An Anecdotal Memoir
Charles Templeton Home
Brad Templeton Home
Brad's Photo Pages
From my earliest childhood in Saskatchewan I have been enamoured of words. I was encouraged to read by a father who frowned at any vulgarism or slang expression. Nor was encouragement needed: the principal indoor entertainment was the contents of two large bookcases jammed with an eclectic selection, and other books elsewhere in the house. My first interest in fiction - beyond the usual Horatio Alger and G. A. Henty yarns - was fed by a series of classic novels in identical bindings, merchandised as Collier's Five Foot Shelf of Fiction and kept in a glass-faced bookcase in the entrance hallway. I began with inch one and read through the entire five feet. Even the advent of radio didn't dampen my interest in reading: as any parent knows, a child can simultaneously read, listen to music, join in the conversation, fondle the cat and keep in touch with everything else going on.
Except for brief periods, I have earned my living through the spoken or written word. That has been a constant in a life that has paused at many way-stations. Over the years I have been published in the Saturday Evening Post (in "Post Scripts"), the Readers Digest ("The Joy of Christmas") and elsewhere. In the late 1950s I sold television plays to the CBC and the British Broadcasting Corporation. During my years in the ministry, I wrote two books which were published by Harper and Brothers (now Harper and Row) in New York and Hodder and Stoughton in the United Kingdom. The first was a book of sermons, Life Looks Up, which sold more than thirty thousand copies in the United States. The second was the publication of the Stone Lectures, a critical analysis of contemporary evangelism, which I delivered at Richmond Theological Seminary in Virginia; it was published in 1957 under the title Evangelism For Tomorrow.
I wrote only one news story in my years at the Toronto Star. In 1960, I indulged my passion for boxing by assigning myself to cover the second Floyd Patterson - Ingemar Johanson heavy-weight title fight in New York.
It was our custom when my children were young to have discussions at the dinner table. I would introduce a subject by asking a question, and beginning with the youngest, each of the four children, Deborah, Michael, Bradley ant Tyrone, would be asked for an opinion. Each response was taken seriously, no matter how puerile. Minds were stretched, skills were acquired in verbalizing ideas and respect was engendered for the opinions of others.
In spring 1971, a zealous fundamentalist neighbor started an after-school Bible class in her home, and peer pressure was exerted on Bradley to attend. The children had never been sent to Sunday school and had only occasionally been taken to church, so their opinions about religion were ill-formed and tended to be disdainful. They were not yet born during my years in the ministry, and they were and are somewhat bemused by the fact that their father was once an evangelist.
Now the question came from Bradley, How can people say that Jesus was God? He was a man, wasn't he? He died, didn't he?
I didn't respond to the question but followed the pattern of eliciting the views of the others. Afterwards, thinking about the discussion, I rummaged about in a carton of dog-eared and dusty papers.
In 1948, I had spent the summer between my first and second years at Princeton living in a borrowed house in Long Beach, California, synthesizing the four gospels into one narrative. My object was to produce a book that would make it easy for a reader to learn the essential facts of Jesus' life. I thought it important to do this. I still do. As I wrote the preface:
Jesus Christ is undoubtedly the most influential figure in the history of western civilization. Willy-nilly, his life touches the life of every individual. Yet, most know little about him, and most of what they do know has been alters by myth and coloured by misconception. The man portrays in the four Gospels is unlike the common conception of him, To many, including most Christians, Jesus is a hopelessly idealistic demideity, not at all like real man. They forget that, according to the record, he was dirty after a journey and sweaty after effort; that he wept when he was saddened, felt fatigue at the end of the day, was sometimes impatient and argumentative and often angry. Anyone expecting to find in the New Testament, "the gentle Jesus, meek and mild," is in for a surprise. Gentle he was; meek and mild he was not. He said of himself: "I came not to bring peace but a sword, and as a consequence, his life was passionate with conflict and noisy with controversy. Meek and mild? - he was in every sense of the word, a revolutionary. . . .
I had been moved to undertake the project by the realization that, even when one is determined to read the New Testament, the obstacles are forbidding. In some versions the language is archaic. To get the story one must read all four gospels. There is much repetition and many confusing variations in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and usually, by the time the reader gets to John - which is different from the others in both style and content - the initial enthusiasm has flagged.
I thought the project worthwhile, not because I was a Christian (for I wasn't; I had become an agnostic) but because I believe that it is not possible for people to understand what their civilization is (and therefore who they are) without an understanding of their roots. Our laws, our morals, our mores are predicated largely on the Judeo-Christian tradition. The standards and attitudes of our society have been profoundly influenced by the person and the life of Jesus. Regardless of one's attitude toward religion, a knowledge of what Jesus of Nazareth said and did is enormously enriching.
So, twenty-three years after that summer in California, I decided to complete the project. Working from the synthesis, I rendered it in a modern-English paraphrase, in language familiar to the contemporary reader. I also adopted the comfortable form of a modern novel, using indented paragraphs, direct quotations and the other familiar devices. Meticulous care was taken to include every event and every word spoken. Nothing was deleted but the repetitions; nothing was added. To ensure that I had been faithful to the text, I asked four expert biblical scholars to review the paraphrase and to consult on the finished manuscript.
Earlier, I had presented the concept of the book to publisher Jack McClelland. It was my first contact with him. He was interested but said he would withhold judgment. With the finished manuscript in hand he decided to go ahead. Normally inventive in promotion, he seemed unsure about how to publicize Jesus, as the book was called, and finally decided, for want of a better idea, to launch it with press conference at the Park Plaza hotel in Toronto.
A room was hired and some forty chairs set out. McClelland and I arrived early and stood about fearing the worst. Indeed, only three reporters turned up, plus an apparently confused man who wandered in hopes of a free drink. Kildare Dobbs, reporting for the Telegram, wrote a witty report of the press conference, making sport of the Scribe (me) and the Pharisee (Jack).
To everyone's surprise but mine, the book moved swiftly onto the non-fiction bestseller list, settling in second position after that immortal work, Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution. Subsequently, it was distributed in paperback Canada by General Publishing. In the United States, Simon and Schuster purchased the hardcover rights, with the paperback edition going to Pocket Books. Angus and Robertson was the publisher in the British Commonwealth and Gottmer/Haarlem in the Netherlands.
