“Every kind thought is the hope of the world.”
– William Peter Blatty, The Ninth Configuration
I was only nine when I first saw The Exorcist.
I remember it quite vividly. Finally being able to watch that film. The one with the mysterious poster of a tall man “standing under the streetlight glow, in mist, like a melancholy traveller frozen in time.” The one that would, as I was told, make grown adults pass out in fright. The one I was never allowed to bring home from the video store… which only made me want it more.
It wasn’t until I had seen pretty much every single other horror my local Blockbuster had to offer that my mother eventually gave in (admittedly, I was a weird-ass child, which I guess she came to realize). She, along with my older brother and his best friend, all accompanied me on my initial viewing one weekend in 1999. We popped in the old VHS tape, squished in together on my parent’s king-sized bed with a bowl of chips, and watched this incredible tale of faith and redemption play out on tiny 4:3 analogue television for just over two hours. My mind was blown.
Of course, at that age I couldn’t fully comprehend everything I had just witnessed, but I knew it was something special, unlike any other film I had seen before. It was at that point I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. Before The Exorcist, the making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller was on heavy ration in my VCR and I had dreams of becoming the next Rick Baker; turning people into monsters for a living. Now I wanted to be William Friedkin when I grew up.
Little did I know just how much The Exorcist would actually impact my life.
Every weekend, instead of renting something new from the video store, I’d bring home The Exorcist. I studied the hell out of that film, watching it over, and over, and over. My local bookstore did not stock the novel, so I had to place a special order. “This is a book for grown ups, you know? It has a lot of pages to read,” the cashier warned as I handed over my pocket money. I was thrilled the day they finally called to say it had arrived, and my excitement wasn’t even dampened by the fact that they had actually ordered in the screenplay instead of the novel. Not only did I now had a pocketable version of my favourite film that I could take with me everywhere, it allowed me to better appreciate the fantastic dialogue, and understand some of the content that might go over a kid’s head while watching it play out on screen.
Fast forward a bit and I have finally acquired my very first PC. And then the internet. That’s when I discovered CaptainHowdy.com – a little corner of the internet dedicated to Everything Exorcist. It was like finding the holy grail. I was a kid in a candy store. Not only did this website have a ton of photos and videos and information on all the things I ever wanted to know about The Exorcist, but there was an entire community of people who shared the same love for the material as I did.
Over time, many friendships were formed through those message boards. Friendships that have lasted 15 years. And the website became somewhat of a refuge for me, especially during my first years of high school, some of the worst years of my life. But for 30 minutes during break, this shy and awkward outcast could could hide away in the library, log onto the forums, and actually belong somewhere (before facing the realities of another beating from the cool kids).
The bonds made through that community have also lead to so some incredible experiences that I will forever cherish. From travelling interstate with fellow Aussie fans to meet Linda Blair, to travelling across the world to visit all the filming locations in Washington D.C. with one of my very best friends, who I’ve literally spoken to every single day for the past 10 years since meeting through our mutual appreciation of all things Exorcist related.
And for all of this, there’s one person in particular I have to thank: Bill Blatty.
I took the opportunity to write a letter to Blatty a few years back, to thank him personally. I never expected a response. He was a busy man, after all, and probably received a lot of mail. Hell, I didn’t even know if it was the correct address. But it was worth a shot.
Some months later I received a mysterious package in the mail. The padded envelope had splotches of what appeared to be silver ink. There was no return address. I began to open it, expecting an old eBay order from China or something that I had forgotten about. Then I spotted familiar face.
Inside the envelope were 4 photos, each one autographed by Blatty. One had similar marks of ink as the envelope; another inscribed to my friend I had mentioned in my letter. He’d inspired her to become a writer. On the back of one of the photos was a note, written in blue pen. If I didn’t know he was a writer, I would have assumed he was a doctor. After a few hours of study, I finally managed to decipher the first line. “Sorry, my paint pen messed up one of the photos.” He went on to answer some of the questions I had, and then signed off with “Blessings. Bill B.”
Those photos are now framed and displayed on the wall next to me.
In one of them, he’s backstage at the Golden Globes in 1974 holding his award for best screenplay. The Exorcist also took out best picture, best direction, and best supporting actress (Linda Blair) that night. I look up to that particular photo whenever I need a burst of inspiration.
William Friedkin once quipped to Bill, “If I suddenly go out, I think possibly on my gravemarker it will say ‘Director of The Exorcist’.” Bill laughed and added, “… based on a novel by William Peter Blatty.”
