William Joseph Johnston (novelist)

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William Johnston
William Joseph Johnston[1]

(1924-01-11)January 11, 1924[2]
DiedOctober 15, 2010(2010-10-15) (aged 86)[1][4]
Other namesSusan Claudia, Alex Steele, Matt Lincoln, Ed Garth, William Howard
Years active1960–1979
Spouse(s)Anne Korba (October 24, 1953[2] – October 15, 2010 (his death)

William Johnston (born William Joseph Johnston;[1] January 11, 1924 - October 15, 2010)[1][4][5] was an American novelist, primarily known for authoring tie-in novels, although he also wrote non-fiction books and novels unrelated to specific motion pictures or television series.[2][3][6][7]


William Johnston was born on January 11, 1924 in Lincoln, Illinois. He was the son of John and Lucille (Shoup) Johnston, and he attended high school in Springfield, Illinois.[2]

During World War II, William Johnston served in the Pacific[6] as a radio operator and gunner in the U.S. Navy, Air Corps (1942-1945).[2][6]

On October 24, 1953, William Johnston married Anne Korba, an executive secretary.[2] The couple had five children, Phillip[8][9] Susan, Peter, Thomas, Kelly. Johnston and his family resided in Massapequa, New York.[2]

Writing career[edit]

After World War II, Johnston worked as a disc jockey at radio station WTAX in Springfield, Illinois.[6]

From 1947-1950, Johnston worked as a news reporter for WJOL.[2] He worked as a press agent for Tex McCrary's public relations agency from 1950-1960.[2] During his time working for Tex McCrary, he handled the Lionel trains account.[6] For two years, Johnston served as the associate editor for The Lion—the magazine for the Lions Clubs International.[6] Beginning in 1960, Johnston worked as a free-lance author.[2][6]

During the span of 1960-1979, Johnston wrote magazine articles[2] and over 100 books, including original novels, movie and TV tie-in novels, and non-fiction.[2][6] Some of Johnston's tie-in novels involve cartoon characters, and characters from comic strips[10] and comic books .[2][11] on Johnston wrote novels based on popular television series such as The Flying Nun, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, Nanny and the Professor, Room 222, Happy Days, and Welcome Back Kotter.[12][13][5][14][15][2][3][6][7][8][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27] Many of Johnston's television tie-in novels were related to sitcoms, but he worked in other genres—except for science fiction.[6]

In contrast to more recent tie-in novelists—who have access to email, fax machines, video recorders, computers, photocopying, and other electronic communications, Johnston and other writers of his era, wrote their novels on typewriters and had little access to in-depth information on the shows that were the subject of these novels. Communication was by telephone and regular mail, and these novelists watched the programs on television—just like the viewer at home. These tie-in novelists may have had access to some scripts and possibly some film of the television shows from which to work, but they had little else. Although most television series production took place in California, most of the major publishers were located in New York,[27] as they remain today.[28] This distance made it difficult for novelists and editors to get information from the television production companies on characters, plots, locations, and other aspects of the television programs themselves.[27] In addition, tie-in novelists had to work quickly on their books, and had the challenge of developing characters, plots, and dialogue that related closely enough to the original programs, so as to match the expectations of the readers/television viewers.[27] Generally, Johnston worked quickly and could capture critical elements of the TV shows that he wrote about in his novels.[27][6]

Johnston's novels not related to film or television tended to be written for adults and frequently had ribald themes.[6][29]

Johnston was represented by the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, Inc.[2] Johnston did not work exclusively for any one publisher, although he published frequently with Lancer, Tempo, Ace, and Whitman.[6][11][20] Tempo marketed its books, including those books that Johnston authored, to children and adolescents.[6] Whitman published books for younger children.[30][31][32]

Unlike other authors who desired fame, Johnston preferred obscurity. In his article announcing Johnston as the recipient of the Faust Award, David Spencer described Johnston as, "legendary and until now somewhat elusive..."[6] In its entry for Johnston, Contemporary Authors Online includes this quote from him: "I am interested only in writing entertaining stories and remaining as anonymous as possible."[2]

