The Life and Death of Clyde Allison
( A William Henley Knoles Biography)
By Lynn Munroe
Originally published at eFanzines.com, Vol. 2, No. 2
Clyde Allison wrote for William Hamling’s line of 1960′s adult publications like Nightstand, Midnight Reader, Ember, and Leisure Books. He is best known today for his series of James Bond spoofs about Agent 0008. I knew that many of the writers who did pseudonymous books for Hamling went on to become famous authors. Maybe Allison would turn out to be one of them. I checked around and was told Clyde Allison was a house name, and that a different author wrote each 0008 book. Then Victor Berch told me that Allison was the pseudonym of a William Knoles. Calling around to different agents, authors, and collectors, I learned that Knoles had burned himself out writing trashy sleaze novels, that he was a drunk, and that he “blew his brains out” at a young age. Everyone had heard that same story, but there was no book or article or interview or checklist anywhere about Knoles. I read some Allison and it was surprisingly well written. Who was this guy? This is what I found out.
Everything I had been told about him was wrong.
Except that Allison was the pen name of a guy named Knoles. All the above information was not exactly correct. Knoles wrote all of the Clyde Allison books (there are 68 on our checklist) and it was never used as a house name. He did commit suicide at the age of 46, but not because he was an alcoholic or was tired of writing adult books.
There have been greater writers, but William Knoles was the greatest unknown writer of our time, and that’s exactly how he wanted it.
William Henley Knoles was named for his great-uncle-by-marriage, the world-famous British poet William Henley. The family tells the story starting with William Knoles’ grandmother. Helen Bartram wanted to be an opera singer. Her problem was that she lived in Kansas in the 1880′s, where opera had not yet made much of an inroad. In fact, Helen found there was no place for someone who went about singing arias and dressing in operatic gear. Leaving home and family, she moved to opera territory: Europe. She led a colorful life and married several times. One of her husbands was Edward “Teddy” Henley, an actor, singer, and brother of the poet. The New York Dramatic Mirror from 1896 tells us that Teddy was dong a musicale with his third wife in Philadelphia, a probable reference to Helen. Her next and last husband was Achille Tommasso, the conductor of La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy. Their daughter Rosina was Bill’s mother.
Rosina was working as an actress in silent movies when she met an English film director named Harley Knoles. They married and collaborated on a series of films in both London and New York. Rosina worked under her stage name, Rosina Henley. They are both listed in reference books of the 1910′s and 20′s. The Motion Picture Guide lists The Adventures of Carol directed by Harley Knoles and starring Rosina Henley, Guilty of Love directed by Knoles and written by Rosina; and many others. They had two children, Diana and William. Born in New York City in 1926, William was six months old when the family moved back to London. As the U.S.A. born son of a British father, Bill had dual citizenship.
Although most of her films are now lost, Rosina was a movie star 80 years ago. Bill loved to tell the story of finding an old book about silent movies in a used bookstore in New York in the 1950′s, and seeing a photograph of his mother in some long-lost costume drama.
Harley Knoles was a boom or bust filmmaker. He would invest everything in his next venture. The children would be living in a London mansion one year, in a tenement apartment the next. At one point Harley even owned his own studio. He made the common mistake of letting is family run the business and he had to sell it to J. Arthur Rank. Bill went to school in London during the 1930′s, and we have a photograph here of the bright young English schoolboy.
The production records for London’s Elstree Studios in 1930 list Harley Knoles and Alfred Hitchcock among the directors working on films. But by the decade’s end Knoles had died of cancer, leaving Rosina with two teenagers and no money. A friend of the family lined up a job for Rosina at the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios in Culver City, near Hollywood, and they moved to California. Rosina worked as script reader at MGM, and the family tells the story that while working there she read a treatment for a movie to be called National Velvet and, realizing it would be a star-making role, called an old friend from London, a Mrs. Taylor, and told her it was perfect for her daughter Elizabeth.
So Bill grew up in a movie family, and movies and directors and Hollywood all appear often in the Clyde Allison books. Living near the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Bill grew up reading and devouring science fiction pulps, Doc Savage, and Tarzan.
He tried to enlist in the Air Force during World War II and was told he was too young. Taking advantage of his dual citizenship, Bill enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a tail gunner in North Africa. When the war ended Bill had a great plan. He would take some time off for himself and tour Europe, a life-long dream, and revisit London, the city of his youth. Rosina, however, had other plans for her boy. She missed him and wanted him home. She contacted the Red Cross and told them she was gravely ill. She begged them to rush her boy home to the States. They did, and when Bill arrived home to his perfectly healthy mother he resented her actions immensely. Rosina’s manipulations would increase as she grew older, causing much strife, and probably (if we can indulge in a little armchair psychoanalysis) had something to do with the misogyny and violent treatment of women that mars some of Bill’s otherwise brilliant novels.
After the war Bill attended UCLA, but he didn’t graduate. Apparently economic conditions caused him to drop out in 1949 and go to work at Hughes Aircraft. He decided he wanted to be a writer. His sister Diana was living in New York City and Bill moved there in the early 50′s. He sold a comic mystery story to one of the last of the pulp magazines, Thrilling Detective, in 1952. He found work in Manhattan, first at McGraw-Hill editing textbooks, then at Screen Gems, and then at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.
William Knoles came of age in Greenwich Village in the late 50′s. “He loved people and he loved parties,” one friend told me. With his friends, all of them aspiring artists, poets, writers, and beats, Bill worked all day and partied most nights, often at a bar called the White Horse Tavern, a place Dylan Thomas had made famous. Sometimes the parties were at artists’ lofts. At one such party Bill met Lily Pendleton. Lily was attracted by his intelligence and his sense of humor. They started going out together.
