tie-in edition illustrated with photos from Metzger’s 1975 quasi-hardcore film adaptation.
By the early 1970s
By the early 1970s, the adult paperback market was in decline, even despite the increased inclusion of hardcore photos in adults-only books and magazines. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. California (1973) would return enforcement of obscenity standards to local jurisdictions, thus paving the way for local challenges to adult bookstores – and even those that could not be shut down on the basis of obscene content were gradually pushed out of business by zoning restrictions (e.g., limits on the proximity of adults-only businesses to each other or to family-friendly places like schools and churches). When mainstream publisher Dell released a mass-market novelization of Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972) while the film was in the midst of its own obscenity trials, for example, the 1973 book lacked a single accompanying photo, while the front cover teases, “Read the novel. You may never get the chance to see the movie.” Dell’s novelization of Jonas Middleton’s hardcore film Through the Looking Glass (1976) would have non-explicit production stills on its back cover, but mass-market publishers abandoned their brief flirtation with 1970s “porno chic” at the same time that many adult bookstores began closing. By decade’s end, novelizations of adult films would virtually vanish, shortly before the theatrical market for sex films shifted to the accessibility of home video, and as adult bookstores – which had belatedly survived through income from 8mm and 16mm peep booths – found their remaining reasons for existence rapidly dwindling.
Special Thanks to Lisa Petrucci of Something Weird Video, who provided some of the book covers here from her collection.
David Church is the author of Grindhouse Nostalgia: Memory, Home Video, and Exploitation Film Fandom (2015), and Disposable Passions: Vintage Pornography and the Material Legacies of Adult Cinema (2016). He holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University, and specializes in histories of film circulation, gender/sexuality studies, taste cultures, and disreputable genres (especially exploitation, horror, and adult films). He is currently completing a short book on the Mortal Kombat video game franchise, and at work on a longer book project about queerness and post-ironic genre films.