Blatty, William Peter 1928-
BLATTY, William Peter 1928-
PERSONAL: Born January 7, 1928, in New York, NY; son of Peter (a carpenter) and Mary (Mouakad) Blatty; married Mary Margaret Rigard, February 18, 1950 (marriage annulled); married Elizabeth Gilman, 1950; married Linda Tuero (a professional tennis player), July 20, 1975; children: seven. Education: Georgetown University, A.B., 1950; George Washington University, M.A., 1954; graduate study overseas. Religion: Roman Catholic.
ADDRESSES: Home—Montecito, CA. Agent—William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
CAREER: Door-to-door Electrolux vacuum cleaner salesman, 1950; beer truck driver for Gunther Brewing Co., 1950; United States Information Agency, Beirut, Lebanon, editor of News Review (weekly magazine), 1955-57; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, publicity director, 1957-58; Loyola University of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, public relations director, 1959-60; full-time novelist and screen-writer, 1960—. Has produced and directed films, all based on his novels of the same titles, The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane. Regular guest on Tonight Show television program. Military service: U.S. Air Force, Psychological Warfare Division, 1951-54; attained the rank of first lieutenant.
MEMBER: Writers Guild of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Gabriel Award and Blue Ribbon, American Film Festival, 1969, for Insight television series script; Silver Medal, California Literature Medal Award, 1972, for The Exorcist; Academy Award for best screenplay based on a work in another medium, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1973, and August Derleth Award for best film, and Golden Globe Award for best screenplay, both 1974, all for The Exorcist; Golden Globe Award for best screenplay, 1981, for The Ninth Configuration; L.H.D., Seattle University, 1974.
Which Way to Mecca, Jack?, Bernard Geis Associates, 1960.
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home!, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1963.
I, Billy Shakespeare!, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1965.
Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (also see below), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967, Futura (London, England), 1975, revised as The Ninth Configuration, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1978.
The Exorcist (also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1971.
Legion (also see below), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983, also published as Exorcist III: Legion, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing: A Fable, Donald I. Fine Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Man from the Diner's Club, Columbia, 1963.
John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! (based on his novel of the same title), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1965.
A Shot in the Dark, United Artists, 1966.
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, United Artists, 1966.
Gunn, Paramount, 1967.
The Great Bank Robbery, Warner Bros., 1969.
Darling Lili, Paramount, 1970.
(And producer) The Exorcist (based on his novel of the same title), Warner Bros., 1973.
(And director and producer) Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (based on his novel of the same title), United Film, 1980.
The Ninth Configuration (based on his novel of the same title), 1980.
(And director) The Exorcist III (based on his novel Legion), Twentieth Century-Fox, 1990.
I'll Tell Them I Remember You (informal biography of his mother, Mary Mouakad Blatty), Norton (New York, NY), 1973.
William Peter Blatty on "The Exorcist": From Novel to Film (nonfiction), Bantam (New York, NY), 1974.
If There Were Demons, Then Perhaps There Were Angels: William Peter Blatty's Own Story of the Exorcist (memoir), illustrated by Rae Smith, Screen-Press Books (Southwold, England), 1999.
Author of Elsewhere (novella), included in 999: Twenty-nine Original Tales of Horror and Suspense, edited by Al Sarrantonio, Perennial Press, 2001. Also author of Promise Her Anything, 1962, (and director and producer) The Baby Sitter, and "Insight" television series script. Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Saturday Evening Post, Coronet, and This Week.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A humorous novel and a psychological/theological thriller.
