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The Book That Wasn't
Airdate: Wednesday - August 1, 1956

I, Libertine

Show Description
About two weeks from now a book will be published that hadn't even been written at the time, earlier this year, when certain literary snobs were claiming to have read it. The book, "I, Libertine", by Frederick R. Ewing, will be published as a 35-cent paperpack by Ballantine - whose boss, Ian Ballantine, is playing it straight, and who told me that if I wrote a magazine article about the true circumstances he'd deny it. In actual fact, there is no Frederick R, Ewing and never was. Moreover, at the time of "Libertine's" biggest demand there was no such book. "It all started when I got into a discussion one day about people who pretend to know everything," WOR's all-night disc-jockey Jean Shepherd told me. "We thought it might be a good gag to undermine their faith by creating a demand for something that didn't exist. A book seemed fine. We dreamed up the name and the author on the spot. Shepherd started to plug the title on his show that same night and kept it up for a couple of weeks. A highly literate guy, he has an audience that is both responsive and imaginative and there were some immediate results: - Doubleday's New York shop got 27 calls for "I, Libertine" in one morning. - A Pan American pilot encouraged his colleagues to plague bookstores for the book in Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, Miami, and Finland. - A disc jockey in Eastern Pennsylvania gave Frederick R. Ewing the "Burbage Award" for "outstanding historical research" and interviewed the mythical author over the radio. (Shepherd, who has the tape, says "Ewing" spoke with a slightly irritated British accent") - Somebody got "I, Libertine" into the books-to-be-published list in the Times Sunday Section. - Over in Boston somebody typed the book's name on the Legion of Decency's banned list as a gag. It go through. Shepherd, who went to WOR in March last year after working at radio station in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, realized by this time that demand for the book was being swelled not only by people who knew about the gag but by those who didn't. "Friends would call to tell me that they'd met people at dinner parties who claimed to have read it," he explains. "One of the the professors at Rutgers casually mentioned the book at the Sunday literary meeting and somebody present said he'd just finished it. When pressed, he was evasive about the plot." At the Philadelphia Public Library a Shepherd disciple who asked the reference department for "any information on Frederick R. Ewing" was show Ewing's name in a card index. Below it was neatly typed the word "Excelsior" - a Shepherd trademark that he repeats frequently on his radio show. At Colombia University a student submitted a review of "I, libertine as his thesis. "It got a B-plus and was returned by the teacher with the word 'Excelsior' on it," Shepherd reveals. About four weeks after the first mention of I, Libertine, Shepherd was reached by Ballantine Books and asked if he'd ever thought of writing such a book. Ewing's creator said he just happened to have a plot with him - and it was approved. Twenty five thousand copies are being printed.
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August 01,1956
Village Voice

Courtesy: Joanne Berg

Airdate History ' - Original' date is earliest known broadcast)
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