Friday, March 27, 2020

The Life, Literature, and Death of Ron Haydock: A Paperback Warrior Unmasking

I recently bought a large lot of vintage paperbacks on eBay. The bundle of books was priced right, and my lowball offer was honored by the seller - much to my joy and amazement. Among the stacks of Fawcett Gold Medals and Ace Doubles was an oddity I’d never seen before: a pseudo-sleaze paperback with a plot synopsis hinting at it being a sexy caper novel titled Scarlet Virgin by someone named Don Sheppard. While the packaging of this tawdry-looking paperback does nothing to inspire confidence in its quality, the story behind the author is noteworthy and worth exploring.

The first thing to understand is that the paperback is an April 1962 printing by low-end publisher, Pike Books of Van Nuys, California, distributed by an outfit called Paragon News. The photo of the cover model was taken by Bob Pike, who I presume was the owner of this less-than-prestigious publishing house, and I bet that snapping pictures for sexy paperbacks was his favorite perk of the job.

However, the real interest here is the author. As you may have gathered, the writer here is not, in fact, someone named Don Sheppard. A bit of internet digging answered the first question of this sleazy authorship mystery: Who the hell was Don Sheppard?

According to U.S. Copyright records, the real author was Chicago native Ron Haydock, and if you’re not familiar with that name, please allow me to get you up to speed. First, go ahead and listen to the song “99 Chicks” by Ron Haydock and The Boppers. It’s available on Spotify.           

That’s a pretty awesome song, right? The rockabilly single was released as a 45 RPM in August 1959 by Cha-Cha Records. It wasn’t much of a hit, but the disc remains a rarity sought-after by collectors. The group performed the song on an episode of “Chicago Bandstand” before Haydock left his Windy City hometown to chase fame in Hollywood.

A lifelong fan of horror movies, Haydock began editing a column in a film-buff magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland published by Forrest J. Ackerman before launching his own knock-off publication that ran from 1961 to 1964 called Famous Monsters of the Films. He also co-hosted a weekly Los Angeles talk radio show geeking out over horror films. 

His knack for writing prose opened the door to a career as an author. He wrote two sleaze novels for Bob Pike published in March and April of 1962: The Flesh Peddlers and the aforementioned Scarlet Virgin - both released under the pen-name Don Sheppard. If he received the going rate at the time, it’s likely that Pike paid Haydock about $500 per manuscript. Maybe less. Over the subsequent six years, Haydock continued his career as a novelist by co-authoring 11 straight-up porno books under the name Vin Saxon, a pseudonym he shared with Jim Harmon. His body of work from this era includes Caged Lust, a 1967 effort in which, if the cover is any indication, a zoo gorilla has carnal relations with at least two lusty babes. The novel was also released under the name Ape Rape.

Haydock also acted in a handful of schlock cinema B-movies in the 1960s, including Rat Pfink a Boo Boo from 1966 with a soundtrack featuring several of Haydock’s songs. He co-authored the screenplay and acted in two roles in the film, including one credited to “Vin Saxon,” the pseudonym he used to publish the
gorilla porn novel.

As his dreams of Hollywood success faded, Haydock returned to Chicago in 1967 to work on his music career. He also wrote some stories for Creepy magazine and drafted the copy for the backs of a 55-unit trading card series issued by Topps in 1968 called Land of the Giants, cards that fetch a pretty penny on the collector’s market today.

Haydock briefly returned to acting in the 1971 horror film, Blood Shack directed by his long-time friend and collaborator, Ray Dennis Steckler. He continued to be part of the world of horror film fandom by serving as associate editor and writer of a short-lived publication called Monsters of the Movies that came and went in 1974.

“I'm out for kicks in life, doing whatever I want whenever I want, on the move like there's no tomorrow, I'm living like there's only today,” Haydock said. “Yeah, that was the right word for what I wanted out of life - kicks. And I never had to look very far or very hard to find them. Somehow, they always managed to find me.”

The details aren’t entirely clear, but 1977 was a bad year for the author, actor, musician, and film fan. His mental health began to slip and on August 14, 1977, he was walking down an interstate highway exit ramp in San Bernardino County, California when he was struck and killed by an 18-wheeler truck. He had been visiting his filmmaker friend Steckler in Las Vegas and was in the process of hitchhiking his way to L.A. when the accident occurred. He died two days before Elvis Presley met his own too-soon demise. Haydock was 37. Presley was 42.

Haydock is buried in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery near Midway Airport on Chicago’s south side. In 1996, Norton Records compiled 28 of Haydock’s songs and demos - previously released and unreleased - into a career retrospective CD called “99 Chicks.” The 29-track compilation remains available today on every major music streaming service.

His literature, however, remains lost to the ages. That is until a deep-discount eBay paperback lot brought Scarlet Virgin by Don Sheppard into my library and life.

The 158-page, big-font paperback is narrated by Biff Elliott, a 34 year-old “knight of the world” who was a freelance soldier in the Cuban revolution and experienced “wild times in the Orient.” As the novel opens, Biff finds himself held at gunpoint by a sexy redhead who is convinced he’s someone else. One thing leads to another, and Biff is thrust into a fantastic adventure involving a primitive society worshiping a megalomaniac white man as their god, and a missing idol that could unravel the whole enterprise. As you can imagine, the short novel is full of kinky nymphs for Biff to boff along the way.

This Paperback Warrior Unmasking would be so much better if it turned out Scarlet Virgin was a lost classic that demanded wider readership. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Haydock’s writing is fairly amateurish and in desperate need of an editor. The narration is littered with sentence fragments and exclamation points as an indicator of something exciting happening. I think he was trying to emulate a Doc Savage styled adventure, but the whole thing felt very rushed and poorly outlined.

The best thing that can be said about Scarlet Virgin is that it could have been a good first draft of a novel in the hands of the right publisher, but Pike Books clearly didn’t care enough to spruce it up. Ron Haydock deserved better.

The biggest upside of this forgotten little book is that it prompted me to learn quite a bit about this ambitious young man who wanted to make it big in the arts before his life was cut short. Haydock said that all he wanted out of life were kicks, and I hope he found some along the way. 


  1. Thanks for a great article! Any chance that Haydock wrote under "Lee Shepard"? Would love to know who authored the classic CHARIOT title, "Devil's Dance In Me". Nit that I've read it, but the covethe cover is fantastic!

  2. Thank's for this, I knew about 'The Adventures of Rat Phink & Boo Boo', but the rest, not a clue.

  3. Haydock was all over the place. Ramble House has reprinted the Jim Harmon novels, and has more information here: