Neil Derrick was a prolific writer of genre fiction, called 'soft-porn,' until at the age of 41 he lost most of his sight from a brain-tumor operation. After that, he necessarily collaborated with his sighted partner, Edward Field, on fiction and screenplays.
Derrick was born on March 25, 1931, in Visalia, CA, in the vast Central Valley, lushly green, but otherwise desert, and grew up in the village of Exeter, where his father was manager of a ranch.
Derrick's nickname 'Bucky' came from the cowboy song 'My Little Buckaroo', and his father used to say, 'Let's go cowboying,” hoping he would take to the outdoor life. And, indeed, 'Bucky' knew horses, and which horses in the corral would throw him or be ridden obediently. He was not athletic, but 'cowboying' and a lifetime of regular exercising gave him a good body.
It is remarkable that talented people like Derrick come out of small American towns like Exeter, CA – his sister, too, Diane Derrick, a sculptor, and his high school friend Robert Benevides who became the lover of the actor Raymond Burr. After graduation from Exeter High School, Derrick and Benevides went for the summer on a bicycle tour of England.
The University of California, Berkeley, was his escape from rural small-town America. At the college pool, he noticed that all the intelligent-looking men were circumcised, and he had himself circumcised too.
A major in journalism, in his third year he went to England for a junior year abroad at Exeter College. On graduating from Berkeley he was drafted – it was during the Korean War and he served as a clerk-typist at the SHAEP (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces) outside of Paris. After discharge, he went to New York City where his sister Diane was living and found a number of jobs in trade publications.
After the marriage of his sister on the West Coast, he was between jobs and working as a temp typist, when the supervisor of the typing pool in an advertising agency sat him down at a machine next to a dark man and said, 'I think you two will get along.' They did, and in a few weeks were living together in Derrick's walk-up flat in Hell's Kitchen. His fellow typist and lover was Edward Field, a poet, and they were together for 58 years.
Derrick quickly moved on to a job at the front desk of MOMA where he sold publications, memberships, and admissions. The canny Personnel Director Mrs. Borden filled the front desk posts with similarly talented and good-looking young men like him – painter John Button and his pianist boyfriend Alvin Novack, the playwright Terrence McNally, the chair sculptor Scott Burton and others. It was an afternoon job, which gave him mornings at home to write, and he soon had a first story accepted by Harper's magazine, published under his own name. All but one of his later publications were published under pseudonyms, his favorite being Bruce Elliot.
At the museum one day someone mentioned that Tower Midwood publishers were looking for soft-porn novels for $1000 each, and Derrick quickly worked up a synopsis that they accepted. It was his first novel, called Bad Habits, that he quickly wrote and submitted under his pseudonym Bruce Elliot, re-titled by the publisher A Passion For Wealth (1966). With an extraordinary talent for plotting, he started turning novels out in quick succession, each a sexual exposé of an industry: Up and Coming by Bruce Elliot (1969), on a randy magazine editor; Oh! The Trailer Park Parties! by Bruce Elliot (1970), on the hijinks going on in trailer parks; his lesbian novel, Inferno Of Women by Anita Palmer (1970), set in the old women's prison in Greenwich Village; and Lay Over Stewardess by Anita Palmer (1971), on a school for stewardesses by LaGuardia Airport, not a virgin among them. It was a character quirk that he would not use his own name as author, and therefore remained anonymous throughout his writing career.
His next novel, Sticky Fingers by Eleanor Bartlett, was published in 1970 by Grove Press, whose publisher Barney Rossett was aiming to rival Maurice Girodias's famed Olympia Press which published porn and soft porn in Paris in the thirties and forties, books that were famous for being smuggled into the U.S. There is nothing but circumstantial evidence to back the claim that The Rolling Stones borrowed from Derrick's Grove Press book the title of their album “Sticky Fingers” which appeared a year after the publication of Neil's novel. Titles, though, are not subject to copyright law.
Then came a health crisis. Derrick had started having grand mal seizures, and after a few years, a brain tumor was discovered to be the cause. An operation was performed, that left him with only a shred of vision. But with the help of his partner, he plotted another novel, about a psychiatrist who discovers he's gay. Being an expert typist, Neil could do the first draft on his own, and Field worked with him on revisions. This was published in 1978 as The Potency Clinic by Bruce Elliot under their own imprint Bleecker Street Press. The 500 copies were pretty much sold out when Derrick was contacted for German rights by Gerhard Hoffman, the publisher of Albino Verlag, a small Berlin press, that brought out a German-language edition as Die Potenzklinik (1982), which went through several further editions.
The Bleecker Street Press edition of The Potency Clinic got enough exposure in the gay world to attract the attention of the renowned editor, Robert Wyatt of Avon Books, who proposed to the duo a multi-generational novel of a family in Greenwich Village. With his talent for plotting, Derrick quickly outlined a story of four generations of the Endicotts, who lived in a house on Perry Street starting in 1845 and ending in 1975. They got the contract, deliverable in two years, which they fulfilled, and Village by Bruce Elliot was published as an Avon original paperback in 1982 and became a Dalton best-seller. This novel, which required considerable research, was a fictionalized history of Greenwich Village. It was reprinted in 1999 by Painted Leaf Press under the revised title The Villagers, this time with the names of the authors, Neil Derrick and Edward Field, and was a Book of the Month Club offering. They self-published another revised edition in 2009, this time with the Bruce Elliot pseudonym restored and under their Bleecker Street Press imprint.
There was to be one more publication, in 1987, another original paperback, this time with Ballantine Books, entitled The Office, by Bruce Elliott (with two t's), about the little dramas occurring among office workers. But it sank without a trace.
Derrick and Field spent months at a time in rented flats abroad – in Tangier, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, London. They were a familiar sight, Derrick holding on to Field's shoulder, in the streets of Greenwich Village where they lived in Westbeth, a housing project for artists.
This was to end when Derrick fell ill after Hurricane Sandy which flooded their building, and in the drying out process filled the building with mold spores. It resulted in a diagnosis of CTCL, cutaneous t-cell lymphoma. Eventually, his sight was also affected and he lost the little bit of vision he had. The total blindness was compounded by loss of hearing, and after a final collapse into a coma, Neil Derrick died on January 4, 2018.
Bad Habits (published as A Passion For Wealth) by Bruce Elliot (pseud.) Midwood, New York 1966.
Up And Coming by Bruce Elliot (pseud.) Midwood, New York 1969.
Oh! The Trailer Park Parties! by Bruce Elliot (pseud.) Midwood, New York 1970.
Inferno of Women by Anita Palmer (pseud.) Midwood, New York 1970.
Sticky Fingers by Eleanor Bartlett (pseud.) Grove Press, New York 1970.
Lay-Over Stewardess by Anita Palmer (pseud.) Midwood, New York 1971.
The Potency Clinic by Bruce Elliot (pseud.) Bleecker Street Press, New York 1978; translated as Die Potenzklinik by Bruce Eliot (pseud.) Albino Verlag, Berlin 1982, 1986, 1992
Village by Bruce Elliot (pseud. Neil Derrick and Edward Field) Avon Books, New York 1982; revised and reprinted as The Villagers by Edward Field and Neil Derrick Painted Leaf Press, New York 1999; revised and reprinted as The Villagers by Bruce Elliot (pseud.) Bleecker Street Press, New York 2009.
The Office by Bruce Elliott (pseud.) Ballantine Books, New York 1987.
Neil Clinton Derrick, California Birth Index, 1905-1995, accessed October 28, 2019 from Ancestry.com.