Bookshelf: Whitman TV Tie-Ins

Bookshelf is a monthly column examining printed matter relating to television. While I love watching TV, I also love reading about it, from tie-in novels to TV Guides, from vintage television magazines to old newspaper articles. Bookshelf is published on the second Thursday of each month.

Although I’m a huge fan and collector of TV tie-in novels, I don’t own a lot of Whitman TV tie-ins. Whitman Publishing, a division of Western Publishing Company, Inc., got into the TV tie-in business early. Its hardbacks are distinctive, with colorful illustrations on the front and back covers. Most feature an “Authorized TV Edition” or “Authorized TV Adventure” logo on the front cover or spine.

As I discussed way back in September 2010, Whitman may very well lay claim to having published the very first TV tie-in in 1951: Gene Autry and the Badmen of Broken Bow. However, the company had been publishing Gene Autry and Roy Rogers books since the 1940s, based on radio shows and movies. The 1951 book seems to have simply been a continuation of Whitman’s line of Autry novels rather than a true tie-in to Autry’s CBS television series, which premiered in July 1950.

Later Whitmans were definitely TV tie-ins. Between 1951 and 1975, the company published dozens of books based on Westerns (Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Cheyenne, Circus Boy), sitcoms (The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Leave It To Beaver, Gilligan’s Island), science fiction/adventure/spy series (The Green Hornet, Land of the Giants, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) and everything in between (The Lawrence Welk Show, The Mickey Mouse Club, Dr. Kildare).

The very first original story based on NBC’s Star Trek was a Whitman. Mission to Horatius by Mack Reynolds was published in 1968. Pocket Books reprinted the book in 1996 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Star Trek. The last of the Whitman TV tie-ins were a series of six books based on The Waltons, all published in 1975.

Front cover to Whitman's Ripcord TV tie-in
Front cover to Whitman’s Ripcord TV tie-in – Copyright 1962 Ziv-United Artists, Inc.

Back cover to Whitman's Ripcord TV tie-in
Backcover to Whitman’s Ripcord TV tie-in – Copyright 1962 Ziv-United Artists, Inc.

How many Whitman TV tie-ins were published? LibraryThing has a list of 94 titles. Kurt Peer lists 112 in TV Tie-Ins: A Bibliography of American TV Tie-In Paperbacks, plus six Big Little Books published in 1958 and another 10 Big Little Books published between 1967 and 1969. There are 134 listed here, but included are a number of Walt Disney movie tie-ins.

I have three Whitmans in my TV tie-in collection:

  • Ripcord, by D.S. Halacy, Jr. (1962)
  • The High Chaparral: Apache Way, by Steve Frazee (1969)
  • Ironside: The Picture Frame Frame-Up, by William Johnston (1969)

I believe I purchased these individually at used bookstores but can’t quite recall. The Ripcord book, based on the syndicated Ziv series, has a glossy laminated cover and is 5.75 inches wide. The covers on the other two aren’t glossy and they are 5.25 inches wide. All are 7.75 inches tall. Both the Ripcord and Ironside books feature limited interior illustrations. I don’t plan on adding many more Whitman TV tie-ins to my collection. I prefer paperback tie-in novels. I might try to acquire a copy of the book based on The Rebel at some point. And I wouldn’t mind reading the book based on Star Trek.

Front cover to Whitman's The High Chaparral TV tie-in
Front cover to Whitman’s The High Chaparral TV tie-in – Copyright 1969 National Broadcasting Company, Inc.

Back cover to Whitman's The High Chaparral TV tie-in
Backcover to Whitman’s The High Chaparral TV tie-in – Copyright 1969 National Broadcasting Company, Inc.

I haven’t ready any of the Whitman TV tie-ins I own so I can’t speak to the quality of the writing or how well the books matched the tone of the shows they were based on. I’m not all that familiar with Ripcord, Ironside or The High Chaparral so I probably wouldn’t be able to tell if the characterization matched the shows. A review of the Whitman Star Trek tie-in can be found here which calls the book “well written, with few concessions to the young adult readership for whom this book was intended.”

Are there any Whitman TV tie-in collectors out there who know definitively how many titles were published?

4 Replies to “Bookshelf: Whitman TV Tie-Ins”

  1. I would highly recommend reading The High Chaparral – Apache Way, for of all the Whitman Authorized Editions I’ve read that’s the one that stands out in my memory as having the best storyline, and not just being about the folks I liked to watch on TV.

    When we were in grade school and junior high my sister and I often got Whitman books for Christmas and birthday presents. My family never had much money, so a hardback book for about 69 cents fit into the budget.

    I live in a one-room efficiency, and even with two layers of books on each shelf I keep needing to make hard choices and give away books I’d like to keep, so most of my Whitman’s have gone to the library’s used book sale. Gosh, I wish I could read Apache Way one more time, though the books I loved as a child are sometimes better in memory than in the reread!

  2. I had more than 20 of the 94 on the site Michael linked to, and some that weren’t on that list (“Roy Rogers and the Ghost of Mystery Rancho,” anyone?). In recent years I’ve bought some of them on EBay to actually reread. Not all are to an adult’s reading taste — “Mystery Rancho,” for instance, has plot holes you could ride Trigger through — but they feature a good narrative drive and fast-paced storytelling, and MR in particular has a least-likely villain Agatha Christie would have been proud of.

    One novel, “Roy Rogers and the Enchanted Canyon,” I didn’t care for as a boy; but I love it now for its evocation of canyons of the Cliff Dwellings area in Arizona, where the story takes place. It has *atmosphere* as well as action — a neat trick for a story intended for young readers.

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