SIDELIGHTS: Although William Peter Blatty began his career as a writer of comedic screenplays, he achieved greater fame and commercial success in horror films. With his best-selling novel The Exorcist, about the expulsion of a demon from a young girl by a Roman Catholic priest, and the major motion picture it engendered, he helped initiate the modern horror film movement. The novel sold thirteen million copies in the United States alone, and the 1973 motion picture based on it broke box-office records, earning $165 million, the first time around. When a remastered version of the motion picture, which included never-before-seen footage, was released in 2000, it garnered another $140 million worldwide. Yet according to theSt. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, Blatty had a more earnest desire than to purely entertain. He has used this novel and later Legion as works to debate the "existence of God, the soul, and the afterlife, and the nature of good and evil." Despite such high aims, Blatty knew he had a blockbuster on his hands with The Exorcist, predicting the book's achievements even before penning the final chapters. "I knew it was going to be a success," he told Garry Clifford of People. "I couldn't wait to finish it and become famous."
The youngest son of Lebanese immigrants, Blatty vividly remembers his childhood. Raised primarily by his mother after his parents separated when he was six years old, Blatty recalled her determination to succeed. She strived to support the family by selling her homemade quince jelly along Park Avenue and in front of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Blatty told Martha MacGregor of the New York Post, "My feeling was that if she couldn't come through with some kind of evidence of survival, it couldn't be done." Despite his mother's efforts, however, Blatty still remembers their poverty and numerous evictions, explaining to Clifford: "I'd come home from school, . . . and all the furniture would be piled up in the street. It was pretty savage the way they did it—humiliating for a kid." As a boy he read ghost stories and works by P. G. Wodehouse, but horror did not, and still "does not interest me, so I know little of its practitioners, old or current," he told Lucy A. Snyder in Dark Planet: Nonfiction. Among his other favorite authors are such diverse writers as Graham Greene, Dostoyevsky, Robert Nathan, and Ray Bradbury.
A college scholarship to Georgetown University provided Blatty's first real step away from New York City and gave him the inspiration for his first blockbuster. While a student there, he read stories in the Washington Post about the exorcism practices used on a fourteen-year-old boy in nearby Mount Rainier, Maryland. Blatty would use the idea of demonic possession, but not retell this particular incident, in The Exorcist.
While it was not until the publication of The Exorcist that Blatty became well known, his second novel was the subject of a minor controversy. John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! chronicles the efforts of a captured American pilot to coach a team of Arabs to victory over the Notre Dame football team; the novel drew loud criticism from Notre Dame officials. University trustees protested that both book and film damaged the school's reputation, and they received an injunction blocking both from distribution. Upheld in the New York State Supreme Court in 1964, the ruling was later overturned in 1965, after Blatty appealed the decision, explaining that he had meant no disrespect to Notre Dame. Once released, however, the movie failed to achieve major success.
After John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! Blatty experienced a disappointing period in his career. Both I, Billy Shakespeare! and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane failed to impress critics. Numerous production changes in his screenplays combined with the sudden death of his mother in 1967 left Blatty emotionally drained. Reaction to these personal problems forced Blatty to retreat to a Lake Tahoe cabin for privacy and reevaluation of his beliefs. Once there, he drafted his first version of The Exorcist, a novel that would attain the number two position on the 1971 Publishers Weekly best-seller list, and that would remain on the New York Times's best-seller list for fifty-five weeks. The Exorcist inspired varied reactions. Many critics acknowledged the sheer readability and mounting suspense of the novel, yet some questioned its validity, both in terms of literary value and intellectual appeal. Webster Schott of Life commented: "It's a page-turner par excellence. . . . Blatty writes and thinks sophisticated. . . . Faulkner, Blatty is not. But Poe and Mary Shelley would recognize him as working in their ambiguous limbo between the natural and the supernatural." New York Times Book Review critic Newgate Callendar shared Schott's observations of the book, noting, "Well researched, written in a literate style, it comes to grips with the forces of evil incarnate, and there are not many readers who will be unmoved."
Newsweek's Peter S. Prescott admitted the novel's wide attraction but denied higher merits, claiming, "I suspect [Blatty] wants his book to be interesting in an intellectual way, but it is not; nevertheless, it is wonderfully exciting." R. Z. Sheppard of Time, while decrying any literary and religious aspirations, nonetheless accurately predicted favorable public reaction to the work: "[The Exorcist] is a pretentious, tasteless, abominably written, redundant pastiche of superficial theology, comic-book psychology, Grade C movie dialogue and Grade Z scatology. In short [it] will be a bestseller and almost certainly a drive-in movie."