Bill used to entertain Lily with stories about his life at the Meredith Agency. Like many other aspiring writers, he was put to work reading manuscripts in the fee room. People from all over the country would mail unsolicited manuscripts to Scott Meredith, hoping to join his stable of famous writers like Norman Mailer and Evan Hunter. The aspiring writer would get a form letter advising them to send a fee (usually $50) for the agent’s analysis. The gullible and the hopeful would send the $50 and get back a one-page letter signed by Scott Meredith encouraging them to keep trying, and making vague suggestions on how to improve their story or novel. Meredith had a roomful of people turning out these letters and signing his name. It was, depending on who you ask, either a valuable literary service or a profitable scam. Would-be writers who weren’t very bright, or just desperate, would send in another $50 and a rewritten manuscript, only to get a second letter encouraging them to keep trying.
Bill told Lily that one unpublished writer had been yanked on by the Meredith agency for weeks, sending in several readers fees, only to get yet another form letter. Finally the poor guy realized he was being bilked and he came into Manhattan, burst into the offices of Scott Meredith and his brother Sidney, threatening them. Bill claimed from that day on the brothers went to the men’s room together in case any more “clients” came in looking for them.
Reading through hundreds of unpublishable stories, Bill was sure he could writer better than any of them. He began selling stories to men’s magazines like Escapade and Gent, usually using the pseudonym Max Williams. He would save his real name for something important, something he could be proud of. Like most of the young writers Meredith represented, many of whom also got started working at the agency, Bill was offered a job providing adult potboilers for publisher William Hamling.
Hamling had started publishing science fiction magazines in Chicago in the 1950′s. He wanted to get into the booming paperback market and sell books for men, books with flashy covers like Midwood and Beacon were doing. Hamling worked out a contract with the Meredith Agency. Meredith would supply new manuscripts for paperback books from a team of writers. Each writer was contracted to churn out a book each month. The writers were paid a few hundred dollars per book. (Later some of the “names” were paid $1,500 or more.) The books were sent to Hamling under pen names, the agency kept the author’s true identities secret. The adult book market was always precarious. There were always Senate hearings or lawsuits or vice raids involving these lurid little books. Of course, to try to avoid those lawsuits, the authors used euphemisms and suggested much more than they actually described. The books are very tame compared to what passes as adult literature today. In fact they’re very tame compared to todays romance novels or R-rated movies. But by 1960′s standards, they were considered pretty racy.
Bill and Lily were married at City Hall in Manhattan and lived in Greenwich Village, just off Bleecker Street. Bill had to come up with a pen name for his books. He told Lily if he had to write “sleazy” books then he needed a sleazy pen name, and the sleaziest name he could think of was Clyde. As Clyde Allison, Bill began turning out a book a month for Hamling’s line, which was called at first Nightstand Books.
Hamling’s editor at Nightstand the first year was Harlan Ellison. Ellison told me Hamling was afraid they’d be prosecuted for publishing these “adult” books so he set up a dummy company called Blake Pharmaceuticals of Evanston, Illinois. He moved it around and changed the name every so often. Nightstand started with two books in its first month. Those went well so they went with four books the next month, then eight, then twelve, and so on. The books sold out in places like New York’s 42nd Street and in other big cities. Editor Ellison wrote one of the early titles for Hamling (Sex Gang by Paul Merchant, NB1503), but he hated the books and he hated the genre. He begged Hamling to let him try another line, and that led to Regency Books. “I know he was making a lot more after I left Nightstand,” Ellison told me, “but I can tell you that just in that first year, Hamling’s profit was one and a half million dollars.”
After this interview appeared we received a nasty (is there any other kind?) letter from Harlan Ellison saying I had misquoted him, that he would never “beg” Hamling for anything, that it was Hamling who begged him.
–Lynn Munroe, November 2001
Knoles was working for the agents at Meredith who supplied the manuscripts to Hamling: Henry Morrison and Richard Curtis (both of whom would eventually leave Meredith and become respected high-priced New York agents who understandably are reticent to talk much about their days selling softcore sleaze). He would come home and tell Lily that some of the books seemed to be written by people who not only didn’t know much about their subject matter, they didn’t know much about writing either. He was convinced, even though he had never published a book, he could write a better Nightstand. It is immediately apparent from his first book (The Lustful Ones, NB1525) that he was right.
The English schoolboy/pulp fan/Air Force vet/UCLA student/editor became a paperback writer in 1960. Bill and Lily had loved vacationing at Provincetown on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Many of the Greenwich Village art crowd spent their summers there. The Lustful Ones is about aspiring artists in the Village heading to Provincetown. The sophistication of the writing, the depth of feeling and emotion may not seem like much if you’ve been reading Proust and Faulkner, but compared to most of the other adult books of the era the difference is staggering. One adult bookseller recently described this book in his sale catalog as “a masterpiece.”
With the contract to do a book a month and his magazine work booming, Bill left the Meredith agency to become a full-time writer, the only job he would have for the rest of his life. The agent Richard Curtis told me one of Bill’s biggest thrills at the time was selling an article to Playboy magazine. His article “Girls for the Slime God” is a fan’s appreciation of the science fiction pulps of his youth. With the same breezy, funny, first-person style of the Clyde Allison books, William Knoles’ brilliant nostalgia piece was published in the November 1960 Playboy. He was riding high. Lily and Bill and his sister Diana bought a big house on Commercial Street in Provincetown. They kept the apartment in New York and spent more and more time on Cape Cod.
It took a little detective work but one day I located Lily Pendleton and phoned her at her farm in New England:
LM: What do you remember first about William Knoles?
LILY: Everybody liked him. He was a “life of the party” type.
LM: Do you know the origin of his pen name, Clyde Allison? I have a theory that it’s some kind of anagram. It’s almost an anagram for “Lily Knoles.”
LILY: Could be, but he never called me that. In those days I always went by my nickname, Penny.
LM: There’s a character in a John Dexter book called Sin Colony named Cloyd Frisnell, which is another “possible anagram” for Dr. Lily F. Knoles.
LILY: Sorry, my middle initial is B.
LM: Another theory is that Bill might have seen a book called A Christian Understanding of Sex by a Presbyterian minister in Chicago whose real name was Clyde Allison.
