Friday, May 24, 2024

The Book You Have to Read:
“Dr. Nyet,” by Ted Mark

(Editor’s note: This is the 184th installment in The Rap Sheet’s continuing series about great but forgotten books.)

By Steven Nester
The James Bond franchise—the film adaptations, especially—have spawned a plethora of spin-offs, rip-offs, spoofs, and goofs. Books, comics, films, television shows (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart), video games, and more have proliferated over the years, mocking Agent 007 all the way to the bank. There’s really no secret to their success: the spies depicted in those parodic homages are invincible (despite their Austin Powers ineptitude), and they are legion. Seemingly bullet-proof, they also possess an unflappable nonchalance, a wry wit undamped by danger, and the ability to improvise their way out of a bad situation or into the bed of almost any woman they desire.

Which begs the question: Who wouldn’t want to be a superspy? Who wouldn’t want to be Steve Victor, the leading man in Ted Mark’s “The Man from O.R.G.Y.” series? Yet Dr. Nyet (Lancer, 1966), the fourth of those 15 paperback adventures, shows that while life is a bowl of cherries for a superspy, one must be wary of bullets in the mix.

(Right) Dr. Nyet (1966), with cover art by Stanley Borack.

Victor is a freelance sex researcher from the States, who occasionally undertakes odd jobs for an unnamed U.S. espionage organization. His one-man company is called O.R.G.Y., an acronym for the Organization for the Rational Guidance of Youth, and his reputation is well-established. In Dr. Nyet, he’s recruited in flagrante delicto by the British Secret Service for a top-secret mission. An anti-sex organization known as S.M.U.T. (Society of Moral Uplift Today) is determined to stamp out “illegal sexuality” in everything from “bra ads to ballet costumes.” Although its imputed puritanism makes Hugh Hefner resemble Jerry Falwell, S.M.U.T.’s real intention (no spoiler alert needed here) is to take over the world. And it plans to accomplish that through sex.

It seems the eponymous Dr. Nyet, a comely Russian scientist, has invented a drug that counteracts birth-control pills, while at the same time acting as an aphrodisiac. Now she’s defecting to S.M.U.T. and taking her secret formula with her. The short-term goal of their alliance? To create a “catastrophic population increase.” Their long game? Well, you’ll just have to take this ride with Victor to find out.

The Russians and the Chinese are already in hot pursuit of Dr. Nyet, but Victor hopes to get out in front of them, mustering his best 007 bravado to infiltrate S.M.U.T. Posing as a sympathetic researcher, he decides to snoop around the organization’s New York headquarters, but gets off to a bad start. He’s interviewed by S.M.U.T. executive Prudence Highman, “a dried fig labeled female by the clothing she wore,” as the cruel and captious Victor observes, with plenty of Swingin’ ’60s chauvinism. As far as salacious double entendres go, author Mark is just getting warmed up. Horace Crampdick, Jock O’Steele, and brothel madam Mrs. Vendergash all have walk-ons in this then racy (but by today’s standards, squeaky clean) parody. Highman is at the top of the organizational chart, and Victor scoring an audience with her should’ve tipped him off that his cover has been blown. When Prudence is subsequently murdered by her husband, Peter, who attempts to frame Victor for the crime, it’s game on. Fortunately, Victor finds an ally in his efforts to bring S.M.U.T. down: Singh Huy-eva, a Nepalese Gurkha, who, like our randy hero, is on a mission.

Victor is looking to save the world; Singh is looking to save his national heritage. He brings O.R.G.Y.’s man up to speed by explaining how S.M.U.T. finances its operations, in part by looting ancient erotic religious art from around the world and then fencing it on the black market. Singh’s current quest is to recover a piece of sculpture: a four-foot-long, solid-gold, jewel-encrusted phallus wrested from a sacred statue. Readers can’t avoid the low Freudian humor provided at the expense of Singh, who tells Victor he was emasculated in battle. In short order, Victor and Singh bond and begin a global journey that allows author Mark to school his readers on geopolitical issues, starting with a discourse on Ghurkas, going on from there to recall the colonialism and racism inflicted on Rhodesia by nefarious folks in pursuit of its gold reserves (S.M.U.T. has its grubby fingers in that pie, too), and offering a diatribe on African pygmy tribes, besides. All of that background seeks to establish the humanitarianism behind Victor’s quest. A quest that here includes his introducing oral sex to Eskimos, once he’s made his way to the Arctic lair of S.M.U.T.