In 1971 Warner Brothers paid over $400,000 for the film rights to the novel allowing Blatty to retain complete control on the set. (He later demanded and was granted similar arrangements on the films The Ninth Configuration and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane, both based respectively on his novels of the same titles.) Blatty also wrote the film script and produced the movie himself. The Exorcist's ten million budget proved worth the investment in terms of revenues as the film grossed an average of two million per month during its original release. The Exorcist effectively became the bar by which later movies about demonic possessions were measured.
Although The Exorcist was his first published novel dealing with demonic possession, Blatty had long been interested in the occult and the supernatural. His own informal research into case histories of "possessed" individuals revealed that, although most of the "victims" were probably mentally unbalanced, a small number of cases defied usual psychological and scientific explanations. Fascinated by these apparent anomalies, Blatty fashioned Exorcist character "Regan MacNeil" after one such case. He loosely based Regan on a Maryland patient, upon whom, owing to the failure of conventional medical and psychiatric therapies, Catholic priests resorted to the holy rite of exorcism. Blatty's interest in the supernatural continued in personal matters as well as in his writing. After his mother's death, he ultimately convinced himself that her spirit had transcended mortal boundaries, as detailed in the final chapters of I'll Tell Them I Remember You.
Although Blatty attempted to make a movie sequel to The Exorcist in the late 1970s, he and filmmakers were unable to agree on a plot, and Warner Brothers paid for the rights to make a sequel without Blatty's input. Thus, the resulting Exorcist 2: The Heretic was not his work, although some might have thought it so; the same situation came about with the fourth Exorcist film, the prequel. For his part, Blatty finds it ironic that he was first known as a comedy writer and not taken seriously when he wanted to do non-comedic work. At the turn of the millennium, the opposite held true. With his work on The Exorcist eclipsing all of his earlier work, no one remembers his comedic work or looks for him to again create comedy. And even as the author of The Exorcist, Blatty does not consider himself a creator of horror, because, as he explained at the Well Rounded Web site, "I don't classify The Exorcist as a horror film—it is a psychological thriller."
Blatty's screenplay version of Legion was to be his sequel to The Exorcist. When he was unable to peddle it to a studio, Blatty rewrote the screenplay as a novel, working intensely over a four-month period. The action of the novel Legion takes place fifteen years after The Exorcist and involves some of the same characters, including the demon-possessed Father Karras (who did not really die at the end of The Exorcist) and Lt. Kinderman, a Jewish detective and philosopher who ruminates on theological questions as he attempts to solve a series of murders. After the success of the novel Legion in 1983, Blatty was able to find filmmakers interested in bringing the novel to the big screen, though much of Blatty's theological discussions could not be translated to the screen. So a pared-down version of what Library Journal's James B. Hemesath called a "needlessly complicated plot and overwritten style" premiered in 1990 under the title Exorcist III: Legion. At the same time, the novel was re-released under the same title as the movie. Writing in People, Ralph Novak lavished praise on the film, calling it "one of the shrewdest, wittiest, most intense and most satisfying horror movies ever made."
Blatty considers the novels The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and Legion to be a trilogy. As the author explained to Snyder: "Taken together, they are all about the eternal questions that nag at Woody Allen: why are we here? what are we supposed to be doing? why do we die? is there a God?" For example, The Exorcist deals with the question of God's existence by treating the topic of demons and the ability of religious faith to combat them. His 1980 film The Ninth Configuration, based on the 1978 book of the same title, treats the theme of unselfish love, the "love as a God might love—and that a man will give his life for another," Blatty continued. In the second novel, Hudson Kane, a guerilla war specialist who must come to terms with the moral issues surrounding his career and the Vietnam War, aids fellow officers suddenly suffering from strange obsessions. In addition to describing this plot as "clever" and "gripping," and Blatty's characterizations as "excellent," Library Journal reviewer Marilyn Lutz recommended the work. Finally, in Legion, Lt. Kinderman ponders the eternal question of suffering by innocents.
