". . . Morvenna fiercely resisted her growing attraction to Roque de Braz Ferro. He was a man with a heart as hard as his name, whose arrogance was overpowering. But on this savage, beautiful island that was his domain, falling in love was inevitable!" "Beloved Castaway" Violet Winspear Harlequin Romance No. 1472
Ida was just a slip of a girl, when whe met John D. McGee. He was a man with a heart as big as Texas and Ida thought she would faint when he looked at her and threw her a flower, a fine yellow chrysanthemum. Who would have though they would be married 42 years and she would be standing there yesterday, the one to catch the big bouquet at the 30th birthday party for Harlequin books, the world's largest publisher of paperback romance!
Nearly 300 Harlequin readers were invited to the birthday brunch at the Mayflower, their names culled from over 1,000 who responded to newspaper ads and to annoucements sent readers on Harlequin's mail-order subscription list. Most of them were women who had snatched a few hours from days spent at desks and department store counters, and they came in pearls and pantsuits and freshly powdered faces to blow out the candles on a birthday cake and try for the door prize -- gift certificates to Saks Fifth Avenue and Elizabeth Arden.
And they signed, like a warm breeze off a remote Brazilian island as handsome Jay Whiteside, with his jutting jaw and jet-black hair, explained to them that "it's a time of confusion and stress; lifestyle are chnaging at an alarming pace," and promised them that at Harlequin, "Life is to be valued, love is one of the most important human needs and yes, there can be a happy ending."
Happy Harlequin! Last year, they sold 125 million books, up from 19 million just nine years ago. They have what Whiteside calls "brand-name security -- our average reader is your basic supermarket consumer," he explains. They toss the Harlequins with the Glad Bags and the Quicker Picker Uppers that fill the gleaming cart as it makes its weekly round down air-conditioned aisles.
"She shook her head and stared into the tawny pool at the bottom of her glass. 'I meant that marriage ought to be all-satisfying, but it seems to fall short of that these days. In my country, at least. I don't know about Spain." "The Cazalet Bride" Violet Winspear Harlequin No. 1434
Neither does Jay Whiteside, but he knows it doesn't fall short in a Harlequin romance. "On the product benefits side, we find that our readers are looking for easy reading that is set in faraway places, has a happy ending and is pure -- there's nothing explicit in them. It's very much an escape sort of thing. They know if they pick up a Harlequin romance, that's what they're going to get."
"They take me into another world" say Ida McGee, eyes shining like a bride's as she pats the hand of husband John. "There's always a happy ending. Always peace," she smiles. "Always tranquility. When you go to sleep after the evening news, you're unhappy. After a Harlequin, you're happy."
After working 32 years at the Library of Congress, her husband was a big help in cataloguing the Harlequins Ida MbGee has collected so far -- over 300. She's only been reading them for a few years, ever since she began writing fiction in a creative writing class. She began to use the Harlequins as models after seeing an ad for them on television. Now she reads two a day, each one twice, to understand how they're written, and summarizes them for her husband over breakfast at their home in northeast Washington.
Ida McGee is trying to write her own stories now and John has been a big help. "He's my inspiration for my heroes," she says so gently that the words seem to cling to the baby's breath in her bouquet. "Whenever I'm trying to write about a sensuous kiss, he gives me a sensuous kiss." John McGee look startled and then very embarrassed and then very much in love. "She's taught me so much," he says. "I didn't know how to express the things I felt or how to feel. She taught me how to laugh." He pauses for a moment. "I often wonder what it would have been like if we had had children she could have shared these things with."
"Nothing had really changed, Diana thought miserably. She'd been foolish to hope that lovemaking would resolve the situation more satisfactorily than talking." "Jungle of Desire" Flora Kidd Harlequin Presents . . . No 216
Every year, Harlequin puts out 25 new titles. But while the Romances end in marriage, and the Mystiques swirl in mystery, the series called "Harlequin Present . . ." is, well, "a bit steamier," as Pamela Galsworthy, Harlequin's consumer relations director explains. It is not, God forbid, explicit, like the passion pulp offerings whose heroines manage to get raped and ravaged in as many postiion as countries. It's just that well, the herione and the hero have occassionally "been together" before they get married, as Galsworthy put it.
Around 1973, Galsworthy explains some of Harlequin's writers got a little restless to "take things a little further," than the one kiss the heroine proposal in the Romance series. Now there are caresses as well as kisses and the writer has a chance to "describe how the girl feels at such a moment and what her emotions are."
Before the ladies lit into their chicken and broccoli, they heard little homilies from Galsworthy, Whiteside and Flora Kidd, a favorite Harletquin author. Kidd is given to a shy smile and statement like "I don't like unhappy endings because I don't think tragedy exists. We make it by behaving badly." Dressed in sensible heels and a red dress and a string of pearls, each strand of hair curled carefully into position it has probably held for the last 15 years, her British accent quavers a bit as if it were being played on a flute.Someone in the audience asks her for the title of her most recent book. "I belive it's called 'Stay Through the Night,'" she says. The gasps coming from behind the centerpeices do not sound titillated. They sound shocked.
"They're getting quite spicy, you know," says Louise Miles, shaking her head. She receives six Harlequins in the mail each month and runs to the store to buy more fixes in-between. "I'm really a junkie," she says rather proudly. "But I like romance the way it used to be lived." There is a pause. "When a beautiful kiss was just a beautiful kiss."
She is a window and she works two jobs, teaching second grade and working as a receptionist in a doctor's office -- OB-GYN. "Reading the romances if the only pleasure I have," she says in a low voice. "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and finish one. I wish they'd keep them clean. I'm not afraid to have one on my desk when the children come to school." A smile. "You should see me on holidays. I just read all day long."
"Well, my darling Veronica," he murmured, "what of that career now?"
"Blow my career." Her arms stole up around his neck. "I'd sooner be your dear, dominated wife."
"It is not I who dominates you." He laughed softly at the idea. "It is love that dominates both of us." "The Cazalet Bride"
Marge Stichman just celerated her 37th wedding anniversary and she is wearing the corsage that her husband had delivered to the Montgomery Ward store where she works. The card said, "If I had to do it all over again I would. I love you very much."
Before the brunch, Strichman had read a Harlequin Romance called "Take What You Want." "It was so romantic, I just may not get any work at all done," she sighs.
"We married in the wartime -- on a Sunday. He was drafted on a Tuesday. People were closer together then, I guess. You depended more on your parents and your grandparents. I don't know what it is now, maybe it's the premarital sex. "I guess," says Marge Stichman, "I was lucky. It's awful hard to live in today's world."