Philip Wylie

(1902 - 1971)

Philip Gordon Wylie, a popular American writer of the 1930s-1950s, wrote hundreds of short stories, articles, serials, syndicated newspaper columns, works of social criticism, screenplays, philosophical treatises on man and society, poems, and novels. Several of these novels were science fiction.

Wylie was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, the son of Presbyterian minister Edmund Melville Wylie and the former Edna Edwards, a novelist who died when he was five years old. He attended Princeton University during 1920-1923, and his papers currently reside there in the Princeton Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. After college Wylie worked in Hollywood, was an editor at Farrar & Rinehart, served on the Dade County Florida Defense Council, and was a director of the Lerner Marine Laboratory. At one time he was also special adviser to the chairman of the Joint Committee for Atomic Energy. Among his score of published novels were a baker's dozen of science fiction/fantasy books, two of them written in collaboration with his friend Edwin Balmer. He and Balmer also collaborated on some mundane books in the 1930s.

Wylie's SF/fantasy novels consisted of Gladiator (1930), The Murderer Invisible (1931), The Savage Gentleman (1932), When Worlds Collide (1933) [written with Balmer], After Worlds Collide (1934) [also with Balmer], Night Unto Night (1944), The Smuggled Atom Bomb (1948), The Disappearance (1951), Tomorrow (1954), The Answer (1956), Triumph (1963), Los Angeles: A.D. 2017 (1971), and The End of the Dream (1972).

Gladiator was a classic superman story, and is generally accepted as being one of the inspirations for Siegel & Shuster's comic book character: Superman. Universal Studios bought the film rights to The Murderer Invisible, after they had bought the rights to H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man. Universal's film, released in 1933, owed as much to Wylie's book as it did to the 1897 classic by Wells. The Savage Gentleman tells of a physical and mental giant who is referred to as a Tarzan. Some popular culture authorities say this book inspired the creation of the pulp character Doc Savage. When Worlds Collide was made into an award-winning film in 1951 by George Pal. Popular culture experts feels this book was the inspiration for Flash Gordon. After Worlds Collide was originally published as a serial in Blue Book, as was When Worlds Collide. Balmer outlined the plot for a third novel in this series, but Wylie didn't like the science proposed and refused to write it. Apparently, Balmer supplied the plots for the books in the series and Wylie wrote them. Night Unto Night has two genre stories embedded in the book and was made into a movie in 1949 starring Ronald Reagan and Viveca Lindfors. The Smuggled Atom Bomb was originally a serial in The Saturday Evening Post and tells of a Russian attempt to blow up New York. The Disappearance tells of a "cosmic blink" that splits humanity along gender lines into two divergent timelines. The book was optioned by Warner Brothers, but never produced. Tomorrow, about an attack on the United States, was made into a radio play (narrated by Orson Welles) broadcast October 17, 1956; and it was also made into a 1983 TV movie, "The Day After." The Answer tells of the killing of an angel and was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post. Triumph tells of the destruction of the United States and Russia in a world war. Los Angeles: A.D. 2017 was a novelization of a TV play that appeared on "The Name of the Game" on NBC-TV (the debut of Steven Spielberg as a director). The End of the Dream tells of the death of the Earth by pollution. John Brunner's own warning about the effects of pollution, The Sheep Look Up, was published the same year, and he provided an introduction to this posthumous warning of Wylie's.

Some of Wylie's more memorable (and often reprinted) short stories were "Blunder" (Wylie's statement of the necessity for open communication in science), "Jungle Journey" (an expedition discovers a message that aliens plan to return that very year to judge humanity), and "The Paradise Crater" (a post-World War II attempt by a band of die-hard Nazis to conquer the world).

Wylie began writing movie screenplays in 1933 with Murders in the Zoo. His other screenplays included King of the Jungle (1933) [starring Buster Crabbe], The Island of Lost Souls (1933) [starring Charles Laughton], The Gladiator (1938) [made as a comedy starring Joe E. Brown], Night Unto Night (1949), and When Worlds Collide (1952).

Wylie's lifelong goal seems to have been to entertain the widest possible audience, and, while doing so, educate them about the dangers of their own foolishness.

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