Wallace was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Bessie Liss and Alexander Wallace (an Americanized version of the original family name of Wallechinsky). The family was Jewish and originally from Russia. Wallace was named after his maternal grandfather, a bookkeeper and Talmudic scholar of Narewka.
Wallace began selling stories to magazines when he was a teenager. In the Second World War Wallace served in the Frank Capra unit in Fort Fox along with Theodor Seuss Geisel– better known as Dr. Seuss – and continued to write for magazines. He also served in the First Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Force. Soon, however, Wallace turned to a more lucrative job as a Hollywood screenwriter. He collaborated on such films as The West Point Story (1950), Split Second (1953), Meet Me at the Fair (1953), and The Big Circus (1959). He also contributed three scripts to the western television program Have Gun – Will Travel.
After an unsatisfying stint in Hollywood, he devoted himself full-time to writing books. He published his first non-fiction work in 1955, The Fabulous Originals, and his first fiction offering, The Sins of Philip Fleming, in 1959. The latter, ignored by critics, was followed by the enormously successful The Chapman Report. Wallace published 33 books during his lifetime, translated into 31 languages.
Irving Wallace was married to Sylvia (née Kahn) Wallace, a former magazine writer and editor. Her first novel, The Fountains, was an American best-seller and published in twelve foreign editions. Her second novel, Empress, was published in 1980. She also helped him to produce, along with their two children, The Book of Lists#2 and The Intimate Sex Lives Of Famous People. In her autobiography, Amy Wallace wrote that her mother's contributions were not always helpful and the atmosphere not always harmonious. Sylvia Wallace died October 20, 2006 at the age of 89.
Several of Wallace's books have been made into films. Among his best known books are The Chapman Report (1960), The Prize (1962), The Word (1972) and The Fan Club (1974).
Michael Korda and Peter Schwed were the editors for Wallace at Simon & Schuster. In his autobiography Another Life, Korda suggests that Wallace invented a style of novel that is at once a strong story and encyclopedia, with "some sex thrown in to keep the reader's pulse going."
Wallace loved and championed the underdog. He enjoyed writing the stories of outsiders, which interest saw light in The Square Pegs: Some Americans Who Dared to Be Different. With his son, daughter and wife he produced some notable non-fiction works, including three editions each of The People's Almanac (with son David) and The Book of Lists (with David and Amy and wife Sylvia for the second volume). Many of the odd facts Wallace uncovered he also used in his novels.
Wallace died of pancreatic cancer on June 29, 1990 at age 74. He was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.
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