William Arthur Neubauer (1916–1982) was a “remarkable,” “hugely generous,” “eager praiser and a searing critic,” who could be “hard as hell to get along with. … Whatever his mood, he’s never boring and can be a fascinating conversationalist,” according to one colleague. He was also a hard-working writer; he claimed to have written more than 400 novels in his lifetime. As near as I can establish, his works include more than 275 titles under 11 pseudonyms, in addition to his own name, written between 1944 and 1967, after which point he seems to have completely abandoned fiction writing to concentrate on newspaper journalism. His productivity—cranking out an average of a book a month for 24 solid years—ranks him among the top 15 most prolific writers in literary history, according to , though that source did not give him the credit he deserves. While about a third of his books were of the smuttier variety, he concentrated on romances, though his plots were far more intricate (usually political in theme) than most VNRN authors’, and as an author Neubauer was certainly witty and entertaining, regularly tossing off quips like, “Never dance with an intern. I think they deliberately step on your feet in the hope of drumming up trade.” Most of his books reviewed for this blog earned A- grades, and he has earned spots on the Best Books and Best Author lists of the annual VNRN Awards. (He won journalism awards, too.) He was, in short, an outstanding writer.
Neubauer was born in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens, NY. He was the second child of a second-generation English-Irish woman who lived all her life in Brooklyn, and his father was the New York–born son of German and Irish immigrants. Neubauer’s mother seems to have been his father’s second wife, and she herself married again after she and Neubauer’s father apparently divorced, then went on to have three more children with her second husband.
Unfortunately, Neubauer contracted polio at about six months of age and was turned over to the St. Giles Home for Cripples in Hempstead, Long Island, where he spent his entire childhood, apparently never returning to his family, as he is said to have been “raised an orphan.” He spent his first ten years of life in bed: “When I was a baby it was thought that I would be bed-ridden throughout my life,” he said. “A great many surgeons volunteered their efforts to make me mobile. They succeeded after performing 45 knife and bloodless operations, and I have never ceased being thankful to these doctors and dozens of nurses who gave me the benefit of their skills.” He recalled being encouraged by a Mrs. Phillips there, who told him, “If you can’t walk, you can crawl, and if you can’t crawl, you can wiggle.” He took this lesson to heart and worked hard to walk, though he was never able to manage it without crutches: “I was very determined, and the first time I tried to walk, I broke a leg,” he later recalled. “His right leg, all but useless, is braced, and he wears a shoe with a three-inch lift” (though elsewhere called a four-inch lift), reported one of his later newspaper colleagues in a column about the hurdles the disabled faced in 1970.
Life at St. Giles was very difficult; a friend of his, Louis Goldstein, died in his arms when Neubauer was only ten. But Neubauer also recalled with fondness many of the people he knew there. He “secretly adored” the chief of nurses, Miss Bennett, and mentioned many of the institution’s staff members in his writing. A police officer gifted the Big Boys Ward with a canary named Rollo: “Rollo’s song, softly rolling and warm, was a big help, too, those Tuesday or Thursday mornings when we lay there waiting for the masked people to take us to the operating room. We believed that Rollo cared about us and that he would guard us always … so never, never again were we really afraid of the doctors or nurses or storms.” The facility’s schoolteacher, Ella Aronstam, “could and did stir in me curiosity about the natural world,” about which he would later write regularly with much talent and enthusiasm. She also gave him the assignment he credited with having sparked his interest in journalism: to write a thank-you letter to the Ladies of the Tiny Tim Society, who had underwritten the Thanksgiving Day meal in 1926, when he was ten. His letter was reprinted, along with a picture of him in his wheelchair, in the hospital’s yearbook. “As time went on I began to think it would be a lot of fun to report other things I saw, the experiences of others as well as my own. I still think it’s fun to do so, which is why on Thanksgiving Day I personally celebrate the anniversary of the assignment that sort of put me into this profession.” Though he had several teachers he revered, his formal education suffered, and he never obtained more than a grade school education.
He left St. Giles in March 1934, when he was 18 years old, moving into a coldwater tenement at 222 St. Nicholas Avenue, four blocks south of the Apollo Theater in Harlem, where he paid $3 a week. “The State of New York, in its august majesty, had decreed I should … learn to repair watches,” so Neubauer was sent to the Standard Watchmakers Institute on West 111th Street in South Harlem. Neubauer credited Samuel M. Meeker, a vice president and director of St. Giles, for sponsoring his education at the Standard Watchmakers Institute; Neubauer said the man “was pleased by my ‘spirited pluck.’” But watchmaking was not his calling, and even his mighty benefactor new it. “Mr. Meeker suspected that in one way or another I would contrive to become some kind of writer,” Neubauer wrote. “So to the tenement flat one day came his chauffeur with a new Remington portable typewriter, several reams of paper and a $10 bill,” Neubauer wrote, adding that about once a month he would dine with Mr. Meeker and attend various high-society events, in this way meeting J.P. Morgan, among others. So if Neubauer learned to repair watches, he was also learning to write, working on his first book and apparently starting to work as a stringer for newspapers, in his teens.
