Penelope Ashe was born in June 1966, the month that Newsday reporter Mike McGrady came up with the idea to write a deliberately bad sex novel with other writers. Although the result was a best-selling novel, it was supposed to be a parody on bad writing. Upon conception of the idea, McGrady sent out a memorandum to his collaborators about the idea: "As one of Newsday's truly outstanding literary talents you are hereby officially invited to become the co-author of a best-selling novel. There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex. Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion" (New York Times, August 7, 1969).
Twenty-four Newsday employees (editors and reporters) accepted the job and wrote sections of the novel. Among those who participated were feature columnist Harvey Aronson (born 1929), journalist Mal Karman (born 1944), Robert William Greene (born 1933), editor William Franklin McIlwain Jr., two-time Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Gene Goltz, city editor Jack Schwartz, science reporter Bernard Bookbinder, and sportswriter George Vecsey.
McGrady described Penelope Ashe as a demure suburban housewife, impersonated by McGrady's wife's sister Billie Young (born 1936 in Brooklyn, N.Y.).
McGrady circulated many style guidelines for the book to outline characters and basic plot. However, he let each collaborator develop his own chapter without specific knowledge of what each other wrote.
Before finishing the novel in 1966, seeking a publisher, McGrady went to Lyle Stuart "who specialized in trash" (www.4porn.net/45.html). In their first meeting McGrady told Stuart about the prank. Stuart said he would publish it without reading it first.
The initial draft was written during the week of June 20 to 27, 1966. Other projects often interrupted the completion of the manuscript. McGrady and Aronson rewrote the final draft, exchanging chapters by mail between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Garden City. They condensed the book from 24 chapters to 14 chapters in the end.
The novel was initially treated as a legitimate novel before the hoax was revealed. It was first helped along by Screw Magazine. On August 7, 1969, the hoax was revealed. Magazines and newspapers such as Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post helped to reveal the hoax and make the novel very popular. Sales jumped after the revealing of the hoax.
Mike McGrady was born October 4, 1933, in New York, N.Y. His parents, both of whom were writers, were Patrick M. and Grace Robinson McGrady. He married designer Corinne Young in 1958, and had three children.
McGrady attended Yale University to earn his BA in 1955 and Harvard University from 1968 to 1969. He served in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958. His home address is 95 Eaton's Neck Road, Northport, N.Y. 11768. His office is at 166 Laurel Avenue, East Northport, N.Y. 11731. His agent is at Sterling Lord Agency, 660 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10021.
In 1968, McGrady won an Overseas Press Club Award for best interpretive reporting for a Dove in Vietnam. He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University from 1968 to 1969 and won Headliners Award of National Headliners Club for best column in the U.S. in 1966. He is also a free-lance writer.
McGrady's other publications include: A Dove in Vietnam, Funk, 1968; Stranger Than Naked or How to Write Dirty Books for Fun & Profit, Peter H. Wyden, 1972; The Kitchen Sink Papers: My Life as a Househusband, Doubleday, 1975; The Establishment of Innocence, Putnam, 1976; The Motel Tapes, Warner Books, 1977; The Husband's Cookbook, Lippincott, 1979; Ordeal (with Linda Lovelace), Citadel, 1980; Youth and the FBI (with John Floherty, foreword by J. Edgar Hoover), 1960; Whirling Wings (with Floherty), 1960; Crime Scientists, 1961; Jungle Doctors, 1962; Skin Diving Adventures (with Floherty), 1962.
Bruns, Bill. "Naked truth about the great novel hoax." Life. 22 August 1969: 69-70.
Raymont, Henry. "Does Sex Sell? Ask ?Penelope Ashe.'" New York Times. 7 August 1969.
Sheehy, Gail. "Who is Penelope Ashe?" McCall's. November 1969: 70-71, 136-137.
The Gale Group. Biography Resource Center at www.galenet.com, contacted March 2000.
The Gale Group. Gale Literary Databases at www.galenet.com, contacted March 2000.
www.4porn.net/45.html, contacted March 2000.