The Creator, by William Hegner
June, 1978 Pocket Books
As far as I’m aware, this was the last novel William Hegner published for over twenty years, not returning to the publishing world until 1999’s Razzle Dazzle, which he co-wrote with the actress Stella Stevens.* (And in fact I’m not even sure if this was the same William Hegner.) In my review of The Worshipped And The Damned a commenter named Tex posted an obituary of Hegner from the Sandusky Register, but the link’s no longer valid and not even available on the Wayback Machine. I’m assuming this is Sandusky, Ohio, and some Google searching reveals that a “William (Bill) Hegner” was the sports editor of the Sandusky Register in 1947. Again, no idea if it’s even the same guy; according to Hawk’s Authors’ Pseudonyms, William Hegner was born in 1928, so that’s pretty young for an editor. I can’t recall what else that obituary said, nor even what year Hegner died…it’s curious so little is known about him, with zero in the way of biographical info online; per the cover blurbs of his Pocket Books paperbacks, William Hegner’s novels sold in the “millions,” so he certainly had readers in the day.
Hegner was also prolific: he published 16 novels in the ‘70s, almost all of them Pocket Books paperback originals. The sole non-Pocket paperback he published that decade was Rainbowland, first published in hardcover in 1977 and then in softcover by Playboy Books. The Creator capped off this productive decade, and would turn out to be Hegner’s last book (perhaps; see the asterisked footnote below). Pocket Books gives no indication of this, again blurbing those “millions” of novels sold; the cover art and layout follows the previous year’s The Bigamist. In fact for a long time I kept confusing these two books due to the similar covers. (All the kids at school would make fun of me!) But what I’m trying to say is that the decision to no longer write must have been Hegner’s, for Pocket was clearly still trying to promote him as a major seller.
Maybe Hegner was just burned out with writing sleaze, as I theorized before. But if so, the curious thing would be that The Creator also follows The Bigamist in that it’s an actual story, with a plot that develops over the book’s 262 pages. In other words, it isn’t just a random snapshot of depraved sleaze, a la earlier Hegner novels The Ski Lodgers or Stars Cast No Shadows. While there is a good bit of sexual tomfoolery in The Creator, Hegner’s focus is more on telling his tale and bringing his characters to life. To a certain extent, at least. I mean the novel’s basically a roman a clef, obviously based on the relationship between Elvis Presley and Colonel Tom Parker, with the titular “creator” being a silver-haired shyster who calls himself “Dr. Jack Jordan” and the Elvis analog being a hillbilly singer named Orville Tanner.
As usual with a Hegner novel, I had a hard time figuring out what year this was set in. The opening features the character who will ultimately call himself Dr. Jack Jordan instead posing as a hellfire and damnation-type preacher named Reverend Carter Simpson. He drives a bus around the Appalachians, preaching to poor country folk, and we’re informed he has a fake religious college certificate hanging in his bus that’s dated 1944. So at first I thought we had a period piece, but later we’ll learn that this guy is 53 years old. Also later in the book we’ll learn via an offhand comment that the United States was founded “one hundred and ninety years ago.” So unless my math fails me, this would put us sometime in the 1960s…the mid to late ‘60s in particular, given random mentions of “acid rock.” Otherwise there are no topical references to the ‘60s, and unlike most roman a clefs Hegner doesn’t even mention any real-world celebrities or real-world events to add verisimilitude to the tale. So The Creator is of a piece with other Hegner novels in that it takes place in a cultural vacuum.
The opening seems to come from a different novel; in it a preacher named Reverend Carter Simpson, of the Church of Hell, Fire, and Damnation, drives around Appalachia preaching to the yokels. He’s got long white hair and it’s all a crock to him, of course, but one night in some tiny town in West Virginia he comes upon Lurleen Raven, a mega-hotstuff babe who reminds the reverend of the brunette beauty in the Lil’ Abner comic strip(!). Immediately “Reverend Simpson” sees a new angle: he takes Lurleen into his entourage and quickly gets a gander of her nude body. With the naïve but not innocent beauty fully on board, Simpson drops his preacher schtick, sells off his church, changes his name to “Dr. Jack Jordan,” and becomes the manager of Lurleen Raven – the hottest thing to hit the burlesque circuit in many a year. As Dr. Jack later thinks of it, a “segue from gospels to G-strings.”