Out on his own, he befriended Harlem residents, including George Oglethorpe, who was a barker for the Apollo Theater, and who “had this amplitude of human spirit not to hold my color, my physical frailty or my inexperience in the nonhospital world against me.” Oglethorpe, too, was “determined that I should have my coveted life as a novelist and newspaperman regardless of my limited education and maneuverability.” He helped Neubauer learn to master stairs on his crutches, and on Christmas 1934, when the newly independent 18-year-old Neubauer had nothing but snow for breakfast, Oglethorpe pulled him around Harlem on a sled and introduced him to people poorer than himself so that Neubauer could write an article that he might sell. “The story I did write and sell the next day turned Life around for me, and I have not known hunger since,” he said. “The article was not about how the poor and the rich knew Christmas in a Depression year … It was about Ol’ George, a big, gentle, boon companion pulling a white kid around the streets of Harlem to help him earn a dollar … but teaching him along the way that the dollar shared is the finest dollar of all.”
Meeker and Oglethorpe’s hunches proved correct, and Neubauer sold his first novel, described as “a gentle love story” called “Of Hearts and Song,” to the Bell Syndicate at the age of 19, early in 1936; the piece ran as a serial in 500 newspapers. (Other sources call the year of publication 1939. My own research does not find this piece, which may have been published under a pseudonym.) Neubauer later recalled that when his story was published, he was working on a ladies’ watch “and suddenly, with great satisfaction, chucked the whole thing out the institute window. He never went back.” It’s not clear if this story is true, however; in the U.S. 1940 census, when he was 24, his occupation was listed as “watch repairing” (and the YMCA’s Sloan House on W. 34th Street in Manhattan, as his residence).
At that time, pulp novel publishers were paying up to a penny a word, Neubauer recalled; “I holed up and learned the pulp formulas from cover to cover.” He also continued to write for newspapers, and eventually he worked up to the “agony beat” for the New York World-Telegram in the early 1930s. In the 1940s he moved to 59 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village and acquired Maxwell Aley as an agent. He reports that he would write from 7 to 11 am and then go out to Washington Square until lunch. He stated that he once met Eleanor Roosevelt on a park bench there, she telling him that “her husband disliked his leg braces quite as passionately as I disliked mine.” He wrote that she pulled some strings on his behalf, because a publisher who had never before returned his calls “telephoned me to say that Mrs. Roosevelt had told him that she liked my work and he ought to find a place for me. … Now I was given lovely drinks at the men’s bar in the Biltmore, a lunch in an Armenian restaurant down on Canal Street, and even a sympathetic interview by an editor who actually did look through some book reviews and articles I had published. In due course there came assignments, as well.” (Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, and though she did write a newspaper column six days a week from 1935 to 1962, it’s hard to understand how he could have met her on a park bench, even if, as Neubauer stated, she had an apartment across the street from his favorite bench.)
His books began appearing in 1944, the “light love stories” he acknowledged writing, under the pen names Rebecca Marsh, Norma Newcomb, and Joan Garrison. He later called his books “formula stuff I could turn out almost effortlessly.” But he also wrote more racy novels beginning in 1944 under the name of Gordon Semple. He published nine books that year, but it is possible that he was ghostwriting novels before then, which was a common practice in the day. Several obituaries report that he wrote more than 400 books, and “nary a naughty work, nor mention of drug or sex could be found in his books,” a blatantly inaccurate statement from the author whose works included Shameless Sue, Love for Hire, and Warped Desires. Though the 1940 census reports that he had earned $810 in the entire year of 1939 (about $15,000 in today’s dollars), at some point in the 1940s he was earning $700 a month—“In New York then, $35 a week made me a rich man,” he recalled.
