MACLEAN’S INTERVIEWS

ARTHUR HAILEY

February 1 1969
MACLEAN’S INTERVIEWS

ARTHUR HAILEY

February 1 1969

ARTHUR HAILEY

MACLEAN’S INTERVIEWS

Mornings when he's working at home, Arthur Hailey rises at seven, swims 34 lengths in his pool (33 lengths is a quarter-mile, but he does one more to bring him back to the starting point), limbers with a flurry of 5BX squats and presses, consumes a light breakfast and, precisely at 8.30, enters his office, closing a sound-proofed door behind him. There, on an electric typewriter under an early Harold Town, with the lush Napa Valley falling away behind the glass door, Hailey starts in to write his daily quota of 600 words, about three pages of typescript. By 3 or 4 p.m. — after breaking for a lunch of, typically, fresh crab from San Francisco, 60 miles away, and a local wine from his well-stocked cellar — he is finished and re-emerges, unbowed, into the good life of California.

Thus, five days a week, Hailey cranked out Airport, which characteristically blended careful journalism and tortuous plot to become last year’s highestflying novel. By November 10 the Doubleday book had been 33 weeks on the New York Times’ best-seller list (30 of them in the number-one spot), been peddled to Hollywood for a whopping $450,000 and, coming after Hotel, had elevated its Canadian author into the rarefied company of such U.S. moneyspinners as Harold Robbins, Irving Wallace and James Jones.

Hailey turned to writing, not from the customary inner strivings and neuroses, but in response to a personality test which — with typical pragmatism — he had ordered early in 1955 from a firm of Toronto management consultants. “The subject has a marked flair for the unusual and dramatic,” Hailey's examiner concluded. “He is a strongly work-oriented individual who may not have developed real techniques of relaxation . . And, in one of the great moments of personal assessment: “He would do well as a writer and may be wasted in industry.” Hailey, an English-born RAF veteran, the former editor of a MacleanH unter trade magazine, then sales manager of a trucking firm, responded by writing a TV play, Flight Into Danger. This maiden effort was televised in three countries and made into a movie.

Hailey, his second wife Sheila (who had worked in the Maclean-Hunter steno pool) and their three children, Jane, 14, Steven, 12, and Diane, 10, live in and around a green-and-brown, redwoodshingled split-level on a steep hillside near St. Helena. Hailey, a compulsive organizer, has been working hard to develop the “techniques of relaxation” he lacked. He has all the facilities: pool, climatically controlled wine cellar, sauna,

‘Tm not trying to make the world better. I’m a storyteller. 1 interpret the excitement of now”

gas-fired barbecue, apartment in San Francisco for overnight trips, wondrous stereo and tape gear and, nominally for son Steven, a model - train setup that would delight any kid of, say, 48.

Maclean’s staff writer Jon Ruddy interviewed the Haileys in the author’s big, very tidy, gadget-filled office. Occasionally the exuberant voices of his children would penetrate the sound-proofing, at which point the easily distracted author would dash over to an intercom. “Steven, Diane, QUIET!” Then all you could hear were the songbirds in the madrone trees.

Maclean’s: How did you happen to come from Toronto to this beautiful place? Hailey: In the summer of 1965 I was getting background material for Airport. My publishers had said there was a retired airline captain near San Francisco who could give me some information. He lived in St. Helena, a place I had never heard of. I arrived on a Sunday in July. It was a beautiful day. I looked at the vineyards, at the hills in blue haze in the distance. I thought I’d never seen anything so lovely. In less than 24 hours I had bought this property and composed a telegram to Sheila, who was then at our cottage in Haliburton, Ontario. It wasn’t a complicated decision. Some things I would never do alone. I would never buy a suit or a tie by myself. But this I was sure we wanted.

Maclean’s: How did you react, Sheila? Mrs. Hailey: I wasn’t surprised. It was sudden, but Arthur’s decisions always are. We loved Toronto, but we wanted a warmer climate.

Hailey: We had known for some time we could live anywhere. It’s a difficult decision to make, pulling up roots. We met in Toronto, our children were born there. But Toronto had got to be such a megalopolis that I was beginning to feel hemmed in.

Maclean’s: Has the California good life affected your self-discipline?

Hailey: I could work anywhere. I could work in a coal cellar if I had to, though I wouldn’t enjoy it much. When I made the move I only lost a couple of days’ work. If you’re going to work you just get on with it.

Mrs. Hailey: I think that Arthur, like a lot of artists, is affected by the weather. The Toronto winter used to get him down. After living here for three years, he has become much mellower. Happier. Hailey: But it hasn’t affected my work in any way. It’s not as if I had gone to Hollywood. Actually, I get back to Toronto more often than I get to Los Angeles. Maclean’s: I find it impressive that you can stick to your routine, here of all places. Isn’t it dangerous, an office with a view?

Hailey: Not for me. After I’ve done the research on a book, I make a pact with myself that come what may I will write 600 finished words a day, 3,000 words a week. It doesn’t sound much. Sometimes when the children come in and ask me what I’ve done and I show them my two pages, they say, “Is that all?” It’s enough. There are always 100 reasons for not writing at all. I just don’t accept them.

Maclean’s: Is it fair to say that you look on writing primarily as a business?

Hailey: No. I do it primarily because I enjoy it.

