The Movie that Inspired Another Movie Based on Two Novels, one of which Inspired Another Novel that Inspired the Movie that Redefined the Thriller Genre
by Z.J. Czupor
Before we follow this curvilinear thread of which movie or novel begat which other series of films and other novels, and the authors who started it all, it’s important to note that this knotted chain of literary ideas begins with a popular disaster movie—based upon a novel, of course—followed by a real major high-rise construction project, which would inspire the beginning of the rest of this thread.
Start Here: The Poseidon Adventure – 1969
The Poseidon Adventure (Coward-McCann, 1969) by Paul Gallico (1897-1976).
When an undersea earthquake in the North Atlantic causes a massive wave to capsize the S.S. Poseidon, a luxurious ocean liner, five hundred passengers struggle to escape, but not all will. Gallico’s novel was adapted to film in 1972 and became one of several marketable disaster movies during the early-to-mid 1970s. Its popularity resulted in earnings of $125 million in sales worldwide making it the highest grossing picture of 1973. It also garnered two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and many others. In 1979, Warner Bros. released a sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, also based on another Gallico novel.
Gallico’s original novel, however, ends differently from the film leaving readers with a sinking feeling when the ship goes down. While in the original film, the plot ends on a happier note with the ship still afloat. After its enormous success producers asked Gallico to write a sequel, one that more closely followed the movie and not his book. He started writing Beyond the Poseidon Adventure but died in 1976 before finishing. When Dell published Gallico’s sequel in 1978, the ship, again, sank in the end. The film version, on the other hand, featured the ship exploding. Sadly, the second film flopped at the box office.
The World Trade Center – 1973
Four years later, the construction of the original World Trade Center captured the imagination of another author. The WTC opened on April 4, 1973, as a complex of seven buildings in New York’s financial district. The two most noted structures were the 110-story “Twin Towers.” At the time, they stood as the world’s tallest at 1,368 feet (North Tower) and 1,362 feet (South Tower).
The World Trade Center became an icon of New York City where 50,000 people worked and another 200,000 visited daily. Over time, 472 films would showcase the twin skyscrapers on the big and small screen.
The Tower – 1973
News of the World Trade Center construction project inspired author Richard Martin Stern (1915-2001) to write The Tower (David McKay, 1973), about a fictional 125-story project— “The World Tower Building”—taller than the Twin Towers and located several blocks north. The novel’s climax features a fiery inferno caused by a bomb which leaves people trapped.
The Glass Inferno – 1974
A year later, a similar plot emerged in The Glass Inferno (Doubleday,1974), co-authored by Thomas N. Scortia (1926-1986) and Frank M. Robinson (1926-2014). This narrative features a 66-story skyscraper in an unnamed American city. Nicknamed the “Glass House,” architects violated building codes to save on construction costs. When a fire breaks out on the 17th floor, trapped residents wait for a massive rescue attempt.
The Towering Inferno – 1974
After the financial success of The Poseidon Adventure, producers and entertainment media tagged disaster movies as “hot properties.” To cash in on the wave, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to The Tower for $390,000 prior to the book’s publication. Warner Bros. won the bidding war over 20th Century Fox and Columbia. Eight weeks later, 20th Century Fox executives read The Glass Inferno, a similar story with a similar conclusion, and bought the film rights for $400,000.
When news of the purchases made waves in Hollywood, the two studios pooled their resources to avoid producing competing products and created the film The Towering Inferno. It was adapted from the two previously mentioned novels. The narrative climaxes when a fire breaks out on the 65th floor of the 138-story structure in San Francisco.
This new disaster movie, featured an all-star cast starring Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. The film earned the highest gross of 1974 at $203 million worldwide, earned eight Academy Award nominations, and won three.
Nothing Lasts Forever – 1979
In 1975, author Roderick Thorp (1936-1999) took a break from writing to catch a movie. He chose The Towering Inferno. That night, after he fell asleep, he dreamt about a man chased through a skyscraper by heavily armed men. When he awoke, he turned his dream into a novel, Nothing Lasts Forever (W.W. Norton & Company, 1979), which he planned as a sequel to his previous novel, The Detective (Dial Press, 1966).
