Tucson Daily Citizen from Tucson, Arizona on February 3, 1973 · Page 57
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Tucson Daily Citizen from Tucson, Arizona · Page 57

Tucson, Arizona
Issue Date:
Saturday, February 3, 1973
Page 57
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Books 'Exorcist 9 author believes! By Kenneth Turan Washington Post News'Service WASHINGTON First came the words, more than 100,000 of them, turned out over nine months by a man known almost exclusively - as a writer of comedy. No hardback house was interested. "They told me, 'go 'way, no cookie, go 'way.'" After some flipflops of normal procedures took place, a publisher was found and William Peter Blatty's simple tale of demonic possession, "The Exorcist," made its way into print. Then came the sales. More than 250,900 in hardback, 55 weeks on the bestseller list, 10 paperback editions printed in a month and a half, trans- ' lations circulating in Japanese, Hebrew, German, French, Dutch, Italian, Greek,Spanish, Swedish, even'Tur- kish. More than Jour million ' copies in English alone. And more to come'. Now there is the movfe; Produced and scripted by the author. Directed by boyish wonder Billy Friedkin in his first picture since the academy award-winning "The French Connection." Costing a largish $6 million, taking 90 days'to shoot, including a side · trip to, Nineveh in Iraq, starring, among others, Lee J. Cobb, Max Von Sydow, Ellen ·" Burstyn, Jason Miller and an , unknown 13-year-old girl. Because Blatty's psychic, mother had an accurate premonition that he would get a four-year scholarship ;to Georgetown University here and insisted he apply; because during his senior year he. heard a story from the school's Jesuits about an exorcism performed in nearby Mt. Rainier, Md.; because of all this and possibly more, a full film crew of one jwssum and M people, including boom man, gaffer, best boy, key grip and everybody else, would spend a month in Washington, transferring large parts of the novel into film. William Peter Blatty had come back. His parents were Lebanese emigrants, and 44-year-old Blatty retains the exotic physical darkness that somehow contrasts with his easygoing, tentative friendliness. His clothes are functional: Jeans, Mickey Mouse watch and a white athletic shirt with blue sleeves that has the faded word "Georgetown" printed on the front. He looks rather anonymous, and much of the time he is. After 10 years of unhappL- ness in the luxuriant anonymity of the Hollywood screen- writing world, Blatty thought "being the author of the number one bestseller was going to change all that. "But I must tell you that operators and receptionists still ask me to spell my name four or five times and letters stffl come to Mr. Blappy, Blip- . py, Blitny, Blootly, Blotly and Blandly. I have about a thousand cards with various permutations of my name. You would not believe the number of permutations possible. And they still keep coming, you know. I keep getting these surprises." And very slowly, after a pause: "Fame is terrific." Happy though he is with it, for the thing itself, for what it can (to for his children, his relatives, Blatty claims that financial overabundance has come to him too late, at a time when there is not a whole lot he reaHy_wants. Isn't it all at least the dream made tangible, the fantasy fulfilled? Well, not really .. I "it should have been. It is that for those around me who are closest to me. They feel it. "it 1 was stflHresbly out of Georgetown, or, even 10 years after Georgetown or still driving a Gunther beer truck as I did for a time here in town, and one night a manuscript that I had been scribbling in a garret by candlelight was suddenly sold at some incredible sum and a week later it was out and people were going mad for it and a week after that I was-back here doing what I am doing now, I would be so excited they'd need 18 hospital attendants and an r oxy- tent to take'care of me. "I mean I feel pleasure, but it's too slow, it's too gradual." After Georgetown, after the time behind the .wheel of the Gunther beer truck, after some years in .the air force, Blatty's writing career .began to pull together in a startling, fairy tale type manner. 7 ··'-' 111: 1957, when he was stationed in Beirut as an information officer with the USIA, he met the wife of a political officer who had published, an Article in the Saturday Evening Post. "I remember thinking at' the:itime thit if she could do it, I certainly could do it. And I did." "Most people don't know that this type of thing happens" One article in the Post ted to another and another and another, including one recounting his adventures posing as the son of an Arabian prince, which ted to Blatty's first book, "Which Way To Mecca, Jack?" and an appearance on the Jack Parr Show to promote it. ; "During that interview, the wife of a motion picture producer who had a project in trouble at Columbia called her husband down and said (here Blatty's. voice goes whiny, shrill and shrewish all at once), 'Billy, come and watch this boy, he's very funny.' So he came and watched me and contacted me.within the week and asked if I would like to write a motion picture script." That 1901 script was for "The Man From The Diners Club," a Danny Kaye trifle that Blatty admits wasn't too hot. But it was the start, the first of 10 he wrote during the next 11 years, including "Gunn," "Darling Lili," "What Did You Do In The War, Daddy?" and Blatty's personal favorite, :"A Shot.In The Dark'," with Peter Sellers and Elke Sommer. Other novels followed, including one that inspired a lawsuit from Notre-Dame -"John Goldfarb Please Come Home" -- one that is the au- Peter Blatty, author ol"Ib* Exorcist," is convinced - · there is such a thing as demonic possession. thor's personal favorite -"Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer : Kane" -- and one, "I, Billy Shakespeare," that sold "a spectacular 2,500 copies." Meanwhile, Blatty had