WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-01 > 1168646009
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] HAILEY: Arthur Hailey
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2007 23:53:29 -0000
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 27/11/2004
Arthur Hailey, who has died at his home in the Bahamas aged 84, was one of
the most commercially successful authors of all time, producing 11 books
which sold more than 150 million copies, were translated into some 40
languages, and brought him tens of millions of dollars; much of it from his
role as the inventor of the disaster movie.
Hailey's fiction was not of the sort that inspired doctoral theses: "If
Armando had been troubled before, Kettering's pronouncement had the effect
of an incremental bolt of lightning" was a representative sample of its
But secure in the knowledge that his books would dominate the bestseller
lists (Airport was lodged on them for more than a year), Hailey was sanguine
about their reception by critics. "I have never had a good review from the
New York Times," he admitted in 1990. To be fair, others were equally
Reviewing The Evening News (1990) for The Daily Telegraph, Martha Gellhorn,
under the headline "Wooden Prose" complained: "it tells us everything at
least three times. Solid-wood dialogue is tailor-made for the mechanical
characters who, in turn, tell each other what they are doing at least three
times . This is not a book you cannot put down; it is a book you can hardly
hold up. It will sell in millions and be translated into 34 languages.
Possibly it is more readable in Icelandic or Urdu."
Airport (1968), which inspired, two years later, a phenomenally successful
film starring Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin and Helen Hayes, was the acme of
Hailey's writing. The formulaic disaster plot and the woodenness of the
characterisation were faithfully reproduced by Hollywood, rather than being
later additions. It was hailed as "the best film of 1944" and made $45
Though he had nothing to do with any of the sequels, Hailey was paid more
than $100,000 for each of them; it was a peculiar irony that Airplane
(1980), the movie which effectively destroyed the air disaster genre Hailey
had created, was nominally based on Flight into Danger, the play which
launched Hailey as a writer, and on Zero Hour! (1957), the film based upon
the scenario of an aeroplane on which the pilots are struck down after
eating the in-flight fish.
Hailey did not confine himself to danger in the sky. He was equally happy
tackling the worlds of pharmaceuticals (Strong Medicine, 1984, filmed 1986);
high finance (The Moneychangers, 1975, filmed 1976); and the structure of
hotel management (Hotel, 1965, filmed 1966, and later a television series
and a section of the curriculum of Cornell University's training course in
hospitality management). Wheels (1971, filmed 1978) offered readers an
almost documentary view of a Detroit car plant, complete with racial
tension, technical detail, car sales methods and the mind-numbing boredom of
the assembly-line - which some critics felt translated on to the page. It
also offered the advice that one should never buy a car built on Monday or
Friday, when absenteeism guaranteed a second-rate product.
Arthur Hailey was born on April 5 1920 at Luton, the son of George Hailey, a
factory worker who earned £3 a week, and his wife Elsie, who had left school
at the age of 10 to become a maid. It was she who insisted that young Arthur
learn typing and shorthand, in the hope that he might land a job as a clerk,
rather than end up labouring on an assembly line.
Young Arthur began writing early, producing poems, plays, short stories and
"incredibly pompous" letters to the Luton News from his improvised study
beneath the staircase in his family's terraced house.
After his first success, a letter to the paper advocating Sunday opening of
the local baths, Arthur's mother allowed him the use of the front parlour
for his scribblings. He left school at 14, but joined the RAF as a driver in
August 1939, and then - vindicating his mother's plans for him - became a
clerk, before starting pilot training in the United States under the Arnold
scheme two years later.
After being awarded his wings Hailey was posted to Canada where he was
commissioned and served as an instructor pilot. Among his secondary duties,
he was given responsibility for a "hot gen" magazine at Monckton, New
Brunswick, which was produced by his sergeant, the Reader's Digest
journalist John Ennis.
In June 1945, Hailey was posted to Poona, then returned to England for a
literary course before being made editor of the flying training magazine Air
Clues, which still continues under another title. He retired two years later
in the rank as flight lieutenant with an Air Efficiency award.
But after Churchill's post-war election defeat, Hailey, who was always a
diehard Conservative, decided that, with no profession, he would return to
Canada and try his hand at writing. He eventually took Canadian citizenship,
though he retained dual nationality. Despite an earlier success with a story
called Rip Cord, which had been printed in Courier and the American Story
Digest, Hailey found life tough when he first arrived in Toronto. Having
burnt his demob suit, he took a series of frustrating posts as an estate
agent, advertising executive and editor of a business newspaper with the
uninspiring title Bus and Truck Transport.
At the same time, his marriage to his wife Joan, by whom he had three young
sons, was breaking up. She left him just before Christmas 1949, two years
after he had arrived in Canada, though in later life they were to remain on
While a salesman for a truck manufacturer, Hailey was returning to Toronto
from western Canada on a 4-engined DC4 - "the noisiest airplane ever flown".
He ate the in-flight meal and, like many other travellers, wondered what
would happen if he were stricken by food poisoning. He then questioned
whether he would be able to land the plane if the pilots were incapacitated
by their fish lunch. From it sprang his play Flight into Danger, which was
produced on Canadian television to general acclaim, and became one of the
country's first programmes to be sold widely overseas. Buoyed by its
success, Hailey became a full-time writer in 1956.
After the huge sales garnered by his early work, and their ready transfer to
the screen (his apprenticeship as a writer of television dramas having stood
him in good stead), Hailey was often promised advances which dwarfed other
writers' earnings merely for picking a subject for his next book.
He proceeded thoroughly and methodically, researching every aspect of the
field he intended to tackle.
"Research is like a woman's slip," he explained to one interviewer. "It's
necessary, but it should never show. I realise I get a bit carried away, and
mine sometimes does show."
It often took him three years to produce a book, but he rose meticulously to
type his daily 600 words, often starting in his dressing gown at 6 o'clock
in the morning.
His other books included The Final Diagnosis (1959); In High Places (1962);
and Overload (1979). He promised to retire at that stage - he had been a tax
exile in the Bahamas since the late 1960s, when he was warned that the 77
per cent in tax he was paying would not enable him to provide for his old
age - but was persuaded to produce Strong Medicine, The Evening News and
Life in the Bahamas suited Hailey and his second wife. "We intended to stay
two years, but we love it here. We built our own small house on a canal and
our boat, a 48ft cabin cruiser, is moored at the end of the garden . I
haven't had to work for some time, but I am not obsessed by money. By some
standards we live quietly."
In 1979, Hailey's peaceful life was disturbed when he was diagnosed with
severe heart problems, and underwent a quadruple by-pass operation. For some
time afterwards, he was afraid to move or engage in activity, until his wife
said that she would prefer him to live for five years normally than continue
to "tiptoe on eggshells" for a further 20.
A trim, lean figure, with a natty line in clothes and an enthusiasm for
expensive cars and yachts, Hailey flossed his teeth three times a day, and
brushed them for 2½ minutes after every meal.
He continued to travel, to sail his cruiser, and to supervise his stocks and
shares - "My son says my watch tells the time in Swiss francs," he joked -
until recently, when his activities were curtailed by ill-health. He had
been increasingly unwell since suffering a stroke two months ago.
Hailey's second marriage, in 1951, to his stenographer Sheila Dunlop, by
whom he had a son and two daughters, survived despite a series of affairs
and fights in the early years, and despite her characterisation of him in
her engaging book I Married a Bestseller as "precise, pig-headed,
fastidious, fanatically clean, maniacally tidy".
|[W-OBITS] HAILEY: Arthur Hailey by "Peter McCrae" <>|