Sunday, January 15, 2017

R.I.P. William Peter Blatty (1928-2017)

William Peter Blatty

On January 12, 2017, writer William Peter Blatty died of multiple myeloma at the age of 89 in Bethesda, Maryland. With a long and storied career, he is best known for his bestselling novel "The Exorcist," which followed the journey of a possessed girl. The story would later be turned into a movie by director William Friedkin, which has gone on to be considered one of the scariest movies of all time. While he got his start writing comedy, he is proud to have his legacy for a story that is tied to his own faith and ended up influencing literature, cinema, and TV for decades to come. He leaves behind an impressive body of work that transcends time and will likely be scaring people for the rest of time.

Blatty was born on January 7, 1928 in New York City, New York. His parents were immigrants from Lebanon and his father left the family when he was six years old. His mother was deeply religious and made her sole income from selling homemade quince jelly; of which she once sold to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The family lived at 28 different addresses due to the inability to pay rent. He attended Georgetown University on a scholarship where he earned a bachelors in English in 1950. He later earned a masters in English literature at George Washington University in 1954. During this time he also had a variety of odd jobs that included a vacuum door-to-door salesman, a beer truck relief driver, and a United Airlines ticket agent. He would join the United States Air Force, eventually becoming the head of the Policy Branch. His memoir "Which Way to Mecca, Jack?" details these events.

He worked for public relations for Loyala University of Los Angeles, and later as the Director of Publicity at the University of Southern California. The story goes that he was a contestant on the Groucho Marx game show You Bet Your Life where he won $10,000. From there he quit his jobs to become a writer full time. He never returned to the work force and instead began releasing his own comical novels including "John Golfarb, Please Come Home," "I, Billy Shakespeare," and "Twinkle, Twinkle, 'Killer' Kane." He received acclaim from various sources, including The New York Times, but his sales weren't spectacular.

It was then that Blatty started collaborations with director Blake Edwards on the comedies (as "Billy" Blatty), starting with A Shot in the Dark in 1964. This lead to work with other artists including a Warren Beatty and Leslie Caron picture called Promise Her Anything. It wasn't until 1971 that he returned to literature with the critically acclaimed "The Exorcist," which was a bestseller, topping the list for 17 weeks and stayed on the list for 57 weeks total. With 13 million copies sold solely in the United States, the book became adapted by Friedkin. The film would go on to earn 10 Oscars, and became the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. Blatty would win Best Adapted Screenplay:

Blatty's speech was short and gracious. He paid tribute to his collaborators, specifically Friedkin. He also mentioned his immigrant parents. Overall, it was a humble speech that showed his gratitude. It wouldn't be the last time that he was associated with "The Exorcist." In 1983, he wrote a sequel called "Legion." While there was already a film called The Exorcist II: The Heretic, Blatty had no association with the production. When he wished for the sequel (which would be based on "Legion") to share the book's name, the studio rejected the idea. The Exorcist III is pretty much an adaptation of "Legion," though it ignored the continuity placed from the previous film. In 2011, Blatty would also release a revised version of "The Exorcist," claiming that the original was a little flawed and that he wanted to be remembered for what would become the 40th anniversary edition. He also continued to direct with an adaptation of his novel "Twinkle, Twinkle, 'Killer' Kane," now called The Ninth Configuration

While he spent a significant amount of his early life as a comedic writer, he will forever be known as the writer of one of the scariest novels, and subsequent films, of all time. His work continues to engage and shock, finding a timelessness that transcends time. He found a way to explore the fears of faith while turning it into accessible horror for secular audiences. Even if he has plenty of other work reflective of his many talents, it's hard not to admit that his lasting impression will be for "The Exorcist," which has only continued to influence other filmmakers (and in 2016, a TV series of the same name). His work will live on, continuing to possess audiences with curiosity until the end of time.

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