How William Friedkin Gunned His Way to The Exorcist

One of the most enjoyable anecdotal aspects of William Friedkin’s new autobiography The Friedkin Connection involves the late Blake Edwards. In 1966, when Friedkin was just getting started as a director on the TV side, he had the privilege of being asked to read the script for a planned feature film version of Edwards’ earlier TV series Peter Gunn. But it’s what happened at a subsequent Monday morning breakfast meeting that really made the difference:

“So what do you think?” Edwards asked.
I chose my words carefully, but I had to say what I felt and accept the consequences. “Blake, I think the script is a piece of sh*t.”
He looked up in shock, his English muffin poised in midair. “What?” He set his muffin down and looked at me directly, not so much mad as confused. “What did you just say?” A bitter smile crossed his lips.

There were two other people at the time in the Paramount Studios bungalow, one of whom Friedkin had never been introduced to. That individual in the corner turned out to be the uncredited author of the Peter Gunn screenplay, William Peter Blatty.

Five years later, Friedkin was surprised to receive a copy of the book The Exorcist and a note, from author Blatty, to call once he had read it. When the two connected, Blatty explained: “I sent you the book because I remember our meeting outside Blake Edwards’ office about Peter Gunn, and how you had the balls to tell us what a piece of sh*t it was, even though it cost you a job; and I believe you’d never bullsh*t me.”

Even though Friedkin’s name was not next to those of Stanley Kubrick, Mike Nichols and Arthur Penn on the Warner Bros. wish list, Blatty had director approval and wanted Friedkin. Today, their 1973 collaboration remains a top ten all-time domestic box office champ when ticket prices are adjusted for inflation.

Jacket cover courtesy: Harper Collins

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.
Publish date: April 24, 2013 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT