Naked Came the Stranger  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The book Naked Came the Stranger was a literary hoax perpetrated by a number of prominent journalists in 1969. Radley Metzger turned Naked Came the Stranger into a film in 1975.


The hoax

Mike McGrady, a well-known Newsday columnist, was convinced that popular American literary culture had become so base—with the best-seller lists dominated by the likes of Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann—that even a wretchedly written, literarily vacant work could succeed if enough sex was thrown in. In order to test his theory, McGrady recruited a team of Newsday cohorts—according to Andreas Schroder, the authors consisted of five women and 19 men, 24 writers in total—to collaborate on a sexually explicit novel with no literary or social value whatsoever. Writing under the pseudonym Penelope Ashe (portrayed by McGrady's sister-in-law for photographs and meetings with publishers), the group wrote the book as a deliberately inconsistent and mediocre hodge-podge, with each chapter written by a different author. Some of the chapters had to be heavily edited, because they were originally too well written.


Gillian and William Blake are the hosts of a popular New York City breakfast radio chat show, "The Billy & Gilly Show", where they play the perfect couple. When Gillian finds out that her husband is having an affair, she decides to cheat on him with a variety of men from their Long Island neighbourhood. Most of the book is taken up by vignettes describing Gilly's adventures with a variety of men, from a progressive rabbi to a mobster crooner.


Fulfilling McGrady's cynical expectations, the book was wildly successful. As sales continued to increase, many of the co-authors felt guilty about the large amounts of money they were earning, and went public. In a most unusual display of bravado, the male authors gave their "confession" on The David Frost Show, after being introduced as "Penelope Ashe" and walking out on stage, single file, as the orchestra played the song "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody".

The book eventually spent one week on the New York Times Best Seller list, although by that time its authorship was common knowledge. It is unclear how much of the book's success was due to its content and how much to publicity about its unusual origin.

Subsequently, McGrady and his collaborators were approached about writing a sequel; they refused. In 1970 McGrady published "Stranger Than Naked, or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun and Profit" which told the story of the hoax. He later co-wrote Linda Lovelace's controversial autobiography "Ordeal".

The authors included the ringleader Mike McGrady, John Cummings, Harvey Aronson, Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Gene Goltz, Bill McIlwain, Robert Wiemer, George Vecsey, and Robert Greene.

The novel was adapted into a porn film by Radley Metzger in 1975.

A group of Florida authors led by Carl Hiassen used a similar formula in the novel Naked Came the Manatee.

A group of science fiction authors led by James D. Macdonald used a similar formula in a hoax perpetrated against vanity publisher PublishAmerica in the novel Atlanta Nights. The working title of Atlanta Nights was Naked Came the Badfic.

A group of female mystery writers used the same formula for their book Naked Came the Phoenix.

See also

I, Libertine, an earlier literary hoax

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Naked Came the Stranger" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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