Birthplace: Chicago, Il
You Know Him As: Author of best-selling books “The Chapman Report” (1960), “The Prize” (1963) and “The Fan Club” (1974).
Did you know?:His daughter, Amy Wallace, was the longtime lover of Carlos Castaneda, who was famous for writing several books detailing personal accounts of training in Native American shamanism with Don Juan Matus. She would eventually write a book about her 27 years with Castenada, released after his death, entitled “Sorcerer’s Apprentice: My Life With Carlos Castaneda” (2003).
On March 19, 1916, Irving Wallace was born to Bessie Liss and Alexander Wallace, a clerk in a general store in Chicago, Ill. Both of his parents were born in Russia and emigrated to the United States in their teens. Instead of in his birth city, however, Wallace grew up 65 miles to the north in Kenosha.
Wallace might have developed his passion for writing and reading from his mother, who is said to have been a fan of Russian writers. Wallace knew he wanted to be a writer since he was quite young. He wrote not only for Washington Junior High School but also for Kenosha’s Reuther Central High School’s student newspapers; he served as an editor and earned two national awards for this work. At age 12, he set his mind to magazine writing and published his first article just three years later at 15 years old. Among the articles published was “The Horse Laugh,” which appeared in newspapers and magazines. During his high school years, Wallace also wrote a sports column for a local paper.
After graduation, Wallace was active in freelance writing. He applied to several colleges, eventually choosing to study creative writing at the Williams Institute in Berkeley, Calif. which gave him a scholarship to attend. However promising a start this was, Wallace only stayed for a few months before moving to Los Angeles and returning to his freelance career.
On June 3, 1941, Wallace married Sylvia Kahn. For several years, Sylvia served as West Coast editor of Photoplay magazine, resigning in the late 1950s to become a full-time mother. She published two novels, “The Fountains” (1976) and “Empress” (1980). Together they have had two children, son David Wallechinsky and daughter Amy Wallace (who attended Reuther Central High School in Kenosha). His son David did genealogical research on the family and discovered that the family’s original last name was “Wallechinsky,” having been Anglicized to “Wallace” by a U.S. Immigration clerk. He was so angered at this, he had his name legally changed to “David Wallechinsky.”
During World War II, Wallace enlisted in the Army as a writer in the First Motion Picture Unit and Signal Corps Photographic Center, where he mainly worked on training and orientation films. At the same time, he was able to write a plethora of articles, short stories and screenplays for such periodicals as The American Legion Magazine, Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Collier’s. Through his screenplays, Wallace was put into contact with filmmakers like John Huston and Frank Capra. He even went to Hollywood upon being discharged from the military, working for film companies from 1950 to 1959. Among the screenplays he wrote during this period were “The West Point Story” (1950), “Bad for Each Other” (1953) , “Jump into the Hell” (1955) and “The Big Circus” (1959). In 1951 his talent was acknowledged by the Writers Guild of America when they nominated him for a WGA (Screen) Award for Best Written American Musical for “The West Point Story” (1950).
Wallace eventually left Hollywood to return to non-cinema writing. His first novel was published shortly after, “The Sins of Philip Fleming” (1959), but did not attract much critical attention. The publishing break he sought occurred just one year later with “The Chapman Report.” This novel 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 passion and controversy with the arrival of his research group. Despite much criticism of his work, Wallace’s 16 novels and 17 nonfiction works have sold 250 million copies around the world.
“Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure,” Wallace reveals at BrainyQuote.com
“Read all you can about it, interview experts on it, even travel to the sites of the story to guarantee authenticity and get a feel for the background,” Wallace, the meticulous researcher, says on BrainyQuote.com.
This drive to “find the story” also leads to his journalistic style of writing, which contains a strong narrative with sex, facts and Wallace’s own morals to bring closure to elements in conflict. This “tell-all” feel gives it a universal appeal, which enabled several novels to become bestsellers. They also contain many dramatic confrontations, enabling his novels to successfully adapt to screenplay.
“The Chapman Report” was the first of his novels to be made into a screenplay in 1962, paving the way for several others to make the same transition. “The Prize” came to film in 1963 and follows several Noble Prize winners who travel to Stockholm, only to have their lives upset in different ways. Russ Meyer’s film version of “The Seven Minutes,” in 1971, deals with pornography and freedom of speech. “The Man” was released in 1972 and starred James Earl Jones as the first African American president of the United States. In the mini series, “The Word” (1972), a gospel written by Jesus’ brother is discovered.
Often, Wallace’s novels blend sex, politics, travel, remarkable discoveries, intriguing villains and all the historical elements of the Cold War period. His works are known for their attention to detail and often controversial topics. “To be one’s self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity,” says Wallace on BrainyQuote.com.
In 1964, Wallace received the Supreme Award of Merit and an honorary fellowship from George Washington Carver Memorial Institute for writing “The Man” (1964). Wallace’s other awards include a Commonwealth Club silver medal (1965), Bestsellers Magazine Award (1965), Paperback of the Year citation (1970), Popular Culture Association Award of Excellence (1974) and a Venice Rosa d’Oro award (1975).
He briefly returned to writing for the media in 1972 as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News / Sun Times Wire Service at the Democratic and Republican national conventions.
Wallace was highly successful in all that he did, as a novelist, short-story writer, and screenwriter, successfully writing fiction based on current events. His novels and non-fiction topped the bestseller lists consistently, won numerous awards and were even made into movies. Apart from the world of fiction, Wallace has also produced several notable non-fiction works, including several editions of “The People’s Almanac” and “The Book of Lists.” In 10 of these works, members of his family assisted in the writing, of which son David assisted in nine, daughter Amy assisted in seven and wife Sylvia assisted in two.
Wallace died of pancreatic cancer on June 29, 1990, at the age of 74 and was interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, Calif.
Biography by Katie Doucet