Today, Most people who are familiar with Thomas Tryon remember him as a figure who managed to make a sudden transference under the scrutiny of the public eye. Almost overnight, it seemed, Tryon changed careers in mid stream, and transformed himself from a well-known Hollywood actor into a successful best-selling author. Soon after his first novel The Other was published, Tryon revealed in an interview that his career change was partly out of conscious choice, and partly due to the fact that he had suffered some sort of nervous breakdown during the filming of The Cardinal, which was to be his last attempt to act. Tryon claimed that years of living the Hollywood highlife as an actor led him to abuse drugs and alcohol, and that somewhere along the line in his career, he simply "lost his actor's nerve." He said that he realized that he just did not have it within him to continue as an actor.
Luckily for Tryon, it seems that he had a lucrative and previously undiscovered talent: Writing. Soon after he got his first novel The Other published in 1971, it shot into the bestseller lists, and remained there for seven months. At the end of the year, it was listed as the ninth best-selling novel of 1971, rating seven notches below The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, another bestseller in the horror genre?a novel which is today known as one of the most famous supernatural thrillers ever written.
Whether through a stroke of marvelous good fortune, or because of a keen insight into the current demands of the reading public, Thomas Tryon managed to produce his first novel at just the right place and time. As stated previously, Tryon portrayed his transition from actor to writer in an open and candid manner, expressing freely that he had some very personal and dark demons to conquer. On the inside cover of the hardcover dust jacket of the novel, Tryon's unsmiling and brooding countenance suggests that writing the novel was a cathartic exercise in trying to free his own personal demons. Yet, when interviewed, Thomas Tryon appeared to be completely up front about his own self-promotion and reputation as an actor-cum-author. Apparently, the success of The Other as a bestseller was due in part to Tryon's own self-promotion. "At first I was against [promoting] it," Tyron once said. "After sixteen years of personal appearances to sell movies, I was fed up with that kind of selling. But once I got started, I was insatiable. I'll do anything to sell books." As a self-acknowledged reformed drug addict and alcoholic, Thomas Tryon was now billing himself as a newly reformed ex-actor who had shunned the life of a Hollywood playboy, and had now found a new and self-fulfilling direction in his life as a writer.
But there is more to the story of how The Other became a bestseller than meets the eye. Obviously, one cannot dispute Tryon's claim that he had essentially become burned out with his acting career, but when one digs a little deeper, one finds that Thomas Tryon had initially harbored an ambition to be a movie producer. He began to work on a story for a screenplay that he thought he could try to sell as an idea for a film that he wanted to produce. According to Noam Cohen, a writer for the New York Times who wrote a bibliographical obituary on Thomas Tyron in 1991 after he died from stomach cancer, the screenplay project crystallized into a novel, which became The Other .
Although Tryon later claimed that writing instilled within him a sense of accomplishment that was "infinitely more rewarding than acting," one cannot help but to wonder whether he had strategically gauged the current trends of the American public's growing interest in reading suspenseful and armchair-gripping stories of horror and the supernatural. In an uncanny coincidence, The Other was published on May 10, 1971? on the very same day that Newsweek magazine reviewed The Exorcist as a "superb" and "horrifying" novel. Curiously, both The Exorcist and The Other both dealt with the "chilling as well as compelling" theme of the corruption of children, according to a comparative review by Irma Heldman of both novels in the June 5, 1971 issue of the Saturday Review. According to both Heldman and Robert Phelps, who wrote a review of The Other for Life magazine on May 14, 1971, both Tryon and Blatty had tapped into an aspect of the American public's macabre interest in literature that deals with children and the supernatural. Phelps claims that this American "obsession" with twisted and strange children who are afflicted by the supernatural goes all the way back to Edgar Allen Poe's poem Annabelle Lee. Heldman agreed, suggesting that the macabre corruption of childhood is one of American literature's most "durable and fascinating themes."
One can conclude that Thomas Tryon's first novel The Other was a best-selling success in part because of his astute sense of what the American public found compelling and interesting at the time it was published. It is significant to note that The Other was made into a movie one year after its publication?once again mirroring The Exorcist. Unfortunately for Tryon, he did not produce the film, but he did write the screenplay. The fact that both novels were made into movies seems to substantiate both Phelps' and Heldman's sense that American popular culture was intent on delving into the macabre themes of stories involving haunted and possessed children. Perhaps Americans were feeling like vulnerable children themselves, especially during the political turmoil of the Vietnam War, where the youthful protests against the war merged in the American psyche with the fact that so many young and innocent lives of American soldiers were forever corrupted with the very real horror of war. Thomas Tryon's first novel successfully tapped into this growing American concern, and luckily for him, it seems to have been published at just the right time to meet these undercurrents of the concerns of the American public.
American Bestsellers Database at the University of Virginia: Online: search term "The
Exorcist." Online: "Http://www.engl.virginia.edu:8000/courses/bestsellers/forms/search.db.html"
Hackett, Alice Payne. 80 Years of Bestsellers, 1895-1975. New York: R.R. Bowker Co. 1976.
Heldmann, Irma Pascal. Review of The Other and The Exorcist. Saturday Review:
June 5, 1971.
Phelps, Robert. "Two Small Boys in a Ghostly Gem." Review, Life: May 14, 1971.
Online Database: Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe. Search "Newspapers" ,"Obituaries," "Tryon, Thomas," "1991."
Online Database: Galenet.com. search "contemporary authors," " Thomas Tryon."