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|Born||5 April 1920
Luton, Bedfordshire, England
|Died||24 November 2004
New Providence, The Bahamas
|Notable work(s)||Runway Zero-Eight (1958)
Arthur Hailey (5 April 1920 – 24 November 2004) was a British/Canadian novelist, whose works have sold more than 170 million copies in 40 languages. Most of the novels are set within one major industry, such as hotels, banks or airlines, and explore the particular human conflicts sparked-off by that environment. They are notable for their plain style, extreme realism, based on months of detailed research, and a sympathetic down-to-earth hero with whom the reader can easily identify.
Hailey's last novel, Detective (1997), is a mystery told from the perspective of a Miami homicide detective, a former Catholic priest who has lost his religion. Hailey told the Walden Book Report that his aim in writing this book was to share his own thoughts about religion without "mak[ing] it a lecture." He says that he lost his own faith while serving in Cyprus during World War II, and that since ex-priests have many occupations he might as well give his protagonist an exciting one.
Hailey died in his Bahamian home, at the age of 84.
After working at a number of jobs and writing part-time, he became a writer full-time during 1956, encouraged by the success of the CBC television drama, Flight into Danger (in print as Runway Zero Eight). Following the success of Hotel during 1965, he moved to California; in 1969, he moved to the Bahamas to avoid Canadian and US income taxes, which were claiming a substantial portion of his earnings.
Each of his novels has a different industrial or commercial setting and includes, in addition to dramatic human conflict, carefully researched information about the way that particular environment and system functions and how these affect society and its inhabitants.
Critics often dismissed Hailey's success as the result of a formulaic "potboiler" style, in which he caused an ordinary character to become involved in a crisis, then increased the suspense by switching among multiple related plot lines. However, he was so popular with readers that his books were almost guaranteed to become best-sellers.
He would spend about one year researching a subject, followed by six months reviewing his notes and, finally, about 18 months writing the book. That aggressive research—tracking rebel guerrillas in the Peruvian jungle at age 67 for The Evening News (1990), or reading 27 books on the hotel industry for Hotel—gave his novels a realism that appealed to readers, even as some critics complained that he used it to disguise a lack of literary talent.
Four of his books reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list (Airport, Overload, The Moneychangers and Wheels), with Airport alone spending thirty weeks in the top spot, and more than 170 million copies have been sold worldwide in 40 languages. Many have been made into movies and Hotel was made into a long-running television series. Airport became a successful film with dramatic visual effects.
A Canadian citizen whose children live in Canada and California, Hailey made his home in Lyford Cay, an exclusive residential resort on New Providence Island in the Bahamas with his second wife Sheila (who wrote I Married a Best-Seller published in 1978). Hailey's grandchildren include Paul Hailey, Emma Hailey, Charlotte Hailey, and Brooke Hailey, who are students in Northern California, Angela Hailey, Ryan Hailey, and Christopher Hailey.
In 2002, Hailey told John Marquis, editor of the Bahamas' principal daily newspaper The Tribune, that he was lucky in having supportive parents who encouraged him to believe in himself. Brought up in a working-class home, Hailey never lost the common touch following his phenomenal success. 'I have worked hard, but I have also been very lucky,' he said.
He had begun his writing life as a journalist on a transport magazine, but got his break as a fiction writer when, during a flight, he began to ponder what would happen if both pilots fell sick from food poisoning. The storyline led to his first big success.
Hailey said he detached himself from his plots and characters once a book had been sold to Hollywood. Having tried script-writing at one stage in his career, he saw movie-making as a completely different discipline from novel writing and decided to stick with what he knew.
For much of his career, Hailey was either derided or ignored by literary critics, who often felt his plots were contrived and his characters wooden. However, readers loved his work, and two years before his death in 2004 many of his major books were reissued.
When Hailey died in his sleep at his waterfront home in November 2004, his family staged a celebration of his life at the exclusive Lyford Cay Club in Nassau, Bahamas. News of his death was published in more than 300 major newspapers worldwide.
His wife Sheila told John Marquis that her husband's only ambition as a writer was "to see his name on the spine of a book—nothing more." In the event, his name appeared on the spines of nearly 200 million books, accumulating a fortune that enabled him to live in luxury alongside the likes of Sean Connery, billionaire Joe Lewis and Canadian fashion tycoon Peter Nygard.
His last published work was a slim history of Lyford Cay, which was established as a private estate for wealthy residents by the developer E.P. Taylor. It was intended for limited distribution among Lyford Cay residents and anyone interested in Bahamian history.
- Runway Zero-Eight (1958) – in-flight medical emergency, caused by food poisoning. This story started as the CBC TV movie Flight into Danger, then became the 1957 Paramount Pictures movie Zero Hour!, and was finally published as the novel Runway Zero-Eight (ISBN 0-440-17546-1). The spoof comedy, Airplane!, is based on the story.
- The Final Diagnosis (1959) – hospital politics as seen from the pathology department
- In High Places (1960) – Cold War Era politics in North America
- Hotel (1965) – hotels
- Airport (1968) – airport politics
- Wheels (1971) – automobile industry
- The Moneychangers (1975) – banks
- Overload (1979) – power crisis in California
- Strong Medicine (1984) – pharmaceutical industry
- The Evening News (1990) – newscasters
- Detective (1997) – investigation politics
- "I'd been on patrol, and I went to church that evening. It was an Anglican church, quite high church (I always liked the ceremony) and I was standing up, reciting the Apostles' Creed (which to this day I could recite word for word) and suddenly I realized I didn't believe a word of it, and probably never had. And I never went back to church after that, except for the occasional funeral." — Arthur Hailey, in Walden Book Report, July 1998
- Stevie Cameron, Blue Trust: The Author, The Lawyer, His Wife, And Her Money, 1998
- John Bear, The #1 New York Times Best Seller: intriguing facts about the 484 books that have been #1 New York Times bestsellers since the first list, 50 years ago, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1992. p. 101
- Arthur Hailey's entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia
- An article that includes the relation of Flight into Danger, Zero Hour!, and Runway Zero Eight
- Obituary at The Daily Telegraph
- Article in The Tribune, Nassau, Bahamas, by editor John Marquis (November 2004)
- Article on the Arthur Hailey Papers held at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto