What the Irving Wallace Papers Teach About the Importance of Archives

While working with the Irving Wallace papers, I have come across more than a handful of books on the writing process. At first, I thought it would be great to see what kind of writing advice prolific authors like Wallace turned to when they needed help. And, while that would be interesting and perhaps one or two of the titles have turned out to be for that purpose, Irving Wallace collected these books for a completely different reason.

On several occasions, Wallace discovered that excerpts from his own writing appeared in books on writing advice and even in textbooks. This clearly pleased him well. One example is Karl K. Taylor and Thomas A. Zimanzl’s Writing from Example: Rhetoric Illustrated. The Honnold Mudd Special Collections acquired this book as part of Irving Wallace’s series for his book The Sunday Gentleman. I opened the book to see what sort of advice it might offer, but discovered Wallace’s inscription, “An excerpt from The Sunday Gentleman on pages 6 to 10.” Rather than offering advice TO Wallace, this book offers advice BY Wallace.

On another occasion, I wondered what reason Wallace could possibly have for possessing a junior high school-level textbook on reading. Here again his inscription reveals the purpose. In the front cover of this book, Wallace wrote, “My Dr. Joseph Bell story, condensed from The Fabulous Originals, appears here in a junior high school text book – pages 226-232.”  Again, his work is offered as advice to other would-be writers.

What does this all have to do with going to the archives, you ask? The information I have just related is only available to those who physically go to the archives and hold these books in their hands to read the inscriptions that Wallace wrote. Otherwise, one might easily assume, as I did at first, that these texts served Wallace as writing advice for the work he produced. Knowing that these texts instead feature Wallace’s work for others provides for an entirely different kind of interpretation of Wallace’s work.  Irving Wallace wrote some kind of note or explanation in the front of every single book (other than copies of his own works) that he donated to the Claremont Colleges Library. In fact, he wrote a short note of explanation for nearly every single item in the multitude of items donated. Manuscript drafts have notes explaining which draft number, who edited and read it, and whether the written comments are from Wallace or someone else. Notes on letters or other correspondence briefly provide context for the exchange. Galley copies often have notes explaining which is the first or the final galley and whether it was sent to the publisher or straight to the printer.

In thinking through his donations while he was still alive, and how he hoped people might use his work, Irving Wallace provided a vast amount of interpretive material. It is clear that he hoped seeing examples of his work at various stages would be useful to people. He also hoped that his research notes, memorabilia, and correspondence would be enlightening to his life and works and all of the people who helped him along the way.

It is only by going to the archives to look at the information that the finding aid and/or digitized excerpts cannot possibly include that one truly learns about their research subject. In his simple reflections, contexts, and notes Wallace revealed his love and devotion to his family and friends, his joy in learning and sharing what he knows, and his drive to tell a great story–the thing he wanted more than anything in life.

The Prize Controversy

In a plot twist that sounds more like one of Irving Wallace’s novels than his own life, the author got a taste of excitement following the release of The Prize. Briefly, the novel is about the ceremony for the annual Nobel Prize. From the book cover, “Six people all around the world are catapulted to international fame as they receive the most important telegraph of their lives, which invites them to Stockholm to receive the prize. This will be a turning point in their lives, in which personal affairs and political intrigue will engulf every one of the characters.”

Although Wallace was meticulous in his research, a reviewer in Norway took issue with how Wallace portrayed the Nobel Prize institution and its judges, calling the book a scandal and accusing Wallace of “declar[ing] war on Scandinavians.”[1] A rather heated exchange took place through letters and newspaper columns and responses in which Wallace defended his research process and called on witnesses to vouch for him. In one set of Wallace’s notes he stated, “I interviewed [Dr. Anders Osterling] September 23, 1946. He was extremely frank. Among other things he told me that he fought against Pearl Buck receiving the Nobel Prize, that Bunin got it to “pay off” for the omission of Tolstoy and Chekhov, that Thomas Wolfe, Somerset Maugham, James Joyce were never nominated, that Frost, Upton Sinclair, Dreiser were long ago considered and voted down. He felt Mann deserved the prize twice.”[2]

Despite a good many people, including Dr. Osterling, coming to Wallace’s defense, the eventual fall-out of the controversy over his novel resulted in his book translation being rejected in Copenhagen, and by multiple publishers in Norway. The controversy seemed to finally blow over, but as recently as 1985, debate continued to ensue with the release of the major motion picture starring Paul Newman and Elke Summers in the Scandinavian countries

[1] Anonymous,
“U.S. Author Declares War on Scandinavians,” in the Eagle, Wichita, Kansas, 20 September 1962.

Irving Wallace, “untitled note,” 1962, Box 28, Folder 13, Irving Wallace Papers, H.Mss.1076. Special Collections, Honnold Mudd Library, Claremont University Consortium.

The Author Press Kit

Have you ever seen an author press kit? Me neither. At least I hadn’t until I noticed a copy of Irving Wallace’s press kit for his novel, The Miracle. Produced by Wallace’s publisher E.P. Dutton, Inc. in New York, the kit was meant to be sent to book sellers both to entice them to order the book for their retail locations, but also to provide stock material those potential book sellers could use to sell the book in their stores.


The press kit arrives in a glossy 8.5″x11″ folder using the same fonts and imagery as the novel’s cover. Inside the kit are two pockets, one on each facing cover. In the left side, the kit includes the text of an interview with Wallace about his new novel. The interview, often titled “Questions and Answers” is a common feature of book publisher publicity and promotional materials. The Q&A interview is created for every single book whether or not a full press kit is developed. Additionally, the left-hand pocket includes a 5″x7″ glossy black and white image of Irving Wallace looking particularly authorly (Yes. I just made that up. Go with it.) in his suit and tie and holding his signature pipe. His smile is friendly and affable if not somewhat goofy (in a good way). The photographer managed to capture an image of Wallace in which he looks a respectable professional, but also relatable.


On the right-hand side of the folder, the pocket contains three more items. The first is a glossy 5″x7″ black and white photo of the book’s cover. Next is a press release from Dutton providing the sales pitch for the book with a synopsis description that hooks the reader (the back cover text as well). The “Dutton News” also lists the main cast members of the book and the requisite price, ISBN, Publication date, and so forth. Finally, behind the press release is a 3-page biography of Irving Wallace highlighting his long and varied writing career and impressive bibliography of magazine articles, short stories, fiction and non-fiction works to date.


Since the press kit for The Miracle was produced in 1984 with the release of the novel, I imagine that press kits have changed significantly in the digital era. Although today’s press kits likely include much the same information, it is, no doubt, sent electronically rather than physically through the good ol’ snail mail. That’s too bad, really. Having gone through this press kit I think there is something particularly endearing about the physical artifact–its tactility: the smooth, glossy surface of the folder; its smell: the faint chemical smell of the photo emulsion and the smell of good quality paper with actual typed ink; and its visual appeal: the document design of each item included, the photographic evidence of a real person and a real book and even the sense that you’re holding the essence of the book in your hands with the kit cover echoing the novel cover. All of these are part of what makes us still buy physical books even when we own electronic readers, cell phones and tablets that double as readers, and a host of other digital equipment that lets us “read” a book today.

“My first published book”

Although Irving Wallace published his first article at the age of 15 and had many articles and short stories published early in his career, his first book was not published until 1955 when he was a tender 39 years old. Interestingly, for an author who became known for his fiction novels, screen plays, and movie scripts, his first publication The Fabulous Originals was a nonfiction book.

It would seem that Mr. Wallace had the golden touch from the get-go as he was offered an impressive $1000.00 advance (for 1954 anyway) from Alfred A. Knopf. His book was well-received and sold some 12,000 copies in its first printings.

Reviewing his work for the purpose of donating his papers to the Claremont Colleges Library in 1978, Wallace noted, “I was on my way–and doing what I wanted to more than any other thing in life.” How satisfying it must be to look back on a prolific career of “best-selling” publications and still know that there is no other thing in the world you would rather have done or be doing–still.

As I continue to work through streamlining the Irving Wallace Papers, I learn more and more about a man who lived an exciting life of travel, research, and writing. A life I would love to have more than any other thing in life.

Cheers, Mr. Wallace!

What Does It Mean To Research a Novel?

While working with Irving Wallace’s files for his book titled The Miracle, I was quite impressed with the research that went into the novel. I wondered what exactly it meant for a national best-selling author to conduct research. Consider this:  Wallace apparently became interested in the miracles reported in Lourdes, France in the early to mid- 1930s. He published an article in 1936 in The Modern Thinker on “Miracles of the Mind.” The article takes the Holy Cross Cemetery of Walden City, Massachusetts as its subject to consider the psychology of cures and he also makes mention of the Grotto at Lourdes and the idea of miraculous cures. In a sense, he was already keen to know the difference between “miracles” and “cures.”

Fast forward to the 1970s. Wallace once again takes up the idea of the miracles at Lourdes and begins reading all of the published works about it. He starts with Lourdes by Emile Zola, written in French in 1894. Wallace photocopies the two-volume English translation borrowed from a university library and begins to outline the work in order to create a summary or abstract. He then diligently types up 17 pages of single-spaced notes focused on the story of Bernadette and the miracles at Lourdes. Next, he does the same for Alan Neame’s The Happening at Lourdes–38 pages of notes; Robert Hugh Benson Lourdes–16 pages; D.J. West Eleven Lourdes Miracles–20 pages; Franz Werfel The Song of Bernadette–17 pages; J.H. Gregory (translator) Bernadette of Lourdes–14 pages; and finally Edith Saunders Lourdes–26 pages of typed, single-spaced notes.


Wallace’s notes list a page number and a summary of the important information in his own words. What he summarizes is very specific:

  • Historical context–what was happening in the 1850s in and around Lourdes, France, when Bernadette first came to the Grotto? What was happening in the Catholic Church at the time? What was the political climate at the time?
  • Key players–who was involved in the initial sighting of the Virgin Mary at the Grotto other than Bernadette? Who was Bernadette? What was her background, beliefs, upbringing, etc.? Who were the psychologists and doctors who examined her and others who have since claimed miraculous cures? What is the relationship between key players?
  • Location–what other facilities throughout France claimed to offer miraculous cures? What influence did those places, such as the bathes at Eugenie, perhaps have on the belief in cures and the ensuing pilgrimage to Lourdes that continues to this day?
  • Religion–how many of the miracles at Lourdes has the Catholic Church officially acknowledge? What distinction do they make between those they acknowledge as “miracles” and the thousands more that they call “cures”? What was the Pope’s response to the Lourdes miracles and how did the Pope use the miracles at Lourdes to strengthen Catholic faith (or did he)?

Other notes pertain to small sections of photocopied works, brochures, tourism pamphlets and information and so forth. Wallace takes note of an interview with Bernadette later in her life. He also obtains an English translation of an interview with Alessandro Maria Gottardi, Archbishop by Dr. Mangiapan of the Lourdes Medical Office. Wallace begins to distill his notes into smaller sections with notations reminding himself at what point in his novel he wants to bring in the information. Wallace begins to create a list of characters for his novel, some based on real people with extensive knowledge of their backgrounds and the roles they played at the time.

Finally–after much of the manuscript outline has been written, the characters developed, and a time-line set up–Wallace travels to Lourdes. There he walks the same path as Bernadette and takes notes on the look, feel, smell, and sounds of the city. He takes notes on the city’s layout (with maps), where and how buildings are situated in relation to the Grotto. Wallace collects post cards, slide souvenirs, pamphlets, and maps. Wallace hires a tour guide and writes about the young, pretty girl with low heels and bare legs who leads the tour, imagining in her another of his characters in the novel.

The research portion of this novel has taken nearly 10 years, from the mid-1970s to early 1983 when Wallace finally begins to write the novel. His inscription on the original manuscript states that he began writing it “on January 20, 1983, when I wrote the first five pages and finished Friday, May 20, 1983, when I wrote eighteen pages.”

And there it is: All the research that went into writing The Miracle, by Irving Wallace.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

In the early 1960s, Irving Wallace began writing his novel The Man, which placed a black man as the President of the United States long before former President Obama even imagined himself in politics. The novel sold exceedingly well staying at the number one spot on the New York Times bestseller list for months on end.

Many interested parties, including Sammy Davis Jr., considered purchasing film rights to the novel. Ultimately Paramount Pictures made the motion picture starring James Earl Jones as “The Man” and several other stellar actors as his supporting cast.


How did Irving Wallace manage a convincing presidential character as his main protagonist? Well, nine weeks before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Wallace was able to spend time in the White House working with Kennedy in order to research his novel. JFK was a major influence on Wallace while writing the novel, but so were other figures in history. The cover page Wallace wrote to one of his early manuscript drafts includes the following epithet:

One of the author’s prized possessions is an original autographed manuscript, written firmly with pen on cheap ruled paper, signed by a former Negro slave who became a great reformer, lecturer, writer, adviser to Abraham Lincoln, United States Minister to Haiti, and candidate for Vice-President of the United States on the Equal Rights Party in 1872. The manuscript reads as follows:

“In a composite Nation like ours, made up of almost every variety of the human family, there should be, as before the Law, no rich, no poor, no high, no low, no black, no white, but one country, one citizenship, equal rights and a common destiny for all.

“A Government that cannot or does not protect the humblest citizen in his right to life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness, should be reformed or overthrown, without delay.

Frederick Douglass

“Washington D.C. Oct. 20. 1883”

More paper please!

When you’re a best-selling author publishing in the 1960s – 1980s, you can get a lot of editing help. At least you can if you’re Irving Wallace. While processing the series based on his book titled The Fan Club, I noted at least 3 editors working with Wallace at different stages. To begin, after he finished an original draft, he went back through it, his wife Sylvia went through it, and usually Wallace would hire an editor or have his secretary retype changes for him. Once the manuscript underwent several rewrites and he felt it was ready
enough, he’d send it along to the publisher who would then send his manuscript to one of their freelance editors (or in house if they had them).

Over time, Wallace got to where he liked the rapport he developed with particular editors and types of revisions or edits they would recommend. As it happened, the one he requested to work with (again) at Simon and Schuster was living in Mexico at the time. The reason I mention that is because some of her cover letters to Wallace often included apologies for lack of regular access to resources like paper.


Apparently his favorite editor was out of paper again. When her editing suggestions arrived for Wallace’s review, they were written on what he called “flyers.” Each flyer was 4″ wide and varying height. They ranged from ½ and inch to 5″ in height depending on how much the editor wrote. As it turns out, each little strip of paper was piece of scrap paper made from the large manila envelope in which one of Wallace’s drafts had undoubtedly arrived. This was, of course, in the 1970s before the advent of home computers or the Internet so editing work might be shipped all over the world between editors, agents, and authors.


That the editor painstakingly wrote out each line that required a suggestion is quite labor-intensive. But for every “flyer” the editor included, Wallace also carefully reviewed it then considered his response. Often he would converse back and forth through the mail with his editors arguing for specific spellings or turns of phrase. Other times he would simply take their suggestions and incorporate them into the next rewrite.

If ever a student thought they could continue going through life with the written-the-night-before paradigm and still be successful, they need only look to someone like Irving Wallace. In each of his book projects he details between 6-10 rewrites before the publisher ever sees it. Then there’s a process of at least 3-7 more drafts with changes and suggestions of his various editors. Additionally, Wallace’s beloved wife read every project with aplomb and enthusiasm, which would bring about another revision. Even at the stage of page proofs, Wallace would incorporate another 3 or 4 sets of revisions. I guess if you want to be a best-seller, that’s the kind of work ethic you need to have.

Getting to know you…

Irving Wallace was an incredibly prolific writer. Think Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum and you get the idea. As I’ve continued processing the collection, I’ve learned some interesting things about Wallace’s writing style, his techniques, and his process. I’ve also gained a pet peeve or two about his idiosyncrasies.

A few things I’ve learned in the last few weeks – Irving Wallace was either VERY interested in the topic of sex or he was VERY interested in making money with his work and knew that sex sells. Okay, it’s probably a combination of those things, but it seems like he’s always using sex as a major theme of his work. Last week I wrote about Victoria Woodhull, an exceptional woman who pushed back at the roles available to women during her era and even ran for president. But because she was outspoken about her positive opinions of sex, Wallace labeled her the prostitute who ran for president. There was a lot more about the other women in the collection Nymphos and Other Maniacs as well. Promiscuous women make for good stories seemingly. As another example, in The Celestial Bed, Wallace’s story revolves around a man and woman who have sex with their clients to teach them intimacy and help them resolve their issues. I haven’t actually read the book, but that’s the gist I sussed from working with it. Wallace hit on a theme that worked and kept with it I think.

Another thing I learned about Wallace, like the theme of sex, he never seemed to mind reusing techniques that got a publishing contract. After placing numerous revisions of the manuscript for The Celestial Bed into new acid-free folders, I have now read pretty much the first paragraph of every chapter of the book. They all use the same formula. When (person’s full name) did (this thing: woke up, got to work, whatever), s/he had no idea that (this thing) would happen. It seems a bit cliché, but it works! Over and over I found myself wondering who was this cat Wallace was talking about and why didn’t he or she know that was going to happen. As a matter of fact, how did that happen in the first place? See what he did there? It’s called hooking the reader. Wallace did it well even if formulaically.

A last thing I’ve come to appreciate about Wallace in the last few weeks is just how well he understood his audience. As I’ve insinuated above, he knew his reader, but he even understood his other audiences. On each and every copy of his manuscripts I’ve worked with, Wallace has a little note attached explaining to the archivist and the researcher what this particular draft is about. He usually states how many revisions there were before the first draft that went to the agent or publisher to see if they wanted to buy it. Or how many more revisions were involved after he got that contract. One manuscript I processed today was a draft copy for his wife to review. I cannot fathom it, but apparently she reviewed and edited every single manuscript he wrote. He always took her suggestions into account when revising. It astounds me that one or two years later, sometimes more, Wallace can still remember what every draft was about. Sometimes he cranked out entire books in a mere three months’ time all while working on other projects along the way. All of these things I appreciate, but even Irving Wallace can’t escape pet peeves.

My pet peeve with Wallace? Paper clips. Lots and lots and lots of paper clips. Mind you by now they’ve been replaced by archive-friendly plastic clips, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason for them. Why Irving?! Why did you bundle this set of pages together? And why didn’t you leave any inscriptions about them like you do about the drafts? Sometimes pages are bundled across chapters, sometimes within chapters. Sometimes he bundled huge swaths of papers (30-50 sheets at a time), while others he might choose to clip a mere three pages together. Was this where he stopped reading that day doing revisions? Was this where he stopped writing that day? Maybe,
but who knows. It’s a little thing, but then pet peeves mostly are, right?

Do you know Victoria Woodhull?


In The Nympho and Other Maniacs: The Lives, the Loves and the Sexual Adventures of Some Scandalous and Liberated Ladies Irving Wallace wrote a series of biographies about sensational women. In “Book Three: The Rebel As a Scandal” Wallace featured Victoria Woodhull as “The Prostitute Who Ran For President.” But do you know who Victoria Woodhull was? She was quite a remarkable woman.