LILY: I don’t remember that book but it certainly sounds like something Bill would do.
LM: I wonder what any wayward members of the Reverend Mr. Allison’s church must have thought if they strayed into an adult newsstand and found books by “Clyde Allison.” Do you remember any other pen names he used? How about Max Williams?
LILY: Yes, that was Bill. Williams from his first name, of course.
LM: Wilson Craddock, Jr.?
LILY: Yes. He came up with that one at a party to test his theory about people at parties. He made up this name and went around saying, “Have you read Wilson Craddock, Jr.’s latest novel? I just finished it and I think he’s going to be big.” An hour later this woman walks up to me and says, “I just finished the great new Wilson Craddock novel. Have you read it yet? He’s going to be big!”
LM: Later he used Clyde Ames. Does the name Ames have any significance?
LILY: None that I recall.
LM: I wonder if it was an anagram for “Same Clyde,” meaning this is the same guy as Allison. Just a new publisher. Did he have other pen names?
LILY: I’m sure he did but I’ve forgotten them. He told me he was writing under pen names before we met. Clyde Allison was the one he used the most.
As “Clyde Allison,” Bill Knoles wrote a series of surprisingly well-written and frequently hilarious comic crime novels. His protagonist was usually a con man, a rake, a coward, or a bon vivant. These antiheroes narrate their stories in a fresh, funny personable style. They are usually lovable rogues and their wild stories, while obviously the work of a highly intelligent, well-read writer, are rather unlike nothing else coming out at the time. Several of the agents and writers at Meredith suggested to me that Knoles influenced the work of a whole generation of comic crime writers who followed him at Nightstand. Donald E. Westlake, who worked at Meredith after Knoles, remembered the name. “He was a legend at the office,” Westlake said, “because he was so funny and so fast.” The prolific author Barry N. Malzberg told me he met Knoles once in the elevator at the Meredith Agency. Knoles was with Richard Curtis, who had written porno novels for Hamling as Curt Aldrich and Burt Alden. Curtis introduced them and then said to Knoles, “You know I learned everything I know about writing these books from you.” And Knoles replied, “That’s funny, so did I.”
Hamling’s books were coming out under several different names like Midnight Reader and Idle Hour. The chief editor for all those lines was Earl Kemp. Hamling and Kemp would later go to prison for pornography, a story told in Gay Talese’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife and elsewhere; and after his release from prison Kemp soured on living in this country and went into self-exile in Mexico. I sent messages that I wanted to talk with him and one Saturday morning I got a call from Earl Kemp from Mexico. I asked him if he knew the name William Knoles. (Note: this was some years ago, Earl has since relocated north of the border.)
KEMP: Yes, William Knoles was one of the writers signed under contract to provide one book a month. But the publisher had no contact with the writers. Their agent, Scott Meredith, did not identify their real names.
LM: If you had no contact with the writers, how do you know Knoles was Clyde Allison?
KEMP: He was my personal favorite of all the writers. It was his humor that endeared him to me. And everyone at the office loved his manuscripts, including the art department. There was a fight to see who would get to edit each manuscript. Sometimes the only way to have peace in the office would be to pass the manuscript around.
Sometimes they got edited three times. He got so popular I had to contact him. The Meredith Agency told me that Clyde Allison was a man in Provincetown named William Knoles. I wrote to him and we corresponded but, sadly, we never met. His letters were, as you might expect, very witty and warm.
LM: When you say there was a fight to edit his manuscripts, do you mean a verbal fight?
KEMP: No. I remember a couple times things got physical. The whole office staff liked him, not because of sales, but for the enjoyment of reading each new manuscript.
LM: And of all the authors….
KEMP: For some of them I wouldn’t use the word “author.”
LM: Right, I’ve read them, I know what you mean. But surely you’re aware that among the writers, especially that first batch, there are many who went on to become famous. I’ve learned for instance that Robert Silverberg wrote as Don Elliot, Richard Curtis wrote as Curt Aldrich, Lawrence Block was Andrew Shaw, Hal Dresner was Don Holliday, John Jakes was the first J.X. Williams…. Harlan Ellison was Paul Merchant, Donald E. Westlake was Alan Marshall….
KEMP: Now that one I did not know until this moment.
LM: Well, actually most of Westlake’s books were for other publishers like Midwood and Monarch. He says he didn’t write many of the Marshalls you published. I think it became a house name?
KEMP: Some of the pseudonyms were interchangeable.
LM: Let me ask you about some of the other names. Dean Hudson?
KEMP: Ahhh… I think if he wants you to know who he is he will tell you. (Note: one night some years later Earl confirmed that Hudson was Evan Hunter.)
LM: Yes but how… Okay, how about Clyde Merick?
KEMP: If memory serves, he was not the same Clyde as Allison.
LM: Is there anyone I should call other than the names I gave you?
KEMP: You might ask a writer named Jack Pearl if he wants to talk about this.
(I located Mr. Pearl but could never convince him I wasn’t calling from the FBI or IRS, and he refused to divulge his pen name to the day he died. Since he lived in Bellmore NY, I’ve always wondered if he was Don Bellmore.)
LM: That’s an impressive list of talent. You’re telling me William Knoles was your best writer?
KEMP: And you can quote me. I loved his jokes. And there were lots of in-jokes between the writers and the office staff. The staff would even stick jokes into manuscripts to see if the writer would catch them in their books.
LM: I’d love to publish a complete list of Knoles’ books. Are there office files somewhere with such information? Print runs? Sales figures? Wouldn’t William Hamling have all this information?
KEMP: You’d want to ask him of course….
LM: I’ve tried. I’ve been told he doesn’t talk about the business at all. Ever. With anyone. He has retired to Palm Springs… But getting back to Knoles, what did you two write each other about?
KEMP: Oh, in the letters we created this character together, we outlined this whole series of books. The 0008′s.
LM: Those James Bond spoofs are probably his most enduring books. It’s a shame they will never be reprinted. Why did he name 0008 Trevor Anderson?
