Love’s Leading Man, Jennifer Wilde
Introducing Thomas Elmer Huff
While Romance may be a primarily female-dominated market, many men have raised their pens or pushed keys to write romance novels. Of all these men, “Jennifer Wilde” stands out, and not only as the first male to garner blockbuster success in the post-Woodiwiss era.
Wilde was also an advocate of the genre and a fierce supporter of women’s liberty. Hence, he earned the right to bear the moniker of one of “Love’s Leading Ladies.”
Jennifer Wilde was a pseudonym, of course. During his career, Thomas Elmer Huff would write using the names Edwina Marlow, Beatrice Parker, Katherine St. Clair, and T. E. Huff. His most notable name, however, was Jennifer Wilde, under which he sold millions of books.
Huff was born in the Fort Worth, Texas area in 1938. He was the lone son of a large family, including three sisters. After high school, he attended Texas Wesleyan University and then entered the military. Huff would spend a two-year stint in the Army.
Then in 1960, he became an English teacher at a local high school.
While teaching, he found that his female students were avid readers of paperback romantic works. Curious about the subject matter, he decided to read some of those novels. Afterwards, Huff knew he could produce books that were as good or even better than those on the market.
Enter Edwina Marlow, Beatrice Parker, and Katherine St. Clair
It was then that Huff turned his hand to writing. In 1968 using the pen name Edwina Marlow, he published the Gothic Romance The Master of Phoenix Hall with Ace Books.
Using other noms de plume, such as Beatrice Parker and Katherine St. Clair, Huff wrote 14 Gothic novels over a span of nine years.
The year 1972 changed everything for romance-centered fiction. Thick, door-stopper novels about women having sexual relations outside of marriage, with scenes written in extensive detail, were now all the rage.
So in 1976, Huff adopted another pseudonym: Jennifer Wilde. From thereon, instead of Gothics, he would write for the hot new historical romance genre.
Hello, Jennifer Wilde
Warner Books signed Huff to a deal under the Wilde name. His first outing, Love’s Tender Fury, quickly sold an astounding three million copies in one year. It spent twenty-six weeks on the New York Times paperback bestseller list with forty-one printings in its first five years.
Like Rosemary Rogers’ bed-hopping epics Sweet Savage Love and Wicked Loving Lies, Love’s Tender Fury featured a heroine who had multiple lovers besides the hero–often willing, but sometimes not.
It told the first-person-POV tale of Marietta Danvers. Marietta, a ravishing beauty, was an indentured servant in the American colonies who fell for the man who owned her and then cruelly scorned her.
It would be the first in an enormously popular trilogy of novels about Marietta’s various romantic dalliances.
Marietta, Elena, Miranda, and Angel
Book blurb for Love’s Tender Fury:
The turbulent story of an English beauty — sold at auction like a slave — who scandalized the New World by enslaving her masters.
Marietta was a woman wronged–raped by her employer, charged with theft by her jealous mistress, and shipped to the Colonies to serve fourteen years as bound servant to the man who bid highest.
But Marietta was beautiful, educated and resilient, with a provocative body meant for love, and she was determined to prevail.
Over the handsome, silent planter who bought her to be his housekeeper….over the dashing entrepreneur who supplied girls to the New Orleans red light district…over the wealthy sadist who used her in his madness.
She would conquer them all–if she could subdue the hot, unruly passions of her heart.LOVE’S TENDER FURY
Huff’s next Romance, Dare To Love, was also a major bestseller. The heroine was a dancer named Elena Lopez, who had dalliances with composers Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Loosely based on the life of Lola Montez, the narrative was told in Wilde’s trademark first-person perspective.
Huff would leave Warner Books to briefly join Ballantine. Then after, he signed with Avon, officially becoming part of their stable of “Love’s Leading Ladies.” He would be the only male romance writer to openly enjoy such status.
Among the books he wrote include the single-edition novels, Once More, Miranda, and Angel in Scarlet, which were marked by stunning covers by artists H. Tom Hall, and Elaine Duillo, respectively.
Let’s Talk About Tom
Like many of his contemporaries, Wilde wrote in florid, purple prose, often describing the characters’ clothing, the settings, and the food eaten in minute detail. Sometimes it would be so over the top, veering into ridiculousness (see our review for Angel in Scarlet).
“I don’t take the genre seriously… But I take my work seriously… I’ve become more painstaking, more professional… There are ‘mandatory heavy-breathing scenes,’ but I don’t write down to readers. I’d rather take the time and do it good.”—TOM HUFF
Wilde would play fast and loose with the rules of the nascent romance genre, such as concluding a book with a cliffhanger. He also employed hero bait-and-switches in some of his novels, so the reader never knew who the heroine would end up with until the very end.
Except for the fictional biography of Tallulah Bankhead, Marabelle, which he wrote under his real name, the rest of Huff’s books would be published as Jennifer Wilde. After the Marietta series, he moved from bodice-ripper-style romances to more character-driven stories that told the lives and loves of his heroines.
Farewell, Mr. Huff
Huff earned a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times magazine in 1987-1988. His final book, They Call Her Dana, was released in late 1989.
On January 18, 1990, Tom Huff died suddenly at the age of 52 of a heart attack. He left no children behind, was single, and lived with his elderly mother.
In the 2010s, much of Huff’s backlist was released in e-format. Now a new generation of readers can enjoy this creative male romance author’s books.
Have you read Jennifer Wilde’s romances? Or any of the Gothics penned under Huff’s other pseudonyms? Did you even know Jennifer Wilde was a pen name for a man?
Please drop a comment and let’s talk romance.
Jennifer Wilde Historical Romance Backlist
|Love’s Tender Fury|
|Love Me, Marietta||Aug-1977|
|Dare to Love||Jan-1978|
|Once More, Miranda||May-1983|
|When Love Commands||Oct-1984|
|Angel in Scarlet||Aug-1986|
|They Call Her Dana||Sep-1989|
In the early ’80s, my aunt had a cardboard box full of historical romances that she was going to get rid of, and she told me to go ahead and have a look through it and take what I wanted. That cardboard box was like a glittering treasure chest, with all the gold and silver titles and glossy, beautiful covers. The first book I chose from that box was Jennifer Wilde’s Love Me, Marietta. I’d never read this type of book before and I couldn’t put it down! After that, I would be so excited when I saw her new book on the bookstore shelf. One day, I asked the woman who ran a romance bookstore if she knew when Jennifer Wilde’s next one would be out. She broke the news to me that he died. By then I already knew Jennifer Wilde was a man. I read all of the books he wrote under this name, and a few of his others. What an era that was!
Thanks, Jacqueline. Yes, I’ve read one of Huff’s romances. “Midnight at Mallncourt”, a 1975 gothic he wrote under the pen name Edwina Marlow.
Sorry I can’t comment on it. That was SO long ago!