Monday, April 21, 2014

1968: Airport by Arthur Hailey

The Author:

Arthur Hailey (1920-2004) was born Luton, Bedforshire, England.  The son of a factory worker, financial challenges led Hailey to drop out of high school.  When World War II hit, Hailey joined the Royal Air Force, In 1944, he married Joan Fishwick.  In 1947, he moved from the UK to Canada, becoming a naturalized citizen with dual citizenship in 1952.  He divorced Fishwick in 1950 and married Sheila Dunlop in 1951, to whom he was married the rest of his life.

In 1955, Hailey wrote the screenplay initially broadcasted in April 1956, titled Flight into Danger, about an old fighter pilot who is on a commercial plane when the pilot and copilot succumb to food poisoning.  1980's Airplane! is largely based on the film version of Flight into Danger, titled Zero Hour!   Flight into Danger and another of Hailey's television plays were adapted into novels.  In 1965, Hailey published Hotel, an inside look of the hotel industry that placed 8th on the annual bestsellers list.  His next hit was Airport (1968), followed by Wheels, the #1 bestseller of 1971, The Moneychangers, the #2 bestseller of 1975, and Overload, the #3 bestseller of 1979.  He also published Strong Medicine (1984), The Evening News (1990) and Detective (1997).

The Book:

Length: 440 Pages
Subject/Genre: Airports/Extreme Realism

Airport takes place at the Lincoln, Illinois international airport, over the course of a day.  The main character, Mel Bakersfeld, has to deal with the a massive snowstorm, disgruntled employees, angry residents of a nearby community, and terrorist threats, in addition to a number of personal issues.  Mel's personal issues are the least interesting part of the novel.  The people all have their roles to play, but the main character of the novel is the airport itself.  

What Michener or Uris are to history, Hailey is to industry.  Airport is meticulously researched, and in many ways reads like a non-fiction account, which is not always a good thing, as it relies on details and infodumps that are not very pretty.  As such, the plot is pretty contrived, but this is to an end: to create the various circumstances that the airport and its staff must respond to.  The novel is more of an exposé on the inner workings of an airport.  

The 1960's and early 70's are often referred to as the golden age of air travel, and the entire industry still had an exotic feel.  It's easy to forget that the airplane was only 17 years older than Hailey.  Hailey himself was 18 years old at the time of the first transatlantic commercial passenger flight.  Hailey already had bestseller status, which is a great way to sell more copies of following releases.  Add that to an industry that was booming and still mysterious, and it's not surprising that Airport became a bestseller.

Like most bestsellers, Airport was made into a film starring Burt Lancaster in 1970.  Helen Hayes won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the film.

The airplane-disaster-film genre being at its peak, three increasingly bizarre sequels followed the 1970 film.  
First was 1974's Airport 1975, starring Charlton Heston.

Followed by Airport '77 (1977) starring Jack Lemmon.  In this one, art thieves hijack the plane and crash, the plane ending up stuck under water.

And finally, The Concorde... Airport '79

Airport was pretty dry, overall, and the characters were two-dimensional plot devices.  The novel is more interesting as an inside look at the functioning of an airport, but written in layman's terms.  If the subject is something you want to know more about, Airport is a good read.  Otherwise you'll likely be bored.

Bestselling novels of 1968:

1. Airport by Arthur Hailey
2. Couples by John Updike
3. The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes
4. A Small Town in Germany by John le Carré
5. Testimony of Two Men by Taylor Caldwell
6. Preserve and Protect by Allen Drury
7. Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
8. Vanished by Fletcher Knebel
9. Christy by Catherine Marshall
10. The Tower of Babel by Morris West

Also published in 1968:

Arthur C. Clarke - 2001: A Space Odyssey
Philip K. Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Cancer Ward

Monday, April 7, 2014

1967: The Arrangement by Elia Kazan

The Author:

Elia Kazan (1909-2003) was born Elias Kazantzoglou in Istanbul, which at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire, although he was ethnically Greek.  His parents emigrated to the United States when Kazan was four.  His mother came from a family of cotton merchants, and his father was sold rugs.   Kazan attended public school and put himself through college, eventually attending the Yale University School of Drama.  He moved to New York and joined the Group Theater.  He made a name for himself as a stage director, directing plays like Miller's Death of a Salesman, Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth, and Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.

