Introduction to the 1992 edition of Sylvia,
published under his own name
by Howard Fast
IN 1959, THE NOTORIOUS BLACKLIST, OPERATIONAL UNDER THE auspices of J. Edgar Hoover and the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, was still functioning - close to the end of its unappetizing life, but still enforced. I had been blacklisted as a writer ever since Clark Clifford confessed to the Unamerican Committee that he had purchased and distributed as Christmas gifts fifty copies of my biographical novel Citizen Tom Paine. Pleading that he did so without being aware that he was handling "communist" propaganda, Mr. Clifford was let off the hook.
However Citizen Tom Paine was duly banned and ordered destroyed by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. Librarians at the central branch of the New York Public Library informed me that my books had not been destroyed as per Hoover's orders, but had been hidden in the basement, to be brought out at a happier time.
In 1951, Mr. Hoover, as the head of the FBI. issued orders that any publisher dealing with my writing would be considered by the FBI as consorting with the enemy; and as impossible as it may sound today, most publishers believed him. I had just finished the writing of Spartacus, the novel upon which the film was based, and my publisher Little, Brown and Co. turned it down under pressure from the FBI. The situation was unprecedented in all the history of American letters, and following this event, seven major publishers refused to publish the manuscript. Finally, after Doubleday rejected it - stating nevertheless that it was the best manuscript they had received that season - Mr. George Hecht, head of the Doubleday chain of bookstores, telephoned me and suggested that I publish it myself. He was enraged at the cowardly reaction of the editorial board and he gave me an initial order for 600 books, considering that I would publish it.
Thus I did what no author should ever do; I published Spartacus myself. They say that the client who defends himself has a fool for a lawyer. Be it well said that the writer who publishes himself has a fool twice over for a publisher. Yet I was lucky beyond any reasonable expectation, and the self-published Spartacus became a best seller, and has since that time sold well over a million copies. But the small success of my initial printing of the hardcover edition - which had an almost immediate sale of 40,000 copies - went to my head, and I proceeded to publish not only several additional books of my own, but the books of a number of blacklisted authors. I hung on for the next few years, and then I went broke. I managed to pay off my debts without resorting to bankruptcy, and once and for all, I turned my back on publishing.
Yet out there in the real world was the blacklist, and here was a man who had to write. It was my meat and drink and wine; I either wrote or I could not live. There was no way I could turn off my thoughts and keep the stories from forming.
It began with a woman's name: Sylvia. I loved the name. I loved the song. "Who is Sylvia and what is she?" And the other sweet song, "Sylvia's hair is like the night." Dark hair, raven black, a tall woman and beautiful. I could envision her as I might a living person.
Meanwhile, I had found a new literary agent. My former agents, who had marketed four of my early best sellers, had fled before the FBI. Now I was introduced to a gentleman, Paul R. Reynolds by name. He was an extraordinary man, slender, handsome, wise, and totally secure in his position as an American, a direct descendant of Paul Revere and someone who gave not a tinker's damn for either J. Edgar Hoover or the Unamerican Committee.
I have a book in mind," I told him, "and it's seething there and driving me crazy."
"Write it," he said.
"And the blacklist?"
"We'll worry about that when we have the manuscript."
The book took shape, and some months later, I brought the MS to Paul Reynolds. He read it with delight and assured me that any publisher he decided to send it to would publish it.
"However," he added, "I've been talking to people, and the blacklist still intimidates. Suppose we were to publish under another name? How would that strike you?"
"It's been done," I admitted. "I hate the thought, but if that's what it means to get the book out, I'll go along with it."
I told Paul to pick any name he desired, and the name he chose was E. V. Cunningham. He used initials, as he told me afterwards, to avoid any lawsuit for invasion of privacy by the use of another's name. He then put it out for bids and accepted a 12,000 dollar advance from Doubleday, a very substantial advance thirty years ago. The book was published, very well received, reviewed with high praise and sold to Paramount Pictures for a film.
This was the beginning of a long relationship with Paul R. Reynolds, a man I came to treasure as a dear friend and a wise literary advisor. The success of Sylvia was such that I went on to write a second book of similar genre, suspense-mystery, and then another and still another. In all through the years since then, I have written twenty books under the name of E. Cunningham - and recently, I have come to regret that I ever agreed to a pseudonym.
In France, where they cared nothing about a blacklist, they published Sylvia under the name of Howard Fast. It has sold well over a hundred thousand copies in France, and this year, 1992, another edition of 50,000 has just been printed.
All of the books written under the name of E.V. Cunningham have been brought out under the name of Howard Fast in France. Sylvia is the first of the E.V. Cunningham books to be published in America under my own name. Since Sylvia is one of my favorites, I am absolutely delighted that at this late date, while I am still alive and well, I can see it published under the name of Howard Fast.