Sunday, February 20, 2005

Tie-ins (at last!)

I promised to write something about tie-ins, i.e. novelizations of movies and TV shows. Now as my Sunday work, I decided to write at least something. These are only random thoughts and anecdotes, so don't expect a highly formulated essay.

Tie-ins are somewhat marginal to the literary culture. They are only pulp fiction, written for money and to be read in an hour or two and then to be thrown away. That hasn't prevented some tie-ins to become cult favourites and collector's items. But nevertheless, tie-ins are what hacks write. That's what the establishment thinks and for some tie-ins (maybe most of them) that is true. There are some absurd books like the Knight Rider novelizations (by one Roger Hill - who he? I haven't found out any other books written by him, which makes me think it's a nom de guerre). I've also heard and read of some truly horrendous books, such as "Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman" by Arthur Scram or some such. (It's a novelization of a Mexican horror film, in case you're wondering, but the book is American. Author's real name was Leo Guild, if I remember correctly.)

There are some interesting books that wouldn't exist without the tie-in phenomenon. Orson Welles directed a film called "Mr. Arkadin" (or "Confidential Report") and an American publisher put out a tie-in that was credited to Welles, even though he hadn't intended it to be made into a book. Guy N. Smith (and some other British paperback writers) was asked to make new novelizations of Disney classics in the early seventies. British writer John Fearn Russell wrote the novelization of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" even though the film was American and there was no American novelization. Later Ramsey Campbell wrote one, as Carl Dreadstone. What about those books that are based on films that never got made, such as Samuel Fuller's "Crown of India" (1966), which is a pretty good adventure yarn? Are they novelizations?

Someone has pointed out that Graham Greene's "The Third Man" is actually a tie-in, since it was published after the film was made. Arthur C. Clarke's "2001" is a tie-in. Kubrick's film is based "only" on Clarke's short story and he wrote the novel(ization) only later.

Finland has been pretty slow to produce its own novelizations. There are some, though. Katri Manninen who has later gained some fame for her fitness books started out writing books on the Salatut Elämät (Secret Lives) soap series. My pal Tapani Bagge wrote his first novel (after many pseudo- and anonymous paperbacks) on a TV series called Pelastajat (it's about fire men).

But this was in the nineties and I can't think of any previous examples. Finland hasn't been very good in merchandising. There's a classic Finnish film from the fourties called "Katariina ja Munkkiniemen kreivi". It's based on an early romance paperback that was reprinted when the movie was made, but it's never been reprinted since even though the film is shown regularly on TV! You'd think the book would make money.

So, it's a bit strange cultural phenomenon here, and not many novelizations have been translated. Finnish paperback houses published some in the early seventies without notifying the books were based on movies - I even doubt they knew it themselves! In the eighties and nineties some have been translated, but not regularly. There was a book called "The Good Son" by Todd Strasser that was based on a film in which Macaulay Culkin played a bad boy. The film was never shown in Finnish theatres and I think the publisher must've felt pretty much let down and after that their number of novelizations went down.

(By the way, Todd Strasser has also written books on Home Alone, Super Mario Bros., Lady and the Tramp and other films. Isn't Strasser "really" a respected YA author? He must make a living, I suppose. By the way, pt. 2: "The Good Son" was written originally by Ian McEwan who is a very respected literary author. Why didn't he make the tie-in? Maybe he was too busy.)

There are some writers specializing in novelizations. For example, Max Allan Collins and Alan Dean Foster have produced tons of them. Foster has said that in his novelizations, there's 40 % of his own and 60 % from the screenplay. Both have written books of their own, too, but some writers write only tie-ins.

I've read some good novelizations. Harry Whittington's "Charro" comes to mind. It's based on an Elvis western from 1969, directed by Charles Marquis Warren. It's reported to be pretty bad, but Whittington's novel is a good straight-forward adventure/action novel with plausible character development. Collin Wilcox wrote at least two tie-ins for the Marshal McCloud series (you know, the one with Dennis Weaver). They are solid police procedurals - such as those he wrote later. Steve Frazee's novelizations of Bonanza and High Chaparral for young readers are very good in their genre, touching and exciting, especially the Chaparral book "Apache Way" (Whitman 1969).

There are also novelizations of video and computer games and of comic books. I have read only one book of that kind - Robert Sheckley's "Alien Harvest" (from 1993, IIRC). Someone might say that it's no job for a veteran of Sheckley's stature to write a comic book novelization, but I thought the book was quite well executed, even though the aliens themselves weren't as frightening as in the first three films. (By the way, I haven't yet seen the fifth one, "Alien vs. Predator", but for some reason I don't think seeing it will be necessary... The fourth one has some good moments, but it lacks drama.)

