Monday, March 27, 2017
A Decades Old Thriller Still Frigteningly Relevant, Today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
When this novel was first published, back in 1977--forty years ago, darlings!!!!!!!!--Bob Randall was a renowned figure in the New York theater community. As a playwright, he wrote the comedy "6 Rms., Riv Vu," which was a respectable hit. As a librettist, he wrote the book for the Doug Henning, Stephen Schwartz musical, "The Magic Show." Who could forget Anita Morris, being sawed in half, or Dale Soules singing the Schwartz classic, "West End Avenue?" I can't, girls!!!!!!!!!!!! Because, I was there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was not surprising that, when Randall turned to novel writing, the theater would be his subject. Reading this book, decades later, is like peering into a time capsule of Broadway history. Its theatrical references are so of the period.
Randall's is an epistolary novel--a series of letters. It is basically a stalker story, a subject known less about in 1977 than now. In creating the title character, Douglas Breen, and his obsession with Broadway star Sally Ross, (stand in for either Alexis Smith or Lauren Bacall!!!!!!) I had to wonder, reading it now, if Randall realized what he was doing. On a first reading, the thrills are there. Actually, "The Fan" works better on the printed page than it did on the screen. The 1981 film, featuring an A-list cast, consisting of Lauren Bacall as Sally Ross, Maureen Stapleton as Belle Goldman, her secretary, James Garner as ex-husband Jake, and, in a breakout performance, Michael Biehn, as Douglas Breen, was not the success hoped for. Because something went wrong. The Broadway scenes were not good enough to be of quality, while not bad enough to be campy. Breen's psychosis was never fully explored, and the climax was sanitized in a similar fashion as "Fatal Attraction."
I had always thought the novel had these faults, as well. But, on my recent reading, I discovered all the elements I had been looking for are there. It is just a matter of reading between the lines.
Which I am not sure readers, back in 1977, did. To them, the novel was, most likely, about a deranged Theater Queen. This is true, to an extent, but there is more.
Douglas Breen is a great big Closet Case! And you know how dangerous they can be!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
How did I discover this? By piecing together all the clues thrown out about Douglas' character. And here is where those who have not read the novel, or might, should stop reading, as there are spoilers ahead.
What is Douglas Breen's back story? He grew up in an affluent section of Connecticut, known as Greenwich Drive. His repressed, morally rigid, parents provided him with the best, but his behavior was always problematic. Theft, arson and, I believe homosexuality, are a part of Douglas' past. He has a friend from college, Phil, whom we learn about, but how strong a friendship it is is questionable. I get the impression Douglas uses Phil's friendship for a purpose, most likely to support the fact that he is something he is not.
At the time of the novel, Douglas is in his mid-twenties. His job history is sketchy, because he has a very high opinion of himself and it gets him in trouble. Which shows he suffers from both narcissism and lack of self-esteem; the two often go hand in hand. He works in a record store, run by a friend of his father's Mr. Rafferty, whom the parent implored to get him the job, based on their longstanding association in the Masons. Mr. Rafferty complies, but, eventually, has to let Douglas go.
Now, not all homosexuals hate women. At the record shop is a female employee, whom Douglas has an adversarial relationship with. He sees her as taking away favor from him. I think it is more--she sees through his carefully crafted guise--and Douglas does not like having his bluff called.
He is a young man in New York. With an interest in the arts, a record store is a good starting off point. But, in the Phil letters, he makes himself out to be more. That he would go to the theater is not all that telling; even non-theatrical types experience a Broadway show or two at some point in their lives. But when he sees his first Sally Ross show, he becomes smitten. When she autographs a Playbill for him, at the stage door, instead of enjoying the token gesture of graciousness, he takes it as the starting point of a relationship. And so the letters begin.
The letters on the printed page were chilling to read, and accelerated suspense. The film could not replicate this. So character motive was sacrificed for story line.
The more reality spins into Douglas' life, the more deranged he becomes. Like Alex Forrest in "Fatal Attraction," Douglas needs to maintain his delusions, in order to function within a relatively normal structural context. But once those delusions are stripped, he goes off the wall.
It is clear Douglas is a homosexual. Or, at the very least, a bisexual struggling to maintain a straight façade. The whole Sally Ross fag hag adulation thing is so typical. But his often graphic sexual fantasies of Sally, and a preoccupation with his equipment and ability to satisfy, speaks of sexual insecurity. On the other hand, picking up a gay guy, and killing him while having sex speaks of not only violent tendencies, but incredible self-hate. No doubt his WASP upbringing in Connecticut had something to do with this, though nothing in Randall's novel suggests a pivotal incident that traumatized Douglas. It was just a case of bad brain chemistry, which today might have been remedied, if the subject cooperated, and took the meds. Back in 1977, this was not even an option.
Douglas wants to come off as straight, but cannot. That is why he is a big Closet Case. And his self-loathing over it causes him to lash out, when his fantasy constructs are rejected.
Michael Biehn, in the movie, had the looks and ability to convey all this. But the movie copped out. In the book, Douglas gets away with killing Sally, which makes it more chilling, as all that was done for her protection was still not enough. Begging the question of who, or what, Douglas might move to, now???????????????
Dig underneath the book, and you find a lot of complexity. Maybe Bob Randall knew what he was doing, after all.
Wonder what Douglas' friend, Phil, would have thought???????????????