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Arthur Hailey, British Author Of 'Hotel' and 'Airport,' Dies

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2004; Page B04

Arthur Hailey, a British-born mass-market novelist who developed a successful formula with such bestsellers as "Hotel," "Airport," "Wheels" and "The Moneychangers," died in his sleep Nov. 24 at his home in Lyford Cay on New Providence in the Bahamas. His wife, Sheila, told the Associated Press that doctors thought he died of a stroke. He was 84.

Mr. Hailey's suspense books might have been abused by the critics -- not to mention by the sun, sand and surf of the beaches where they were often read -- but no one questioned their popularity. He wrote 11 books, which were published in 40 countries and 38 languages, with about 170 million copies in print.

Arthur Hailey's writing was popular on bestseller lists and at the box office. (Tim Aylen -- AP)

"Airport" (1968) epitomizes the Hailey formula. Mel Bakersfield, an ordinary man who manages the fictional Lincoln International Airport outside Chicago, endures the longest night of his life when a mad bomber boards a nonstop flight to Rome. At the same time, Bakersfield is coping with a debilitating snowstorm, a plane blocking his airport's main runway, an air traffic controller who is suffering from suicidal depression, and a wife and mistress who are quite unhappy.

Predictably, Bakersfield summons strength he didn't know he possessed, and all is resolved satisfactorily.

"Airport" was on the New York Times bestseller list for 65 weeks. The film adaptation, with Burt Lancaster as Bakersfield and Dean Martin as a womanizing pilot, was a box-office smash in 1970, spawning a series of Hollywood disaster hits.

Mr. Hailey's next book, "Wheels" (1971), a novel about the auto industry, made its author $1 million in advance of publication. "Wheels" also became a movie, as did "Strong Medicine" (1975). "The Moneychangers" became a popular TV miniseries starring Kirk Douglas and Joan Collins.

Mr. Hailey was born in Luton, England, to working-class parents. He studied typing and shorthand at an evening school and became a voracious reader at an early age. Told he didn't have enough education to work for his hometown newspaper, he got a job in a real estate office and later worked as an organizer for the Junior Conservative Party.

During and after World War II, he flew with the Royal Air Force, reaching the rank of first lieutenant. In his spare time during the war, he wrote poems, plays and short stories, some of which were published.

In 1947, he immigrated to Canada, where he briefly sold real estate before joining the staff of a Toronto-based transportation trade magazine. In 1953, he became manager of sales promotion and advertising for Canadian Trailmobile Ltd., a manufacturer of tractor-trailers.

In 1955, he wrote a screenplay, "Flight to Danger," despite never having seen a TV script. He sold it to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which presented it as a live performance to great acclaim. Suddenly in demand as a TV writer, he quit his Trailmobile job and began writing screenplays, though he established an advertising agency in case his new career didn't work out.

For the next three years, during the golden age of live TV, he wrote screenplays for various networks. He turned one script into his first novel, "The Final Diagnosis" (1959), which was adapted for the screen as "The Young Doctors" in 1961.

His other novels include "In High Places" (1962), "Overload" (1979) and "The Evening News" (1990). His last, "Detective" (1997), was vintage Hailey. Packed with detail and full of suspense -- albeit predictable suspense -- it tells the story of a Miami cop whose career has run aground because of personal indiscretions, who sets out after a serial killer. Reviewers greeted the book like the return of an old, familiar friend.

In failing health in recent years, Mr. Hailey essentially had retired, though he still wrote as a hobby.

Mr. Hailey's first marriage, to Joan Fishwick, ended in divorce in 1950.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Sheila Marjorie Dunlop of the Bahamas; three children from his first marriage; and three children from his second marriage.

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