Wallace Smith illustration
Wallace Smith illustration

This weird book was suppressed for many years, not without reason. Plenty of explicit sex, it goes without saying. But the really disturbing part is the beginning, perhaps the most venomous, hate-filled, manic-depressive, pathological piece of literature in circulation. It’s a book that can actually make you want to commit suicide.

Oddly, author Ben Hecht is famous for writing, among other things, screwball comedies such as His Girl Friday and Some Like it Hot. In fact, he received screen credit in 70 movies. Director John Huston admired his work ethic, saying,

Ben Hecht wrote pictures for a flat fee, with incredible speed, sometimes completing an entire script in three or four days. When he started to work, he didn’t stop, other than to eat and sleep sparingly, until it was finished.

Hecht wrote some film scripts under other names because of a spot of political trouble he got into in the late Forties, early Fifties. J Edgar Hoover called him a “fellow traveler,” in other words, a Communist sympathizer. He was boycotted by the Brits for being a right-wing Zionist.

Good grief, Hecht wrote 35 books including The Sensualists and A Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago (a collection of his newspaper columns.) Fantazius Mallare came out in 1922, apparently in a limited edition destined for a small circle of friends. Legend says, and I see no reason to doubt it, that most of the copies were destroyed by the authorities.

Before ever hearing of Fantazius Mallare, I’d stayed with a friend whose wall held a poster depicting a man who appears to be in sexual congress with a tree. Yes, it was the Sixties. But see, that’s the thing. This artwork from back in the Twenties made a resurgence. Illustrator Wallace Smith, who like Hecht was also a newspaperman and a screenwriter, was recognized and remembered. That’s a beautiful thing. Because when alive, he did jail time for this drawing.