Friday, January 20, 2012

"Personally trained in the [Jack] Woodford style"

This 1952 hardcover of "Two Can Play" by Jack Woodford and Jeanne Renée isn't especially rare or notable. But what caught my attention was some of the text on the dust jacket of the Signature Press, Inc. novel.

The lone paragraph on the back of the cover states:
"SIGNATURE PRESS, INC. was formed with Jack Woodford as one of the principal owners to publish and promote books written by him and by young authors whom he personally trained in the Woodford style."
And the inside front flap states: "This is the first book that Jack Woodford and his protege, Jeanne Renée, have written together. There will be more to come."

So who was Jack Woodford?

First off, that's a pen name.1 His real name was Josiah Pitts Woolfolk.

Writer Richard A. Lupoff posted this wonderfully concise biography of Woodford on last October:
"Jack Woodford (1894-1971) was one of the most accomplished (and eccentric) novelists of his time. He quarreled with the publishing industry, he was attacked as a pornographer, he had been a heroin addict and alcoholic, he spent time in a Federal penitentiary for mail fraud and ended his days (by his own description) living in a comfortable suite in a mental hospital. His books on writing remain some of the best ever published on that subject. His 'sleaze' novels were packaged sensationally2 but in fact, at least by modern standards, are little more than tepid romances."
Sleaze aside3, Woodford's greater legacy is probably his well-regarded books about writing, especially "Trial and Error," which was originally published in the 1930s and has various editions that sell for $10 to $30 today.4

How well-regarded was Woodford's no-nonsense writing advice? Here are quotes from some of his fans and disciples:5
  • Ray Bradbury: "Jack Woodford's 'Trial and Error' was the first book on writing I ever read, at the age of fifteen. He said all the right things and said them clearly. I stayed afloat and got my work done because of him."
  • Piers Anthony: "I have a strong feeling of affinity for Jack Woodford, an ornery cuss who answered his mail and his critics and told it as it was — as I do now. ... Jack Woodford was writing on writing back when I was born — and he still makes more sense than anyone else. His references may be dated now, but his truths are eternal."
  • Robert A. Heinlein: "I read 'Trial and Error' in 1939, started writing and did exactly what he said to do, and it works and I've sold it all."

That's a pretty nice trio of recommendations!

So, while the "Woodford style" of trashy pulp fiction might not have done much to advance to world of 20th-century literature, his advice has certainly inspired legions of writers, including some of our greatest science-fiction and fantasy authors.

1. His other pen names included Gordon Sayre, Sappho Henderson Britt, and Howard Hogue Kennedy.
2. If you're curious about the "sensationally" packaged "tepid romances" of Woodford ("Two Can Play" might have been his tamest cover of all time!), you can check out some of his raciest covers at a blog called Vintage Sleaze, which is precisely what you would expect it to be. I think my favorite title is "3 Gorgeous Hussies."1
3. Here's an amusing quote attributed to Woodford, regarding the art of keeping the plot simple in his style of pulp novels: “Boy meets girl; girl gets boy into pickle; boy gets pickle into girl.”
4. Woodford's non-fiction bibliography on Wikipedia is a good place to start if you're interested in his books about writing.
5. These are excerpted from Woodford's Wikipedia page.

Secondary footnote
1. Little-known fact: "3 Gorgeous Hussies" was the runner-up when I was deciding what to name this blog.1

Tertiary footnote
1. Not really.1

Quaternary footnote
1. Learned something new today. Did you know that the answer to "What comes after primary, secondary, tertiary?" -- according to Oxford Dictionaries -- is this: "The sequence continues with quaternary, quinary, senary, septenary, octonary, nonary, and denary, although most of these terms are rarely used. There's no word relating to the number eleven but there is one that relates to the number twelve: duodenary." So there.


  1. I have written and published a biography of him, The Ghost of Jack Woodford. Its available on amazon thru the Kindle or as a paperback. check it out.