In the spring of 1973, I was one of a small group of Mississaugans who formed a company and filed an application with the Canadian Radio, Television and Communications Commission for a cable license for our city. I was certain we would be granted the franchise and had allocated the project a year of my time following the date when the decision was due to be announced. A week early, I received a telephone call from a friend in Ottawa informing me off the record that our application has failed.
After dealing with the disappointment, I faced the fact that I had time on my hands. A memory stirred. I went to a filing cabinet and pulled out a manuscript. The Hostage was a thirty-two-page outline fore a screenplay and had to do with the kidnapping of the president of the United States. I had written it as an exercise three years earlier but had not submitted it anywhere. I read it. Picked up a telephone and called Berton.
"Pierre," I said, "I've written an outline for a screenplay. I'm sending it over by taxi. Take a look at it and let me know if you think that, purely as a thriller, the plot has possibilities.
He called back late that afternoon. "I've sent it off to my agent in New York, he said. "I like it. But look, the guy you should talk to is Art Hailey. He knows more about fiction than I do. Give him a call.
I had met Hailey some years earlier, and reached him at his home in Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. "Charles, he said, "the important thing isn't whether or not it's a good idea - that's only the beginning. The first question is, do you believe in it?'
"I think so.
"Then bet two years of your life on it. Sit down and write it as a novel. Forget the screenplay. Anyway, the money isn't in selling to a film company; it's in publishing a novel. And get back the outline Pierre sent to his agent. Don't let a copy of your plot get in anyone else's hands.
Before settling down to write, I had to solve two fundamental problems in the plot. I briefly considered having as the hostage a Canadian prime minister but rejected that possibility because there would be little suspense in it - it would be too easy to do. Kidnapping the Queen was dismissed as well. Obviously, the ideal subject for my purposes was the most carefully guarded individual in the world, the president of the United States. But what made him ideal created a problem: could I devise a credible plan? I puzzled over it for weeks and buried myself in research.
When the plot finally was drafted, I spoke to an old high school friend, Inspector Herbert Thurston of the Metropolitan Toronto police. Among other duties, he had served as Canada's representative on a number of international police organizations.
"Herb," I said, "I'm writing a novel. In it, the president of the United States is kidnapped by a group of South American radicals. I want to spell out to you how it's done and get your critical reaction.
"Don't waste your time," he said, smiling at me tolerantly. "It's not possible to kidnap the president. An assailant might manage to assassinate him - it's been done - but kidnap him? No way.
"Let me tell you the plan.
"Go ahead. But believe me, Chuck, you have no idea how complex the security system is.
I outlined the plot. There was an extended silence. "And you're going to put this in a book?"
"You realize what I'll have to do. I'll have to call some friends of mine in the Secret Services. Just to be certain they have defenses against the method you've outlined.
"I'd like that," I said, grinning. Wouldnt want to put anybody up to anything.
"What do you do after you kidnap him? It would be impossible to hide him. The entire country would be out looking - every cop, every kid and his dog, everyone.
"I realize that. That's why instead of hiding him in some remote spot, like the middle of the Mojave desert, I'm going to have him held hostage in the most public place in the world - in a booby-trapped Brinks armored truck in Times Square.
He laughed as he rose to go. "You're out of your mind, you know. But good luck.
I used the opportunity to learn how to write a novel. I aspired to no more than a carefully crafted thriller and found that difficult enough. Working mornings, seven days a week, The Hostage took eighteen months. When it was finished, it had become The Kidnapping of the President. I sent it with great trepidation to Jack McClelland. He came to see me in my tiny office over the bank. "It works very well, Charles. A few solecisms but nothing that can't be fixed. We'd like to publish it.
The writer who inflicts his book on the public must pay a triple penance: the night sweats of self-doubt, the ordeal of "the author tour" and the verdict of the critics.
I will say little of the self-doubt except to note that it can cause extended periods of depression, change a normally equable disposition into waspish irritability and lie like a malevolent cloud over the most sunny day. Reworking a manuscript, there will be times when you will exult in a turn phrase or the aptness of an alliteration. More often, your most cherished passages seem leaden and gauche, and you rue having begun the journey through this wilderness. But all writers are egotists - why else would we presume to address ourselves to our readers? - so you press on.
The promotion of a book begins, especially at McClelland and Stewart, with the not unwelcome embarrassment of the publication-day hoopla. There are few limits to the outrageous gimmickry, all designed to get a photograph or a mention in the press. The "launch" for Kidnapping was a relatively sedate one: bundles of books wrapped in gold paper were delivered to downtown Toronto bookstores by armed guards in a Brinks truck, while cameras clicked and bemused passersby frowned. So far as I know, no newspaper published the pictures.
I was now introduced to that incredible ritual known as "the author tour" - described more aptly in the trade as "flogging your book." Mostly an autumn phenomenon, with an eye toward Christmas sales, it is a form of cruelty that, if inflicted on animals, would lead to pickets before publishing houses and venomous letters to the editor. The system is based on the willingness - nay, the eagerness of authors to submit to any indignity if it will induce people to buy their books. That some authors are able to exploit the media (While being exploited by the media) and thus stimulate sales is undoubtedly true. It is equally true that others - especially novelists who maunder on with stultifying seriousness about the intricacy of their characterizations and the overtones of their allusions - sometimes destroy whatever hope of sales they may have had.
All authors complain about the rigors of touring but most insist on it, prepared - in that particular strain of masochism to which writers are subject - to endure jet lag, nervous debility, rampant indigestion, fatuous interviewers and near-terminal fatigue. And a pox on the publisher who, in the name of common humanity or budgetary constraints, tries to say them nay.
You go from city to city - or more accurately, from airport to airport - interrupting your cross-Canada flight to race madly into town and ricochet from one television or radio station to another. Lunches are ordered but left to congeal while you try to impress newspaper reporters. Your chauffeur is a publisher's rep (bless 'em all!), usually a woman, who gossips with you about the world of books, the while filling you in on the difficulties she has endured with some of the writers who have preceded you on the assembly line. Example: the "name author" who, in his hotel suite, went to the bedroom "to change" and appeared in the doorway naked. "I hope my being nude doesn't bother you. he said. "No, the rep replied. "I never let little things distract me. Example: the author of a "coffee-table book" who debarked from a plane carrying two enormous metal suitcases he had somehow managed to get aboard. Setting them down on the tarmac, he strode off to the passenger lounge, barking to the hundred-pound rep as he passed, Bring those. Later at the hotel, he summoned the manager and demanded to be moved immediately to the vice-regal suite.
