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Mike McGrady AKA Penelope Ashe 1934-2012

Former Newsday columnist Mike McGrady has died of pneumonia. McGrady was most famous as being the leader of a group of 24 prominent journalists (19 men, 5 women), who in 1966 set out to prove that the minds and tastes of the American people, when it came to culture consumption, had become tasteless and vulgar. They went about it in a very creative way – by writing and publishing an intentionally bad book, Naked Came the Stranger, full of lewd, ridiculous over-the-top sex (there are sex scenes involving a rabbi, a shetland pony and many more unlikely characters) under the pseudonym Penelope Ashe. Ashe did not in fact exist (each of the journalists took on a chapter), but was played in public by McGrady’s sister-in-law, Billie Young.

The book was published in 1969 by Lyle Stuart, known for their willingness to publish sexually-charged books. The publishing house did not know the book’s true origins or authors. Upon publication, Naked Came the Stranger immediately began proving the authors’ suspicions correct – it sold 90,000 copies by October of 1969. When they began earning large amounts of money, many of the co-authors’ consciences bothered them and they went public about the hoax on the David Frost show on television.

Their confession only served to make the book sell faster, and the co-authors were approached to write a sequel, which they turned down.

Not everyone was happy, either about the ruse, or about the book’s content, which, given that it was intentionally written to be as depraved and devoid of literary value as possible, served to make a lot of people feel dirty.

McGrady died in his home state of Washington. He was 78 years old.

Read about Naked Came the Stranger and other literary hoaxes.

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