Johnston occasionally used pseudonyms[5] such as the name Susan Claudia for Gothic romance stories.[6] They Came From the Sea (1969) based on the Television series The New People was published under the name Alex Steele[6] Johnston wrote two novels based on the Matt Lincoln television medical drama, The Revolutionist (1970) and The Hostage (1971) using the author name Ed Garth.[6] Johnston also employed a pseudonym, William Howard, for his last book, a novelization of the Bob Guccione-produced film Caligula.[6][33][34][35] Given the controversies related to the movie and given Johnston's association with tie-in novels and younger audiences, Spencer feels that the Johnston chose to use a pseudonym to avoid attracting younger readers to the book.[6]

Critical Appraisal[edit]

Johnston's novels have attracted little critical attention, although they are well documented in bibliographies by Larson, Peer, and in Contemporary Authors.[2][7][16]

Tie-in novels, while popular with readers and profitable for publishers,[36] generally do not attract serious criticism and scholarship. Indeed, they are often dismissed as literature.[37]

During his career, Johnston's novels were infrequently reviewed. For example, Johnston wrote a novelization of made-for-TV movie about Martin Luther King, Jr., and it received a brief review in Library Journal. The review was generally negative.[38]

Johnston's novels have attracted attention from blog writers who deal with popular culture. For example Morgan wrote about Johnston's Nanny and the Professor, but he felt that Johnston's books had little to do with the spirit and content of the original television series,[23] whereas Caputo felt that Johnston's Fantastic Four novel was consistent with the style in the Marvel comic books.[11]

Johnston's peers have praised Johnston's work as a tie-in novelist,[3][6][27] but they seem equally impressed by the sheer number of tie-in novels he produced.[3][6][27]

Retirement and death[edit]

Johnston retired from writing and, while living in Long Island, went to a school for bartending.[6] Unsuccessful in finding a job in this field due to his age,[6][8] Johnston opened his own bar, The Blind Pig,[3][8] in Massapequa,[6] and he ran it successfully.[6][8]

After running The Blind Pig, Johnston retired a second time, and moved to San Jose, California.[3][6] It was during his residence in San Jose that he received the Grand Master Scribe Award -- Faust Award—from the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.[3][6][35][39]

Johnston died in San Jose on 15 Oct 2010.[1][4]


Best First Novel—Edgar Award (1960) -- Mystery Writers of America (awarded for The Marriage Cage (Lyle Stuart, reissued in paperback by Dell)).[3][6][27]

