Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Harry Whittington - A Question


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Ed here: I ran across this old post of mine--five years ago--and realized I never did find the answer to my question. Maybe by now somebody knows.

Harry Whittington

I was looking through a catalog for 50s paperbacks and naturally enough I came across Harry Whittington's name just about everywhere. He wrote for companies large and small, some so small that even today I've never seen one of their books.

This started me thinking of the one mystery about Harry I was never able to clear up even after three somewhat lengthy interviews and a couple of phone conversations.

The story is familiar to most people who have even a cursory knowledge of his career. One day, after dropping from the heights of Gold Medal and Crest, Harry found himself writing Man From Uncle Books for a flat $1000. But not even this was the bottom because soon enough his agent would tell Harry that Harry just wasn't marketable anymore. Period.

I asked Harry twice about this and he said that that was just the way it was so he went back to full-time work for the government. I remember that I seemed to surprise him when I asked why he didn't look around for a different agent. But again he just said that that was how things were and so back to full-time jobs.

Harry was a pro's pro. He did it all. I can understand how he stopped hitting the top markets in the mid-60s. The market was changing, his kind of lean, mean sex-and-murder book was no longer in fashion. But Harry could write anything. And all his agent could get was flat-fee work for hire? Harry Whittington?

A few years later, he did contact another agent and was almost immediately back in the saddle with adult westerns nd ultimately, back at Gold Medal/Fawcett, with Southern plantation epics. But I'm sure this agent could have sold him back when his came came to a so-called end.

I've often wondered if that was really all there was to it. That he would give up the fight so easily, take the word of a single agent that he was no longer marketable.

Anybody help me out with this?

6 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Wasn't he also upset over the fact that the U. N. C. L. E. book sold a million or so copies, and all he got was that flat fee?

Anonymous said...

My guess would be that, like many prolific pulpsters before and since, the "not marketable" line is just the coded cover story. After writing so much so fast, Harry probably needed a cool-off spell to recharge and, once he did so, he was again "marketable."

--Stephen Mertz

Cullen Gallagher said...

David Laurence Wilson mentioned something about a movie that Whittington invested a lot of time and money into that didn't go anywhere. It was around this same time period. Maybe this experience plays into it somehow?

Did any of your interviews with Whittington ever get recorded or written down?

Ed Gorman said...

Our basement flooded in the 90s (we moved shortly thereafter) so I don't have a lot of my books to check. I think (think) one of them was in one of the noir books I did with Marty Greenberg. Bill Crider did an excellent piece with/about harry. Much better than mine.

Matt Paust said...

For the gubment, eh? Hmmmmm. Maybe the "agent thing" was a cover story. Did he write a lot of spy stuff when he returned?

Brian Drake said...

All I have to go on for an answer is what Harry himself wrote in the introduction for the reprints Black Lizard published in the 1980s.

He picked up the movie bug in Hollywood and produced, wrote, and directed a horror film that went nowhere and wiped him out; then came UNCLE, which had he received a regular royalty arrangement would have paid off all of his debts. Then came the problems with his agent. Then he went back to full-time work. He describes it much better than I, but he explained it well enough that you get the idea he was flat out of gas and had no desire to continue.

While he was working, French critics discovered his paperbacks and raved about them, even inviting him to Paris for a big to do; then writers in the U.S. started talking about him; then he found a new agent via his wife who queried one of his old agents. What followed were the books under the Ashley Carter and other pen names.

Does that help, Ed?