KEMP: As I remember the Anderson part was in honor of a writer he and I both admired named Chester Anderson, who had written this comic novel about a man who inherits a brothel.
LM: That would be The Pink Palace (Gold Medal k1374).
KEMP: Right. Not all my memories as editor there are pleasant ones, but my association with William Knoles was one of the highlights. He was very charming.
In 1963 there was a court case and Hamling feared a huge business loss of they lost the case. He started new publishing lines (Pillar, Leisure, etc.) and changed everyone’s pen name slightly. During this period Knoles was Clyde Anderson. As soon as they won the court case everyone went back to their original pen names. (I heard this story, and many of the others in this article, from Robert Silverberg.)
The 20 books Knoles wrote about 0008 are very funny, very silly spoofs. Too silly for some readers, they make good light escapist fare, which is all the author or editor ever intended. Of course, like the Bond books they satirized (and the rest of Hamling’s output), they were obsessed with sex. Since he couldn’t write much about actual sex, Bill let his imagination run wild with subjects he could discuss. Like women’s breasts. In classic American breast-obsessed tradition, breasts abound throughout all of the Clyde Allison books. But Clyde never just called them “breasts.” No, they were “two soaring horizontal mountains of flesh,” “missiles,” “diabolically tantalizing beach balls,” “twin pouting peaks,” “passion-packed pinnacles,” “female fun flesh,” “white globes of quivering femininity,” “crimson bulls-eyes of beckoning bliss,” “warm trembling mounds of malleable delight,” “leaping, shuddering spheres of lissome flesh,” or “boobs jutted out like great scoops of quivering whipped cream.” At times Clyde Allison is the literary equivalent of a Russ Meyer movie.
For the 1960′s they were considered dirty books, and the nudie covers were usually racier than the contents. William Knoles chose to keep his profession a secret from his friends and neighbors. Peter Saldamondo, one of Bill’s drinking buddies at the White Horse, told me he didn’t learn his friend was writing these books until after Bill’s death. Knoles always introduced himself as a “writer.” He never said what kind of writing.
Bill hated cold weather, so every year Bill and Lily left cold Cape Cod and spent the winter in the Florida Keys or Puerto Rico, locations that often turn up in Allison. He loved wildlands and he loved animals. I asked Lily to tell us about the writer:
LILY: Bill had a hard time writing the books because he didn’t really like them. He wrote them for the money. Then he’d buy a new boat and need money again. Bill kept himself tied up owing money. He’d write another adult novel just to pay his debts. Just like his Dad, sometimes he was loaded, sometimes he was broke. When he was able to do a lot of tongue in cheek stuff, he enjoyed that. He’d be typing away, laughing, wondering if anyone out there got the jokes. Some were so clever – I remember a character called Eva de Struction.
It was commonplace, around the editorial offices at Greenleaf Classics, for an editor to break out in spontaneous, uncontrollable laughter that infected the whole place. The sound, all of us knew, was originating from the lucky editor working on the most recent Knoles manuscript.
LM: Yes. She’s in Gorgonzola Won’t You Please Come Home? Very funny book. Most of the characters have names that mean something in a foreign language – even the hero. His name is Al Fresco. There’s a woman in it named Bette Noir – as in bete noir.
LILY: We had a little black poodle and Bill named her Bete Noir. He liked mystery and science fiction – I think he would have gone in that direction. He was very well read in all sorts of fields. I recall he would listen to the radio a lot while writing. He discovered the Beatles early on. I feel it was an indication of low self-esteem that he just kept writing these adult books. It was a new market when he started. I recall he said some of the writers for these appeared to have a very limited acquaintance with the English language. He’d say to me, “I could take a year off and write a serious novel. But what would we live on for that year? How would I support you?” He was supporting his mother, too. Rosina was very neurotic and very manipulative. He spent a lot of money sending her to France, then she came back and complained about what a rotten trip it had been. She had Alzheimer’s and she wound up a bag lady, wandering the streets of Manhattan wearing a funny hat. She died some years ago.
LM: There is a lot of misogyny in the books. Was Bill a woman hater?
LILY: Never around me. I started the Provincetown chapter of Women’s Liberation and he supported us. He was a champion of civil rights and he corresponded with Angela Davis. I think there were several reasons for the sexism in his books. It was inherent in the genre. He was following a formula, wrong or right. The books were written for a specific audience. He was spoofing the sexism of the James Bond books, which are incredibly sexist to begin with.
LM: That’s certainly true. Bill sends up the whole spy genre when 0008 seduces 200 women in one night.
LILY: Another reason might have been deeper. I think he harbored a lot of resentment against his mother and his sister and some of that may crop up in the books.
LM: Well none of them have a loving mom figure, that’s for sure. The women are usually just playthings, which dates the books and detracts from all the wonderful humor.
LILY: He used to type the sex scenes separately and then stick them into the books. There had to be a sex scene every so often, like a quota.
LM: Most of his friends were artists. Did he have many writer friends?
LILY: No. He did know Norman Mailer in Provincetown, who was also represented by Scott Meredith. We were out one night and Mailer said, “I don’t have any idea how to finish the book I’m working on.” And Bill replied, “You don’t have anything to worry about, Norman. Scott Meredith will make sure you finish it – and on time!”
LM: Mailer doesn’t remember William Knoles. But he’s probably forgotten a few of his drinking buddies after so many years. Was Bill, as I’ve heard, an alcoholic?
LILY: No. He certainly enjoyed social drinking and parties but he was not a drunk. In fact for years if he had even one drink he’d black out and then stop drinking and smoking.
LM: The story they tell in the New York agencies is that he drank himself to death.
LILY: No. Bill had bi-polar disorder. He was a manic depressive. The mental illness took over and that is what killed him. Today they have medication to control this condition, but in the 1960′s they didn’t know how to treat him. They put him in the hospital once and he just got worse. Because of the grandiosity that comes with his disorder, he would spend so much money he couldn’t afford to stop and write something else. His spending sprees estranged him from his mother and sister. He sold his share of our house once to pay a bar tab. That was the end of his relationship with his sister. She had to buy it back from a bartender. Bill became suicidal. He attempted suicide a couple of times…he walked out into the surf at Puerto Rico one time. He got worse and worse and he was dragging me down with him. After conferring with his doctor, we got a divorce. I was able to start a business in the next town. We remained friends but I watched the illness consume him.