You soon discover that many of the people who interview you haven't read your book. To gloss over this, they may question you on anything from the Crow rate to "What is Peter Newman really like?" Some are obsequious to the point of sycophancy. Others are arrogant and rude: having to take the time to interview you is obviously keeping them from Very Important Things. Others lead you into a dark, broom-closet studio to tape an interview, telling you that they'll do their best to "air it" some time in the next few weeks. But The Few are gifts from heaven: men and women who have read your book and ask tough and evocative questions about it. May their number increase.
You return from the junket ten pounds lighter (who says author tours are worthless?), your arms elongated to simian proportions from hauling your luggage through airports, addicted to Tums, worried about the bags on the bags under your eyes, lusting for a beach somewhere and certain you should call your publisher to alert him to what will surely be a run on your book.
But the full penance has not yet been paid. You must now stand before two terrifying tribunals: the judgment of the critics and the national bestseller list - the one having no necessary relationship to the other. Both are a form of literary criticism - the newspaper review being one reader's opinion, the best- seller list being the judgment of the hardcover-book-reading public.
There is an incestuous ness to the lists. Books appear because they are read and are read because they appear. Authors with books riding high are certain the list renders and accurate reading; those whose books are nowhere in sight assume the lists are rigged. (Booksellers, the allegation goes, report a run on over- stocked books, hoping to move them out.) There can be little doubt that bestseller lists help the sale of books that appear on them. The lists are a form of peer pressure. In the same way that being au courant leads many to carry an advertisement for the manufacturer on the pockets of their clothes, the list announces, "This is what the in-crowd is reading, dummy. Get with it!" But for all the cavilling, seeing the title of your book at the top of the list gives the coolest head a rush.
The publication date (pub date, you learn to call it) for Kidnapping was also my birthday - I seized on it as a good augury. Knowing that I would sleep little the night before the verdict in the Saturday book pages, I west at 9:30 p. m. Friday to the Globe's loading dock to get a first copy of the bulldog edition. In my car, with the map light on, I turned up the page - and immediately endured a kind of dying. The reviewer not only disliked the book, he used it as an object of fun, getting his disdainful jollies in large part by disregarding the facts. It is one thing to be criticized, it is another to be scorned. I drove home in despair. The following morning I addressed a letter to the editor of the Globe, listing the errors of fact in the review. The letter was printed under a heading running the full width of the op-ed page. It helped.
So did the arrival of the afternoon paper. Robert Fulford praised the book highly in the Star, and the Telegram was equally kind. The reviews from across the country were, with a few exceptions, laudatory. Within a month, Kidnapping went to the top of the bestseller list, hung in second place for a while and finally moved to first. It was a lovely Christmas.
In the meantime, I had travelled to New York City with three copies of the manuscript to see if I could interest an American publisher. I left one with Peter Schwed, then vice-president and now chairman of the board of Simon and Schuster (S and S had published my non-fiction book, Jesus). Another I left at Doubleday with Ken McCormick, a former Canadian and a man reputed to be a friend of Canadian authors. I took the third manuscript to literary agent John Cushman, to whom I had been referred by a friend in New York and by Jack McClelland.
Cushman fitted my romantic notion of what an agent should be like. He is a tall man, gregarious, balding, Brooks Brothers dressed. He has a Harvard accent and took me for a drink and lunch at the Harvard Club. His offices were in mid-town Manhattan in a not too prepossessing building. His private office was floor-to-ceiling books, with manuscripts and galley proofs heaped on the floor. The telephone interrupted every few minutes. I explained my mission and asked him if he would represent me.
"I don't know," he said. "I haven't read your book. I will read it, however. But so you won't be on tenterhooks, you should know now that I won't be able to get to it for perhaps six weeks".
I explained that I had left copies with two publishers.
He laughed. "No problem. It'll be more than six weeks before you hear from them.
That was a Thursday. The following Sunday evening I received a telephone call from Peter Schwed. "Charles", he said, "you've ruined my weekend. I had to finish your book. Wed like to publish it. Do you have an agent?"
"I don't know," I said. "I may have.
"Tell him to get in touch with me.
I told Cushman what had happened and asked him would he represent me. "I can't say, Charles'" he responded. "I haven't yet read the book. But I will, and I'll call you Tuesday morning." On Tuesday he called to say he'd be pleased to handle me. "Not so much for this book, which I like very much, but for the books you will write.
We sold the paperback rights to Avon, the United Kingdom hardcover and paperback rights to Quartet Books. The Detective Book Club made it their March selection. We also sold Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese rights and newspaper syndication rights in the United Kingdom. Later, I sold the film rights to a Canadian company and wrote a screenplay.
Interestingly, some three months later, I heard from Doubleday. They expressed a wish to publish the book but wanted me to do some revisions and asked if I would be willing to work with a collaborator. "Irwin Shaw, Arthur Hailey and other eminently successful authors have done so with their first book," they said. I thanked them but informed them, a bit smugly, than Kidnapping would be published that spring by Simon and Schuster.
I was anxious to promote Kidnapping in the United States and reminded Simon and Schuster's promotion department that I was an experienced television performer. They resisted, arguing that they had a policy not to send novelists on tour - it was "counter- productive. When I was unable to budge them, I decided to take things into my own hands and called David Susskind.
I knew David through Joyce Davidson, whom he had married, and with whom I had worked on the CBC television shows Close-up and Tabloid. He invited me to New York to appear on his syndicated show. At the end of an hour of far-ranging conversation, he turned to the camera.
"You who watch this program regularly," he said, "know that, of the hundreds of guests who have appeared here, I have said to only four of them, 'Come back any time you can.' Those four are Gore Vidal, Anthony Burgess, John Kenneth Galbraith and Henry Sloane Coffin Jr. (the former Yale chaplain) and I want to add a fifth to that list, my guest tonight. He turned to me. Charles, you are now a member of a very select club. Come back any time you can.