Hey, I'm sorry - I *have* read other comic book novelizations, too: the Phantom books by Ron Goulart, based on the Lee Falk classic. They were certainly written fast, for fast money, but they were nevertheless entertaining. (It only occurred to me that Shadow and Doc Savage and other pulp heroes met more interesting villains than Phantom in these paperbacks.) As for the game novelizations, I haven't read any.

One interesting line still: Victor Miller who wrote Kojak tie-ins in the seventies is the same guy who wrote the screenplay for the first Friday the 13th film.

Time to go. There would so much to talk about these and the history of them, but maybe some other time.


jukkahoo said...

(It's a novelization of a Mexican horror film, in case you're wondering, but the book is American. Author's real name was Leo Guild, if I remember correctly.)

A slight correction here: Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman ie. originally La Noche de Walpurgis is not Mexican, but Spanish-West German co-production. Starring the legendary Paul Naschy aka. Jacinto Molina (aka. "Espanjan nussiva susi") this one is (if my memory serves me correctly) the one where the body of the werewolf is found (after he/it was killed in the last film of the Waldemar Daninsky -series) and then they remove the two silver bullets from his chest. Thus resurrecting the werewolf. Then it's more of the normal Paul Naschy -stuff; some skin, inept police work and a Final Battle, this time with a vampire.

Ned Brooks says it quite nicely on IGOTS #4 about the American edition of the book:

"The Werewolf vs Vampire Woman - Arthur N. Scarm - Skiffy Press, Newport News and New Orleans, 1987, no price.
Or, if you please, "The Werewolf vs The Vampire Woman" by Arthur N. Scram - the title and Arthurs name are given both ways... In either case, the author's name is followed by the mysterious "a.s.p.c.d.". Extensive research has not revealed what honor these letters represent. Fine binding in gold-stamped maroon pebbled vinyl and appropriate illustrations by Alan Hutchinson cannot conceal that this is undoubtedly the worst horror-fantasy novel ever written. Bad taste, bad dialogue, bad grammar, bad syntax, an idiotic plot and a style that if it were architectural could only be called 'early outhouse' are only slightly relieved by a certain talent for bizarre and grotesque imagery."

More oddity regarding this one. The film inspired these two people to use the main characters at 1986 SF Worldcon:

Juri said...

Jukka: thanks for the not so slight correction! (Well, Mexico is on the other side of the Atlantic and Spain on the other.)

I think Mr. Leo (Arthur Scarm/Scram) Guild wrote some other paperbacks in the seventies, for the black Holloway house, IIRC.

And indeed he did! And not only in the seventies, but also in the fourties. Here's the results of the first page of the Abebooks search:

Fade to Black
Guild, Leo
Book Description: New York: Hollaway House, 1981.

What Are the Odds?
Guild, Leo
Book Description: Crest, 1960. Paperback. Good+. "A unique collection of startling facts and figures based on the exciting nationally syndicated TV program." Foreward by Bob Hope. (1st edition is from 1949.)

Street of Ho's (ISBN:0870674951)
Guild Leo
Book Description: Los Angeles, California: Holloway House Publishing Company, 1976. Suspense Novel. A good tight readers copy paperback, back wrap has clipped back corner..Fiction.based on fact! The truth about the teenage hustlers on New York City's notorious " Minnesota Strip".

Hollywood Screwballs
Guild, Leo
Book Description: Holloway House """1962". good 6-B non-fiction paperback.

Bachelor's Joke Book
Guild Leo
Book Description: Avon, 1953. Paperback.

Zanuck Hollywood's Last Tycoon
Leo Guild
Book Description: Holloway House Los Angeles 1970.

Black Streets of Oakland : Biography of a Woman of the Streets (ISBN:087067577X)
Eagle, Kelly; Guild, Leo
Book Description: Los Angeles: Holloway House Publishing Company, 1992.

The World's Greatest Gambling Systems
Guild, Leo
Book Description: Los Angeles, CA: Holloway House, 1970. Mass Market Paperback. 191p, B&W photos, illustrations. Ten of the world's biggest gamblers tell how they win at dice, horse racing, cards, roulette, stock market, sports and more.

The Studio (ISBN:0870671685)
Guild, Leo
Book Description: Los Angeles: Holloway House # HH-168 1st Edition 1969. Mass Market Paperback.