Screen/Hollywood by Barry N. Malzberg (Olympia Press)
Sometimes you can find rare Malzbergs from Olympia or Midwood/Oracle in UK pirate editions…or the nifty translation, such as Hollywood, which is the German translation of Screen. There was a second German edition, credited to B.N. Berg:
Screen is probably the best known of Malzberg’s handful Olympias, that he did under his name, Gerrold Watkins, or the one-shot as Francine di Natale.
After he sold Olympia Orancle of a Thousand Hands, Maurice Girodas pitched Malzberg on a book he could not get his other writers to tackle. In an essay at Earl Kemp’s special Olympia Press-cenetered edition of el, “Reptenace, Deisre, and Natalie Wood,” Malzberg writes:
“The problem with your pornography,” an editor at Olympia named Uta West said to me in relation to the problem, “The only real trouble is that you write about sex the way that 95% of us experience it 95% of the time but it’s hard to get us to pay to read about it, you know?”
Still, like the Common Man in Marat/Sade, I had plans. If my sex scenes were dreamy, my intentions and style were, I trusted, not: I wrote the opening chapters of Oracle of theThousand Hands in a dead fever of February 1968, trying to figure out what might impress Nabokov’s publisher’s first reader and came up with a crazed pastiche of Pale Fireand Despair, the memoirs of a compulsive masturbator narrated in the alternating first- and third-person with quarts of semen spewed over electric fences, cattle mooing nostalgically in the background at the instant of self-defloration and ultimately a powerful shock from that electrified fence at the moment of final consummation. Girodias or someone there noticed what was going on, he summoned me to Gramercy Park (the Press and four employees worked out of his apartment, skirting the mattress on the floor as they sidled from room to room) and offered me a $2,000 contract.
Well,” he muttered six weeks later when on an impossible June afternoon I came to hear the verdict on the completed novel mailed oh-so-recently, “it’s not your number one best seller but it’s amusing and interesting isn’t it?” Amusing and interesting were his favorite attitudes and everyone in the ideal Traveller’s Companion or Ophelia Press book would climax with a smile and a sigh. “I have to accept this, I guess, but now you do something for me. I have a novel I want you to do as a special project for me.”
That novel I soon discovered had been offered to and declined as an idea by every writer who had come trooping around or past the mattress: a young man with an empty life and much seminal backup is obsessed with film, watches five films a day, falls vividly in love with actresses, has an imagination so passionate that he can place himself on the screen with and make passionate love to Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia and the ever-popular “others.” “Use their real names,” he said, “I want scandale; without scandal this cannot work.”
“What becomes of the boy?”
“I don’t know. Who the hell cares? Maybe he becomes Joe E. Levine, what’s the difference. I’ll give you a clause protecting you against lawsuits. I love lawsuits,” he reminded me.
I delivered Screen in two weeks, taking Martin Miller, a Department of Welfare investigator in Brooklyn (as I had been) through a series of Bijoux and into and out of the genitalia of some actresses, also to Aqueduct race track in the borough of Queens and also through more desultory (if unrequested) collision with a fellow social worker whom he did not love (roman a clef here) but who intimated his obsession and pointed out that Martin had better get wise, “because I’m for real. I’m also your last chance.” (No, she wasn’t.) I hold no great brief for the novel but doubt if any better has been written faster, pace A.J. Liebling, and it contains for whatever it is worth probably the best sentence I ever wrote and maybe the best sentence published in a novel of lust in 1969; the last sentence of that novel as Martin Miller having walked away from the suddenly desperate colleague, pounds it into a star (and pounds it an pounds it and pounds it, “her body a map, her hands a road to carry me home”):
It is strange and complex, complex and strange and my orgasm is like a giant bird torn wing to wing by rifle fire, falling, falling, in the hot drenched sun of that damned Southwestern city.
That sentence written (as were many of the sentences of that and Oracle) with two-year-old Stephanie Jill burbling and cooing and muttering and bounding and volubly discussing matters of climate at her father’s knee didn’t have in draft the word “damned,” something seemed to be lacking and in the only revision in either of those two novels, the word was put in for rhythm and emphasis and all of it placed on or next to the Girodias mattress shortly after Independence Day.
“You son of a bitch,” he pointed out, “you made me crazy, do you know that? I ask you this time for pornography, a simple work of pornography, give you a plot and everything and ask you to keep it simple and low-class, I publish one book for you and ask you to this forme and what do you do? You give me 40 pages which are beautiful, just beautiful, you even know the color of that one’s bush how you tell that? And then what do you give me? You give me horse-racing, you give me existentialism, you give me despair! You give me terrible anxiety and depression! You give me pain and thwarted desire! This book will sell 400 copies, I have to publish it hardcover too because in paperback everyone will throw it away; I have to publish it because it is a masterpiece, but you destroy me, do you understand?”
It sold 350 copies in hardcover, actually, making it the leader of the second “new hardcore line” (Oracle sold half that and a novel by Alex Austin, Eleanore, sold according to statement 52 copies) but none of this was my fault, was it? I mean it was indeed (Lehmann-Haupt backed me up on this) anti-pornography for the coming age of Nixon and under the circumstances, the time could have been right.
It never became the controversaial bestseller with lawsuits and scandal that Girodas was hoping for. As for his Olympias, I prefer some of the others over this one, such as A Bed of Money or The Circle.
Barry Malzberg’s Olympia Press (NY) Bibliography
LP/2 Screen, by Barry Malzberg, 1968 boards
LP/3 Oracle of the Thousand Hands, by Barry Malzberg, 1968 boards
444 The Circle, by Francine Di Natale, May 16, 1969
460 Southern Comfort, by Gerrold Watkins, 1969
474 A Bed of Money, by Gerrold Watkins, 1969
476 A Satyr’s Romance, by Gerrold Watkins, 1970
479 Giving It Away, by Gerrold Watkins, 1970
483 The Art of the Fugue, by Gerrold Watkins, 1970
OPS/8 Screen, by Barry Malzberg, 1970 paperback
OPS/17 In My Parents’ Bedroom, by Barry Malzberg, 1971
OPS/29 The Confessions of Westchester County, by Barry Malzberg, 1971