The following morning, Susskind telephoned the producer of NBC's The Today Show, then undoubtedly the most influential of the morning network news programs. Within days an invitation came to appear on the show. The publisher flew me to New York, sent a limousine to meet me at the airport, reserved a suite at the Waldorf Astoria and arranged my transportation to the NBC studios at 6:30 the following morning. I was, of course, filled with apprehension; what I didn't know was that Jim Hartz, co-host on the program with Jane Pauley, would be as ill at ease as I.
In my final year in the ministry, I had delivered a series of lectures at Louisville Theological Seminary. Hartz's father was, as I recall it, a preacher in the Southern Methodist church. He had heard me preach in Nashville some years earlier, and, upon learning that I was to be at Louisville, his alma mater, arranged to spend the week there during my visit. To put it simply, Hartz' father was a fan of mine, and for years Hartz had heard about me from his father, whom he greatly admired. Consequently, when I was ushered onto the set during a commercial break, I found myself sitting opposite a man who was as intimidated by me as I was by him.
He asked me only a question or two about Kidnapping, and then, as if I were an oracle said, Mr. Templeton, I'm going to ask something unusual of you. As you know, we are a country in something approaching a state of shock. We have just emerged from the Watergate affair, during which we learned that our government, at the highest levels, was corrupt. Our president has just resigned before he could be impeached. We are a nation shamed and confused. For months we've been examining ourselves, questioning our system, wondering what's happening. Now, Mr. Templeton, I'm going to ask you to do something for us this morning: you're a journalist and a novelist, and for years you were in the ministry: tell us how we look from the outside.
It was an unsettling request, a challenge that demanded some presumptuousness on my part. But in the circumstances there seemed no way out. We talked for about ten minutes. Afterwards, when I met with the Simon and Schuster representative, she reminded me we hadn't once mentioned the title of the book.
After Pierre Berton and I completed Dialogue one morning and were chatting, I said, "Pierre, you've written - how many is it? - twenty-five books. All non-fiction. Why have you never tried your hand at a novel?"
"I have," he said?
"What happened to it?"
"I showed it to jack McClelland. He told me to put it in a drawer, lock the drawer and lose the key. But, you know, my mother wanted to be a novelist. She had this marvelous idea: it was the story of a young Jesuit priest. He's sitting on the deck of a cruise-ship on the Mediterranean and falls into conversation with an archaeologist. The archaeologist confides that he has discovered the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, thus making the doctrine of the resurrection suspect. The Jesuit decides that he's got to kill the archaeologist before the word gets out.
The idea wouldn't leave me. For days it intruded on my thoughts. As the possibilities fermented in my imagination, I grew increasingly excited and finally could hardly sleep. One morning I said to Berton, "I've decided to write your mother's novel. Later, I would dedicate the book:
To Laura Beatrice Berton
who unwittingly sowed the seed
As I worked out the plot, the young Jesuit became the Cardinal Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, the archaeologist became his oldest friend, a classmate from college, the bones are discovered near Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the Pope is dying and there is a major political crisis at the Vatican. The story ends in tragedy: for the Cardinal, the archaeologist and all concerned. I gave it the title Act of God.
I began my research at St. Patrick's Cathedral and at the Palace of the Archbishops at 50th Street and Madison. On the telephone, Monsignor Eugene Clark of the chancery office agreed to help and suggested that we meet for drinks at the Pierre. I found him an erudite and cultivated man who had, to my good fortune, served for years as secretary to Cardinal Cushman, living during that time in the archbishops' palace. We talked for an hour or two about high churchmen and their ways and about the floor plan and furnishings of the Archbishops' residence.
Later, I flew to Israel where I spent ten exhausting days doing research. Still later, there was a week in Rome. There again I chanced to contact the right man - Paul Tremblay, then the Canadian ambassador to the Holy See. I explained that I needed to be able to describe Vatican headquarters and especially the interior of the papal apartment but had found these areas off limits. He had his car brought around and said, Come with me.
With the Canadian flag fluttering on the front fender, our driver swept us down the Via della Conciliazione, turned right at St. Peter's Square and followed the wall of Vatican City to the entry gate. The Swiss Guard saluted the diplomatic licence plate and the car moved without slowing through the massive romanesque archway, plunging immediately into what seemed to be the gloomy, overarched street of mediaeval city. A moment later we broke into sunlight, where there were more salutes, passed through another archway and suddenly came upon the Court of St. Damasus. We alighted and took an elevator to the fourth floor. A few steps along the loggia, and Tremblay pointed at an unimpressive door flanked by two guards.
"The papal apartment," he said softly. "I'll show you colour photographs of the interior when we get back to the embassy.
We walked the halls, coming upon a more imposing entrance where there was much coming and going. "The office of the Secretary of State," he said. "Next to the Holy Father, the most important man in the Vatican.
At the end of a deserted hallway, we came upon a set of stairs "What's down there?" I asked.
"I have no idea, Let's find out.
We went down a broad, dark stairway to the floor below and entered a great, high-ceilinged room. It was deserted and our footsteps echoed hollowly on the tessellated marble floor. The walls and ceilings were rococco in style and covered with priceless tapestries, paintings and elaborate carving. Enormous crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. But there was no furniture, no sign of habitation. We pressed on to other great rooms, all of them empty, all of them abandoned.
"We'd better go back," Tremblay whispered. I don't think we're supposed to be down here.
Back in Toronto at my typewriter, I peopled the empty rooms and went with easy familiarity within the papal apartment to the bedside of dying pope.
I had help from many sources, but none so useful or so freely given as that provided by Monsignor Clark of the chancery office in New York. In the months when I was writing the book, he forwarded suggestion about research and even sent photocopies of articles and pages from Catholic and encyclopedia he thought might be helpful. His kindness troubled me, for although I had said nothing to suggest it, it was clear that he had the impression I was writing about St. Patrick's Cathedral or about the responsibilities of the cardinal of the archdiocese.
When the penultimate draft was finished, I sent him a copy with a note asking for an appointment. There was no reply. I was certain that, realizing I had been writing about the cardinal of the archdiocese being tempted to murder, he was not amused. When six weeks passed without word, I called the chancery office, informing Monsignor Clark's secretary that I would be in New York the following week and would be very much like to see him. She relayed word that he would meet me at his office.
I went to the appointment suffering of mixture of guilt and trepidation. I needed his counsel but was sure he would be angry. He greeted me cordially and drew me into his office.
