This week marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Leo Guild. Bow your heads, fellow writers, to a titan of his genre.
Guild was, quite simply, the greatest hack ever. Beginning as a ghostwriting Hollywood press agent behind puff books like 1957's Where There's Life, There's Bob Hope, Guild's promise to the stars was a simple one: Fill 50 one-hour audio tapes talking with me, and I'll write your memoir. It's why a schlub like Leo could be seen accompanying Jayne Mansfield to the dry cleaners: She simply had him interview her in the car while she ran errands. But until recently, Guild's great claim to campy fame was the ladies-can't-get-enough absurdity The Loves of Liberace. The cover of the old 1956 Avon paperback is priceless: Liberace gamely struggles to smooch Coraleen Jurian, the Livestock Queen of the Grand National Rodeo. As evidence of his raging straightness, a date with Betty White is also mentioned. The book flopped.
It was only a short drop to blaxploitation publishers Holloway House, where the sixtysomething Guild penned Black Shrink (a tale of "lesbianism, drugs, and racism") and his 1976 epic Street of Ho's. Set on Times Square's notorious "Minnesota Strip," Street of Ho's reads like... well, like Bob Hope's assistant writing a novel about hookers. Representative sentence: "Sheila made him a ham and cheese sandwich and they made love while he ate."
But it's 1972's The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman that has the reputation among aficionados as the most craptastically awful book ever written. On the extremely loose adaptation of an Italian schlock-horror film, the jacket copy promises a genre I can only describe as ESL horror:
Werewolf Waldo's toothy smile flashes on and off like a traffic light. At times he is completely irrational, with hairy paws, long nails, fang like teeth, growling his uncomplicated desires. At other times he is suave, sophisticated, brilliant, romantic, and very dead. The werewolf performs major surgery on YOU without benefit of a doctor or anesthetic. He wants YOUR body dead or alive. The mystery of Waldo surrounds his strange left ventricle.
I first came across this farrago from a 1980s edition of the book buyer's mimeoed newsletter It Goes on the Shelf. The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman long bore the distinction of being the only book in IGOTS' 1 to 100 rating system to actually score a 1. The plotting follows the classic second-grader's story structure of and then—and then—and then—and then. Not a narrative arc, exactly: more like a narrative crazy straw.
The plot, such as it is, goes like this: Waldo is a werewolf brought back to life when a foolish coroner removes a bullet from his heart. (Check.) He kills a lot of people. (Check.) Suddenly he's in Paris. (Check?) He raids tombs for gold and hits up pawnshops. (Che...) Then he digs up a vampire named Wandessa, tries to kill her, changes his mind, and they go on a joint killing spree by burning down crowded theaters, downing high-voltage power lines, machine-gunning subways and driving stakes through bystanders, and then they go to Hollywood and become movie stars and then work for NBC and then find true love and then get jealous of each other and then die in a double-wedding-slash-homicide.
Or as Waldo puts it: "With the kind of wool jackets they make these days it's getting harder and harder to drive a stake in with a coat on. Well, everyone has his troubles."
Also: "Werewolves sure can fuck."
Of the three copies of The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman that I've ever seen, two had remainder stickers on them. Attributing blame for this book is difficult: The cover claims it as the work of an "Arthur N. Scarm," while the title page attributes it to "Arthur N. Scram." But the publisher—one "Guild-Hartford Publishing" of Wilshire Boulevard—and an even cursory look at Guild's oeuvre quickly reveal the hallmarks of the master.
Guild's later years settled into irascible hackitude: After teaming up to pen vanity memoirs for kooks and chamber of commerce types—their "secret manufacturing process" primarily involved a photocopier—in 1986 Guild and his attorney sued a production company that was unwise enough to shoot a movie called Dead or Alive outside Guild's Wilshire apartment. The bright lights and fake gunfire, the old Hollywood press agent claimed, so traumatized him that he "developed a tremor in his left hand." This, he insisted, was clearly worth $1.5 million in damages.
Somewhere in heaven, an angel hooker is making Leo Guild a ham and cheese sandwich.