In the mid-1990s Blatty returned to his roots, publishing a satiric fable about a movie mogul attempting to make a film called The Satanist. Likely based on some of Blatty's own experiences in Hollywood, the "madcap narrative" relies on "heavily caricatured types" for which the reader may have little empathy, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. It is "silly without being funny," concluded Library Journal's David Bartholomew. In addition to this fictional treatment of movie-making, Blatty has written several nonfiction works about his career: "The Exorcist": From Novel to Film, now out of print, and the 1999 memoir If There Were Demons, Then Perhaps There Were Angels: William Peter Blatty's Own Story of the Exorcist.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Newquist, Roy, Counterpoint, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY) 1964.
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Short, R. L., Something to Believe In, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
Best Sellers, August, 1983, review of Legion, p. 159.
Booklist, April 15, 1983, review of Legion, p. 1057.
Books and Bookmen, April, 1972.
Fear, June, 1990, Steve Biodrowski, "Self Possessed: An Interview with William Peter Blatty."
Harper's Bazaar, August, 1972.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1983, review of Legion, p. 387; July 15, 1996, review of Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing, p. 986.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, review of The Exorcist (audio version), p. 46.
Library Journal, September 1, 1978, Marilyn Lutz, review of The Ninth Configuration, p. 1658; May 15, 1983, James B. Hemesath, review of Legion, p. 1015; September 1, 1996, David Bartholomew, review of Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing, p. 208.
Life, May 7, 1971; December 31, 1971.
Locus, April, 1990, review of The Exorcist, p. 35; October, 1990, review of Legion, p. 50; March, 1994, review of The Exorcist, p. 53.
London Review of Books (London, England), November 17, 1983, review of Legion, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1983, Grover Sales, review of Legion, p. 4; September 8, 1985, Pat H. Broeske, review of Ninth Configuration, p. 15.
Necrofile, winter, 1997, review of Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing, pp. 18+.
Newsweek, May 10, 1971.
New York Post, October 12, 1971; September 1, 1973.
New York Times, October 6, 1973; August 8, 1980; June 27, 1983, Christopher Lehman-Haupt, review of Legion, p. C12(L); August 18, 1990, Vincent Canby, review of The Exorcist III, p. 13(L).
New York Times Book Review, June 6, 1971; February 11, 1973; November 18, 1973; July 3, 1983, review of Legion, p. 9; January 19, 1997, Karen Ray, review of Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing, p. 18.
People, March 4, 1974; October 9, 1978; August 14, 1989; September 3, 1990, Ralph Novak, review of The Exorcist III, p. 12.
Premiere, March, 2001, Marion Hart, review of The Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen, p. 114.
Publishers Weekly, May 6, 1983, review of Legion, p. 88; March 16, 1984, review of Legion, p. 85; July 29, 1999, review of Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing, pp. 69-70.
Saturday Review, June 5, 1971.
Science Fiction Review, February, 1984, review of Legion, p. 38.
Sight and Sound, July, 1999, Mark Kermode, review of The Ninth Configuration, p. 50.
Time, June 7, 1971.
Times Literary Supplement, April 19, 1974.
Variety, August 22, 1990, p. 76; September 25, 2000, Robert Koehler, review of The Exorcist, p. 60.
Video Review, April, 1991, Ed Hulse, review of The Exorcist III, p. 79.
Washington Post, April 4, 1974.
Washington Times, September 23, 2000, Gary Arnold, "Revised Exorcist Tormented by Gratuitous Scene," p. 2.
West Coast Review of Books, November, 1978; September, 1983, review of Legion, p. 34.*