"Mr. Templeton," he said, "we've had a long discussion here about your book. You've done your homework. And it's obvious that you're not bent on attacking the Church. He paused and smiled shyly at me. "As for the cardinal being involved in murder, that doesn't trouble us - no good Catholic will be believe it for one minute. Now," he continued, "we think it's an important book and we've decided to help you make it as accurate as you can. There are some points of catholic theology where you go astray and some errors, if I may call them that, having to do with a cardinal's responsibilities his attire and that kind of thing. I can be useful there.
We talked for the better part of an hour. As I left we shook hands and he smiled at me. "It'll make a great movie," he said. I'll look forward to it.
Over the next six weeks I received in the mail pages from my manuscript with the notes and comments in the margins in a precise, minuscule hand. Months later, when I returned to New York on a tour to promote the book, I called him to ask if I might mention in press interviews his active cooperation. He laughed and said, Of course. Tell it as it is, Charles. ''
Sixteen months and three rewrites later, the manuscript went off to Jack McClelland. A photocopy went to John Cushman. Within days a letter came from McClelland, predicting that the book would be sold around the world in millions of copies. Cushman telephoned to say that, rather than offer it to a single publisher he planned to auction the rights.
However, Simon an Schuster had a right of first refusal. Cushman was reluctant to permit them the six weeks specified and pressed Peter Schwed for a response. In the interval Jack McClelland had - a touch deviously, it may be said - forwarded a copy of the manuscript to Mark Jaffe, then editor-in-chief at Bantam Books. Jaffe read the manuscript overnight and called McClelland to say he wanted to buy it.
The morning Schwed was to respond, Cushman telephoned and told me to stay within range of my telephone. "Could be an interesting day," he said.
He called again just before noon. "Charles," he said, "Peter Schwed at Simon and Schuster is prepared to pay $150,000 for the U. S. rights. Jack McClelland just called to say that he's had an offer of $175,000 from Mark Jafee. I told him I wasn't in a position to respond to Jafee until Simon and Schuster has made a final bid. Now Charles," he said, "What do you want to do?"
I wanted to ring bells and jump over the wall. I said, "John I don't know you're the professional; what do you think?"
"Well," he said. " I think we should turn down Simon and Schuster and see what happens. It's there first offer.
He was back on the line an hour later on " Peter Schwed says he'll go to $175,000. I told him I didn't think you'd accept.
"But Bantam has already offered that much. May be they'll go higher. Have you talked to Jaffe?"
"Charles , you'll have to understand; I can't talk to Jaffe at this point.
I drew bag deep breath. "Tell Simon and Schuster no. '
An hour passed. "Charles, Peter says he doesnt want to be put in the position of making one offer after another. He said, 'Ask Charles what he wants. We've published two of his books and we think of him as one of our authors. Let's not play games; what does he want?' "
I was feeling some guilt about Peter. We had always talked to each other straightforwardly; now there was a marriage-broker. "I've never played this game before, I told Cushman. "Tell me what I should ask for.
"A quarter of a million dollars, he replied without hesitation. It was obvious John was enjoying himself.
I swallowed hard. "Yup, I said. "That's what I want.
Schwed responded by saying, "I'm afraid that's bit too rich for our blood. Bantam agreed to $200,000 with the right to offer the hardcover rights in an auction. (Bantam was at the time solely a paperback house.) Little, Brown, Harper and Brothers, Harcourt Brace and Doubleday all submitted bids, with Little, Brown winning. When all was concluded, the advanced, including the Canadian rights, totaled $300,000.
A reasonably good hardcover sale for a Canadian novel is three thousand copies. Jack McClelland believed so strongly in Act of God that he decided, in an unprecedented action, to give away thirty-six hundred copies of a pre-publication edition, his purpose being to create word-of-month publicity. From every quarter, the reaction to the book was enthusiastic. Little, Brown was convinced it had a bestseller. Michael Joseph, one of England's major publishers, purchased the hardcover rights for the United Kingdom, Corgi the paperback. Mondadori was the publisher in Italy, De Kern Bussum in the Netherlands, Circulo Delectors in Spain, Editorial Sudamerica in Argentina and Radha Krishna in India.
On the cover of the pre-publication give-away edition, McClelland wrote a personalized letter and offered a prize - a copy of every book published that year by M & S - to whoever guessed most accurately how many copies of Act of God would be sold in Canada that year. McClelland made his own broader prediction: "Ten million copies throughout the world in the next five years. As a means of creating attention it was ingenious promotion; to Canadian newspaper critics it was a flea in the ear.
The sniping began immediately. It was charged flatly that the figures were false. One journalist commented that, having read the advance copy, he was at a loss to understand what the fuss was about; the book was a total bore. Columnist Dennis Braithwaite, having found an imperfect grammatical construction in the opening paragraph of the uncorrected page proofs, dismissed the book and refused to read on. A blurb on the front page of the Toronto Star groused that "Templeton is being paid one million dollars [sic] for a book that isn't even well written.
The Calgary Herald devoted a half page to such vitriol as "McClelland and Stewart and Templeton have pulled off a con-job. The book is an insult to its readers. . . . Act of God is a sham masquerading as a novel. The reviewer in the Vancouver Province wrote that reading the book left him" with the feeling that time had been wasted on a silly exercise. The Catholic Register concluded that "the author has foisted a callous deception upon his readers. An editorial cartoonist in the Maritimes drew a picture of me kneeling at the foot of the cross, a leer on my face and a sword in my hand on which were inscribed the words, "Act of God. Above, on a cross, was the figure of the dying Christ. From a wound in his side, dollar signs were falling into my upraised hand.
As the reviews came in from across the country it became clear that we had kindled a rage and that it had been stimulated in large part by the amount of money the book had earned. I was attacked, McClelland was attacked, the book was attacked. Maclean's carries a feature story by Barbara Amiel, deliberately distorted and riddled with factual errors. Elsewhere I was called "charlatan," "a profiteering religious defector," "a talent less scribbler," "a literary butterfly.
I was baffled by the virulence of the attack - and hurt. The reports from outside Canada had been favorable almost without exception. Why was I perceived differently by critics and reviewers in my own country? Moreover, the book was going into repeated printings, had moved immediately to the top of the bestseller list and was on its way to becoming one of the best-selling hardcover novels in Canadian history. At autographing session, the lines reached beyond the stores into the mall or the street. One man reported receiving six copies as Christmas gifts.