Nothing Lasts Forever became a best-selling thriller about brooding detective Joe Leland who, on Christmas Eve, visits Los Angeles where his daughter works in a 40-story office headquarters. But a German group of terrorists commandeer the building along with seventy-four hostages with plans to extract $6 million from a safe and scatter the millions across L.A. The terrorists’ motive is to expose the corporation’s illegal dealings with Chile’s military junta. Leland slips away inside the skyscraper armed only with his Browning pistol and communicates outside with LA Police sergeant Al Powell.
The Los Angeles Times called Nothing Lasts Forever “a ferocious, bloody, raging book so single-mindedly brilliant in concept and execution it should be read at a single sitting” (July 15, 2013).
If Thorp’s plot sounds familiar, you’re right. His novel was adapted into the iconic thriller film Die Hard (1988). While it retains many elements of Thorp’s novel, it doesn’t follow the source very closely. The book is more cruel, gruesome, and cynical and ends on a down note with Leland’s daughter dying. Die Hard launched Bruce Willis’ career, raked in a worldwide gross of $140.8 million, and redefined the action/thriller genre.
This film, unlike the others, spawned four more successful Die Hard films in the franchise, all of which were adapted from different works including a novel, 58 Minutes (Graymalkin Media, 1987) by Walter Wager (1924-2004), along with an original and an adapted screenplay, and an article, “Farewell to Arms” by British journalist and author John Carlin about cyberwarfare (Wired magazine, 1997). Combined, the five films have grossed $1.4 billion worldwide.
In 2013, Graymalkin Media brought Nothing Lasts Forever back into print as a trade paperback and ebook.
Meanwhile, Thorp’s previous novel, The Detective, also featured his protagonist Joe Leland, who is embroiled in a police corruption case. The 1968 film version was gritty and realistic for its time and starred Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). Critics deemed it one of Sinatra’s strongest box-office hits of his acting career. In fact, Sinatra liked the script well enough to secure an option to play Leland in future films. But the seventy-three-year-old Sinatra turned down the role for Die Hard thinking he was too old for the action sequences. Other actors who turned down the starring role in the original Die Hard include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Ricard Gere, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson.
Roderick Mayne Thorp, Jr.
Thorp was a writer of a dozen hard-boiled mysteries and thrillers. Literary critics called him “a master of suspense and characterization.” In college, he won prizes for his short story writing. He taught literature at a small college in New Jersey and published a twenty-one-part series on cocaine traffic in Los Angeles titled “On the Cocaine Trail,” for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, a major daily newspaper which published from 1962 to 1989.
Long before he found success as an author, Thorp worked for his father’s New York City detective agency and when his father retired Thorp ran the business. He also sold cars, insurance, worked in a haberdashery and founded a catering company.
His first novel, Into the Forest (McFadden, 1961) is a dark literary work which sold poorly. The storyline follows a war veteran who returns to college and through the people he meets learns how to kill his ambition without taking his life. But after his second novel, The Detective, became a best-seller and earned him $500,000 for paperback rights, and film rights from Hollywood, he became a full-time writer.
The neo-noir The Detective catapulted Thorp’s career as it sat on the best-seller lists for weeks and sold millions of copies worldwide. Don Campbell, a Los Angeles Times reviewer, said, “his near-classic study of the dark side of human nature, ‘The Detective’…laid the ground rules for how it should be done.”
Unfortunately, his sequel, Nothing Lasts Forever, wasn’t that successful, until two years later when a British publisher picked it up, and then only as a paperback. His last bestseller, River (Fawcett, 1995), is a fictional look at the unsolved Green River serial slayings of the 1980s in Seattle where over fifty young women were gruesomely murdered.
As a writer, Thorp outlined ideas on index cards and spread them out to flesh out his work in progress. He also wrote longhand with a No. 2 pencil on loose-leaf paper. After he developed arthritis, he switched to writing on computers.
An unassuming man, Thorp was a gourmet cook, chain-smoked plain-wrap cigarettes, prowled thrift shops for bargains, bet on horses at Hollywood Park, and drove nondescript cars. He once said money wouldn’t change his no-frills habits. “I value friendship, loyalty, truthfulness, honor—you know, the intrinsic that seems to have gone by the board…I don’t care whether the neighbors know I’ve made it or not.”
