Friday, October 10, 2008

The Book That Wasn't ... Then Was

When Jean Shepherd (the "Christmas Story" guy) was a late-night talk show host on WOR in the 1950s, he told a lot of stories from his childhood and the rest of his life. One boring night, perhaps tired of telling old stories--or any stories at all--he decided to create a new tale by cooking up a book hoax.

Shepherd asked all his listeners go to bookstores and ask for a novel titled I, Libertine, which did not exist. Pretty soon, booksellers were trying to find out who published the book. Ian and Betty Ballentine, of Ballentine Books, glomed onto this and brought in Theodore Sturgeon to write the volume. It was published as by Frederick R. Ewing in 1956.

I, Libertine's cover depicted an 18th-Century gent hobnobbing with women, one large-busted in a low-front gown. Above the title were the adjectives, "Turbulent! Turgid! Tempestuous!" At the bottom of the cover was a line from the book: "Gadzooks!" quoth I, "but here's a saucy bawd!" The back cover featured a photo of Shepherd as the author. And all for 35 cents. The print run was said to be 25,000. It's a real collectible today.

When I was doing some freelance editing for Baen Books in the 1980s, we talked about doing something similar with a space opera title, but the idea never gelled.
Copyright © 2008, Michael A. Banks


Eugene B. Bergmann said...

You can read lots more about I, LIBERTINE and about all of Jean Shepherd's fantastic career in many media at and in my book:EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! THE ART AND ENIGMA OF JEAN SHEPHERD. He was an authentic American genius! Part of my next book explores some of the tricky--but always legal--ways I managed to get some free promotion for the first book!

Michael A. Banks said...

Super--thanks, Eugene! I'll make a post about this later. And I'll be interested to read about tricky book promotion.