I struggled against feelings of rancour and resentment.
From the United States the news was upbeat. There was no doubt among Little, Brown's senior people that they had a bestseller on their hands; the early reviews in the "trades" were raves. Publisher's Weekly called it "a smashing suspense story, and one that does not pander to the grosser tastes of our time. Advance orders from booksellers were pouring in. A first printing of seventeen thousand was bumped to twenty-five thousand, and on the eve off publication to thirty-five thousand - high for a novel, even by American standards.
Page proofs had been sent to, among others, a most extraordinary lady, Celia Summer, the manager of the Scribner's Book Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. She is a diminutive woman with the quick precise energy of bird and is something of a phenomenon among booksellers.
On publication day in the U. S I was taken to meet her. She had two massive tables heaped with books at the entrance to the store. On one table was The World According to Garp, and on other, Act of God. She greeted me as I entered the store by exclaiming, "There are two novels this season, Grap and Act of God.
A month before publication in the United States, Roger Donald, Little, Brown's senior editor, took me to dinner at a magnificent restaurant in midtown Manhattan. At dinner (uncharacteristically, according to his wife) he proposed a bet: "That Act of God will be on the New York Times bestseller list within three weeks of publication. Heady stuff. I went to my hotel room that night, shivering with excitement.
An author tour of the United States had been planned jointly by Bantam and Little, Brown. Before it was approved, Mark Jaffe decided, in effect, to examine the merchandise. In Toronto, he took me to dinner at the Westbury hotel. With us were Bantam's chief publicist, Esther Margolis, another Bantam official and Anna Porter, then head of Bantam-Seal.
It was an occasion. Jaffe was host and played the role in the grand manner. Learning that I particularly like white wine, he summoned the somellier and engaged him in an extended conversation. The result was a superb wine, chilling in a bucket beside my chair. The chef was called to the table and given detailed instructions. The food was extraordinary, the conversation was spirited and the wine flowed.
The desserts removed, Jaffe lighted a cigar, clinked his glass for attention and addressed himself to me. "Now Charles," he said, I want you to tell us about yourself. Please do go on; that's why we're here.
I began awkwardly, saying that I felt like an actor taking a cue, and then, mostly responding to questions, filled them in on my background and talked about the book. Some time later, Jaffer turned to his publicist and said, What do you think?" Without dropping their voices, they discussed me as though I wasn't there: my appearance, my ability to talk, my understanding of the media. . . The judgment: approved.
When the session finished, Porter and I walked out together. I said, "I feel like Miss North Dakota of 1977. She laughed and said, Maybe that's not all bad.
A sudden discordant note intruded. In Roger Donald's office I was shown Proofs of the proposed newspaper display ads. I flinched. "Roger," I said, "you're going to kill the book.
One of the proofs was of the quarter-page that would run on the New York Times Thursday book page on publication day. It would be a full page in the Sunday Times literary supplement the following weekend and in other newspapers across the country. It included a photograph of the wooden box in which the purported bones of Jesus had been placed after being excavated at Qumran. Above it, in bold type, was the headline:
IN THIS BOX IS A SECRET THAT COULD DESTROY YOUR FAITH!
DARE YOU OPENIT?
I was shaken. "Don't you see what you're doing in this ad? It's as though you'd asked the best brains at your advertising agency to come up with a headline that will, in one stroke, alienate all your potential readers!"
"I don't follow, he said.
"The first line reads: 'In this box is a secret that could destroy your faith!' Obviously then, the book is intended for people who have faith. People who don't have faith are immediately turned off. There go your secular readers. But worse than that - read the headline again. In this box is a secret that could destroy your faith! Dare you open it?' The answer to that question by anyone who has faith is an immediate no. People are struggling to hold onto their faith. The last thing in the world they want to read is something that will destroy it. So now you've alienated your religious readers. As a deterrent to sales, it's a masterpiece.
"I have to agree, " he said. "I don't like it either. I've said so. But it was written by our editorial chief. It's his baby and he thinks it's great.
"And look at the second ad," I said. It included my photograph, bearded as I was at the time, smiling and looking from the corners of my eyes with something not far from a leer. The headline read:
THIS MAN IS GOING TO DESTROY
THE LAST TABOO ON NATIONAL TV!
"What's that supposed to suggest?" I asked. "I get a mental picture of that dirty old man in the photograph opening his fly on the Johnny Carson show. And Roger, what in God's name does it have to do with the book?"
He promised to see what could be done about it but held out little hope. On the plane to Toronto I felt ill.
Two weeks later, I was back in Manhattan for an appearance on the Today show. Again, things went less than ideally.
I was scheduled for the 8:00-8:30 segment. As I waited to go on, I had observed intermittent spasms of frenetic activity, sudden runnings about and brief, ill-tempered conferences. Something was amiss. Suddenly, as I was gathering myself to go before the cameras, the door burst open and three black men were herded, in, their topcoats being stripped from their backs even as they entered. A woman pressed an unwanted cup of coffee into my hands. "Some bubble-head," she explained, "overlooked the fact that it's the tenth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. There's going to be a change in plans. I would be moved to the 8:30-9:00 segment - did I mind? As she spoke, the three blacks were rushed by me out the door, straightening ties and patting hair as they went. A moment later I saw them on the monitor talking to Tom Brokow about the dead hero.
I was scheduled to be interviewed by co-host Jane Pauley. It was the morning following the Academy Awards, and she had stayed up to watch the telecast, instead of doing her homework. As I was ushered onto the set during the commercial, she was flipping frantically through some notes and scanning the inside flap on the jacket of the book, too occupied to say hello. Suspended above our heads against the backdrop was an enormous blow-up of the wooden box in which the bones had been transported.
On cue, Pauley took the only way open to her and began the interview by saying, Well now, Mr. . . . .uh, Templeton, why don't you set the stage for us by telling us briefly the plot of your book . . . uh, Act of God?"
I did, but she seemed not to be listening, occupied as she was with surreptitious glances at her notes. We soon left the book. "I understand you're atheist, she said.
I explained that, no, I wasn't an atheist but an agnostic, a very different thing. I really didn't want to get into it; we had only seven minutes and I wanted to promote the book. I'd come five hundred miles to do that.
