Clyde Allison — Who Was He?
“Clyde Allison” was one of the many pen names used by prolific author William Knoles often misspelled as “Knowles” by booksellers), who committed suicide in 1972. He was 46.
Other pen names: Max Williams for men’s magazines, Cylde Ames for Lancer Books, Carter Allen for the Reed Nightstand reprints, and Wilson Craddock, Jr., which is widow, Lily Knoles, said:
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!”
At Earl Kemp’s zine el, Lynn Munroe writes:
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Bill told Lily that one unpublished writer had been yanked on by the Meredith agency for weeks, sending in several readers fees, only to get yet another form letter.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.
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.”
Apparently, Knoles got the pen name from a Presbyterian minister in Chicago named Clyde Allison who write a book, A Christian Understanding of Sex.
Knowles suffered from manic depression and the usual pulp writer’s dismay that he knew he had great literary work inside him, but he had to write smut to pay the bills. What used to be fun became a tedious hack job. Says Lilly:
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.
Around December 20, 1972, in Provincetown, RI, Knoles opened his jugular vein and bled to death.