HE HAD TO GO TO CANADA:
One thing about Josiah Pitts Woolfolk, Junior, aka Jack Woodford—he wasn’t shy about his own success in the fiction business. Or about much of anything else! He wrote what was probably the best book on writing ever published —Trial and Error—and rewrote it over and over under a variety of titles. The book is worth reading in any of its incarnations, but as so often happens in such cases, the original version is the best.
He claimed to have sold over a thousand short stories to a great many different periodicals, but apparently he never bothered to collect a typical selection or a “best of” volume. I wish somebody would dig into the proverbial moldering stacks of fiction magazines from the 1920s and ’30s and ’40s and put together such a book. If it should run to multiple volumes, so much the better. At least, so sez eye.
Woodford did publish one book of short stories, and it’s the one you’re holding right now, in your hands or on your e-reader. It was called Evangelical Cockroach, which is also the title of the first story in the book. It was published by Louis Carrier & Company, a firm headquartered in Montreal, Canada. Woodford claimed in his famous blast at the commercial publishing community, The Loud Literary Lamas of New York, that he’d had to find a publisher for Evangelical Cockroach in another country because no publisher in the United States would touch the book.
Typical Woodford. Bragging one moment about his huge success as a writer. Wailing the next moment that nobody in his own country would touch his stuff. There are forty stories packed into this book, and as far as I have been able to determine, none of them had ever been published elsewhere. Obviously, they are not among Woodford’s alleged thousand-plus magazine sales.
They’re all short, snappy, and cynical. I don’t know anything about Jack Woodford’s physical stature. I’ve seen photographs of the man and he looks remarkably dapper and respectable for a self-styled prankster and curmudgeon, but from the photos it’s impossible to tell whether he stood five-foot-six or six-foot-five. For all I know, the characterization of short, snappy, and cynical applies to Woodford himself as much as it does to his stories.
Born in Chicago in 1894, Woodford was thirty-five years old when Evangelical Cockroach was published. He’d worked as a newspaperman in Chicago, and that city is the locale of most of the stories in Evangelical Cockroach. Others are set in New York, then as now the epicenter of the American book industry, and in Hollywood. The Internet Movie Data Base credits Woodford with one feature film, 1934’s City Limits. Allegedly based on Woodford’s novel of the same name, the film bears little resemblance to the book. The internet site also lists Woodford with story credits for several shorts and, oddly, one song.
Woodford himself, however, claimed to have done a great deal of behind-the-scenes work in the film industry, writing and script-doctoring. His view of a rare, long-lasting, and supposedly happy Hollywood marriage may well have been based on the relationship of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, but that identification is undocumented.
Most of the stories in Evangelical Cockroach deal with relationships between men and women. They are usually based on Woodford’s most famous dictum, often quoted in varied forms: “There is only one love story: Boy meets girl, Girl gets boy into pickle, Boy gets pickle into girl.”
Woodford went on to a long and controversial career. Most of his works were so-called “sex novels,” the softest of soft-core porn by modern standards but considered scandalous in Woodford’s own day. Originally published in low-priced hardbound editions, many of them were repackaged as sensational “sleaze” paperbacks. They are highly prized by collectors, more for their colorful cover paintings than for their alleged literary content.
Later in his life, Woodford was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to a federal prison. He wrote a powerful memoir based on that experience, A Home Away from Home. This book is available from Ramble House, the parent company of Surinam Turtle Press, in an omnibus edition with another prison memoir, Men into Beasts, by George Sylvester Viereck. The omnibus is titled Slammer Days. Woodford also wrote a full-length autobiography which was published by Doubleday in 1962. Woodford died in 1971 in the Eastern State Hospital, an institution for the mentally ill in New York.
As for Evangelical Cockroach, it has been out of print for many years. Copies of the original 1929 edition are available at prices ranging up to well over $100. My own copy of the 1929 edition is one that I have owned for many years and long wished to see back in print. It gives me real pleasure to make this book available once again.
Richard A. Lupoff
Surinam Turtle Press