"But you don't believe in God, she said, her face mirroring distaste.
"Nor do I disbelieve," I said. "I just don't know.
"But you were a preacher.
"Yes I was.
"Well then, let me ask you this: are you happy? How can you be?"
She was doing her twenty-four-karat-earnest bit, looking deeply into my eyes. I looked back into hers for a moment, irritated, tempted to say, "You silly girl - what in God's name has believing in God got to do with being happy?" I restrained myself and said the same thing in a more judicious way. She persisted nonetheless.
Quickly, the seven minutes were gone and, again on the Today show, I hadn't talked about my book. As I emerged from removing my make-up, a man, presumably the producer, was talking animatedly to Pauley. "And you never even referred to the blow-up of the goddamn box, for Chrissake!"
I toured most of the eastern United States, surprised at the number of fundamentalist Christians who interviewed me on all the news media. I was well treated, driven from place to place in chauffeured limousines and quartered in the best hotels. Then, on to the United Kingdom - London to Manchester, York, Leeds, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin. By North American standards, their radio and television studios are antiquated and fusty, and some of the feigned upper-class accents get close to precious, but everything was accomplished in that oddly fumbling British way that is somehow marvelously efficient. My enjoyment was enhanced by the fact that the public-relations people at Michael Joseph quartered me in London at the Savoy hotel and that I was greeted by a quarter-page article in the Times.
In Canada I was interviewed mostly about myself. In the United States I was queried mostly about being an agnostic. In the United Kingdom I was questioned on the book. As I recall it, not one interviewer in the UK raised the fact that I had left the ministry other than as a bit of biographical background - which may have been a lapse on their part but was welcomed by me. The reviews across the British Isles were excellent, with exceptions of course. I remember one especially that sounded almost plaintive. It ended, "Why, after all that Mother Church has endured in recent years, must she now suffer this; one of her princes painted as a murderer? One wishes that Mr. Templeton, with his vivid imagination and his evident familiarity with matters ecclesiastical, had put his pen to better use.
The Third Temptation followed. Of all my novels it was the least successful. I was dealing with subject matter close to me and thrashed about in the material for eighteen months, taking a dozen wrong directions. Three days after completing the final draft, I came apart, collapsing one morning on the living-room floor. There followed time in bed under sedation, and it was not until the end of the summer that I was entirely myself again.
Reviewers praised the book, but the public was not enthused. It made the bestseller list but only just and only for a week or two.
Undoubtedly, some of my motivations were wrong. Resentful after the hostile reception given to Act of God by Canadian reviewers, I was determined to demonstrate how well I could write. The book was crafted, not merely to tell a story and in the doing to cast light on human experience, but to enable me to say, "So there!" What a pointless and futile exercise when there are not half a dozen legitimate critics in all of Canada.
I had set out to produce the definitive novel about a mass evangelist, a subject about which I have some knowledge. It needed to be written but hadn't been. Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, the best of many books on the subject, presents a man who is an evangelist, but for all Lewis' extraordinarily detailed research and despite his undoubted skills, Elmer Gantry is essentially about a scoundrel who happens to be an evangelist. He could as easily have been a politician or a salesman. The small and the feel of the fundamentalist faith Lewis describes is convincing only to the uninitiated.
There was only moderate interest in The Third Temptation by American publishers. William Morrow paid me an advance after Harvey Ginsberg, a senior editor, insisted that it could be "an important book," but only if it underwent major revisions. Ginsberg had been Saul Bellow's editor, and the opportunity to work with him intrigued me. I spent a day with him at Morrow's New York offices. He is a wise editor and an enormously stimulating man, and I returned to Toronto keen to press forward. But I had cooled to the book and, after a number of false starts, decided to postpone the reworking until another day, returning the advance I'd been paid.
Movie of The Kidnapping of the President
When it was widely publicized that the motion picture version of The Kidnapping of the President had been sold to NBC-TV for $2.4 million, there were congratulations from all sides and an occasional jealous gibe from friends. When I told them that not a penny of the revenue would accrue to me but would go to the producer, there was open incredulity. It was none the less true.
I was merely debunking one of the myths about the rewards to an author when his book is made into a motion picture. There are payments, of course, but usually the amounts involved are not large. More often than not - unless the film is a major production - they do not amount to a third of the royalties received from the book. Moreover, as the author soon learns, the sale to a motion-picture company does not necessarily mean that a film will be made. Or that, having been made, it will ever be released. Indeed, the likelihood is that it will not.
The late 1970s was a boom time in Canada for the sale of novels to the movies. Stimulated by the largesse available from the Canadian Film Development Corporation, many eager and often amateur film-makers bought options on "properties," all envisioning themselves as incipient Norman Jewisons or Claude Jutras.
The CFDC had been up by the Liberal government to encourage the creation of a Canadian film industry through the provision of funds. Usually, the money was provided only after certain conditions were met. A Canadian film - maker was permitted to use certain American "stars of varying magnitude (thus presumably helping the box office), but to ensure that home-grown talent was employed, points were credited for the use of Canadian producers, directors, actors, chief cameramen, art directors and so on. Despite the benefits that flowed from the system, it tended to encourage mediocrity and hypocrisy: the mediocre, whose films lacked the professionalism needed to attract a distributor; the hypocritical, who disguised their Canadian locations with such shoddy devices as the faking of street signs and settings to suggest exotic locales.
In the sale of a book to a film company the author sells not the rights but "an option to buy the film rights. If, when the option expires, the film is not underway, the purchaser must pay a specified sum to renew the option; otherwise the author gets his or her rights back and keeps the money. (An author may thus sell an option a number of times.) If, however, the film is going forward, two further payments are made: one on "the first day of principal shooting" and another on "the final day of principal shooting. Usually, that's the end of it.
Sometimes, the author negotiates a further agreement: to receive a small percentage of the "producer's net" - the surplus left when all the bills have been paid. The likelihood of receiving money from this source is, however, roughly equivalent to winning a lottery. Nine in ten Canadian films don't recover there "nut," as it is called, and many of those that do seem never to show a profit. In Hollywood, profits are commonly siphoned off to relatives or friends of the producer who, with a surplus in sight, adds them to the payroll. It has been said there is more creative thinking done in this area than in the making of most films.
