Best-selling author Arthur Hailey admits, "I am a very nosey person, always have been. I'm curious about everything." (http://www.s-t.com/daily/12-01/12-02-01/e05li133.htm) Arthur Hailey is an author who has come to fame because of his ability to ask questions about "ostensibly dry subjects" like hotel management, airport workings, and bank procedures. (http://www.s-t.com/daily/12-01/12-02-01/e05li133.htm) Using his research into each of these arenas, as well as others, Hailey has produced a string of different books. Sam Vaughan, one of Arthur Hailey's editors at Doubleday and Random House, once noted that: "He [Hailey] likes to write about things or places that touch almost everybody. Arthur likes explaining things, how things work." (http://www.s-t.com/daily/12-01/12-02-01/e05li133.htm)
In these intricate explanations of how things work, Hailey found himself producing a succession of popular best-sellers. Between these novels, there are many common characteristics that contribute to their success: attention to fine details, relatable characters, reader appeal, relationship to popular culture, evidence of the "follow-on" phenomenon, translatability into other forms of media, etc. The success of Hailey's best-selling novel, Airport, draws upon four of these main distinctions: relatable characters, the "follow-on" effect, attention to minute details, and its ability to easily be adapted into other forms of media.
Arthur Hailey's first novel, Runway Zero Eight, was published in 1958. His second novel, Final Diagnosis, was published in 1959. This thriller focused on a hospital pathologist who erroneously causes the death of an infant. (http://www.s-t.com/daily/12-01/12-02-01/e05li133.htm) High Places (1960) and Hotel (1965) preceded Airport's 1968 best-selling success. Six additional successful novels then followed Airport: Wheels (1971), The Moneychangers (1975), Overload (1979), Strong Medicine (1984), The Evening News (1990), and Detective (1997). Thus, it is very evident that Airport was neither the first nor the last that readers would hear of best-selling author Arthur Hailey. Because of this, Airport's sales were much more successful. Essentially, Airport was a "Follow-On" bestseller, as some of its sales were no doubt due to the success of Hailey's earlier novels.
When dealing with writing based on any sort of mechanical subject, it is obviously imperative that the author makes the technical details and scenarios as accurate ad believable as possible. Arthur Hailey's books are famous for providing "information about the way a [that] particular environment functions, and how it affects both society and the people in it. " (http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Hailey) Hailey does an excellent job of this in Airport; he describes the daily airport functions to such a degree of detail that there is virtually no question as to their technical authenticity. For instance, when describing the "flat face scope" in the radar room, Hailey describes it as
a horizontal glass circle, the size of a bicycle
tire, set into a tabletop console. Its surface
was dark green, with brilliant points of light
showing all the aircraft in the air within a
forty-mile radius. As the aircraft moved, so
did the points of light. Beside each light point
was a small plastic marker, identifying it.
The markers were known colloquially as
? shrimp boats' and the controllers moved them
by hand as aircraft progresses and their
positions on the screen changed. As more
aircraft appeared, they were identified by voice
radio and similarly tagged.
With his attention to details such as this, it is hard to discredit Hailey's knowledge of airport technology. Similarly, this confidence in Hailey's scientific accuracy helped to make his books best-sellers; consumers are much more likely to buy and enjoy a book that seems to be both intelligent and credible. Additionally, when a reader puts Airport down for the last time, they can be assured that they will feel as though they have learned something about the airline industry. In fact, it is noted that Hailey often spends nearly a year researching and gathering information prior to writing each of his novels. (Bevilacqua 261)
Part of what makes Airport, along with Hailey's other novels, such successful best-sellers is the presence of real-life characters to who are both very believable and relatable to their readers. Additionally, it seems like the characters presented represent all walks of American life, thus almost every reader can relate to someone in Airport.
The most "real" character in Airport is Mel Bakersfield, the airport general manager who works his way into almost everyone of the book's subplots. Airport follows Mel through the trials and tribulations of a crisis-filled evening in "a winter to be discussed at meteorologists' conventions for years to come." (Hailey 5) Mel Bakersfield's emotions, thoughts, and actions are portrayed in such a way that readers cannot help but feel some sort of emotion for him and his situation, whether it be sympathy for his stressful situation, disapproval of his adulterous desires, or bewilderment for his ironically unfortunate turn of events.
