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Philip Wylie
 
WYLIE, PHILIP
(1902–1971). American writer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Wrote: The Island of Lost Souls (with Waldemar Young) (Erle C. KENTON 1932); Murders in the Zoo (with Seton I. Miller and Milton Herbert Gropper, uncredited) (Edward Sutherland 1933); The Invisible Man (uncredited, with John Sherriff and Preston Sturges, uncredited) (James WHALE 1933); King of the Jungle (with Fred Niblo, Jr. and Max Marcin) (Bruce Humberstone and Marcin 1933); The Smiling Ghost (story, uncredited, with Stuart Palmer; script Kenneth Gamet and Palmer) (Lewis Seiler 1941); "LA 2019," episode of The Name of the Game (1971).

Films based on his work: The Gladiator (Edward Sedgwick 1937); Night Unto Night (Don SIEGEL 1949); When Worlds Collide (Rudolph Mate 1951).

 
Despite a long and productive career, Philip Wylie never seems to get the respect and attention that he deserves—not even in this encyclopedia, since the original version of his entry included a few conspicuous errors. I didn't even get his nationality right. Still, while such sloppiness is inexcusable, the fact that a usually reliable expert on science fiction literature and film would perpetrate such errors communicates one important piece of information: in the course of studying science fiction, or of studying film, the name of Philip Wylie doesn't come up very much.

Why? In the original version of the entry, I speculated, admittedly without evidence, that Wylie was not a particularly sociable person. One might have speculated with equal justice that he was an extremely restless person or a person who was never comfortable with following the rules. In any event, it remains the case that Wylie succeeded in, and then abandoned, three separate writing careers. He worked as a Hollywood screenwriter; he wrote a number of well-regarded science fiction novels, and he wrote some books for a mainstream audience. But he never established himself as a leading figure in any of these fields, explaining why he is not well remembered—he was a talented visitor to several worlds, an inhabitant of none of them. Perhaps he never made enough connections, perhaps he kept getting bored, or perhaps he couldn't adjust to conventional demands. If nothing else, he could certainly be an iconoclast, as evidenced by his nonfiction best-seller Generation of Vipers (1942), which, in an era of complacent American suburban domesticity, mounted a sustained and vehement attack on Motherhood.

So, why should we remember Wylie? His greatest success in the genre was undoubtedly Island of Lost Souls, his adaptation of H. G. WELLS's The Island of Doctor Moreau. At the time, Wells justifiably regarded that film as a horribly distorted version of his complex allegory, but time has vindicated Wylie's judgment that the novel would work best on film as a straightforward horror story; for two later versions, from Don Taylor (1977) and John FRANKENHEIMER (1996), attempted to wrestle with some of the darker aspects of Wells's vision and fell flat on their faces.

Along with a few other forgotten films, Wylie also contributed to the script of James WHALE's The Invisible Man, perhaps adding some of the film's touches of ironic humor. By the 1950s, Wylie had shifted exclusively to writing books, but right before his death in 1971, he was somehow lured back to write one more science fiction script for, of all things, the routine mystery series The Name of the Game. "LA 2019," which Wylie also novelized, was a remarkable drama, offering a nightmarish vision of a future Los Angeles that surely influenced Ridley SCOTT's Blade Runner and demonstrates yet again that Steven SPIELBERG's best directorial efforts all came well before Jaws. Among its many distinctive touches, I still recall after thirty years a scene in which Gene BARRY visits a night club and listens to a rock'n'roll band of senior citizens, a shocking and provocative sight in its time, though today it can only be regarded as an accurate prediction of what is now all too common.

Wylie might be better esteemed today if Hollywood had done a better job of adapting his science fiction novels. His pioneering tale of a superhuman being, Gladiator (1930), was bastardized as a hapless Joe E. Brown comedy. And, while the apocalyptic When Worlds Collide (1932), co-written with Edwin Balmer, was originally going to be adapted by famed director Cecil B. DeMille, the project ultimately ended up in the hands of the much less capable Rudolph Mate, whose 1951 film was uneven and disappointing. Now the property is in the hands of schlockmeister Stephen SOMMERS, whose announced new version will surely not be much of an improvement. Yet again, Philip Wylie seems destined to get no respect.

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