Amy Wallace wipes her cherry-red eyeglasses on her white guaze skirt.
"Everybody has quirks," she says. "Mine is that I like to read about other people's sex lives."
She is sitting in a Washington hotel room, waiting for the limousine to take her to a radio show interview. She is plump and disheveled, with turquoise eyeliner ringing her brown eyes and strands of limp dark hair falling from a loose ponytail. Her nails and lips are painted cantaloupe-orange.
The 25-year-old daughter of pot-boiler pooh-bah Irving Wallace, in town to promote the Wallace family's latest group grope, "The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People," has been through this before. Back in 1975 for "The People's Almanac," four years ago for "The Book of Lists," last year for "The Book of Lists, No. 2." The family is hoping that the latest spinoff (featuring the cash register combo of sex plus celebrities) will sail onto the best-seller lists just like the others.
But this time is different. Amy Wallace looks bored.
"When I was in Baltimore yesterday, a reporter asked me how old I was when I was toilet trained," she says wearily.Another wanted to know when she lost her virginity. She was a guest on a radio call-in show and a woman called her a "tart" and a "strumpet." All because of The Book.
"I'm getting asked all these questions about my sex life," she pouts. Her brother, David Wallechinsky, hasn't been asked once about his sex life, she says. "It's probably because I'm a woman."
Brother and sister split up the 15-city tour (part of a whopping $100,000 publicity budget), Amy doing one city, David the next. From Dallas to Des Moines, its nonstop radio shows, interviews, talk shows; plugging the $15 encyclopedia of quirks, peccadilkloes and kinky sex practices of 200 historical notables, nearly all of whom -- fortunately for the authors -- aren't around to defend themselves.
For example, "The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People" rips the literary lid off Virginia's Woolf's coffin by revealing that the English author was frigid.
Jannika Hurwitt, Amy's best friend from high school, wrote the profile. In fact, Hurwitt, a slim woman with closely cropped hair, is sitting on the couch, taking notes. She is accompanying Amy Wallace on the publicity tour. c
How does she know Woolf was frigid?
"Well, from everything I read about her," says Huwitt, "it was obvious."
Did they speak with any of her ex-lovers?
"Well, no," says Hurwitt.
Do they have any proof?
"Well, not really," says Hurwitt.
Then how do you know it's a fact?
"Well . . ." says Hurwitt, "I suppose it's conjecture."
The whole book, in fact, reads like a Sexual Believe-It-Or-Not: Elvis Presley hated women with big feet! James Joyce was an underwear fetishist! Sarah Bernhardt made love in her satin-line rosewood coffin! Hans Hans Christian Andersen died a virgin at age 70! Victor Hugo had sex nine times on his wedding nights! Walt Disney was happily married! Rousseau was an exhibitionist! Jean Harlow rarely wore any underwear!
And that's not all. It can now be revealed the Joan Crawford changed the toilet seats in her house after each of her divorces!
"The really bizarre stuff we left out," says Amy Wallace. All in the Factory
Publishers no longer refer to the prolific authors as the Wallace family.
It's the Wallace Factory. In the last six years, they have churned out more than six books (including novels by Irving Wallace and Sylvia Wallace) with the help of a full-time staff of 15 researchers and a 35,000-volume library that has turned their lavish Los Angeles home into a literary assembly line. There are floor-to-ceiling files, says one recent visitor, that make it look "like the secret filing room at the Pentagon."
The Wallaces' devotion to spoonfeeding the world's ravenous taste for trivia is exceeded only by publishers' willingness to fork over the cash. According to Irving Wallace, the family asked for and received an advance of more than $1 million from Delacorte Press for the sex-lives book.
(Morrow, which published the "Book of Lists" series, turned the sex lives book down. "They command incredible sums of money," says Howard Cady, the Wallaces' editor at Morrow. "We have to weight the amount wanted with what we thought we could do with it. It had an enormous price tag.")
But Morrow is publishing the "People's Almanac No. 3" in September. The family has also been hired to write a weekly "oddity" column ("a dignified 'Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not,'" says Amy Wallace) for Parade magazine, a Sunday newspaper supplement.
But the collaborating isn't always cozy.
There was trouble brewing at the book factory last year when "Intimate Sex Lives" was being compiled. Amy Wallace says she wanted more of the bizarre. She also didn't like the title. Irving Wallace, she says, insisted on inserting the word "Intimate" in the title. Amy Wallace wanted the profiles to be longer. Her father, she says, wanted shorter profiles of more people, 400 to be exact. "But the publishers made us cut it down to 200," she says.
Collaborating on the book, she says, was the most difficult group effort to date. "We really came to blows over it," she says. "There was a lot of family politics."
There are 54 names on the flyleaf, listed as authors and staff. Among the names are Josef Marc (Amy's husband) and Flora Chavez (David's fiancee). Did they get paid?
"Gee, I don't know if they did or not," says Amy Wallace.
