I’m amazed that they even exist. They’re printed books, each with a happy, colorful cover, that transform real-life celebrities into characters in a book! Nearly 60 years ago, a magical thing happened to Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, Betty Grable, and Annette Funicello. Each of them turned up in their own fictitious adventures in a series of Hollywood-themed books!
I remember similar books. The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family were two TV sitcoms about families that aired in the 1970s — and both of them were adapted into mystery books using all the characters from the TV shows. It’s apparently been happening since the 1940s, but it’s easier to find these books now that we’re in the age of technology. Instead of hoping to stumble across one in a used bookstore, you can finally track them all down online!
I’d thought about these books when I wrote my post about “the worst Kindle eBooks ever written”. (One author had created hundreds of short “quickie” ebooks about celebrities which were all apparently cut-and-pasted from the online biographies at Wikipedia.) I guess I was stunned by how little effort went into creating those celebrity-themed ebooks. In the past, authors cranked out entire novels about movie stars — each of them more than a hundred pages long!
Take a look at some of these titles.
Betty Grable and the House of Cobwebs
Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak
Gregory Peck and the Red Box Enigma
Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume
Dorothy Lamour and the Haunted Lighthouse
Shirley Temple and the Spirit of Dragonwood
Shirley Temple and the Screaming Specter
Lucy and the Madcap Mystery
Yes, that’s Lucille Ball in the last book — the star of the classic ’50s sitcom I Love Lucy. “The story takes Lucy Carmichael and Vivian Bagley and their children (the characters from The Lucy Show, of course) on a camping trip,” remembers one collector of Lucy-related memorabilia, “during which all sorts of events occur, including the gang getting mixed up with the military and the FBI!” And it turns out it’s not the only print book to be based on a TV comedy. There’s also print books based on some of the silliest sitcoms ever written, like The Munsters (a TV show about a suburban family that resembles the characters from a horror movie) and even Gilligan’s Island!
The Munsters: The Great Camera Caper
The Munsters: The Last Resort
The Monkees: Who’s Got the Button?
Patty Duke and the Adventure of the Chinese Junk
Patty Duke and the Mystery Mansion
Gilligan’s Island (by William Johnson)
And some of the stories are even stranger then you’d expect! For example, here’s how one book collector’s site summarizes the plot of
Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume.
Judy Garland agrees to return a misplaced dress to the owner, but what should have been an easy errand becomes a lengthy ordeal, almost as though the dress has brought a curse upon Judy. Judy first traces Frederica Hammond to her boarding house and finally to the home of a sick relative.
Judy travels to the home of Myrta Mattis where she discovers that Frederica is held a prisoner by Myrta’s relatives, who appear to be attempting to poison Myrta. Frederica insists that Judy will be held a prisoner as well if her presence becomes known. Judy devises a plan of escape for herself through the basement and plans to go for help.
Judy’s escape is cut short after a servant mistakes her as a spirit that has risen from the nearby lake. Judy is then forced by a spirit swindler into performing as a spirit for his clients. It is only by a stroke of good luck that help arrives for Judy, and Frederica is saved from her prison.
I have to mention one more book that has a very strange history. In 1892, author Janette Sebring Lowrey was born — and 50 years later she wrote the best-selling children’s picture book of all time. (The Pokey Little Puppy — one of the first twelve books in Simon & Schuster’s series, “Little Golden Books”.) Lowrey actually wrote dozens of books, including a sensitive 1950 story about a teenaged girl who moves to the city to live with her aunt and uncle. That book was originally called “Margaret”, but Walt Disney bought the rights for a TV adaptation.
During The Mickey Mouse Club, Disney broadcast short 10-minute episodes in a “serialized” adaptation of Lowrey’s book. It starred Annette Funicello — Disney even changed the main character’s name to Annette — and it proved to be extremely popular. Soon another writer had been hired, to create a series of books based on the popular Disney segment. The original characters went from a book, to a TV show, and then back into an entirely different book — that was written by a different author!
I think Annette Funicello probably holds the record for appearing in the most celebrity mysteries – each one set in an intriguing location like the Arizona desert, the California mountains, or a glamorous estate.
Annette: Sierra Summer
Annette: Desert Inn Mystery
Annette: Mystery of Moonstone Bay
Annette: Mystery at Smuggler’s Cove
Annette: Mystery of Medicine Wheel
“In one a boy’s father has been wrongly sent to prison, and in another her friend’s parents will lose their inn unless they can discover hidden money,” one collector remembers. “Annette is sympathetic (and polite), and eventually she and her friends stumble into a key discovery that invariably set things right. But the stories always begin with a leisurely and enthusiastic introduction of the characters and their settings.”
To my knowledge, none of these books are available on the Kindle — and they probably never will be. Collectors mostly want to cherish the colorful covers of the print editions. (And it would also be a nightmare to track down the owner of the original copyrights.) They’ve already become forgotten artifacts from a different generation, and in the age of digital ebooks, they’ll be even further away from the bright lights of our collective memory.
I guess I wanted to take one more moment to remember these fondly-written books, before they finally fall away into obscurity…