Naked Came The Stranger by "Penelope Ashe," whose name belongs in quotes because "she" was actually a collection of 24 writers and editors.">
SHELTON, WA—Few in the modern-day adult industry are likely to remember the day in the summer of 1969 when an "instant classic" first hit bookstores and newsstands. The book was Naked Came The Stranger by "Penelope Ashe," whose name belongs in quotes because "she" was actually a collection of 24 writers and editors—mostly men—each of whom contributed a chapter detailing the sexual encounters of fictional radio talk show hostess Gillian Blake.
The project was organized and edited by New York Newsday journalist Mike McGrady, who died Sunday of pneumonia at his home in Shelton, Wash. He was 78 years old.
The Stranger project began with a memo McGrady wrote in 1966, largely as a result of a conversation about how bad modern literature was that McGrady had in a bar with a couple of fellow editors—both of whom eventually signed on to do a chapter apiece.
According to McGrady's quasi-autobiography, Stranger Than Naked, or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun & Profit, the objective was to turn out a "big money" novel to rival the likes of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, or pretty much anything by Harold Robbins.
"There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex," McGrady instructed his colleagues in the memo. "Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion."
It took about a year to round up all the chapters and downgrade any literate writing into chapters that would be at home in one of the better Harlequin Romances, and another couple of years to find a publisher... which turned out to be Lyle Stuart, the eventual publisher of Linda Lovelace's anti-porn diatribes, which were essentially ghostwritten by—or in the industry jargon, "as told to"—McGrady—although, to be fair, Stuart also published a large number of profound and highly esteemed social and political works.
For the book's tittilating cover, McGrady obtained the services of his sister-in-law, Billie Young. Eventually, Young's role was expanded to include interviews and personal appearances as "Penelope Ashe," described on the book's jacket as "a demure Long Island housewife." Now, Young is a published author herself... under the "Penelope Ashe" pseudonym.
The book, which is still in print, has sold over 400,000 copies, and upon its first release, stayed on The New York Times' Best-Seller List for 13 weeks. It was also one of the first novels to spawn what was not then recognized as a new porn genre: The parody.
It took just six years from the novel's release before classic adult director Radley Metzger decided to use the book as the basis for an adult movie, a new deluxe edition of which has recently been released by Distribpix. Metzger's movie utilizes the novel's two main characters, but goes off completely on its own in chronicling the sex interludes of Gilly, her husband Billy and his "assistant" Phyllis. A review of the newly remastered film can be found here.