Already a respected essayist, Philip Wylie also enjoyed considerable success as a screenwriter and novelist from the late '20s until the end of the 1950s, and many of his books also served as the basis for movies and television shows. He began writing in advertising and public relations material and eventually became a freelance author, exploring areas like adventure, romance, mystery, and science fiction. He became well known in the late '20s and beyond for his exciting plots and carefully drawn characters and settings, and also for his daring subject matter, some of which was very personal.
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Wylie spent a couple of years in Hollywood during the early '30s, adapting others' stories as well as turning out screenplays of his own. His major contribution was the screenplay from The Island of Lost Souls (1932), based on H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, although he also wrote (uncredited) parts of the screenplay for James Whale's The Invisible Man (1933), which, curiously, was also adapted from a Wells source. He was responsible for writing (with Seton Miller) one of the more bizarre and grisly revenge melodramas of the era, Murders in the Zoo (1933), at Paramount. His direct input to Hollywood ended after 1933, and his next credited screenplay would come 38 years later (for television), but many of Wylie's books and stories were brought to the screen throughout the 1930s, including a slapstick adaptation of Gladiator, done with Joe E. Brown, and thrillers such as Death Flies East (1935), Under Suspicion (1937), and Charlie Chan in Reno (1939), as well as romances like Second Honeymoon (1937) (adapted from a novel-length article in Redbook), which was later turned into a musical as Springtime in the Rockies (1942). His 1944 novel Night Unto Night, about a suicidally depressed widow who finds herself drawn romantically to a dying man, was optioned by Warner Bros. and adapted to film by director Don Siegel in 1947 as the latter's second full-length film -- Night Unto Night, released in 1949, starred Viveca Lindfors and Ronald Reagan.
By the 1950s, Wylie was well known for his serious writing and satires, but it was a screen adaptation of a 19-year-old work -- and perhaps the most mainstream piece he wrote in his whole career -- that made him newly visible as a popular science fiction author. In 1951, his early-'30s book When Worlds Collide (co-authored with Edwin Balmer) was adapted into a film by producer George Pal (who also reportedly wanted to make a movie out of The Disappearance). Made at Paramount with Rudolph Maté directing, When Worlds Collide was a rare big-studio science fiction effort, and even more unusual as a color production with a big budget. If it missed the lofty mysticism and energizing symbolism of Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still -- made the same year at 20th Century Fox -- the movie retained enough of the spirit of Wylie's book to tease the viewer with its observations on humanity, while keeping an exciting pace and displaying some dazzling special effects.
Wylie stuck mostly to philosophical writings in the ensuing decades, but around 1970, he proved that he could still see (if not find) the cutting edge of popular culture when he wrote a teleplay for an episode of the series The Name of the Game, starring Gene Barry, entitled "Los Angeles A.D. 2017" -- on the show, in an extended quasi-dream sequence, he depicted a United States of that future date in the midst of an environmental disaster, being run as a corporation with regional vice presidents, none of whom will take responsibility for the tragedy unfolding before them at the risk of reducing profits. It was later published as Los Angeles: A.D. 2017. Wylie died of a heart attack in the fall of that same year, but his work continues to manifest itself -- his 1951 book The Disappearance was evidently part of the inspiration for the 1998 comedy/fantasy film Honey, I Sent the Men to the Moon. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi