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Irving Wallace

Irving Wallace in HollywoodBorn on June 30, 1916, American author Irving Wallace, whose bestsellers have been translated into many languages, combined careful research with inventive, readable storytelling to create his own distinctive literary style.  Although Wallace was often scorned by serious critics, his 16 novels and 17 nonfiction works sold some 250 million copies around the world.  Among the author's best-known books is The Chapman Report (1960).

Wallace was born in Chicago as one of two children of Bessie Liss and Alexander Wallace, a store clerk who was born in Russia and emigrated with his wife to the United States in their teens.  Their son was raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and attended Williams Institute, Berkeley, California, and Los Angeles City College.  Wallace began his career in journalism at the age of 15, when his early texts, among them the article The Horse Laugh, appeared in newspapers and magazines.  He studied creative writing at the Williams Institute.  From the mid-30s, he worked as a freelance correspondent, and in 1941, he married Sylvia Kahn.  They had two children.

During World War II, Wallace served in the U.S. Army Air Force.  He was a writer in the First Motion Picture Unit and Signal Corps Photographic Center.  He also wrote for periodicals such as American Legion Magazine, Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and Collier's.  From 1948 to 1958, he produced screenplays for routine Hollywood films, including The West Point Story (1950), Jump into the Hell (1955), and The Big Circus (1959).  Despite his success in Hollywood, Wallace saw it as a place of "indignity, disrespect, disdain," as did many writers, ranging from Chandler to Faulkner.

Wallace's first novel, The Sins of Philip Fleming (1959), did not attract much critical attention.  The Chapman Report, his breakthrough work, was influenced by the Kinsey report.  In the story, Dr George C. Chapman conducts a study of female sex behavior in an American suburb, raising passions and controversy with the research group.  Wallace's message, along with sex, was that there is more behind the relationships between men and women than a survey can ever reveal. 

Director George Cukor: Some VirtuesA screen adaptation directed by George Cukor was made in 1962.  The director defended the film by saying that the novel "presented something contemporary about outwardly respectable women who were frigid and took lovers and went to psychiatrists."  In the film version, Shelley Winters is a married woman with a passion for a man who doesn't really love her.  Glynis Johns seeks experience with a beach boy, and Claire Bloom is a nymphomaniac who commits suicide after being gang-raped.

"The picture did have some virtues." - George Cukor on his film The Chapman Report, based on Wallace's novel

After The Chapman Report, Wallace published mostly popular novels and co-authored several books with his son, David Wallechinsky, including The Book of Lists (1977) and its sequels.  In his novels, Wallace blended sex, politics, jet set life, epoch-making discoveries, intriguing villains from the Soviet Union, and all the necessary elements of the international bestseller of the Cold War period.  A typical product was The Prize (1962), which penetrated the lives of a group of Nobel Prize winners: a French husband-and-wife team of chemists, an American heart surgeon, and a German-born physicist sought after by the Communists of East Germany.  The book was filmed in 1963, starring Paul Newman, Elke Sommers, and Edward G. Robinson.

In 1964, Wallace received Supreme Award of Merit and honorary fellowship from George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for writing The Man (1964).  Wallace's other awards include Commonwealth Club silver medal (1965), Bestsellers magazine award (1965), Paperback of the Year citation (1970), Popular Culture Association award of excellence (1974), and Venice Rosa d'Oro award (1975).  In 1972, Wallace was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News/Sun Times Wire Service at the Democratic and Republican national convections. 

Irving Wallace died of pancreatic cancer on June 29, 1990 in Los Angeles.

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