But the legacy he leaves behind goes far beyond “the man who wrote The Exorcist.”
Thank you, again, Bill. For everything.
– Justin Wiggins
Filmmaker & webmaster of Behind The Exorcist
I have the distinct recollection when I was twelve going on thirteen (or thereabouts), of not being able to sleep one evening and deciding to channel surf to pass the time. It was at least midnight, and I recall leaning down and picking up the TV guide. I had heard of The Exorcist before, but didn’t go out of my way to watch it for whatever reason, despite growing up on the horror genre and adoring the likes of King and Koontz at that age. Nevertheless, I landed on SBS – a channel notorious here in Australia for airing the more controversial films and documentaries – and The Exorcist was on, albeit halfway through the film. I doubled-checked the TV guide to make sure it was indeed the film I had heard quite a bit about and it confirmed my suspicion.
I watched and was certainly intrigued – not frightened – but it wasn’t until the climactic finale of Karras beckoning the demon into his body and his subsequent act of self-sacrifice that a real cord was struck inside me – something that would alter the course of my life and be a real driving force and influence upon what I would do and where I would end up years from that night. I then remember waking up the very next morning and checking the internet for as much information as I could find out about the film and Jason Miller, and joining the www.CaptainHowdy.com online community to discuss this fine work of art.
Jump ahead many years and I ended up launching www.TheNinthConfiguration.com – a film that had become my personal favorite of all Bill’s work (predominately due to the nature of the ‘mystery of goodness’ prevalent throughout the novel and film), and how that act of self-sacrifice within Karras was essentially the focal point and driving force behind the entirety of it. I related much to Kane.
Jump ahead another year or two and I was now in email and phone contact with Bill and his lovely wife Julie, receiving items in the mail from Bill (including one-of-a-kind set used scripts from The Ninth Configuration) and so on, and we found quite an affinity for one another. In a way, in many ways, he felt like the grandfather I never had. To learn of his passing was like a bullet to the heart, but I know he lives on.
I wish to share two things: one was previously published on TheNinthConfiguration.com, one was not.
The first, from June 3, 2009, sent to me from Bill:
“When my son Paul told me he was studying German film at the University of Maryland, mentioning “M” and Fritz Lang, it sent me into recall of something I’ve never told anyone and that might interest your site, and it’s that at a time before The Exorcist, I met with the elderly Fritz Lang at a coffee shop somewhere in Beverly Hills with a view to him standing behind me as a directorial mentor should I ever get The Ninth Configuration financed, as at that time I couldn’t imagine even directing my grandmother across the street. Fritz agreed to do it but passed away before I ever got the funding. My impression of him was that of a very sweet-natured old world gentleman.
What an incredible opportunity missed! I also have a couple of photos for your site should you ever want to use them. One is of a Man named Gerald Lankester Harding, whom I knew when I was stationed in Beirut. He was formerly Curator of Antiquities in Jerusalem at which time he was instrumental in bringing the Dead Sea Scrolls into
view of the public: an old Bedouin led him to the cave containing the scrolls. Anyway, Gerald was the physical model in my mind when I created the character of Father Merrin, whose first name, please note, is Lankester. Another is a photo of me and Linda Blair at the preview of “The Version You’ve Never Seen.” Also an oddball photo of me in Air Force OCS. Still searching for a Ninth C. photo on the set in Budapest. One day I’ll find and send.”
As for the second… I can’t locate the exact email, but many years ago Bill sent a message saying something along the lines of “hold on to these and post them to the site – I hope – many years from now [when I’m no longer around].”
I kept that promise and haven’t posted these ones, but here they are.
One is of Bill teaching in Boise, another is a photo of Bill in the Air Force OCS, and another two are Bill at University.
We’ll miss you always, Bill, but we will ensure that your legacy lives on and continues to thrive.
I’d like to end on a message Bill sent to me back in 2015:
“Ryan, when I think of death I think of golden thoughts dancing on the wind. There is no death. Of the material body, yes; but of the person, absolutely not. That is the subject of my last book, Finding Peter. Every word of it is true.”