Grand Master Scribe Award -- Faust Award (2010) -- International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.[3][4][6][26][35][39]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J5RT-HPR : accessed 26 August 2015), William Joseph Johnston, 15 Oct 2010; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "William Johnston". Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. 2002. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Goldberg, Lee (January 4, 2010). "William Johnston Named Tie-In Grandmaster for 2010". Lee Goldberg - Author and TV Producer. Lee Goldberg. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d Lewis, Steve (January 31, 2011). "Deaths Noted: William Johnston, Ariana Franklin, and Robert E.W. Jansson". Mystery*File. Steve Lewis. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Anonymous (n.d.). "William Johnston". Book Series in Order. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Spencer, David (January – February 2010). "IAMTW's Grand Master Scribe Award, The Faust, Goes to the Genre's Most Prolific Practitioner" (PDF). Tied-In: The Newsletter of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. Calabasas, CA: International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. 4 (1). Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Peer, Kurt (1999). TV Tie-ins: A Bibliography of American TV Tie-in Paperbacks. New York: TV Books. ISBN 9781575000732.
  8. ^ a b c d e Russell, Leigh (June 10, 2013). "Interview: Hilary Bell, Phillip Johnston, Moss and Ivy". Hello Bookcase. Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia: Hello Bookcase. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  9. ^ Walker, Bruce (2007). "Phillip Johnston Biography". Musician Guide. Net Industries. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  10. ^ Doherty, Jim. "The Prose Adventures of Dick Tracy". Dick Tracy Depot. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  11. ^ a b c Caputo, Nick (November 30, 2013). "FF Big Little Book Mysteries". Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutiae. Nick Caputo. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  12. ^ Hunt, Bob (March 31, 2008). "Brady Book Review". The Greg Brady Project. Barry Williams. Retrieved May 3, 2018.
  13. ^ Stanford University Libraries, Special Collections (n.d.). "Television Tie-In Books Collection, 1946-1991" (PDF). Stanford University Libraries, Special Collections. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  14. ^ MeTV Staff (August 17, 2016). "15 Vintage TV Tie-In Novels We Want to Read Based on Title Alone". MeTV. MeTV. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  15. ^ MeTV Staff (April 14, 2016). "A Brief Guide to the 8 Weird 'Happy Days' Novels". MeTV. MeTV. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  16. ^ a b Larson, Randall D. (1995). Films Into Books: An Analytical Bibliography of Film Novelizations, Movie, and TV Tie-ins. Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Pres. ISBN 9780810829282.
  17. ^ Moran, Elizabeth (1995). Bradymania! : Everything You Always Wanted to Know--and a Few Things You Probably Didn't. Holbrook, Mass.: Adams Publishing. ISBN 9781558504189.
  18. ^ O'Dell, Cary (2013). "TV Book Tie-ins". TVparty!. TVparty!. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  19. ^ O'Dell, Cary (2015). "TV Book Tie-Ins: Part Two". TVparty!. TVparty!. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  20. ^ a b Vliet, Bryan (November 2001). "Guide to the TV Tie-in Book Collection, 1945-1999 -- Collection Number: 8001". Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  21. ^ Haverstick, Amanda (2015). "The Get Smart Paperbacks". The Unclassified Get Smart Site. Amanda Haverstick. Archived from the original on September 9, 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2015.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  22. ^ Birkmeyer, Carl (2009). "Get Smart in Print". Get Smart with WouldYouBelieve.com. Carl Birkmeyer. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  23. ^ a b Morgan, Bill (2000). "Nanny and the Professor". The World of TV Toys. Collector's Guide to TV Toys and Memorabilia. Antique Trader Publications, Inc., and Odyssey Publications. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  24. ^ "William Johnston". FantasticFiction. Fantastic Fiction. 2015. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  25. ^ Rothman, Chuck (2010). "William Johnston (author)". Great but Forgotten: A Look at Movies, Books, TV, Comics, Music, and Other Things that Deserve to be Less Obscure. Chuck Rothman. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  26. ^ a b "William Johnston Named Tie-In Grandmaster for 2010". Television Obscurities. Television Obscurities. January 5, 2010. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h Spencer, David (2010). "American TV tie-ins from the 50s through the early 70s". In Goldberg, Lee (ed.). Tied in: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing. Casabasas, CA: The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. pp. 105–148. ISBN 9781453716106.
  28. ^ Bransford, Nathan (March 24, 2011). "Why (Most) Publishers Are Still In New York". NathanBransford.com. Nathan Bransford. Retrieved September 28, 2015.
  29. ^ Reasoner, James (August 27, 2010). "Forgotten Books: The Power of Positive Loving - William Johnston". Rough Edges. James Reasoner. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  30. ^ Educational Research and Applications LLC (2012). "Learning About Big Little Books". Educational Research and Applications LLC. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
  31. ^ Wolfson, Penny (April 2009). "Small Wonders". Print. Cincinnati, Ohio: Print Magazine. 63 (2): 32.
  32. ^ Davidson, Sol M. (Fall 2006). "Love Affair with a Unique Medium: Big Little Books". International Journal of Comic Art. Drexel Hill, PA: John A. Lent. 8 (2): 200–227.
  33. ^ Nette, Andrew (September 4, 2015). "Pulp Friday: Klute the Novel & William Johnson (sic), Master of the Paperback Tie-In". Pulp Curry. Andrew Nette. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  34. ^ "Caligula: Tie-Ins, Promotional Items, and Other Such Phenomena". 200 Degrees of Failure: The Unmaking of Caligula. Caligula.org. 2015. Retrieved September 8, 2015.
  35. ^ a b c Boog, Jason (January 5, 2010). "Author Who Wrote Tie-Ins for Gilligan's Island to Bewitched Receives Award". GalleyCat. Adweek. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
  36. ^ Alter, Alexandra (January 4, 2015). "Popular TV Series and Movies Maintain Relevance as Novels". The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  37. ^ Baetens, Jan (Autumn 2005). "Novelization, a Contaminated Genre?". Critical Inquiry. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 32 (1): 43–60.
  38. ^ Yerburgh, Mark R. (May 1, 1978). "King (Book Review)". Library Journal. New York, New York: R.R. Bowker. 103 (9): 994.
  39. ^ a b "Previous Scribe Award Winners". Calabasas, CA: International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. 2015. Retrieved August 31, 2015.

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