Mike McGrady, an award-winning columnist for Newsday who was the architect of one of the silliest literary spoofs of all time -- the best-selling novel "Naked Came the Stranger" -- died Sunday in Shelton, Wash. He was 78.
The cause was pneumonia, said his wife, Corinne Young McGrady, of Lilliwaup, Wash., where McGrady lived after retiring in 1990.
Early in his 20-year career at Newsday, McGrady covered the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. His series of columns from the front lines, "A Dove in Vietnam," won an Overseas Press Club Award in 1967 and was later published as a book.
"We remember him as one of the greatest writers who helped define the period -- 1960s and 1970s," said Lou Schwartz, former Newsday executive editor.
In 1966, McGrady, appalled by mediocre fiction churned out by authors like Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins, set out to demonstrate that sex, not good writing, sells books. He devised a plan to create a novel devoid of plot, character development or any redeeming social value.
"There will be an unremitting emphasis on sex," McGrady said in a note to his Newsday collaborators. "Also, true excellence in writing will be quickly blue-penciled into oblivion."
Two dozen staffers participated, each penning a chapter recounting a suburban woman's sexual escapades.
McGrady and one of his cohorts, former Newsday editor Harvey Aronson, edited and assembled the chapters, turning it into "Naked Came the Stranger," published in 1969 by purported author Penelope Ashe. For interviews and public appearances, McGrady's sister-in-law, Billie Young, posed as the writer.
The novel raced to The New York Times' bestseller list, with 20,000 copies sold before the conspirators owned up to the subterfuge. The original manuscripts and papers -- considered cultural commentary -- are now housed in the Columbia University Library, McGrady's wife said.
Michael Robinson McGrady was born in New York City on Oct. 4, 1933. He earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University and later studied at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow.
During World War II, McGrady lived with his mother and two brothers in Lilliwaup, where he attended a one-room schoolhouse, said his wife. After his father returned from the war, the family moved to Port Washington.
McGrady was hired as a columnist at Newsday in 1962. He and his wife moved to Eatons Neck, where they raised three children.
In 1974, McGrady left the paper to write books. He returned in 1982, ending his career as the paper's film critic.
"I want to remember him as the smiling Irishman who had such a lyrically natural gift as a writer," Aronson said of McGrady. "He did it with grace, elegance and with a sense of humor that few people in his profession possess."
McGrady wrote more than a dozen books, including "The Kitchen Sink Papers: My Life as a Househusband" (1976). The idea came, his wife said, after she joked often about needing a housewife to help her with chores so she could focus on her design business.
His other books include an instructional manual: "Stranger than Naked: Or, How to Write Dirty Books for Fun and Profit" (1970) and two memoirs by pornographic film actress Linda Lovelace that he co-wrote. He also wrote books for young adults.
In addition to his wife of more than 50 years, he is survived by three children Sean McGrady of Los Angeles, Siobhan Benoit of Boynton Beach, Fla., and Liam McGrady of Delray Beach, Fla.; his brother, Seamus McGrady of Lilliwaup; and five grandchildren.
A memorial service to celebrate McGrady's life is scheduled for May 26 in Lilliwaup, his wife said. He will be cremated.
Excerpts from 'Naked Came The Stranger'
When the martinis arrived, they were on the rocks. Gillian jiggled the glass and noticed the expression in Ernie's eyes. She jiggled the glass again and again it happened. It was as though his eyes had turned to ice. It was the same look she had seen Saturday before he turned into a raging animal. Gillian had minored in psychology at Bard, but the psychology she relied on now was something she had been born with.
"The ice cubes look nice, don't they?" she said. "Nice, just floating in the glass."
"And I'll maintain," William was saying, "that without parties such as these, suburbia, per se, would disintegrate before our eyes. These are, after all, not merely social gatherings. They are, in the psychological sense, encounters -- they're what we have instead of group therapy. It's my sincere feeling that if everyone in the country would go to just one suburban party a week, psychoanalysis would go out of vogue."
Gillian's shrug turned into a shudder. Williams was doing his Hugh Downs imitation -- locating his conversation on the right side of pompous and the wrong side of stuff. His voice -- a narcissistic and mellifluent instrument of torture -- was professionally resonant, overwhelmingly smooth, always able to intimidate lesser voices and superior intellects in any gathering.
"Don't mind her," Arthur said. "She's on acid."
"LSD?" Gillian said.
"Yeah, like acid," Arthur said. "We were all set to play a new game tonight and then she has to go and suck on a cube and ruin it all."
"What kind of game?" Gillian asked.
"Time machine," Arthur said. "We'd thought we'd go back in time, all the way back here to the seventeenth century, and see what the cats were doing back then. Then she goes and sucks a cube and ruins the game."
"You mean you think most of the people here live in the seventeenth century?"
"Where else?" he said. "Not you, though, you're something else. Outasight. Hey, do you groove?"
"I'm not sure," Gillian said. "Do you speak English?"
"Hey, later," he said.
That was Arthur Franhop's exit line. Without another word, he was gone. He paused just long enough to take his blind-eyed Raina with him, and moments later, the quiet suburban night was rent by the sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle being fired up.