The Many Sides of Irving Wallace

While traveling in Rome in August 1963, Irving Wallace sent word to his research assistant in California that he had received the green light for The Man, a speculative novel about the rise of America’s first black president. The letter, written in a midnight burst of energy and excitement, provides fascinating insight into the multiple sides of Irving Wallace’s nature.

There is, of course, Irving Wallace the writer; he calls The Man “the most important thing I’ve ever attempted” to write. Irving Wallace the researcher and delegator is present here, too, as evidenced by the thorough directives Wallace lays out for his research assistant. One particularly urgent task was to clarify the line of presidential succession in the event of assassination. Wallace tells his researcher to “locate at UCLA, Pomona, USC, [or] U of C some very very smart political science or Washington expert, a graduate or instructor, who would be willing to answer questions for payment” about succession procedures. “I don’t understand it all,” Wallace lamented. “This is important and not too soon to get to work finding someone” who could provide expertise. Wallace’s preoccupation with presidential succession seems eerily timed; John F. Kennedy was assassinated a mere two months after this letter.

Last but not least, the letter gives a clear picture of Irving Wallace the businessman and publicist. Wallace wanted to write and publish The Man in time for the 1964 election, which, he was sure, would boost his sales. “Now my situation is this,” he explained. “To beat anyone else with a parallel idea AND to come out before the 1964 Presidential election.” Wallace saw The Man as a “big deal,” and he wanted to be sure that nobody else beat him to the punch. As far as we know, nobody else did. The Man spent 38 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for 1964.

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Irving Wallace to Elizabeth Kempthorne, August 14, 1963, Irving Wallace Collection.