When I was a kid, I read all the tie-in novels by William Johnston based on the TV series GET SMART. I think I liked them even more than the TV show. I also recall reading and enjoying the novelization of the movie LT. ROBIN CRUSOE, USN, which Johnston wrote under the pseudonym Bill Ford. Johnston’s books were all over the place back in those days, since he wrote dozens of excellent movie novelizations and TV tie-ins. For that reason, he was a more than worthy recipient of the IAMTW’s Grandmaster Award earlier this year. There’s a lot about Johnston in my buddy David Spencer’s chapter on TV tie-ins in the book TIED IN, which I posted about here a few weeks ago.
However, David has also mentioned to me that Johnston’s early, non-tie-in novels are very good, too, so I decided to try a few of them. First up is THE POWER OF POSITIVE LOVING, published by Monarch Books in 1964. I don’t mind admitting that one reason I bought this book is because of the cover. That’s one of the cutest redheads I’ve seen on a paperback cover, and the wink really sells the book.
As for the novel itself, well, that’s pretty good, too. The protagonist is Harry Ash, a down-on-his-luck public relations guy who comes up with a scheme to promote a sleepy little coastal town in California as a hotbed of sin and sensationalism. He plans to do this by teaming up with sexpot movie starlet Babe O’Flynn (that’s a great name), who has a habit of losing her clothes and winding up in the slick magazines like LIFE and LOOK. Harry comes up with a wild story for the gossip columnists about Babe going to this little town to recover from a broken heart after a top-secret love affair with the Secretary of State. He’s going to have a photographer get pictures of her on the beach in a bikini – or less – and figures that tourists, scandal-seekers, and sensation-mongers will converge on the motel and bar that he buys in partnership with a hamburger magnate. Naturally, things don’t work out quite like Harry plans.
Monarch Books lasted only a few years, but the company published quite a few books including some Westerns and mysteries. However, it’s best known for the abundance of slightly less graphic sleaze novels it put out. Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, and Robert Silverberg all wrote pseudonymous books for Monarch, including a number of so-called non-fiction studies of various sexual subjects that were really fiction, under imposing sounding names like L.T. Woodward, M.D.
THE POWER OF POSITIVE LOVING is risqué enough to fall into the sleaze category, but just barely. Unlike most books in that genre from that era, this one is a comedy, a racy, romantic, screwball farce that takes satiric shots at morality, the advertising business, politics, show business, the military, the media, and just about anything else you can think of. The title itself is a pun on the self-help bestseller THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING by Norman Vincent Peale. If it had been made into a movie in 1964, it probably would have starred Jack Lemmon as Harry and Ann-Margret as Babe. As usual with such a scattershot yarn, not all the jokes work all the time, but enough of them do that this is a pretty funny book. It reminds me a little of the work of Max Shulman, for those of you old enough to remember his books. (Probably the same ones who remember Jack Lemmon and Ann-Margret.)
Johnston was nothing if not a versatile writer, though. I have several more of his non-tie-in novels on hand, and it looks like every one of them is considerably different from the others. I’ll be getting to them in due time and reporting on them here. For now, if you want a nice entertaining slice of mid-Sixties comedy, THE POWER OF POSITIVE LOVING is well worth reading.
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