married, "fathered three children, been divorced, and .become increasingly overwrought with' . directors who made unfortunate changes, -in his scripts 'and-.publishers who didn't properly publicize his books. Something that had happened in 1950, however, was to change all that. In that, his senior year at Georgetown, Blatty was hunting for a topic for an oratorical contest and'Fa- ther Thomas Birmingham, a Jesuit who had taught him both at Brooklyn Poly and Georgetown, suggested demonic possession. He mentioned a case that , had occurred in the. Washington area just a year before, where a 14- year-old Mi. Rainier, Md., boy had reportedly been freed from the devil's grip after .20 to 30 performances of the rite of exorcism during a two- month period. Almost 20 years later, Blatty changed the victim's sex to female and the age to 12 and had the ground work for a bestseller. And though the author hasn't met his original source, who apparently has complete amnesia about the experience - and only spoke to members of the family after the book was published, Father John J. Nicola feels "The Exorcist" is "based principally, I'd say 80 per cent of the documentation," on that 1*49 case. The man who knows the most about.that experience, a lumpish looking 42-year-old diocesan priest from Chicago, Father Nicola sits in unlikely physical surroundings. Assistant Director of the National Shrine of The Immaculate Conception, here, his small office is in the building's base-, ment. Its sea-green walls lighted by dim flourescents, it would seem more appropriate for a cafeteria manager than ·a man of uneven intensity who talks of the devil's strategy the way other people talk of the j home football team's. Acknowledged as one of the . Catholic Church's experts on exorcism, Father Nicola is serving as the film's adviser on same. He considers himself a "psychic Investigator" but concedes,'"there would be a lot of people, a lot of priests, Catholic priests as well as anybody else, who look at me and say,. '.oh, what a quack you are' and all that stuff. Well that's their bag and I've got my bag, and that's fine." Father'Nicola is enthusiastic about the book, because it "very truly and very graphically depicts what diabolical possession is really like -most people don't know that this type of thing happens." He mentions "the- church's very skeptical attitude toward it," the investigations that try, ' as Father Karras tried in "The Exorcist," to attribute .the phenomenon to all other possible causes before reluctantly offering possession as the problem. One of the few people who has seen all the documentation on that original 1949 case, "Exorcisms are the mostliideous things you can go through" \ still kept under lock and key in church archives, Father Nicola says it reads "as fas- i cinatingly as the book does." He also feels, in contrast to the 14 or 15 cases he himself has investigated, that that episode was a genuine example of .demonic possession, one of six or seven such .occurrences he says have taken place in America in the 20th century. According to "The Roman Ritual," there are three criteria for possession, all of which, Father Nicola says, the Mt. Rainier case clearly ful- · filled. --Conversing, not reciting, in languages other than those to which be was exposed: "This little 14-year-old, who had never studied a word of · Latin, not only used it, but used it in very excellent conversation." --Physical phenomena that are far beyond the age and advancement of the person at a given time: "This little .boy 'weighed less than 100 pounds -- 93 pounds. --and they had him in fetters and everything. He broke loose on one occasion and broke the cheekbone of one of 'the Jour, men trying to hold him down and broke the nose of someone else. They had taken' everything away from him to prevent him from committing suicide, but he broke a piece of spring off the bed and, BAM, just like that split a man's arm from elbow to wrist." --Knowledge of things that can't be known, the hidden past: "Invariably in a diabolical possession the diabolical voice tells hidden faults whkh the exorcist. or other people present are very sensitive to from their past lives. This also happened, in the 1949 case, when there was the revelation of an embarrassing thing in . the exorcist's past.". · ,-·· There are other dangers to the potential exorcist besides mere loss of, face. A local priest who! participated in the Mt. Ranier exorcism had a nervous breakdown after it was over, Father. Nicola said, and'is still Very sensitive on the subject. "Exorcisms are the most hideous things you "You just don't tackle the devil without subjecting yourself to dangers" can go through," Father Nicola says.'"If I were asked to do one, I would beg off. I don't want any part of it. People think it's a big lark and all that, bu y t that's not the way I see it, not at all." In fact, what, with helping the "Exorcist" crew and writing a book of his own called "Diabolical-Possession," Father Nicola feels he is "very vulnerable right now. Because what I'm doing-is declaring open warfare on the'devil, trying to open him up, to let men see him." He remembers when he first started in on the subject in his student days he was told, "You just don't tackle the de- · vil without subjecting yourself , to dangers. If anything'weird .happens, you drop it right ;away." And; he ;says that, whenever he intensifies his studies he has been "exposed to abnormal amounts of temptation ... I feel more morally beleaguered." So much so that he does "an awful lot moi-e praying," especially the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel,'composed by Pope Leo XIII, who had similar problems: . , ' , . . . · · : , , "Defend'us in battle, be.our ·' protection against the malice and shares of the devil. Restrain him, o God, we humbly Continued on page 26 PAGE 22 fUCSON DAILY CITIZEN SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1973

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