In his later years, Thorp returned to teaching, over the internet, helping beginning writers with their manuscripts.
In his obituary, the British newspaper, The Independent. said, “Thorp, however, was always enormously grateful that his books seemed to excite the attentions of movie producers, who thereupon wished only to shower him with contracts and money. Throughout his career he tried to give back something of that which he had gained, founding a successful creative writing programme at the School of American Studies of Ramapo College in New Jersey, and later starting and subsequently directing the influential Palm Springs Writers’ Conference” (May 21, 1999).
Thorp’s two novels The Detective and Nothing Lasts Forever would define two separate generations. The former featured big-city cynical cops with his detective protagonist, Joe Leland, who teetered on the edge of burnout. In the latter, Leland is an aging security consultant, who ends up trapped in a high rise where terrorists hold his daughter hostage.
Thorp’s novel brings us full circle to a plot which followed earlier and similar plots involving catastrophes in high-rise offices in a thread of intertwined books and films that began with a disaster movie and the construction of the World Trade Center, which sadly starred in its own real-life disaster that shook the world on September 11, 2001.
Roderick Thorp was married and had two sons. He died in Oxnard, California of a heart attack. He was 62.
One rumor for how Thorp got the idea for the movie title is related to an incident in which the woman he was dating at the time in Los Angeles couldn’t get her car to start. A local automobile club charged her battery but suggested she buy a new one. She drove straight to a Sears’ auto outlet where they installed one of their long-time favorite batteries, the “Die Hard.” When Thorp heard her account, he beamed for he told her he’d spent months searching for a new title to perk up sales of Nothing Lasts Forever. He said, “Die Hard! That would make a great title.” He thanked her for her help.
While living in the mountainous neighborhood of Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, Thorp’s house overlooked a high-rise building on the Wilshire Corridor. That building inspired his fictional one the terrorists would take over in his novel.
Richard Martin Stern’s first novel, The Bright Road to Fear (Ballantine, 1958), won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel (1959). The plot follows a young American who becomes involved with an Italian crime syndicate.
Author Thomas N. Scortia earned a degree in chemistry and wrote in his spare time while working for the aerospace industry. He also held a patent for the fuel used by one of the Jupiter fly-by missions. He authored six novels, published in several anthologies, and penned numerous short stories and essays.
Frank M. Robinson was a noted science fiction and techno-thriller writer. He authored sixteen books, edited two, and wrote numerous articles. At one point in his career, he edited the “Playboy Advisor” column for Playboy magazine (1969-1973), an interesting position considering he was gay, which he acknowledges in his memoir, Not So Good a Gay Man (Macmillan, 2017).
Paul Gallico was a novelist, short story writer and sportswriter best known for his wintry tale, The Snow Goose (Borzoi, 1941), a love story about an uneducated village girl and a hunchback artist who lives in a lighthouse with a wounded snow goose. The Snow Goose first appeared as a short story in The Saturday Evening Post after which he expanded it to a novella. It won the “O. Henry Prize” in 1941. Over his lifetime, he authored fifty-two novels, fourteen of which were adapted into film, including his 1941 novel, Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees.
David Rockefeller (1915-2017, investment banker and CEO of Chase Manhattan Corporation was the first to suggest the construction of the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan. He thought the project would stimulate urban renewal. His brother Nelson (1908-1979), who was New York Governor at the time, signed the legislation which approved building of the World Trade Center.
While Bruce Willis got the Die Hard lead meant for Frank Sinatra, his first acting role was as an uncredited walk-on part in a Sinatra film, The First Deadly Sin (1980). The movie’s end credits simply listed Willis as “man entering diner.” He was unrecognizable as his hat covers his eyes. The First Deadly Sin was the last of nine produced by Sinatra, and his final starring role as a troubled NYPD homicide detective. The film is based on the novel of the same name written by Lawrence Sanders (1920-1998). Sanders published his first work at the age of fifty, The Anderson Tapes (Berkley, 1970), which won the Edgar for best first novel by Mystery Writers of America.
ZJ Czupor is president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and past Vice President of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (RMMWA). In addition to writing monthly columns for Rogue Women Writers and RMMWA, he is the author of THE BIG WEIRD: Haikus in Times of Pandemic and Chaos, available at Amazon.