MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

PAPERBACKS YOU’VE SEEN ON THE SCREEN

The boom in books that tell what the movie left out

WENDY MICHENER March 19 1966
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

PAPERBACKS YOU’VE SEEN ON THE SCREEN

The boom in books that tell what the movie left out

WENDY MICHENER March 19 1966

PAPERBACKS YOU’VE SEEN ON THE SCREEN

Michener on movies

The boom in books that tell what the movie left out

One of these was Dr. Fritz Sigismund Fassbender, a florid, heavy-set man in his early fifties —a man with a huge mop of unruly hair, and a soul seething with unruly passion for tender young females. In simple language Fritz was a lech.

IF YOU SAW last year’s sexiest movie send-up, What’s New, Pussycat? you will probably recognize this quote as an attempt to describe Peter Sellers, complete with fright wig and hornrimmed leer, camping up the role of a sex-obsessed psychoanalyst.

Marvin H. Albert’s language could hardly be described as simple, but it certainly is explicit (the movie leaves you to think up your own word for the sort of man Fritz is) and explicitness, apparently, is one of the things readers are looking for in that strange by-product of screen entertainment: the book of the film, or as the credits read on the movie star-studded cover of Dell’s paperback Pussycat? — “a novel by Marvin H. Albert based on an original screenplay by Woody Allen.” (The originality changes names on the inside title page to read: “An original novel based on a screenplay by Woody Allen”—but that’s another story.)

Operating on the principle the public likes what it knows, paperback publishers are now competing for the right to turn all the most popular

movies into books—that is unless the movies are already book-movies, if you follow me. Today movies do as much to sell books (it’s called a movie tie-in) as books have ever done to sell movies, and dozens of commissioned writers are sitting at typewriters in screening rooms trying to make pictures into words.

The Bond books arc the best current example. The movies and books are literally full-length advertisements for each other. By the time the first Bond movie appeared the Ian Fleming spy series was already launched into bestsellerdom. But just how much the movies have since helped the books is indicated by the fantastic paperback sales of last year. In 1965 alone, the eleven Bond paperbacks sold 1,439,000 copies in Canada, which is twice as many as in the previous year. It's no coincidence, either, that the best of the best-selling titles were Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice — last year’s, this year's, and next year’s Bond movies.

“Read the Book—See the Movie” is the universal tie-in slogan. People do, but they also like to see the movie, and then read the book, or even just to read the book because they didn’t get to see the movie.

As lan Ballantine, president of Ballantine Books, sees it, people read books which are made into movies to find out what they are missing. If the movie is sexy, they go to the book for the parts that were too sexy to be filmed (Lolita?) or perhaps just to find out what was supposed to be happening during all those moody close-ups of the heroine (The Pumpkin Eater?).

Ballantine, a pioneer in American paperback publishing, works on the principle that “there’s no sense in doing a book tie-up unless you can add something.” Just what that something is depends on the movie. In the case of Ingrid Bergman's Joan of Arc, he chose a book of background material on the true story of Saint Joan. He reasons that people really enjoy a phony movie about real people, or the war, but afterwards they start to wonder what really happened. He

applied this editorial rule to The Battle Of The Bulge. Ballantine happened to own a ten-year-old factual treatment under that title, so he just reissued the book. His paperback already has sold nearly a million copies, while the book based on the shooting

script has lagged behind Ballantine’s.

Ballantine also prospered with Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. When he bought the rights to the movie script there was no special agreement about treatment—he could have had it written up as pure pornography if he chose. Instead, he decided to present an exact translation of the dialogue, adding only a dry description of what is seen on the screen plus dozens of photographs. Ballantine’s concern for an “appropriate book” profited him every way. La Dolce Vita sold 500,000 copies, and Fellini insisted that only Ballantine could buy the rights to Juliet of the Spirits, another sure seller.

His added attraction this time is that Ballantine has published, side by side, both Fellini’s original shooting script (as printed in a hardcover edition) and the quite different script Fellini finally shot, translated word for word from the screen.

But Juliet of the Spirits is a rare kind of tie-in book. The quality of movie-books ranges down from there, through imaginative treatments (The Beatles in Help! a novel by Al Hine), flat-chested word-for-word versions (Boy’s Night Out, a novel by Robert W. Krepps), picture books for grownups with patently phony cut-lines (The Longest Day, Great Movies Pictorial), and even comic-book versions of movies like Disney’s That Darn Cat, or The Raven, a Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff comedy-horror based on the title of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. How hybrid can you get?

WENDY MICHENER