That’s where the not-so-pure driven snow finally hits the fan.

Author Ted Mark, who also hid behind other pen names during his career, was born Theodore Mark Gottfried in 1928. He is credited with turning out more than 100 books, many of them non-fiction titles for young readers. In addition, of course, he wrote literate smut with a light and fatuous touch that alternately danced just above the belt (“her oven of love was starting to rekindle itself”) and went full-throttle adolescent braggadocio (“She had both fists around me like a sports car enthusiast going gaga over a new stick shift. And I was strumming her little passion switch like a banjo player mad with palsy.”).

(Left) Dr. Nyet’s back cover.

How anybody thought such mischevious “sexploits” might be translated to film is anybody’s guess. But there was indeed one movie made from Mark/Gottfried’s books: 1970’s The Man from O.R.G.Y. It starred Robert Walker Jr., along with comics Steve Rossi and Slappy White. Walker Jr. was a bargain-basement Jack Lemmon, who was lucky enough to have entrée into the American film community. The son of performers Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo) and Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing), he boasted a lengthy movie and television résumé (including roles in 1969’s Easy Rider, an episode of the original Star Trek, and Columbo). Possessing an affable and bungling comedic style, Walker Jr. could turn on the intensity for psychological dramas when needed, but didn’t possess the gravitas needed to make the A-list. As for The Man from O.R.G.Y., the production company and director James Hill did what they could by meeting the sexual revolution head on. The picture was marketed with this tagline: “Meet Steve Victor, a new breed of agent. He stands up for what he believes in ... SEX!” Yet at the time, Hollywood was bursting at the seams with sex, and perhaps that was part of the problem. The movie bombed, and aside from its presumed lack of quality (has anyone out there actually viewed it?), it got lost in the mosh pit of carnal frivolity surrounding the sexual revolution.

Steve Victor may have faded into cinematic history, but he does complete his mission in Dr. Nyet. The story’s evildoers get their come-uppance and Victor, who was unceremoniously wrested from the bed of a willing lass in Chapter One, is lucky enough to meet her again on his return to London. This time, though, it’s truly a happy ending for our man Steve. And, in a way, for readers as well.

Should you prefer to ignore parodies such as this one, and stick with the real thing instead, it’s fortunate that James Bond lives on. As, in a sense, does Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming. A newly published biography of the spy/author/bon vivant, Ian Fleming: The Complete Man (Harper), by Nicholas Shakespeare, reached U.S. bookstore shelves earlier this spring. At 800-plus pages in length, it should satisfy any spy-fiction lover, because in many respects, Fleming resembled Bond, or vice-versa—confirming that there’s plenty of truth in the fiction. Shakespeare demonstrates his insight when he calls Agent 007 “Peter Pan with a gun.” One wonders why Bond never starred in a novel, or at least a film, titled The Spy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Not unlike Steve Victor, he’s the stuff of fantasy, at least partly.


Jerry House said...

In the late 60s I plowed the entire Ted Mark fast-moving, funny, and mildly titillating oeuvre. I doubt if I would have the same response today.

Jerry House said...

Plowed through. (Cursed fumble fingers!)

John said...

You're so right -- this IS a great and forgotten book! I read the Ted Mark series when they first came out in the 60's Lancer PB's and laughed my butt off through every one of them. He had a knack for those kinky phrases and one my buddy and I still crack up over is "terry cloth tent" (which book I don't remember). Someone dumped their near mint collection at a used book store near me some years ago for five bucks apiece and I still kick myself for not picking them up as they've been a little hard to find ever since in that kind of condition. I've managed to pick up a handful (no pun intended) over the ensuing years and I'm proud to say that Dr. Nyet is one of them. After your post, I'll definitely have to read it again soon. Out of the blue, I grabbed Diamonds Are Forever off my bookshelf and just finished it yesterday. Fleming was a pretty darn good writer I have to say. Thanks for bringing back some hilarious memories!