In the year or so after the divorce Bill fell for a young woman in Provincetown, a free spirit named Jan Kelly. Jan told me Bill was a tall, funny, extremely bright man. She insists he wasn’t a drunk and remembers he was clear-eyed and sober the last time she saw him. Once he gave her four books and asked her to guess which one he had written. She got three wrong before he told her he had written the fourth, a sleazy paperback.
Bill was truly a writer of the 1960′s. His first book was published in 1960, his last in 1969. His last years were eaten up by his mental illness. He was unable to write any more. The doctors were right, it was a downward spiral of desperation, depression, and despair. His agent called from New York. The editor at Lancer, Robert Hoskins, wanted another book.
Just before Christmas in 1972, Jan went to Boston for the holidays. Lily, tired of watching her ex-husband deteriorate, was out of town. His mother and sister were back home in New York City.
Bill Knoles, who loved parties and people, was alone. Bill Knoles, who hated the cold, was alone on Cape Cod, freezing in December. Perhaps he realized that we are all of us terribly alone in this world. We surround ourselves with family and friends, but at the end, in the dark cold times, the long December nights, we are so alone. Sometime on December 20, William Henley Knoles put his pocket money and Social Security card on a table. He took a warm bath. In the bathtub he slashed his throat open with a razor blade. Somehow he found the strength to do it again, since the coroner’s report tells us he had “deep neck lacerations.” Plural. The cause of death is “exsanguination.” In layman’s terms, he bled to death.
On Christmas some neighbors complained to the Provincetown police and Bill’s body was discovered. Later, he was cremated. Lily and Jan scattered his ashes across his beloved Provincetown wildlands. There was no obituary. He just disappeared. There was no grave or marker, but Bill had once told Lily he wanted his marker just to say “Lost At Sea.” Bill’s sister Diana, furious at him about the debts he left behind and their countless fights about the house, went out to Cape Cod and took all of his papers, manuscripts, and books, and burned them in the back yard. As a result, there is no definitive list of all of his work.
“It is upsetting to think about him,” Lily told me. “In some ways it was a wasted life. He had so much talent and couldn’t use it.”
Barry Malzberg said, “William Knoles had the worst ending of any American writer. And we specialize in bad endings.”
Bill’s last agent, Richard Curtis, said, “He was a wonderful writer – he was too good for the books he wrote. All that talent wasted on worthless books.”
There are many ironies today, looking back at Bill’s work, but perhaps the greatest is that his books are far from worthless. Dedicated paperback collectors have sought out his rare books, and the 0008 books fetch increasingly high prices at auction when they do turn up. People who read and enjoy these books are surprised to find plot and structure and solid writing in the Clyde Allison books. One collector told me he was attracted by the darkness lurking just under that comic surface. In a seminal article in Penthouse Forum called “The Golden Age of the Dirty Book,” author Harvey Hornwood correctly noted that Clyde Allison is “always readable and seldom boring” with “sharp, deft prose and entertaining plots.”
Bill Knoles’ mental illness prevented him from making the leap to more “respectable” genres as most of the other softcore writers from the Scott Meredith Agency did. As a result, unlike them he is not found in many reference books today. The only review of Knoles as Clyde Allison is in Bill Pronzini’s guide to the “worst” in mystery fiction, Son of Gun In Cheek. Although he understandably gets some facts wrong (misspells the name Knowles, cites 18 in the 0008 series), he has a fine understanding of Clyde Allison’s 0008 books: “the ultimate not only in soft-core porn novels but in goofy satire: by turns raunchy, mad, silly, ingenious, childish, horribly sexist, and very funny…fond of puns, literary references, film references, all sorts of satirical asides to the reader, and private jokes….”
Otherwise, Knoles is forgotten today, which is probably just as he wanted it. But Clyde Allison lives on in the books. “I’m actually terribly prolific for a hack writer,” he once wrote. He recognized his work as the work of a hack. But he was one hell of a hack writer.
William Hamling refused to be interviewed for this article. He lives in Palm Springs, CA. It has been suggested to me that he may have entered into business dealings with some unsavory characters, hence his reticence to discuss those days today.
Scott Meredith refused to be interviewed for this article. Certainly his tremendous talents as an agent made his fortune. Perhaps some of that fortune might have come from the profits from the adult books he supplied – several thousand of them – for Hamling’s organization. Meredith died of cancer in February 1993.
Lily Pendleton went back to Columbia after Bill’s death and got her Doctorate in Psychology. She works as a counselor in Vermont. Her patients include the victims of child abuse and rape. She also works with manic depressives. She was kind enough to open up an old and painful chapter of her life for this article, and I’d like to dedicate this to Dr. Lily Pendleton, Ph.D.
Among the many people I want to thank for help: Victor Berch, R.C. and Elwanda Holland, James Tate, Chris Eckhoff, Harvey Hornwood, Michael Horowitz, Thomas Lesser, Jeff Gelb, Lance Casebeer, Robert Speray, Bill Pronzini, Rachel Parker-Stephen, Art Hackathorn, Grant Thiessen, and Greg Funke. Thanks to Jeff Munroe, who provided me with a copy of A Christian Understanding of Sex by Clyde Allison.
The following people were kind enough to answer letters and/or be interviewed: Donald E. Westlake, Henry Morrison, Lawrence Block, Hal Dresner, Harlan Ellison, Richard Curtis, Robert Silverberg, Joe Elder, Earl Kemp, Norman Mailer, Joe Goldberg, Arthur Plotnik, Barry N. Malzberg, Dr. Lily Pendleton, Peter Saldamando, Richard Saldamando, Diana Henley, and Jan Kelly.
