So, my brain tends to wander into various odd corners of my memory. And this morning, for no reason whatsoever, I thought of Pet Rocks.
A Pet Rock, for those who don’t know, is an ordinary rock enclosed in a nice package that informs the buyer that this is, indeed, a Pet Rock. And these rocks became wildly popular for a while in the 1970s. Why? Well, the idea is sort of funny. And I think a whole new generation of “baby boomers” (aka my generation) had gotten through college and were starting out in the real world, where they found they had neither the time nor the energy for actual pets.
Thus, a craze was born. And why were these rocks wrapped in cellophane so ridiculously popular?
Who the heck knows? Pet Rocks, or beanie babies, or R.L. Stein books, or some other odd corner of the marketing world, just catch the popular imagination. And only for a short time, before we all decide on what will be the next craze. People are paid a lot of money to anticipate these things. Most of the time, these people fail.
I managed to benefit from one of these crazes myself in the late 1980s. What did I do? I wrote the novelization of the new Batman movie –the one starring Micheal Keaton. At that time, there had been very few successful superhero movies (the Superman films had done well – that’s about it). No one expected much from another caped hero film. And Batman had been around forever, in comics, movies, and the campy TV show from the 1960s. Sure, the new film would sell some tickets. But nobody expected it to be ther newest craze.
How did this happen? The Warner Brothers’ publicity department had done their job, and everybody knew about the film. But the public is aware of a lot of films. What was different about this one?
My theory is that Jon Peters (film producer, hair stylist and Barbara Streisand’s boyfriend) made a mistake. Novelizations are supposed to be released at about the same time the movie comes out,. In those days, though, publishers would put their books out one month before their actual “pub date), so, for example June books would show up in the middle of May. Peters didn’t know this (I assume) and released the novelization something like five weeks early. This fueled the public’s imagination, and a popular movie became a craze. My book was a New York Times bestseller for 13 weeks. I was interviewed by newspapers, magazines, and the Today show. It was translated into dozens of other languages, and ended up selling more than 800,00 copies in the US alone.
Because of work-for-hire contracts, I made some money from this, but not a lot. But I got a big boost in the fame department, with bookstores giving all my books special displays. And then it was over. I wrote the follow-up novelization for the second Batman film, but that book just did solid – rather than spectacular – numbers. They gave the later novelizations to other folks, and the later films were not as good as the first two. I went back to writing the sort of stuff I usually write and continued to have a fair amount of success.
\But for a couple of months, there, I got to ride the craze.