Former Newsday reporter and author Mike McGrady died Sunday in Shelton. He was 78, having lived a life like few journalists in history. Known as the "mastermind" behind the 1969 cult classic Naked Came the Stranger, a literary hoax and genius bit of shit-lit that changed the world, McGrady's place in the history of ingenious spoofs and social commentary has long been cemented.
McGrady's New York Times obituary notes: "Mr. McGrady had dreamed up the book as ironic commentary on the public's appetite for Jacqueline Susann and her ilk."
McGrady, who succumbed to pneumonia, lived in Lilliwaup, Wash. Back in 2004, the year Naked Came the Stranger was reissued by Barricade Books, Seattle Weekly and Tim Apello published a fitting ode to McGrady and his literary accomplishments.
From Apello's piece:
From a humble, one-room schoolhouse in Lilliwaup, Wash., on Hood Canal, Mike McGrady attained the very pinnacle of the writing profession by aiming for the pits, giggling all the way. Today, he's a retired newsman living in his hometown, who just finished a book about an actual opera singer turned double agent during the Cold War. But McGrady's real fame came from a book that was fiction with a vengeance. In 1966, appalled by the best sellers of Jacqueline Susann and others, he challenged his colleagues at Newsday, where he was a distinguished editor and writer, to perpetrate a book so mindlessly crass it could not fail. "There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex," he warned. "Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion."
Naked happened at the right minute. Though the book's sexual adventures were invented, Billie Cook, the sexy young Jacqueline Susann look-alike hired to pretend to be author Ashe, said its faux revelations sounded much like what she'd heard when she worked for a maid service. The book's sales were partly the result of the same sort of lascivious curiosity that made The Nanny Diaries hot more recently. Naked wasn't so much erotic as deliciously indiscreet.
Then, the paperback sales (and revenues) swelled even higher when glamorous Ashe was exposed as a hoax by a couple dozen grubby newshounds. The news media went berserk. McGrady juggled his fellow journalists more vigorously and skillfully than the book's heroine did her numerous boxer, doctor, gangster, and rabbi inamoratas. "He kept promising everybody an exclusive," cackles the book's publisher Lyle Stuart. "Newspapers were calling from all over the world. Walter Cronkite flew out in a helicopter to do interviews. You couldn't spin the dial without seeing or hearing one of the 25 authors."
Rest in peace, Mike McGrady.