Jan asked why after all these years I wanted to know about Bill Knoles. I told her that since many of the other writers of these books turned out to be great writers using pen names, I had wondered if maybe Clyde Allison would too. But instead all I had found out was that it was an unknown guy named William Knoles.
“No,” Jan said. “You did find the great writer. The great writer was Bill.”
An Agent 0008 Checklist
The 20 books in the 0008 Series were written by Clyde Allison, a pseudonym of William Knoles, and published by William Hamling. Series editor was Earl Kemp. Seventeen out of the twenty feature spectacular cover paintings by Robert Bonfils but the very best of them all also had hand-lettered titles by Harry Bremner.
Revised from a version appearing in Books Are Everything 26, winter 1993. Copyright 1993, 2003, 2012 by Lynn Munroe.
A William Henley Knoles Bibliography Compiled by Lynn Munroe
1. Writing as Clyde Allison (also Clyde Anderson, Carter Allen); listed alphabetically by publisher:
1212 Jailbait (1962) The first of three [Nightstand 1628, Ember 908; see also Nightstand 1652] adventures about Cora Lee, a low-rent Candy-Lolita type.
1217 Web of Flesh (1962) San Beldano, CA [see Ember 929] cop on the take named Bill Martone. Hard-boiled sex, mayhem, and a descent into madness; this reads like Jim Thompson overdosing on Spanish Fly.
The three Cora Lee novels
Y705 Have Nude Will Travel (December 4, 1962) [See also "Streetfighting For Fun & Profit" below.] Soldier of fortune/pilot Jake O’Day on the job.
901 The Sin Funnel (1967) Secret Agent 0008 takes the last train to Clarksville, where he discovers The Time Funnel (“We were going to call it The Time Tunnel but some television program beat us to it.”), and takes off through time. Knoles was a true science fiction fan and many of the 0008 books are more science fiction than spy thriller.
930 The Desert Damsels (1968) The last 0008 and the last Clyde Allison book, which Knoles ends with the death of the writer “Clyde Allison,” who is killed by a giant vampire bat.
908 Sin Merchant by Clyde Anderson (1963) The third “Cora Lee” book [see Bedside 1201, & Nightstand 1652]. Cora Lee is now a cult priestess at Aurora’s Temple of Ultra Radiant Light.
920 Lust Gamble by Clyde Anderson (ND 1963) Gambler Cal Martin finds work in Las Vegas, teams up with blueblood Fleur Pendragon, takes on the Mob’s Loaded Dice Club.
927 The Flesh Game (ND) Con man Robert Ames and his friends on the grift in Puerto Rico. Lots of con game lore.
929 Flesh Hungry (ND) Ex-crime reporter Greg Newman from San Beldano, CA [see Bedside 1217] is hired by a crime boss to make sure his “reform candidate” becomes governor. Dirty politics.
951 Shame Market (1964) Tough guy private eye Brannigan is hired to locate a millionaire’s missing daughter, Countless literary references from The Big Sleep to 007 as he meets Scarlet Butler, Chan of the Jade Grotto, and the evil Dr. Yess.
301 Our Man From Sadisto (1965) Lover and killer Trevor Anderson, secret agent 0008 of super secret spy group SADISTO [Security and Administration Division of the Institute for Special Tactical Operations] kills dozens, loves 200+.
305 Our Girl From Mephisto (1965) 0008 teams with a gorgeous Russian spy to fight the evil TATU [Teen-Age Terrorists Union].
309 Nautipuss (1965) 0008 vs. the evil female sub commander Captain Demo.
313 Go-Go Sadisto (1966) 0008′s assignment: find which Olympic star is poisoning America’s water supply with botulism.
317 The Desdamona Affair (1966) 0008 must stop the beautiful, sadistic jet setter D. Eva de Struxion!
321 Gamefinger (1966) A mad billionaire revives the ancient Roman Games, thrusting 0008 into “a nonstop orgy of sex and mayhem.”
325 Sadisto Royale (1966) Film producer Augustus Cromwell unleashes Sensovision, the 1966 version of Virtual Reality, and only 0008 can save the world.
329 For Your Sighs Only (1966) 0008 searches for Iranian treasure with the ravishing speleologist Lithica Stone and the deadly Fu Chink Chu, The Girl With the Golden Loins!
333 The Lost Bomb (1966) 0008 must stop The Lust Bomb, an erotic device created by the Nazi dog Wolfgang von Krieghund.
365 The Ice Maiden (1967) 0008 recruits three new 000 agents: the maid Jade, the African beauty Nubiana, and Surfer Suzy from San Diego.
728 The Sin Gang (1964) Seven gangsters steal a billion dollars worth of diamonds in Monaco.
785 Key Club Sinners (1965) Roy Edwards has it all: his Alligator magazine, Miss Alligator of the Month, the Alligator House key clubs, a lovely wife…and a killer sister-in-law.
1210 Torture Club (1965) The story of teenage sex kitten Sharon Chablis. Possibly heavily edited or not Knoles. Very dark, sadistic, violent, unpleasant.
410 Rapture Pit (1964) Three criminals hide out in Brazil as a hit man closes in on them. One of the few Allisons not told in the first person, and possibly not Knoles.
474 Seaside Swap (1965) Bamboo Haven, a Texas Gulf Coast sin and sun resort, is taken on by the Duchess of Dallas.
483 Sexperiment (1966) Dr. John Whitman uses a new chemical allowing unlimited libido, with characters like Honey Bunche and “The ex-Dr. Kreighund,” this is unmistakably the work of the author of the 0008 series.
624 Sin Chained (1964) Writer Vic Thaler succumbs to the “ultimate degradation”: writing a television series called Pirate Girl for producer Jaybee Weber. Cromwell’s Civilization is mentioned (cf. Passion Plot, below Pillar 832).
1133 Six Months To Love (1966) Boring James Blande is told he has six months to live, so he reinvents himself as the exciting James Brande and goes wild at the Valhalla Nudist Camp.