The main focus of Mel Bakersfield's adulterous desires is the beautiful, professional, and charming Trans America employee, Tanya Livingston. Mel and Tanya's amorous intentions are evident from the start of them novel, when it is pointed out that the couple has had a handful of "dates" outside of the airport and that "if their meetings away from the airport continued, there could be a natural and obvious progression" of their extramarital relationship. (Hailey 31) Their association unfolds and presents itself more and more as the novel progresses. There is a very human side to it, as affairs are something that most readers know exist and many even participate in. Thus, their liaison catches the attention of the readers, who can often relate or sympathize, or who are just intrigued to follow it until the last pages of Airport.
Another Airport character that draws readers in is Trans American Captain Vernon Demerest. A rather contemptible character from the start, Demerest is one who definitely holds the reader's interest, as he is involved in the action of Airport from the first pages to the last. Vernon Demerest is not only Mel Bakersfield's brother-in-law, but he also plays the role of the conceited, adulterous, selfish pilot. Airport chronicles his affair with the beautiful British flight attendant Gwen Meighen. Demerest admits that he has no regrets about cheating on his wife Sarah with Gwen, and that his wife obviously was aware of his cheating tendencies: "He [Demerest] was also sure that Sarah suspected his philandering, if not in fact, then at least my instinct. But, characteristically, she would prefer not to know, and arrangement in which Vernon Demerest was happy to cooperate." (Hailey 60) Throughout Airport, Demerest is not shy about his sexual affections for Gwen, remarking frequently on their much anticipated "layover" in Italy, a liaison which his was very much looking forward to:
The word ?layover' has long ago been adopted
officially by airlines and was used deadpan?
Demerest and Gwen Meighen were planning a personal
definition now. On arrival in Rome, they would leave
immediately for Naples for a forty-eight hour
?layover' together. It was a halcyon, idyllic
prospect, and Vernon Demerest smiled appreciatively
at the thought of it.
Readers cannot help but be drawn in to follow along with the couple's affair.
Another of Vernon Demerest's relationship hooks readers, also. This is his relation with Mel Bakersfield, his brother-in-law. It is instantly evident that the two do not get along, and that Demerest delights in highlighting Mel's errors and shortcomings: "Another thing which pleased him [Demerest] this evening was the Airlines Snow Committee report in which he had delivered a verbal kick in the crotch, aimed at his stuffed-shirt brother-in-law, Mel Bakersfield." (Hailey 61) Throughout the course of the novel, Demerest never fails to focus his energy on causing "maximum embarrassment and irritation" to Mel. (Hailey 61) In this relationship, the distasteful side of human beings is shown. Readers latch on to this dysfunctional relationship. As it is much easier to feel sympathy for Baskersfield than for Demerest, readers follow the quarrels and vindictive conflicts throughout the entirety of the novel, hoping to see Mel end up on top and Demerest get some kind of retribution for his spiteful behavior. This conflict makes the novel appealing not only to the general reader, but also to those who can sympathize with similar in-law battles or malicious behavior at the workplace.
Hailed as "one of the original ?disaster' movies," Airport was released in theaters in 1970. (http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?PID=1143268&frm=sh_google) The cast was filled with stars ranging from Burt Lancaster and Van Heflin to Helen Hayes, Dean Martin, and Maureen Stapleton. The star power of this movie definitely helped it gain popularity and great acclaim. In fact, Airport the movie was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best (Adapted) Screenplay. Helen Hayes won the 1970 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. (http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?PID=1143268&frm=sh_google) Not only did this film spawn the "sequels" Airport 1975, Airport '77 and The Concorde - Airport '79, but it was also the inspiration for a plethora of other disaster epics based on the same catastrophic premise. ((http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?PID=1143268&frm=sh_google)
The great success of Airport in 1970 no doubt fueled further sales of this best-selling novel. The mere fact that the book itself translated so well into a film says much for its success as a best-seller. Books that follow this pattern historically are very successful best ?sellers (ie: Jaws, The Godfather, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Angela's Ashes, etc.)
It has been asserted that Arthur Hailey's novels "have won popular acclaim because they elucidate clearly and simply some of the complex machinery of contemporary society and satisfy in melodramatic fashion the average reader's desire for a well-packaged and entertaining story." (Bevilacqua 261) This reason, combined with its translatability into film, its humanistic characters, and its follow-on trend with Hailey's other novels all contribute to Airport's success as an American best-seller. AIrport demonstrates an excellent melange of qualities that make prove to make an extremely popular book.