Delacorte's first printing was 60,000 books. A second printing of 15,000 is already under way. The publishing firm, which took the book after it was reportedly turned down by a handful of other publishers, is convinced it will be a best seller. "Sex and celebrities," says Cynthia Vartan, the Wallaces' editor at Delacorte. "You can't do much better in terms of commercial sales."
And the prospect for an intimate sex lives No. 2?
"With the Wallaces," says another Delacorte spokesman, "anything is possible."
But there are rumblings in reading land. This time, industry sources say, the factory may have turned out something less than its usual rocket to the top of the best-seller list. Excerpts from the book (serial first rights), which can sell for up to $50,000, were bought by Penthouse magazine for $3,000 after Playboy magazine rejected its as "disappointing." Second serial rights went to King Features. So far, only a handful of newspapers across the country are planning to run it. A spokesman for the Literary Guild, which bought the book rights, said "Sex Lives" would be a featured alternate -- not a main selection -- next month.
No one would say how much money the Wallaces would eventually receive from these ventures. "Well, you've talked to the Wallaces," says Vicki Kemper of King Features. "They are definitely looking out for themselves. They get what they want."
Kemper, who is handling the sales of the syndicated story, says, "All they're doing is writing new books with different angles. They've already done all the research. They almost always have a best seller. They must have a great computer."
But the book has yet to hit any of the major best-seller lists.
"Then again, the Wallaces haven't really started promoting it yet. With them, it's a real factor in terms of sales," says Kay Sexton, vice president of communication and publication for the 540-store chain of B. Dalton booksellers. Sexton, who says her own vibes tell her the book is going to bomb, says the Wallaces "may have played this record once too often." She also doesn't think readers care about dead peoples' sex lives. "Frankly" she says, "I think the book is dumb."
Another criticism frequently voiced is that little of the material is new. Even the Wallaces' editor agrees. "None of it is brand new," says Cynthia Vartan. "It's all been in something. It's all appeared somewhere, but most of it not for general consumption."
Susan Margolis, associate New York editor of Playboy, which turned down first serial rights to the book, says, "It's interesting that it didn't work. It's what happens when your research machine takes over. There really wasn't any news."
One longtime New York literary agent summed up his feelings about the book this way. "There are too many dead people in it. And dead details about dead peoples' sex lives make for dead reading."
Could this be the end of the amazing Wallace winning streak?
"Somewhere along the line they had to hit a clunker," says Nick Clemente, director of advertising for B. Dalton. "This could be it." Gossip From the Grave
According to Irving Wallace, the family was sitting around one night in California, chatting about best sellers and biographies much the way Mama Celeste probably discusses frozen pizza toppings.
"Somebody said, 'Why don't biographies really go into the person's life a little more to find out more about them?'" Wallace said in a telephone interview from his West Coast headquarters. Since the Wallaces had just finished "The Book of Lists," they had amassed a flotilla of facts that didn't fit into any category. One of the categories was kinky sex.
"I'm a Byron fan," says Wallace. "One of the researchers found out that Lady Caroline Lamb, whom Byron was having an affair with, sent him a package after their first night together. It was a piece of her ---- hair. I thought, 'What games people play. This is really weird!'"
"The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People" was born. Or rather, the intimate sex lives of famous dead people, since only three of the notables included in the book are living. They wanted to include Lenny Bruce, Wallace says, but his mother threatened to sue. In fact, lawsuits were a factor in choosing to expose the intimate sex lives of the dearly departed because, in America at least, it is not unlawful to libel the dead.
The English version of the book, says Wallace, will be altered, though he would not elaborate on the changes.
Irving Wallace says he expects the response to the book will be equally divided. "We'll be criticized for being voyeurs and exploitive and praised for filling in an area that no one's ever done before."
Still, the book does not include footnotes or a bibliography, which Irving Wallace says would have included more than 1,500 books, letters and court documents. "This is not a book of scholarship," he says.
As for the criticism that little of the material is new, Irving Wallace reels off a handful of sexual scoops: "Eva Peron had an affair with Aristotle Onassis. That was news to me. I thought she was faithful to Peron."
Love affairs of the famous surprised Irving Wallace: Milton Berle ("the John Dillinger of Hollywood") and Marilyn Monroe, black boxer Jack Johnson and Mata Hari, Milton Berle and evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson (before an altar of candles and crucifixes), Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando. It also surprised Irving Wallace that Clark Gable was apparently a better lover on screen than off. And he was shocked by Victor Hugo's nine-time gusto on his wedding night.
Asked what light that information, true or false, possibly shed on the French writer, Irving Wallace says, "It explains a great deal about his zest for living."
What kind of readers are interested in sex lives of the dead?
"I am," says Irving Wallace.
"People like me," says Amy Wallace. "I may be a weirdo, but I'm not along. We [the family] like biographies and listy-type books. We wrote it for ourselves."