Remembering William Peter Blatty, Author Of 'The Exorcist' William Peter Blatty was one of the many notable people who died in 2017. He was best known for writing The Exorcist and for adapting it for the screen. Horror aficionado Grady Hendrix gives us an appreciation of Blatty's work.

Remembering William Peter Blatty, Author Of 'The Exorcist'

Remembering William Peter Blatty, Author Of 'The Exorcist'

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William Peter Blatty was one of the many notable people who died in 2017. He was best known for writing The Exorcist and for adapting it for the screen. Horror aficionado Grady Hendrix gives us an appreciation of Blatty's work.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

During this final week of 2017, we're remembering a few notable people who died this year. One of them was author and filmmaker William Peter Blatty. He terrified readers in 1971 with "The Exorcist," and two years later the movie version shocked and disturbed, well, pretty much everyone else. Grady Hendrix is an author and pulp horror fan, and he says most people will associate Blatty with demons and projectile vomiting, but there was a second, more theological side to William Peter Blatty. Hendrix says that side was fired up after seeing another horror classic, "Rosemary's Baby."

GRADY HENDRIX: If you remember Roman Polanski's 1968 film, it ends with Mia Farrow giving birth to Satan's child. The devil rules. Evil is triumphant. And Blatty was so offended by that. A world where evil ruled was not the world he saw around him. And he spent the rest of his life trying to prove the existence of God.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EXORCIST")

MAX VON SYDOW: (As Father Merrin) I cast you out, unclean spirit...

MERCEDES MCCAMBRIDGE: (As Demon) Shove it up your [expletive] you [expletive].

VON SYDOW: (As Father Merrin) ...In the name of Lord Jesus Christ.

HENDRIX: Lebanese-American, raised by a single mother who sold jelly on the streets to put her children through school, Blatty grew up in absolute poverty. His family was evicted 27 times. He got a scholarship to Georgetown. And those Jesuit priests are the ones who made that first impact on him and opened his eyes to this bigger world, and set him on a path that took him to Hollywood, where he mostly wrote Blake Edwards comedies like "What Did You Do In The War Daddy?" and the second "Pink Panther" film.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A SHOT IN THE DARK")

TRACY REED: (As Dominique Ballon) You fell off the sofa, you stupid...

PETER SELLERS: (As Jacques Clouseau) I know I fell off the sofa, madame. There's no need to tell me. Everything I do is carefully planned, madame.

HENDRIX: But there was a book that Blatty wanted to write badly. And one night at a New Year's Eve party in 1969, he pitched it to an editor from Bantam. The book was called "The Exorcist." The editor bought it on the spot. Blatty was terrified of screwing this up, and so he spent 10 sweaty, panicky months jacked up on amphetamines so he had to sleep less writing "The Exorcist." The book went to the publisher. It came out. It hit bookstore shelves and flopped.

It wasn't until a few weeks later when a guest canceled on "The Dick Cavett Show" that Blatty was scheduled in as a last-minute replacement and spent 40 minutes recounting the story of his book that suddenly "The Exorcist" became a No. 1 best-seller on The New York Times list and stayed there for 55 weeks. Blatty was a producer on the film, which became a cultural landmark.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EXORCIST")

MAX VON SYDOW AND JASON MILLER: (As Father Merrin and Father Karras) The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ compels you. The power of Christ...

HENDRIX: That success, though, it gave Blatty the freedom to pursue his real agenda, which was his argument that God existed. And he wrote several other books like "The Ninth Configuration," a few others. But then he really brought it all home with "Legion," which wound up being made into a movie he directed called "Exorcist III." It's a horrifying book, although it is shot through with real ping-pong dialogue and these theological exchanges. It almost feels like something out of a Catholic-minded screwball comedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE EXORCIST III")

GEORGE C SCOTT: (As Kinderman) Would a God who is good invent something like death? Plainly speaking, it's a lousy idea. It's not popular, father. It's not a winner.

ED FLANDERS: (As Father Dyer) There you go, blaming God.

SCOTT: (As Kinderman) Who should I blame? Phil Rizzuto?

FLANDERS: (As Father Dyer) You wouldn't want to live forever.

SCOTT: (As Kinderman) Yes, I would.

FLANDERS: (As Father Dyer) No, you wouldn't. You'd get bored.

SCOTT: (As Kinderman) I have hobbies.

HENDRIX: But at the end of the book, Kinderman, his soul harrowed, all faith in humanity destroyed, goes into a coffee shop with his partner. He has an argument with the counterman, who's a rough kind of fellow, sits down in a booth, turns to his partner and delivers a blistering monologue about the absence of God and - how a world where this kind of evil can happen.

Meanwhile, in the background, unnoticed by Kinderman or his partner he's speaking to, a homeless man has come into the diner and the counterman chases him out angrily. But before he throws him out the door he hands him a sack of hamburgers because the man's hungry. It's a simple act of human kindness unnoticed by any of the main characters, but Blatty felt that that was his evidence for the existence of God. To Blatty, Satan is the closed fist while God was the open hand.

SIEGEL: Grady Hendrix, author of "Paperbacks From Hell," remembering William Peter Blatty. Blatty died earlier this year from a form of blood cancer. He was 89.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID BOWIE SONG, "LAZARUS")

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