Monday, January 16, 2017
The Author Of "The Exorcist" Is Dead!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
William Peter Blatty, known forevermore as the author of "The Exorcist," has died. He passed away, at 89, from multiple myeloma, at his home in Bethesda, Maryland. He was 89.
He was a Catholic, but I get the sense he was no Bernadette. Still, he fathered seven children, so in one sense he was VERY Catholic.
The publication of "The Exorcist" caused a furor I still recall, 46 years later.
I was in high school, and taking an English course called "Popular Modern Fiction." We had to choose a genre for the semester, and stick with it. This pissed me off, because I read books from all genres, darlings. Nevertheless, I chose "Supernatural," and the timing could not have been better, because this was when "The Exorcist" was Number One on the New York Times Best-Seller List, which I took seriously, back then. In the Number Two spot was another destined classic, Thomas Tryon's "The Other." Though the second is in many ways better, "The Exorcist" was the sensation of the season; that era's "Gone With The Wind," if you will.
Now, back then, my source for all books not yet in paperback, was my mother's friend, Jean Smith, whom I called "Aunt Jean." She lived in a house no longer there on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Abbott Street, in Highland Park. Just a block over from us. She belonged to every book club out there, and was quite a reader. Coming home at night, many times, it was not uncommon to see Aunt Jean, seated in her window, reading away, seated on her sofa. This is what I envisioned my adulthood would be like.
Once I entered my teens, and transitioned over to adult fiction, Aunt Jean was willing to loan me any books out of her collection. When it came time for me to read "The Exorcist," for my class assignment, she agreed--but after she read it first. A few days later, she called my mother, telling her she did not want to loan me the book, because of its graphic language, and the depictions of the Black Mass, which she did not think would be appropriate for me.
My parents jumped on the prohibition bandwagon, and that was that. But I was pretty resourceful. For the first, and probably only time in my life, I went to my local library, and put it on hold. I was frankly surprised that the two women who ran the joint, Eunice Marowitz and Shirley Berkowitz, would allow me to, (they had forbidden me from reserving Nabokov's "ADA," just a few years before) but, this time, there was no problem. They knew me pretty well, by then, and figured if I was going to read it, no matter what, it might as well be from them.
I didn't get my copy till around before Christmas, 1971. I actually hid the book in my room, reading it in sections. At one point, we were decorating the Christmas tree downstairs--it must have been days before the holiday--and, in minute increments, I would sneak up to my room, reading sections, absorbed in a book I did want to put down. I was fascinated--like everyone else. Yes, it was graphic and gory, but that was the way Blatty chose to tell it. (I did not know about Raymond Russell's "The Case Against Satan," which I read quite recently. It tells basically the same story, in more lyrical fashion.)
Only after I had finished and returned the book, did I tell my parents I had read it, which I did one evening at the dinner table, bursting out in maniacal laughter. My parents probably thought I was possessed. Dinner at our house was fun, but not exactly the Cleavers!!!!!!!!!!!
I owned the book finally, in paperback, and now I have a permanent hard backed copy. I used to read it cover to cover on evenings when I was bored, or depressed, but have not reached for it in awhile. It always transported me back to that initial time.
Now, for Mr. Blatty, the novel' s success was a blessing and a curse. It satisfied the fantasy for a blockbuster that every writer has, but it was so eclipsing of anything he tried to do afterward he never could get past it. I had no idea that, prior, he was a comedy, and screenwriter, and had written the novel and the screenplay, for "John Golfarb, Please Come Home," a popular title in the day.
"The Exorcist" was cursed, darlings. Not just for Blatty--may he rest in peace; he leaves a legacy behind him-- but for those who worked on the 1973 movie.
Maybe Aunt Jean was right, after all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!