Victoria Woodhull (1838 – 1927) has her own biography on the History Channel’s website and is featured in the National Women’s Hall of Fame. On their website they claim that Woodhull was “a passionate campaigner for social justice who combined deep belief in Spiritualism, radical views on achieving equal rights for women, advocacy of divorce law changes, birth control, working people’s rights, and tax reform as her platform for change.
She was the first American woman to address Congress and the first to run for the office of President of the United States.” Tidbits I’ve read about Woodhull suggest that she certainly had no end of lovers, but there’s nothing to indicate she made a vocation of her sex or that she sold it.

I wonder if Mr. Wallace may have misunderstood her advocacy for what she called free love. Unlike the “free love” of our hippie parents or grandparents who lived (and loved) their way through the 1960s, Woodhull’s call for free love was more akin to equality–to the end of racism in many ways. The History Channel noted that in one of Woodhull’s speeches she claimed, “I want the love of you all, promiscuously. It makes no difference who or what you are, old or young, black or white, pagan, Jew, or Christian, I want to love you all and be loved by you all, and I mean to have your love.” While the use of the word “promiscuously” here was often taken to mean sexually, it is quite likely that Woodhull used it as an ill-chosen synonym for the word “freely” or “equally.” After all, though she was quick to spot and take advantage of an opportunity, her education did not begin until age 8 and only lasted sporadically for about three years.

Irving Wallace certainly thought she meant it sexually, however. In John Leverence’s Iriving Wallace: A Writer’s Profile, Wallace said of his book, “I am writing about individual women of the recent past who, whether by plan or by accident, wittingly or unwittingly, refused to accept any simplistic biological definition of female as mere childbearer and the second best of the sexes.” He went on to explain more about the women he profiled in Nympho and Other Maniacs placing Woodhull among his rebels. Apparently openly discussing sex during the Victorian era while declaring women have a right to decide what happens with their bodies and calling for birth control and better divorce laws made her a prostitute in Mr. Wallace’s eyes. I wonder who else he profiled among the “uninhibited ladies” in his “magnificent tour de force“?

The Author’s Process and Revision

While working through the archives related to The Almighty by Irving Wallace this week, I could not help but notice the number of revisions at each stage of the writing process. For anyone wanting to research a prolific author’s writing process, the Irving Wallace Papers offer a phenomenal opportunity. Wallace not only saved multiple drafts of each of his works, but he also tended to write notes on the top page reflected what changes he’d made.

On the original manuscript of The Almighty, before even sending to his agent, Wallace’s inscription indicated his multiple drafts. His note, dated March 25, 1982, stated, “This is the original draft written and typed by me from October 8, 1981 to January 28, 1982, and revised by me six times.” Six!

But those six revisions were just the beginning. Once the book was accepted for publication by Double Day, the manuscript went through at least another twelve to fifteen revisions between working with his editor, his agent, and the printers. At least point up until the very last moment before the printer was set to print the work, Wallace not only corrected errors, but also inserted whole changes to sentences, sections, and sometimes whole pages. Wallace’s notes throughout made mention of the number of revisions sent to editors, publishers, and printers as well as the extent of those revisions. One note I recall seeing mentioned that his editor, his publisher, a friend, his children, and his wife Sylvia had all provided feedback that he had incorporated into the draft—as well as some new material that was in his mind and he wanted to add to the manuscript.

I can only imagine how the publishers might have felt about these last minute changes. It might have been upsetting at first, but the man did publish more than 30 works and is considered a best-selling American novelist. At some point, I would guess, a publisher learns to let the artist be the artist and just works as quickly as they can. Certainly the archives indicate there was no shortage of adaptations to work with Wallace. For example,  one file includes multiple letters between Wallace and his editor and the publisher and Wallace all discussing the logistics of getting a set of galley proofs to him in Paris while he was traveling and setting up a telex call to send revisions via shorthand noted in the letters. He ultimately gave the revisions verbally over a phone call, but what a nightmare trying to coordinate all that for the publisher!

Stay tuned for more writing insights from The Irving Wallace Papers…