Now a real curious thing occurred to me as I read this. There was an episode of The Simpsons many years ago that also spoofed the Elvis Presley-Colonel Tom Parker relationship; in it, Homer Simpson acted as the Colonel Tom analog, and he became the talent manager for a hotstuff hillbilly gal named Lurleen Lumpkin, turning her into a country music sensation. And let’s not forget, Dr. Jack Jordan goes by the name “Reverend Carter Simpson” in the first quarter of The Creator. The episode, titled “Colonel Homer,” aired in 1992 (ie the show’s third season), and is credited to Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Surely all this is a total coincidence. And yet, the plot of The Creator features Dr. Jack Jordan, the novel’s Colonel Tom Parker analog, becoming the talent manager for a hillbilly country music sensation. Now in the novel the singing sensation is a man, but still; there’s a “Simpson” and a “Lurleen” in this Elvis Presley roman a clef, so what are the odds?
Dr. Jack and Lurleen travel around, with Lurleen headlined as “Heavenly Angel;” part of her schtick is that Dr. Jack has used hyrdogen peroxide to dye her pubic hair, so that it’s as platinum as the hair on her head. But the clubs become more tawdry and the bookings fewer, and soon enough Dr. Jack has tired of this latest angle. Also, he and Lurleen grow to hate one another, traveling around the country by bus and sharing rooms. Curiously our author leaves their few sexual dalliances off-page; in fact, Dr. Jack is more attracted to money than he is to women. Even though this section of the novel ultimately has nothing to do with what comes later, Hegner still displays his gift for memorable repartee: one of my favorites in this regard is when Lurleen is spotlighted in an “industry” publication on strip clubs, and Dr. Jack tells her that the magazine is “respected in the field.” To which Lurleen responds, “Yeah, but the whole damn field’s disrespected.”
Destiny intervenes when the two decide to stop in the little town of Covington, Kentucky one night, pulling in to a cheap diner. There Dr. Jack witnesses a young hillbilly boy with an “outdated pompadour” putting on a show with his guitar, singing country music stuff, and Dr. Jack is riveted. He decides on the spot that the young man, Orville Tanner, will be his new client; to seal the deal, he arranges for Lurleen to spend the night with him. Which leads to another off-page sex scene! As I say, Hegner must’ve really decided to reign in on the sleaze in his later novels; compare to The Ski Lodgers, where the entire plot was the explicit sex scenes. But speaking of Lurleen, Dr. Jack now considers her an obstacle, and goes about trying to get rid of her; ultimately he sells her contract to a mobster who wants to feature “Heavenly Angel” in porn flicks.
So with Lurleen out of the way, Hegner moves into the main plot, and belatedly I realized The Creator was actually a rock novel, even if hillbilly Orville Tanner isn’t a rocker. Hegner does mention “acid rock” at times, in particular a new group called The Questions and Answers, which has a weird act where they sing off each other. But Hegner certainly is no expert in this field. For one, he has musicians wielding “electronic guitars,” rather than plain old electric ones. This delivered a humorous mental image. Even more curious is Dr. Jack’s decision that Orville’s music will be a “fusion of jazz and Country-Western.” He ropes in a famous New York producer, one who takes the job precisely because such a thing’s never been done before, and likely for a reason. We’ll have occasional scenes in the studio, as well as a few concerts, but Hegner doesn’t much bring the music to life. Instead, the focus of the novel is on Orville Tanner’s insatiable drive for women, plus his sort-of gay relationship with Skip, Orville’s best friend since childhood and basically his soul mate.
There’s a lot of stuff with Skip, from the two good ol’ boys drinking beer and shooting the breeze (when Dr. Jack discovers Orville, he and Skip are truck drivers, living out of their rig) to their frequent interractions with the hookers Dr. Jack hires for them. Dr. Jack is your classic control freak, and one of his concerns is that some floozie will take advantage of his prized client, even by the standard gambit of getting knocked up by him. So Orville is only allowed to screw the endless stable of professionals Dr. Jack supplies for him; this entails a meeting with a high-class “modeling” agency that has a brochure of the women available. But again Hegner doesn’t do much to dwell on these scenes, even though they occur frequently. But the craziest thing is that there’s actually a sleazier novel within The Creator, but Hegner ignores it: we get a random cutover to Lurleen, “acting” in her first porno flick, and it calls to mind books like Mafia: Operation Porno and Memoirs Of An Ex-Porno Queen. This is all we get, though, but man it would’ve been fun if Hegner had written a novel soley focused on Lurleen’s descent into mob-financed skin flicks.