In 1947, Kazan was one of the founders of the Actors Studio, among whose first students were Marlon Brando and James Dean.  Kazan cast Brando in the the theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

In the mid-1940's Kazan began his career as a film director.  In 1951, he cast Marlon Brando as the lead in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire, and again in the 1954 film On the Waterfront. He introduced the American public to James Dean in 1955's East of Eden.  He won two best director Oscars, one for 1947's Gentleman's Agreement and one for On the Waterfront.  He was nominated for two others and in 1999 was presented with a lifetime achievement Oscar.  This award caused some controversy.

Kazan became a controversial figure in 1952, when he cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee.  This led to his being ostracized from the film community.

In 1967, Kazan published his first novel, The Arrangement. He went on to publish four more novels and two autobiographies.  He died of natural causes in 2003.

The Book:

Length: 544 pages
Subject/Genre: Self-discovery/Realism

The Arrangement is a first person account by its protagonist, Eddie Anderson, a successful advertising executive.  The novel begins with Eddie explaining how he came to drive his car directly into a passing truck, seemingly against his will.  The narrator jumps around for a bit, explaining his relationship with his loyal but bland wife, Florence, his product-of-the-times adopted daughter, Ellen, and his mistress Gwen.  We learn that Eddie has always had women on the side, and that there was an assumed 'arrangement' between himself and Florence.  But Eddie falls in love with Gwen and becomes increasingly disillusioned with his life as an executive.  He starts destroying his professional and personal relationships and ends up with an ultimatum from Florence.  

The prose is often presented as a sort of extended monologue, where the narrator is recounting events that have already occurred and the diction is as someone speaking (full of "I mean"s and "anyway"s, etc).  The narrative voice is handled very well, moving closer and farther from the action to maintain a strong pace.  

The narrator is in many ways sympathetic, but in many ways off-putting.  As he says himself, "I could not get interested, not honestly, in anyone else's troubles.  I know it's disgusting, but that's the truth."  It's no coincidence that Eddie and his wife read Hesse's Siddhartha together.  Eddie is a self-centered man who has compromised his ambitions for financial success and stability, and must go on a journey to rediscover himself.  He's a character I can feel sympathy towards, but one who, if I met in person, I would not expect to like. Like contemporaries John Updike and Philip Roth, Kazan portrays a very frank view of sex and promiscuity, including two pages of the narrator discussing his own penis.

Kazan wrote and directed a film version of The Arrangement, which was released in 1969 and starred Kirk Douglas as Eddie Anderson and Faye Dunaway as Gwen.

I really liked this novel.  As much as the mid-life crisis/rediscovering yourself story-line has been done again and again and again, Kazan does it extremely well.  If you require a likable protagonist, you probably won't enjoy Eddie Anderson, but if you can put up with him I strongly suggest checking out The Arrangement.

Bestselling Novels of 1967:

1. The Arrangement by Elia Kazan
2. The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
3. The Chosen by Chaim  Potok
4. Topaz by Leon Uris
5. Christy by Catherine Marshall
6. The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
7. Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
8. The Plot by Irving Wallace
9. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
10. The Exhibitionist by Henry Sutton

Also published in 1967:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - One Hundred Years of Solitude
S. E. Hinton - The Outsiders
Robert E. Howard - Conan the Barbarian
Anna Kavan - Ice
Flann O'Brien - The Third Policeman
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - The Cancer Ward


"Elia Kazan." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web.

Kazan, Elia. The Arrangement. New York: Stein and Day, 1967. Print.