1137 Lewd Nude (1966) Treasure hunting with Jay Lancaster from Lewd magazine.
1140 0008 Meets Gnatman (1966) Hilarious camp satire when 0008 goes to Gothic City to team up with Gnatman and Robina in a race to stop the Gravity Bomb.
1159 The Merciless Mermaids (1966) 0008 fights diabolical mermaids in an undersea adventure.
1160 Mondo Sadisto (1966) Voluptuous Hollywood producer Cin Scopes makes a documentary about 0008′s fight against a new breed of piranhas.
1169 0008 Meets Modesta Blaze (1966) More wild sex, danger, nudity, and silliness as 0008 joins Modesta and her assistant Oddjib in battle against the evil fat man J.P. Greensleeves.
1174 The Sex-Ray (1966) 0008 must stop a new libido-unleashing device from the bad guys at KRUNCH (Kriminality, Revenge, Underhanded tricks, Nastiness, Cruelty, and Hi-Jacking).
1176 Roburta the Conqueress (1966) Like Nautipuss, a Jules Verne take-off. 0008′s task: stop the world takeover by a mad Scot in a nuclear dirigible!
1180 From Rapture With Love (1966) 0008 vs. Psychedelia Schmidt, who wants to dump LSD into America’s water supply. Includes a tour of Knoles’ hometown, Provincetown, Mass.
410 The Sex Riddle (1962) Ex-con/misogynist Tex Carlin becomes a Hollywood star working for legendary film director Hudson Ford. (See also Nightstand 1562.)
424 Sin King (1962) Beach-bum Al Casanova’s life along the French Riviera.
432 Lust Sniper (1962) Third person novel about sadistic killer Slate shooting Los Angeles blondes. Possibly not Knoles.
438 Fast Talk Sinner (1962) “I guess it took me an hour to get her stripped and placed just the way I wanted her.” The story of Florida Keys gigolo/beach bum Larry West.
439 The Sex Spree (1962) Wow. Figuring his credit card bills won’t come due for 30 days, Dave Bender goes on a 30-day world tour/orgy/spree, charging everything as he goes. In Australia, he helps aspiring crime writer Rosetta Stone with her female P.I. thriller Brush the Blood Off My Boobs. The Knoles touch: light, funny, and sexy.
482 Shame Slave (1963) Greenwich Village painter Mike Riley and friends head south, end up at the Key Blanco school for swindlers.
64 Million Dollar Mistress (1960) A rich man offers an innocent beauty one million dollars to sleep with him. Sounds like an indecent proposal.
73 The Sex Peddlers (1961) Madison Avenue ad man Ray King understands the business – “they all peddle sex” – then goes into moviemaking with Amazons of Space.
1525 The Lustful Ones (1960) William Knoles’ first book draws from his own life among the artists and beats of Greenwich Village and Provincetown. Remarkable, real characters: quite different from the usual adult fare.
1555 Flesh Is My Undoing (1961) Con artist Kent Marshall puts the squeeze on ex-partner Ellen at her rich husband’s estate. Allison would add comedy to this formula to create his later (and more successful) comic crime capers.
1557 Malay Mistress (1961) Wildcat adventurer Allan Bowie finds romance in Indonesia with the titular Toy Min.
1571 Sex Trap (1961) Los Angeles divorce detective Hal Cade: it’s a sleazy job and he loves every minute.
1573 Jade Brothel (1961) Dave Owen runs the Jade Grotto in Bangkok and helps his friend Jaybee Weber make a movie called River of Lust.
1582 Flesh For Hire (ND) Low-class Times Square talent agent Jack Marlowe takes a shot at the big time.
1601 The Lust Game (1962) Typical Allison antihero Pat Granville writes trash for the New York scandal magazine The Investigator, falls for his luscious but abnormal publisher, Rhonda Bane.
1628 Jailbait Wanton (1962) The second Cora Lee book. In a reversal of the usual women-hating cads of Clyde Allison’s books, these feature a strong woman protagonist (even if she is a completely immoral teenage tramp). Takes up right where the first book (Bedside 1201) ended. See also Ember 908 and Nightstand 1652.
1632 Passion Prize (1962) Ex-con con artist Hank Weston poses as a big time promoter named Kingsblood.
1634 Sin Trader (1962) Con man Ron Baker impersonates several people (under the guidance of his Amazon lover Brunhilde), including men’s magazine publisher Humphrey Hannibal.
1644 Sex, Inc. (1963) Nonstop sex and fun with Bob Dale of Hollywood’s Hill & Dale Travel Agency. Wild.
1652 Money Bed (1963) Mark Yeager has 24 hours to pay a $20,000 gambling debt, winds up with Aurora at her Cult of Ultra Radiant Light [see Ember 908].
1708 Flesh Is My Undoing reprints 1555 (ND)
1710 Malay Mistress reprints 1557 (ND)
1732 Passion Pool (1965) Would-be writer Ray Rand has a contract for a movie story, but he’s too busy seducing the endless parade of beauties at his Hollywood apartment building. Actor Pete Banco is a neighbor.
1734 Flesh Cult (1965) Reporter/con man Jay Vickers at the Temple of Cosmic Sensuality with Florida Keys millionaire Titus Oates. Marred by violence against women, sadism.
1877 Platypussy (1968) 0008 in Australia with Dada Port Douglas. Hilarious.
832 Passion Plot by Clyde Anderson (1963) Big, sprawling epic novel about the making of a big, sprawling epic movie: Augustus Cromwell’s Civilization. See also Sin Chained, LB624.
510 Gatefold Girls (1964) Hollywood script doctor Mike Norton is called in to save Kurt Luger’s latest epic, The Gatefold Girls.
521 Orgy Voyage (1964) Dan Hill pilots a rich man’s yacht to the Florida Keys.
533 Luster’s Revolt (1965) Merchant Marine Sam Ralston joins the revolution in tropical San Paulo.
540 Orgy Lair (1965) Actor Pete Banco finds work in Oswald Rasputin’s porno films. The sleazy cover, with two naked women in leather headgear, is a prime example of the reason Knoles never told any of his friends or neighbors that he was Clyde Allison.