P.S. – here is a little anecdote Bill told me when I once asked him his thoughts on astrology:
“Many years ago when I was being psychoanalyzed, I told my shrink that I had read a coffee-table astrology book that described me to a “T.” He scoffed. I said, “Shall I bring in the book next time?” He said, “Yes. I would like to compare what it actually says about you with what you THINK it says about you.” I brought in the book, he read the section and was stunned by its accuracy. It basically said I was a moron! :)”
– Ryan Streat
Webmaster of TheNinthConfiguration.com
The Exorcist found me at a dark time in my life. Only a couple of years older than Regan, I was undergoing medical tests and facing doctors far less compassionate than Klein. But after my first viewing of the appropriately named The Version You’ve Never Seen, I had something to hold onto. Then I had the book. I had an escape; a meaningful story. A deeply disturbing story told with love and humour.
It was a lifeline.
The lifeline led to a community of people touched by that story. People who, like me, were scared and fascinated. I lurked for a while, too shy to join the captainhowdy.com forum, watching keenly as others analysed and appreciated my favorite film. Eventually I joined that community. I made friends – dear friends. And all because William Peter Blatty wrote a book.
Then came Legion. Then a copy of Twinkle Twinkle “Killer” Kane from the library book sale. The Exorcist: III, The Ninth Configuration, A Shot In The Dark (the funniest Pink Panther movie as far as I’m concerned.)
There are books of his I have yet to read, books I’m reluctant to read because there won’t be any more. But books don’t get used up. And a soul, especially one as sincere and creative as his, never really dies. People will read The Exorcist for the first time. They’ll watch the movie. They might even make friends with strangers, bond over this shared experience, this love of a story.
His death is a great loss. The world is a poorer place without his wit and kind heart. He shared his faith with us- faith not only in a higher power, but in humanity. He gave of himself, and we will never lose that.
Neither will he. After all, “What we give to the poor is what we take with us when we die.”
– Michelle Rubin
Screenwriter, Fool Me Once (2017)
The Exorcist opened my young eyes to the power of great storytelling, as intimate as it is mysterious, as horrific as it is humane.
As a novel and a film it will forever be timeless, and it explores the nature of evil in the world and the power of good within us all to stand up against it. I come back to it every single year, and I love and admire it just as much every time.
Rest in peace William Peter Blatty, thank you for my favourite story.
– Robin Solsjö Höglund
William Peter Blatty was for quite a while merely the friend of a couple of my close colleagues. But thanks to being put in touch early into research for a book of mine, back in 2008, I did occasionly email him in the years since. It was not something I’d normally do, nor necessarily wanted to do: email a connection who was the Oscar-winning screenwriter of my favorite film of all time and author of the bestselling basis for it. Surely doing so would have been a bother for him.
Well, not only was Mr. Blatty kind enough to reply and fully answer my questions, he did so with all other cares and concerns seemingly muted and on pause. Mega-successful writers understandably have enormous responsibilities and limited time, but the depth at which he wrote his responses to my two or three emails over the time we were in contact, I found his helpful and encouraging words so thoroughly sincere that his kindness shown surely extended to countless others who would also never normally have the opportunity to meet him in person.
His autobiography, I’LL TELL THEM I REMEMBER YOU, featured a young William Peter Blatty as relatable and down to earth as the man who would years later kindly give utter strangers the time of day, electronically.
Ever since my first formal introduction to him through witnessing THE EXORCIST: THE VERSION YOU’VE NEVER SEEN 16 years ago and really in all my life, there’s never been one in or outside Hollywood so consistently gracious toward others, whatever their plight. So I’ve always admired that and will always remember him.
I’ll tell them I remember him.
– Michael Garrett,
Ex-junior editor of BloodyNews.com
When I first met Bill Blatty, it was during research for a book that, sadly, remains unfinished at this point in time. I was introduced by Paul Schrader, whose Exorcist prequel was something I’d been covering throughout its troubled production. I was a lifelong fan of Blatty’s work, having first been traumatized by the novel and then the cinematic adaptation of The Exorcist, spending two embarrassing weeks sleeping on the floor in my sibling’s bedroom; I subsequently discovered The Ninth Configuration and Blatty’s other written and filmed works. I even managed to coerce my mother into taking me to see The Exorcist III (I was first in line on opening day, as well as the next weekend), as well as visits to nearby Georgetown to begin locating the many shooting locations from the film series.
I grew up to become an independent filmmaker, and a writer on the subject of the Horror genre. I naturally fell in with the online Exorcist community and its writers, forming friendships that last fifteen years later. That was how I found myself, after a series of articles and introductions, to be sitting in Bill’s study.
