William Peter Blatty, the author and screenwriter best known for writing the novel and film The Exorcist, has died. Director William Friedkin confirmed on his Twitter account that Blatty died at age 89.
Linda Blair, who starred in The Exorcist, remembered Blatty on Twitter:
Blatty’s cause of death was not revealed. He is survived by his wife, Julie Alicia Witbrodt.
Here’s a look at Blatty’s life and career.
1. Blatty’s Early Career Included a Ghostwriting Gig for the original ‘Dear Abby’
Blatty, who was born to Lebanese immigrants in New York City, went into the Air Force in the early 1950s, but later joined the U.S. Information Agency and was stationed as an editor in Beirut, Lebanon. when he returned to the U.S., he headed to Los Angeles, working in publicity for Loyola University and the University of Southern California. During this time, he wrote his first book, Which Way to Mecca, Jack?. He appeared on Groucho Marx’s quiz show You Bet Your Life and won $10,000. That was enough money at the time for him to quit his day job and focus on writing.
Before getting to write his own work though, in 1959, he took a job as a ghostwriter for Abigail van Buren, the original “Dear Abby” columnist. He wrote her book Dear Teenager without credit on the cover.
In his final book, Finding Peter: A True Story of Providence and Evidence of Life After Death, Blatty wrote that when he presented his work to van Buren, she was shocked to see that he wrote a whole book. It turned out to be a success and “Dear Abby” got a “Mother of the Year” award for the book’s ‘matronly wit and wisdom,’ a champion’s garland about which I still am not quite sure how to feel,” Blatty wrote.
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2. Blatty Wrote the Script for ‘A Shot in the Dark,’ the Second Pink Panther Movie
During the 1960s, Blatty turned his focus away from novels and towards screenwriting. His credits during this time include The Man from the Diners’ Club (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964).
The success of A Shot in the Dark, the second of the original Pink Panther films, led to a relationship with director Blake Edwards. It seems surprising to know that the mind behind one of the greatest works of horror fiction also worked with one of Hollywood’s top comedy directors of the ’60s. He also penned What Did You Do In The War, Daddy? (1966), Gunn (1967) and Darling Lilli (1970) for Edwards.
In 1971, he was an uncredited writer on the Charlton Heston sci-fi movie The Omega Man.
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3. He Said He Could ‘Paper the Walls of my Bathroom With Rejection Slips’ From Hollywood Producers Who Didn’t Want to Make ‘The Exorcist’
Every great Hollywood story usually starts with rejection letters and Blatty’s is no different. When The Exorcist was first published in 1971, Blatty thought it would be great for a movie, but Hollywood didn’t. It also didn’t help that the book was not a hit for publishers Harper & Row.
“It was submitted to every studio in town. I could paper the walls of my bathroom with rejection slips,” Blatty told the Los Angeles Times in 2013.
But after a pre-taped interview for The Dick Cavett Show aired, Blatty’s luck changed. A guest dropped out of a spot on the live show, so Blatty was called to fill-in. He ended up talking about The Exorcist for 45 minutes and the book shot to No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
“I always believe that there is a divine hand everywhere,” Blatty told the LA Times.
Hollywood executives finally became interested and the project landed at Warner Bros. Blatty won an Oscar for adapting his novel and the film became one of the rare horror movies to get a Best Picture nomination.
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4. Blatty Directed 2 Films Himself, Including ‘The Exorcist III’
Blatty got to direct two films himself. In 1980, he wrote and directed The Ninth Configuration, which starred Stacy Keach and Scott Wilson. Blatt won a Golden Globe for adapting his novel, but the film wasn’t nominated for any Oscars.
Blatty didn’t have anything to do with 1977’s The Exorcist II: The Heretic, but he decided to write and direct The Exorcist III. The 1990 film was based on his book Legion, which was going to be the film’s original title. However, the film was greatly altered in post-production by Morgan Creek Pictures and Blatty’s cut footage was thought to be lost. However, in 2016, Shout Factory released a Blu-ray that includes a director’s cut retitled Legion.
The Exorcist franchise also includes 2004’s Exorcist: The Beginning and 2005’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. During the 2016-2017 TV season, Fox aired a TV series titled The Exorcist that is based on the book and movie.
5. Blatty, a Lifelong Catholic, Said He Believes in the Possibility of Reincarnation
Blatty was a lifelong Roman Catholic and spent his last years living in Bethesda, Maryland. His final book was 2015’s Finding Peter. It was inspired by the death of his 19-year-old son Peter, who died from a rare heart disorder in 2006.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Blatty said that he does believe in the possibility of reincarnation.
“Personally, I do. In the very early Catholic Church there were sects who definitely believed in the transmigration of souls. I’ve read a great deal about it,” Blatty told the Post. “And maybe there’s something in my own life that tends to convince me it’s a possibility.”
At the end of the interview, Blatty seemed pleased that Finding Peter would be the end of his career.
“This is it. I am very happy with Finding Peter,” Blatty told the Post. “Saint Paul tells us to do good while we can. At age 87, I am rushing like crazy to do a lot of makeup.”