563 Passion Profiteer (1965) Florida divorce detective Evan Sherwood plots a sleazy caper. Orgies and depravity.
After Knoles’ death the publisher reprinted some of the Clyde Allison Nightstands in the Reed Nightstand series using the pseudonym Carter Allen.
3038 The Lustful Ones (as Clyde Allison) reprints Nightstand 1525
Carter Allen titles:
3053 Flesh Is My Undoing reprints 1555
3054 For the Love of Toy Min reprints 1557 Malay Mistress
4005 The Cheating Game reprints 1571 Sex Trap
4007 To Kiss A Dragon reprints 1573 Jade Brothel
4016 No Experience Necessary reprints 1582 Flesh For Hire
4038 The Brutalized reprints MR410 Sex Riddle
4051 No Private Affair reprints 1601 The Lust Game
2. Writing as Clyde Ames
73-607 Gorgonzola, Won’t You Please Come Home? (1967) Al Fresco, agent 99/44 of PURE, in search of a missing Godzilla-type monster pirated by Eva de Struction and her international all-female gang: Bette Noir, Honey Soit, Rara Avis, Toots Sweet, Lacey Faire, and Vita Brevis.
73-826 Bang the Doll Slowly (March 1, 1969) Free-lance soldier of fortune Brick Barnes and BESS, the girl from PORGY (a take-off on Lancer’s Man From ORGY), on the trail of Titus Oates’ Super Sex Machine. Copyright by William Knoles of Provincetown, Mass.
3. Writing as Wilson Craddock, Jr.:”The Artifact” in Party (“Booze is the Only Answer” Club Magazine) (1961). science fiction short story
4. Writing as John Dexter:
Editor Earl Kemp told me they first used the house names John Dexter and J.X. Williams when they had two manuscripts ready in the same month in the same group by the same writer. There are probably J.X. Williams books by William Knoles, but because his papers were all destroyed when he died, we may never know which ones he wrote. There are probably more Dexter titles by Knoles. The first of these two is definitely Knoles, the second is a maybe:
1562 Sin Song (1961) Promoter Ed Jason gives us Suzy Beetle, the female Elvis. When Suzy gets to Hollywood her director is Hudson Ford, the director from Allison’s The Sex Riddle (Midnight Reader 410).
1594 Sin Colony (1962) One of my fellow Allison fans says this can’t be Knoles. It is told in third person and doesn’t have that wacky, silly style that distinguishes the real Clyde. But Knoles wrote in the third person sometimes (see Lancer 73-607) and there are a couple of clues that make me suspect this might be our man. A character is named Geneva Pendleton, named I think for Knoles’ wife Penny Pendleton, and another guy is a funny writer named Cloyd Frisnell (Clyde Allison?). It is also possible that this is one of the other writers sending up Allison.
5. Writing as William Knoles (magazines):
“Home is Where the Hearse Is” in Thrilling Detective (April 1952). Knoles’ first story is this pulp thriller, a breezy comedy told in present tense. Creepy Club Mysteries publicist Typhoon Townsend enters the quiet life of author Herbert Hotspur and turns it upside down.
“Girls for the Slime God” in Playboy (November 1960). A loving, nostalgic, and funny look back at the classic science fiction pulps. Illustrated by Will Elder. Author’s working title was “BEMS, Anyone?”
“The Saga of the Marvelous Men” in Diner’s Club magazine (November 1965). A salute to the pulp heroes of yesteryear: Doc Savage, The Shadow, Operator #5, Nick Carter, and Tarzan.
6. Writing as Williamson Knowles?
“Cabin in the Sky” in Mystery Digest (May-June 1961). There is no verification that this is William Knoles, but we know that he was selling a lot of stories in 1961, and Scott Meredith authors often provided material for this digest. The name is obviously very similar and no other stories by Mr. Knowles have surfaced. The style, however, is unlike anything else Knoles wrote: a violent first-person hardboiled crime story with a bloody shootout finale. Barry Malzberg believes this is “unquestionably” Knoles.
7. Writing as Max Williams (magazines):
“The Converter” in Gent (April 1960). Court case satire about color converters that attach to black and white television sets.
“Treasure Ho!” in Escapade (August 1960). Short but hilarious article about treasure hunting.
“Debt of a Salesman” in Dude (March 1961). Satirical short story about buying on credit.
“The Seeder” in If (March, 1961). Science fiction short story.
“Beware of Patterns” in Mr. Magazine (April 1961). Mystery story.
“What? Another Ultimate Weapon?” in Help! (June 1961). Comedy story about a battle in the future using concentrated television waves as weapons.
“The Education of Jefferson Burbage” in Escapade (October 1961). Solid short story with an O. Henry-style twist ending. One of Knoles’ best. Reprinted in Escapade Yearbook 1963.
“Streetfighting For Fun & Profit” in Hi-Life (November 1961). Clyde Allison-style very funny article about self-defense ads. (In Have Nude Will Travel [Berkley Y705], Mrs. Tamerlane complains that her son reads things like “Streetfighting For Fun & Profit.”)
“To Tahiti – Second Step” in Adam Bedside Reader #24 (1966) Article on sailing to Tahiti.
The Missing Knoles Stories:
Certainly there are other articles and stories to be discovered. Lily remembers Bill writing a funny magazine piece about wine snobs. Bill’s agent thinks he sold something to TV Guide. Bill’s sister remembers some Sunday supplement-type articles. Anyone coming across ANYTHING not listed here by William Knoles, Max Williams, Clyde Allison, or any of his other pen names is asked to please contact us.
Circumstances of Knoles’ death, and the situation under which his books were published, may prevent us from ever having a complete list of his books. There are probably Knoles books printed under the wrong pen name, or a house name, or by other publishers under unknown pseudonyms.
Since writing this article I read Next Stop Sinland (Leisure 1120) by Dean Hudson. It is unmistakably written by William Knoles.