By 1947 he had met his future wife, Elice Popham, and had traveled to Mexico by train to see her when she was studying art for the summer in Guanajuato. She was born and raised in Denver and married her first husband at age 20. At age 27 she was living alone in Newark, attending the Newark School of Fine Arts, and she also attended the Cooper Union School of Fine Arts in New York. She divorced in 1931, when she was 28. In the 1940s she was living in Greenwich Village and working as a commercial artist, and it is reported that she illustrated some of Neubauer’s books. This likely means that she created the cover illustrations, and perhaps this is how they met, though they lived five blocks apart in the 1940s. They married in June 1949 in New York City, when he was 33 and she was 46. In 1952, when Neubauer was 36, the couple was living in San Mateo, California. That same year they moved to Boulder Creek, a small town 14 miles up the coast from Santa Cruz (and 30 miles southwest of San Jose). Elice continued to work as an artist, but also became the librarian of Boulder Creek in 1960, a post she held for 11½ years. They never had any children.
Neubauer began doing technical editing for the U.S. Naval Missile Center in Point Mugu, CA, from 1956 to 1959, as well as freelance technical editing. In the late 1950s he worked primarily for newspapers, and in 1968 he seems to have abandoned novel writing altogether for journalism; the last book of his that I can find was published in 1968 (Trial by Love, under the pen name Rebecca Marsh). He joined The Sentinel in Santa Cruz, CA, in 1969, and covered politics on the city beat until retiring in April 1982, unfortunately dying only seven months later of lung cancer. While working as a reporter, he also served as a columnist, penning the “Happy Monday” column, which ran from April 1976 to June 1978, and discussed travel, nature, and his youth in New York while showcasing his upbeat and generous disposition. Interestingly, as often as he wrote about his youth, he never once mentioned his family; it is clear from his columns that he did not spend holidays with them, so it seems likely that he had little interaction with them during his life.
For a man of almost no formal education and an upbringing in an orphanage, Neubauer had erudite taste. He traveled extensively: to the USSR, Marrakesh, London, British Columbia, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Venice, Bulgaria. “How can I afford not to see the world this single time I’ll be aboard it?” he once asked, defending the trips he “cannot afford … cannot afford to miss, that is.” He loved opera, Mahler and Mozart. He collected dolls and animal figurines from around the world. He served as president of the Redwood Garden Club in Boulder Creek for five years and frequently wrote about nature in his column. “When Neubauer wasn’t writing, he was admiring—from the simple things Nature had provided, to the beauty of a play or opera, or the grace of a well-toned athlete hitting a tennis ball or catching a touchdown pass,” stated an editorial marking his passing. “He didn’t show jealousy that he didn’t have the capability for participating in some of those events, but admired those who had worked so hard to attain such preciseness. Bill Neubauer’s life was one of overcoming adversity. He never was able to get around without crutches, had two heart attacks, a cancerous lung removed and was in much pain the final years of his life. But that never prevented this person with a tremendous willpower from making a mark on our society.”
It is more than a little ironic that Neubauer was born on April Fool’s Day and died on Thanksgiving Day. Abandoned in infancy as a “cripple,” he went on to lead a highly successful and apparently happy life, borne largely of his temperament, which led him to be grateful for the gifts of the world. “Thanksgiving Day is among the more important personal anniversaries I celebrate,” he wrote in honor of the day in 1970, exactly 12 years before the day he died. “Have you ever noticed how many nice days are made for you annually by your contacts with other people, by your perceptions of them, your discernment of their qualities, your appreciation of their merits, your sudden awareness of your beautiful oneness with them in this adventure termed Life? It’s well to cultivate that habit of noticing, for this is one habit with entirely constructive and worthwhile kicks. There are so many tacts and kindnesses around us that none of us should ever be cynical. There are so many people around us worth seeing and talking to that none of us should ever be lonely. It is a happier life if you do take the time and the trouble to see and appreciate others.”
Dear Nurse, by Joan Garrison, ©1945
Doctor Charlton, by Norma Newcomb, ©1955
Doctor’s Assistant, by Norma Newcomb, ©1948
Dr. Jayne’s Escapist Daughter, by Norma Newcomb, ©1959
Junior Nurse, by Jan Hathaway, ©1962
Million Dollar Nurse, by Rebecca Marsh, ©1966
Nurse Anne’s Emergency, by Rebecca Marsh, ©1965
, by Rebecca Marsh, ©1962
, by Joan Garrison, ©1954
Nurse March, by William Neubauer, ©1957
, by Patti Carr, ©1965
, by Rebecca Marsh, ©1963
, by Norma Newcomb; Patti Carr, ©1967
, by Rebecca Marsh, ©1962
, by William Neubauer, ©1964
Prison Nurse, by William Neubauer, ©1962
Recovery Room Nurse, by Rebecca Marsh, ©1965
Rehabilitation Nurse, by Joan Garrison, ©1966 (also published as , by Patti Carr)
Trouble in Ward J, by William Neubauer; Norma Newcomb, ©1964