Michael Robinson McGradyMichael Robinson McGrady, a New York Times bestselling author and popular Newsday newspaper columnist, died from natural causes Sunday, May 13, in Shelton, Wash. The Lilliwaup, Wash., resident was 78.
Mr. McGrady, whose columns were syndicated in hundreds of newspapers throughout the country in the 1960s through the ’80s, engineered one of the world’s great literary hoaxes in the 1969 bestseller, “Naked Came the Stranger.” Appalled by the mediocrity of the Harold Robbins and Jackie Susann sex potboilers, Mr. McGrady enlisted 24 other Newsday writers to author a novel that spoofed this new low in fiction, a novel so bad that it couldn’t possibly be left off the best-seller lists. Mr. McGrady warned his would-be coauthors in an early memo: “There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex. Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion.” His sister-in-law, Billie Young, posed as the alleged author, “Penelope Ashe.”
The book raced up the Times list to number two, proving Mr. McGrady’s thesis that bad writing sells well. When the story broke on front pages across the nation that the novel was a hoax, Walter Cronkite sent a helicopter to retrieve Mr. McGrady from Newsday’s Garden City, Long Island, offices for the nightly news. Mr. McGrady’s image was splashed triumphantly across the pages of Time, Newsweek, and Life magazines for exposing how low the standard for American fiction had fallen. He followed up with “Stranger Than Naked: How to Write Dirty Books for Fun and Profit” to tell the true story of the hoax. Those original manuscripts and papers are housed in the Columbia University Library. There is a Trivial Pursuit question about Naked Came the Stranger, which was re-released in 2004.
His career as a Newsday columnist spanned 30 years, in which time he chronicled all the major socio-political issues of the 1960s, including civil rights and the women’s liberation movements, helping to make Long Island’s Newsday a nationally recognized news voice. Ignoring advice from friends who thought he’d ruin his career, he co-authored the horrific true story of America’s first porn star, Linda Lovelace in his book, “Ordeal,” which is the basis for two biographical films about Lovelace. The book would also make history in 1979 as Mr. McGrady and his brother Patrick McGrady (co-author of “The Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise”), were the first two siblings to make the New York Times’ bestseller list simultaneously.
He frequently contributed to publications such as Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, Time and New York Magazine, and won a Harvard Nieman Fellowship in 1968-1969. After publishing an anti-war essay, Mr. McGrady was challenged by Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck: "If you think this war is so ignoble," Steinbeck wrote, "then why don't you go over to Vietnam and tell it the way you see it. That's what a real writer would do." So Mr. McGrady did, and his book, A Dove in Vietnam, earned the Overseas Press Club award for best interpretive reporting. This was followed by the prestigious Harvard Nieman Fellowship in 1968-1969.
In 1975, switching roles with his wife Corinne for a year as she embarked on her own design business, Mr. McGrady penned a popular and critical success, The Kitchen Sink Papers: My Life as a Househusband, in which he coined the term “househusband.”
Mr. McGrady was born in New York in 1933, the middle son of Grace, an artist, and Patrick Sr., a UPI reporter, author and science editor for the American Cancer Society. He and his brothers, Patrick and Seamus, began their academic careers in a one-room schoolhouse in the tiny hamlet of Lilliwaup on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. As a high school student, he lived alone in a hotel room in Paris, while he attended and graduated from the American Community School.
Mr. McGrady attended Yale University and served as editor and colunmist at the Yale Daily News. He studied writing under poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren, author of All the King's Men. In 1955, he was graduated from Yale,
He is survived by his wife, Corinne Young McGrady of Lilliwaup, Wash., and their three children, Sean McGrady, Siobhan Benoit, and Liam McGrady; his brother Seamus McGrady; five grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
His other books include five young adult tiltles for Lippincott; Establishment of Innocence (with Harvey Aronson, 1976), The Motel Tapes (1977), The Househusband's Cookbook (1979), Out of Bondage (with Linda Lovelace, 1986), and Best Restaurants on Long Island (1986).