Kidnapping had not yet been published when I received an offer from John Vidette of Dermet Productinos Ltd., a Canadian company. I found myself immersed in the frenetic optimism and intermittent despair that seems to be the habitat of most independent film-makers. Vidette informed me that he had "connections" with many of the "big movers in the business," was known to "top people in the majors" and had access to "important money. It was all very exhilarating to a neophyte.
But somehow the deals never got signed, the hot prospects cooled, the money didn't materialize. Vidette seemed immobilized by an odd inertia that kept him from following up on lively opportunities in Hollywood and caused him to hold at arm's length offers of help. The year passed with nothing concrete happening and on the due date the option was renewed.
The second year was almost spent when there was sudden hope. A bona fide Hollywood producer with an impressive track record, Marty Rackin of Martin Rackin Productions, a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, read the book and was enthusiastic about its potential. He tried to negotiate and arrangement with Vidette but got only vague responses. Frustrated, he flew to Toronto to seek my intervention. I pressed the matter with Vidette. He had nothing tangible in prospect, but, with a strange obduracy, was unwilling to join forces with Rackin. It seemed that he saw Kidnapping as a chance to make a name for himself in the film business and was unwilling to share what he regarded as his prize. Rackin finally went off to other projects.
Over the next three years there were a number of approaches, none of which came to fruition. Finally, a young Toronto man, George Mendeluk, came to see me, wanting to purchase an option to Act of God. When I told him it had been sold, he took a one-year option on Kidnapping.
I was certain he would never produce the picture and viewed the transaction only as found money. I was agreeably surprised when he came up with a screenplay, found financial backing in Calgary and proceeded to cast the film. The lead players were all American with the exception of William Shatner - Hal Holbrook, Van Johnson and Ava Gardner. The locale of the kidnapping was changed from Times Square in New York to Nathan Philips Square in Toronto, and the shooting was done in three locations, in Mexico, Los Angeles and Toronto. Equally important, a deal was struck with an international distributor guaranteeing expo- sure around the world. I was impressed.
Unfortunately, I didn't like the picture. The performances by Johnson and the aging Ava Gardener verged on the pathetic. The dialogue was unreal. The opening scenes pandered to the desire for violence now common in films and were positively grisly.
The film opened in New York City to mixed reviews and then came to Toronto. I was invited to a private screening but couldnt muster the courage to go. I feigned another engagement and sent Anna Porter in my place. Anna had been a great help to me in the preparation of my books, and I had confidence in her judgment. Moreover, she had a stake in the film as president of Bantam-Seal. She had published a special paperback edition of Kidnapping to coincide with the release of the movie in Canada; she reported the following morning, a note of surprise in her voice, "Charles, it's not bad. Really. About six on scale of one to ten".
I saw it at an advance screening and squirming in my seat at some of the scenes. A reception was held at Toronto City Hall prior to a premiere at the Sheraton Centre theatre, but I couldn't bear to watch it and slipped from the theatre with Madeleine to go to dinner. Nor have I watched any of the four performances on television.
For all that, I will confess to a sense of excitement at standing on Broadway in New York City looking up at the marquee advertising the film and at receiving reviews languages from around the world.
I sold options to Act of God five times. It has yet to be made into a film.
The first offer was from Jalor Productions, an independent American company headed by the legendary Fred Coe. In the early years of American television Coe was the producer of Playhouse 90, and he had gone on to produce films and Broadway plays.
Four of us gathered for lunch at the Harvard Club: Cushman, Fred Coe, Paul Jacobson, Coe's "money man", and I. It was a festive meal. As we talked about casting and about the problems of translating the story to film, my excitement mounted. Coe showed a sensitivity and an inventive imagination that guaranteed the movie would not be misbegotten. Champagne was ordered and toasts were made all around.
Within the month there was word from a dismayed Cushman. "They've backed out. Someone has convinced them that there will be a negative reaction from the Catholic church and it will hurt the box office. They're afraid that, after the theater run, the networks won't pick it up. And these days, everybody counts on the television money. We can sue," he said, "we've got a signed deal letter, but I Don't think we want to do that. . . .
While we were negotiating with Coe, there had been persistent interest by a Canadian producer, Stephen Young, an actor who appeared to be in an association with Garth Drabinsky, the Toronto lawyer who was quickly becoming a successful theatre and film entrepreneur. Cushman began negotiations with Drabinsky and soon concluded a deal. A few weeks later I received a call from Cushman. "I've had a long wire from Drabinsky," he said, outrage in his voice. "He wants out.
John, "I said. I Can't believe this. Every detail has been agreed to. Whats the problem?"
"He's asking us to indemnify him against any lawsuit that might eventuate.
It is standard practice for an author to protect a publisher or a film-maker against a lawsuit charging libel or an invasion of privacy, inasmuch as the publisher can't possibly know if the writer has modeled his or her characters on people who might recognize themselves, take umbrage and sue.
But he wants more than the usual indemnification, John said. "He wants us to indemnify him against any lawsuit of any kind from any group who mightn't like the book.
"You mean, if some little holy-roller sect in the hills of Ken tacky takes offence, or if a publicity-seeking television evangelist institutes a nuisance suit, I'd be responsible for the entire cost of the production or for any costs growing out of delays?"
"That's the thrust of it," Cushman said. In all my years in the business I've never heard of such a thing. Nor have our people out on the coast. They think it's a device, for whatever their reasons, to back out.
I won't detail here the weird variety of my experiences in the wacky world of film-making. I know many men and women in that world and some of them are extraordinarily talented. But it has been my observation that the proportion of oddballs is greater there than in any profession I know of. It is a bizarre business, yes; it is also a genuine art form, and unlike any other.
Even as "a camel is horse designed by a committee," a motion picture is the end product of the efforts of hundreds of people. That a director can fuse a coherent (and occasionally magnificent) entity from so many different parts, and that an actor can create and maintain a fully integrated person despite hundreds of brief "takes," is little short of astonishing. To know at first hand something of the incredibly complex process by which a book is translated into a motion picture is to learn respect for the film-maker. That there are dozens of pretenders to every artist - men and women who have learned the rudiments but are incapable of transcending them - only increases your admiration for the gifted individual who can comprehend human emotions and, great ideas and despite the difficulties, transfer them to film.