Mrs. Hailey: Arthur’s businesslike attitude toward writing started in Toronto. He made a little bit of a fetish about writing in a business suit. That was partly because he was involved in advertising in a small way and sometimes had to go out on a moment’s notice. Psychologically, it was good because he got up in the morning feeling that he had to start work at 9, and he did. He's always been this way. He’s a very self-disciplined man.

Maclean's: You're in the middle of re searching a novel about Detroit and the automotive industry. Has Ralph Nader made the car people gun-shy about giv ing you the inside information you need? Halley: I've had absolutely no trouble in continued on page 52 getting to people in Detroit. They’ve been exceedingly frank and helpful. No one has tried to persuade me to a point of view.

HAILEY from page 15

Maclean’s: Has there been any critical feedback from professionals in the hotel and airport fields over your last two books?

Hailey: At the end of a book I often expect some. I do go behind the scenes and I do reveal things that perhaps people haven’t realized they’ve told me. But it hasn’t happened. I get a wonderful reception in hotels and have been asked to speak at most of the big hotel conventions. I’ve done it once or twice, and Sheila does a lot of it. Reaction to Airport has been quite remarkable. Airport managers have reacted very generously. I wrote mainly about O’Hare in Chicago. There was actually a party there on publication day. I spoke last month before the American Association of Airport Executives. The airlines have made me a member of their so-called VIP clubs.

Maclean’s: What follows the Detroit book?

Hailey: Probably a novel about a big university.

Maclean’s: How many more books have you got in you?

Hailey: I think four. A book takes me three years, a year of research and two of writing. Twelve years will take me up to 60, if I live so long. I think that will do.

Maclean’s: Surely you’re too energetic to sit around after you hit 60.

Hailey: Oh, I’ll never sit around. I’ll do something. But I won’t spend so much time away from home. This year I’ll have been away about nine months. Maclean’s: Have you thought of going back to England?

Hailey: No, never. I seem to spend a large part of my time when I’m in England trying to get my pants pressed. We’re North Americans. You can’t go back.

Maclean’s: How do you react to bad reviews?

Hailey: I enjoy reading a good review more than a critical one. But sometimes I’ve learned a thing or two from criticisms. I think that, with some exceptions, I’ve fared worse in Toronto than other places. But I’ve talked to other writers and I think this is very often true of your home town. I don’t worry about it. Instead of worrying, I prefer to get on with the next book.

Maclean’s: Sheila, apart from public speaking, how do you help Arthur?

Mrs. Hailey: I think I help a great deal by being a sort of buffer between him and the world. Shielding him from lots of little everyday problems. And answering the fantastic amount of mail that we get from readers.

Hailey: I think I can tell you better than Sheila does. She’s a little diffident. I do all my initial research, but if something comes up in the course of writing, I may come in at breakfast and ask her to go to New York, the next day. She never minds this very much. She goes off with continued on page 55 a whole list of questions. Once I’ve started writing I don’t want to take time off myself. For Airport, Sheila did some of the original research. The only thing that bothers her is that I just use fragmentary pieces of it. She was up all night watching people sort the mail and I think the reference to mail in Airport runs to two or three lines. Also, she’s a good critic of my outlines and my work.

Maclean’s: What drives you?

Hailey: Interesting. I asked the president of an automotive company that the other day. I’m not sure that I really know. Most of us eschew idleness. We want to do what we enjoy — planting potatoes, creating a building or a book or whatever. I don’t know what drives me.

Mrs. Hailey: It certainly isn’t financial reward.

Hailey: Not at this point, no. It is at one point, for everybody. A question of survival. But it’s never the only thing. Maclean’s: Has it something to do with your emotional makeup? Are you a compulsive person?

Mrs. Hailey: Yes, you’re very compulsive.

Hailey: I like to set priorities. I like to get things done. I like to have leisure. I walk out of this office on Friday afternoon and don’t come in again until Monday.

Maclean’s: Are you trying to change things with your books, make the world better?

Hailey: Absolutely not. I am excited by the here and now. I am fascinated by everyday life. I can’t open the morning paper without seeing three, four subjects which are possibilities for stories. I like to interpret the excitement of the here and now in terms of a story. The word I like most as applied to myself is storyteller. It’s what I can do. If I can provide a few hours of relief, escapism if you like, from the pressures of the world, I’m happy.

Maclean’s: Are you trying to write bestsellers?

Hailey: No. If I tried I think I would fall flat on my face. What I do is pick a subject which interests me and do the best I can.

Maclean’s: Are you sure of yourself? Hailey: No. I have periods of great doubts. After Hotel I was very nervous about Airport. Writers never have it made, of course. You’re only as good as the next thing you do.

Maclean’s: Are there any embryo writers in your family?

Hailey: I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane is headed for journalism. Steven is much more interested in mechanics and engineering, and we’re actively encouraging that. Diane — we don’t know yet. Steven is outside the door at this moment. He has just pushed a piece of paper under the door. Steven, will you please wait until we’ve finished? [He retrieved the note.] “Can I cut some wood on the power saw?” Steven, how do you spell “some”?

Steven: S-o-m-e.

Hailey: That’s not what you’ve got here. You’ve got s-o-o-m.

Mrs. Hailey: That’s why he’s going to be an engineer. □