I’m sure you’ve seen it in many photographs, interviews, and documentaries. It was even more impressive in person. The walls were lined with historic photographs of Blatty with various Hollywood icons; there were books upon books upon books: rare editions, one-of-a-kinds, never-before-seen writings; there was even a Golden Globe award. It was awe-inspiring. Yet for all the grandeur, the man who used this room as his den of creation stood apart in stark contrast. He was right here, with us, here on planet Earth. He was quick to laugh, and prone to tangents. He had a story about everyone and everything. He was happy to share. He wove tales with his voice. We even watched The Exorcist together, there in that room, scene skipping through as he told anecdotes and shared his memories. My most memorable moment? Pointing out one of the additions William Friedkin aded to the 2000 re-release that Bill had never noticed. It was surreal and wonderful.
After the first of several visits to Bill Blatty’s home, he walked me to the door like the generous host he was, and held the door for me. My arms were full with the many rare and unpublished manuscripts he’d kindly lent me. As we were making our plans for a return visit, I told him I wanted to thank him, very sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, for scaring the hell out of me as a child. He laughed, but I meant it. I wouldn’t have been where I was then, nor would I be where I am now.
So thank you, Bill. Thank you so very much.
– Erik Kristopher Myers
Writer/director, Roulette (2013), Butterfly Kisses (2017)
The man who wrote arguably the scariest novel of all time has passed away, aged 89. I never met William Peter Blatty, yet I knew him well and will miss him dearly.
I had gotten to know Blatty from afar. Covering movements of his great creation, The Exorcist, on my former website dedicated to that masterpiece: captainhowdy.com.
It was always a one-sided, long distance relationship.
What started as a small, just-for-fun web project later blossomed into the leading online resource for Exorcist news and information. I managed it all from the sunny centre of Australia, probably the farthest I could possibly be from anyone involved in the project.
And yet, thanks to that website and the ongoing contributions over the years, I felt involved.
I was invited to the set when the prequels were filmed in the early 2000s. I’ve met Linda Blair. I’ve briefly spoken with the director, William Friedkin. Exchanged emails with the First A.D., Terence Donnelly.
It seemed our paths might’ve one day crossed, but they never did.
Having seen the film in my early teens and being blown away, terrified, and enamoured all at once, I visited my local library to seek out a copy of The Exorcist to read. (Long before anyone could order any book over the internet.)
I found only one copy — a tattered old paperback with faded yellow pages breaking away from the spine. It was heaped on a pile of over-loved books, ready to be discarded forever.
The library didn’t let me borrow the book. Instead, they let me keep it.
I carefully glued the loose pages back onto the spine and laminated the cover to keep it all in tact. Being in rural Australia where the nearest bookstore was literally a three hour drive away, I had to make sure those pages were safe, never to slip away again.
I’m not sure how many times that book was borrowed and read over the years, but I’d like to imagine I’ve come close to matching it in the 22 years since it came into my possession. Pun intended.
Many nights I would read under my covers. Often flipping to random pages and sinking into those masterful words. It reminded me of flipping open a Bible and finding random passages. Both were equally inspiring to me.
It was just me and this amazing book I had discovered and restored.
I would eventually get copies of the screenplay and pore over those pages. Every action line. Every line of dialogue.
Then came special edition releases on VHS (that’s video tapes, kids). DVDs. Blu-ray. All with special features of Blatty talking about his story, his characters, his approach. There was no turning back.
I ate it all up and excitedly shared thoughts on my website.
Through countless interviews, articles, videos, and back-and-forth communication with others via the great community we forged at captainhowdy.com, I continually kept in touch with Blatty and his work without ever making personal contact.
A good friend of mine who was close to Blatty once confirmed that he had seen and appreciated my website. I remember how good it felt hearing that.
I privately sold captainhowdy.com in 2015. A decision I often regret. Today, more than ever.
Now, with Blatty’s passing, he’ll forever be that distant entity. Forever out of my reach. I’m surprised to find I’m okay with that. After all, the saying goes: Never meet your heroes.
He absolutely was a hero of mine.
A humble talent who’s career spanned decades and forever changed an entire genre. Destined to be remembered forever, and deservedly so.
“I’m not aware that I was consciously influenced by any director, though these things often happen unnoticed, submerged in the unconscious.”
A man of Faith, certainly he is in Heaven now, personally shaking the hand of God and thanking Him for his muse.
Rest peacefully, William Peter Blatty.
And thank you.
– Jason Stringer
Former webmaster of CaptainHowdy.com
If you would like to pay your respects to Bill,
please feel free to do so in the comments section below.