Known Alias: How Stephen King Was Outed as Richard Bachman

Getty Images
Getty Images

Steve Brown was working his shift at Olsson’s Bookstore in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1985 when he heard his name come over the store intercom. There was a call waiting for him.

When Brown picked up the telephone, he heard a voice ask, “Steve Brown? This is Steve King. Okay, you know I’m Bachman, I know I’m Bachman, what are we going to do about it? Let’s talk.”

King was referring to Richard Bachman, the alias he had adopted eight years earlier and carried through four books (Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man). The titles had floated in and out of the market in relative obscurity, drawing only passing suspicion that their true author was one of the most well-known and successful writers of the 20th century. New American Library (NAL), Bachman's publisher, refuted any suggestion that the author was fictional.

But Brown—a bookstore clerk, writer, and fanzine publisher—had read enough King novels to recognize that Bachman’s latest book, Thinner, was unequivocally a King work. After some additional investigation, Brown wrote a letter to King’s agent sharing his discovery and asked how they’d like to proceed. It marked the beginning of the end for Bachman, who would soon perish, King wrote, owing to “cancer of the pseudonym.”

Mitch9000, eBay

By 1977, King had completed his transformation from nearly-destitute English teacher to cultural phenomenon. His first three books—Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining—were bestsellers, with The Stand nearing completion. Feature film and paperback rights for his work added to his newfound wealth.

King’s professional problem, if he could be said to have one, was that he secreted words like most people produce sweat. His novels were swelling in size—The Stand’s first publication saw it cut from 1152 to 752 pages—and he was eager to publish more than the industry standard of one book a year.

Editors balked: Multiple releases would glut the market, they insisted, undercutting the King brand and cannibalizing his sales.

Tired of arguing his point, King decided to submit one of his earlier manuscripts to his paperback publisher, New American Library, with the caveat that it would be distributed under a pen name. NAL editor Elaine Koster agreed to an impressive veil of secrecy, including keeping most NAL employees and even their CEO in the dark about their newly-signed author.

Beyond circumventing the antiquated thinking about being too prolific, King had an alternative motivation for pursuing a pseudonym. He had long wondered if his work could be successful outside of the notoriety he had developed over the years. Getting It On, a long-finished book about a student who takes his high school class hostage, would receive little publicity and would essentially be left to flourish or perish on its own merits. “I wanted it to go out there and either find an audience or just disappear quietly,” King told The Washington Post in 1985.

The first stumbling block was King’s preferred alias: Guy Pillsbury. Pillsbury was the name of King’s maternal grandfather, but when Getting It On began to circulate around the NAL offices, some people became aware of the connection to King. He pulled the manuscript, retitled it Rage, and had better luck flying under the radar.

When it was time for the book to go to press, King received a call asking about a pen name. According to King, a Bachman Turner Overdrive record was playing and a Richard Stark novel was on his desk. Stark was the pen name for writer Donald E. Westlake—hence “Richard Bachman.”

The publication of Rage in 1977 was followed by The Long Walk in 1979, Roadwork in 1981, and The Running Man in 1982. Sales were modest at best, and reader reaction was tepid: King recalled getting 50 or 60 fan letters a week for himself and perhaps two a month for Bachman. Still, he seemed to relish having an alter ego and delighted in inventing a morbid biography for him. In his mind, Bachman was a chicken farmer in New Hampshire who wrote novels at night, happily married but facially deformed owing to a past illness—hence, poor Bachman would be unavailable for interviews.

King’s cover endured for a surprisingly long period. But the 1985 release of Thinner would usher in fresh suspicion about Bachman. Unlike the other four novels, Thinner was contemporary King, a hardcover written with the knowledge it was a “Bachman book” and perhaps more self-conscious about its attempt at misdirection. And unlike early-period Bachman, which often featured nihilistic but grounded scenarios—a walking marathon that ends in death, or a game show where prisoners can earn their freedom—Thinner took on more of a horror trope, with a robust lawyer cursed to lose weight by a vengeful gypsy until he’s practically nothing but skin and bone.

When Stephen Brown obtained an advance copy at Olsson’s, he had an innate belief he was reading a King novel. To confirm his suspicions, he visited the Library of Congress to examine the copyrights for each Bachman title. All but one were registered to Kirby McCauley, King’s agent. The remaining title, Rage, was registered to King himself. It was the smoking gun.

Brown wrote McCauley with the evidence and requested his advice on what to do with the information he had gathered. He didn’t plan on “outing” King, but, by this time, the King-as-Bachman theory had been gathering steam, with both King and NAL getting more inquiries from journalists. That’s when King decided to phone Brown directly and offer him an exclusive interview revealing himself as Bachman.

Mitch9000, eBay

With King’s permission, NAL began circulating Thinner with a credit that read, “Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.” The following year, they reissued the previous Bachman titles in a volume titled The Bachman Books, with sales more in line with what publishers would expect from a King title. Film producers who had optioned The Running Man were ecstatic, since they had gotten a bargain Bachman price on the rights for a King product.

The only person unhappy with the reveal was the author himself. Bachman, King felt, was on the cusp of developing his own following and his own identity, and he had fully intended to continue publishing under the pen name. (King had planned on making Misery a Bachman tome.) But Thinner had been too much of a King book, and there is evidence King himself may been giving himself too much rope with which to hang his alias. One of the characters in Thinner muses that “You were starting to sound like a Stephen King novel for a while there.”

In his introduction to The Bachman Books, King hinted that more “undiscovered” Bachman manuscripts may be lurking. In 1996, he published The Regulators as a “posthumous” Bachman novel, and did the same with Blaze, a 2007 paperback that was originally written in the 1970s. King’s 1991 novel, The Dark Half, was dedicated to his pen name. It was about an author with a pseudonym who takes on a life of his own.

Ultimately, Bachman may have outlived his usefulness. In the 1980s, publishers seemed to relax on their shop-worn edicts over publication frequency, and King once published four titles (all under his own name) in a calendar year.

Whether Bachman could have one day rivaled King in popularity will have to remain a mystery. During his short time in publishing, he would sometimes get favorable notices that hinted at a bright future. “This is what Stephen King would write like if Stephen King could really write,” remarked one reviewer.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

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- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

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Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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A Wide Difference: When Shoulder Pads Reshaped the 1980s

Linda Evans goes big in the shoulder department in Dynasty.
Linda Evans goes big in the shoulder department in Dynasty.
ABC Television

At some point in the 1980s, a mandate was handed down from CBS network executives concerned about the excesses of the costume designers on their hit primetime soap Dynasty. Specifically, they wanted stars Linda Evans and Joan Collins to stop wearing shoulder pads, the rigid foam accessory that gave their profiles a distinctive V-shaped appearance.

Word quickly came back to CBS: Defiantly, Evans and Collins would not be shedding their pads. According to Nolan Miller, the show’s costume designer, the stars “almost mutinied.” Their exaggerated shoulders were there to stay.

For most of that decade, shoulder pads were as ubiquitous a fashion statement as neon colors and Ray-Bans. Though American women might not have gone for as severe and steep a postural precipice as the Dynasty stars, the pads were nonetheless emblematic of the era. Pitted against chauvinistic attitudes about women in the workplace, feminine style took on a physically assertive stature. But that idea didn’t originate with television stars. It was rooted in a response to the domestic work crisis during World War II.

From protective gear to feminist wear

Joan Crawford is all padded up and ready to square off with Moroni Olsen in Mildred Pierce (1945).Warner Home Video

Before the war, shoulder pads were perceived as a glamorous but impractical clothing flourish or as part of protective football gear. In 1931, Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli showcased high fashion styles with the look, the purported result of being influenced by surrealist artwork. So did fellow designer Marcel Rochas. But international evolution was slow to make it to the States.

It wasn’t until costume designer Adrian Adolph Greenburg dressed actress Joan Crawford in a stylish padded look for films like 1932’s Letty Lynton all the way through 1945’s Mildred Pierce that the wide-profile approach drew national attention. (It’s believed that Greenburg was struck with inspiration at the sight of Crawford’s large shoulders, and opted to accentuate rather than try to hide them.)

That admiration gave way to purpose when women began taking on new roles in the domestic labor scene. With men fighting overseas, women took to the pads as a way to better assimilate into a physical world. Their silhouettes became more angular, more defined, and broader—a subversive announcement that their role was professional and equitable. With shoulders raised to meet those in a padded men’s suit, the pads worked to establish conformity in the workplace.

With resources during wartime scarce, these pads were often made of wool, cotton, or even sawdust. But as the war wound down and men began returning to their old work roles, the pads lost much of their utilitarian purpose. Shoulders began to slope once more.

Shoulder heights rise again in the '80s

Joan Collins and Linda Evans compete for biggest shoulders with John Forsythe as judge in Dynasty.ABC Television

Because fashion is often cyclical, it wouldn’t take another global conflict for shoulder pads to rise again. Designer Norma Kamali was reported to have reintroduced them into casual daywear in 1980. Coupled with the decade’s newfound edicts of material wealth and gender equality, the pads surged in popularity. Women’s attire was once again squared off. This time, it wasn’t just about office appearance. Designers saw potential in the ability of the pads to reform the female body, making the waist appear smaller and even helping to make up for bad posture. Some were even customizable. On Dynasty, Linda Evans and Joan Collins each had unique pads. Evans preferred a thicker foam, while Collins hated them touching her neck.

The pads were not without controversy. Some blouses were designed for pads and sold without them, necessitating an additional purchase in order to prevent the clothing from sagging. Unless they were sewn in, the pads could easily become dislodged, creating peculiar anomalies as they slid down the arms or torso. Purse straps could shift their position. And if a person wasn’t careful, they ran the risk of doubling or tripling up on the pads, with a layer each in a blouse, sweater, and jacket. The resulting puff threatened to brush their earlobes.

Thanks in part to the influence of celebrities and even Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who favored the look, the power pad trend endured for most of the ‘80s but disappeared along with much of that decade’s ostentatiousness by the 1990s. While they still make periodic comebacks on fashion runaways, foam shoulder enhancement is now considered poor form.