Actually the most explicit sequence is the strangest. Late in the novel, apropos of nothing, Orville and Skip decide to have a jack-off competition. Really! They set up markers in their hotel room, stand with their backs to the wall, and set off upon themselves, to see who can shoot the farthest – with the curious bit that the other guy takes over before climax. In other words, Skip strokes himself up good and proper, and then before the, uh, happy ending, Orville takes hold of Skip’s dick and gives it the last few strokes. So yeah, pretty weird. After this the two good ol’ boys get in a wrestling match during a rehearsal in the studio, much to the dismay and shock of the professional musicians and producer and etc. And yet they’re not truly gay, we’re to understand…at any rate, it’s not something Hegner really puts the spotlight on. He just leaves it as a subtext that the two are clearly in love with each other.
Regardless, late in the novel Dr. Jack’s worst nightmare comes to life: Orville goes back to Kentucky to visit his beloved mama (another element lifted from the real-life Elvis story) and she sets him up with a local hotstuff chick. One who happens to be sixteen years old. And Orville knocks her up. This sets off a spiral which causes Dr. Jack to question his future – that, and the increasing threat of a lawsuit from his former client Lurleen, who has hired lawyers around the country to set in upon Dr. Jack. Lurleen has become a “sexual cripple” due to that hydrogen peroxide treatment Dr. Jack introduced to her genital area, and she’s out for revenge. However at this point she’s completely disappeared from the narrative; the last we see of her is a random bit, midway through the novel, where Orville and Skip duck into a dingy New York nightclub and “Heavenly Angel” is the featured dancer. Hegner leaves Lurleen in the background of the narrative, only occasionally referring to her descent, with the unstated implication that she is just a poor victim of Dr. Jack, her life destroyed by the con man.
Overall though I really did enjoy The Creator. One grating thing about it though is that nearly all of the dialog is written in a Southern dialect, life for example “heah” instead of “here” and etc. Literally almost every single character talks like this – Dr. Jack, Lurleen, Orville, Skip, Orville’s mother, etc. This renders long sections of the novel almost indecipherable, as if we were reading a redneck Irvine Welsh. This alone prevents The Creator from being a trashy classic along the lines of Hegner’s earlier The Worshipped And The Damned. Otherwise there’s nothing here to indicate that Hegner was burned out; indeed, stuff like The Ski Lodgers gave the impression that he was burned out with writing “filth.” If that one had been Hegner’s last novel for a few decades, I’d understand it. But it’s curious that what turned out to be William Hegner’s last novel for a few decades was one of his stronger ones. If anything The Creator indicates that Hegner had more novels in him.
*But then perhaps Hegner did publish one more novel before 1999’s Razzle Dazzle. Above I mentioned Hawk’s Authors’ Pseudonyms. Hegner actually has an entry in it: according to Pat Hawk, William Hegner published a novel titled Nicole under the pseudonym “Morgan Saint Michel.” Hawk gives no further info, so it took a bit of digging for me to figure this out. “Nicole” was a series of erotic paperbacks published by Jove Books in the early ‘80s: Nicole Around The World, Nicole In Flight, Nicole In Captivity, etc. The books were actually credited to “Morgan St. Michel,” ie “Saint” was not spelled out as it is in Hawk’s listing. All of the books featured photo covers of a woman in lingerie, and the series must have had scarce printings given the few, overpriced copies online. From my research, someone named Coleman Stokes served as “Morgan St. Michel” for most of the novels, but Pat Hawk certainly knows more about pseudonyms than I do; thus, I must conclude that Hawk is correct and William Hegner wrote the first novel in the series, simply titled Nicole and published by Jove in 1982. But I have no plans to confirm this by acquiring the book and actually reading it – copies of Nicole are around a hundred bucks.