The priest and the ‘Exorcist’
The Rev. William O’Malley was somewhat akin to a rock star during his lengthy tenure as a teacher at McQuaid Jesuit High School.
His exuberant personality and colorful language mixed with a staunch commitment to God and education made his classes—English and theology—entertaining, though rigorous, even by McQuaid standards. He also wrote books and directed plays and musicals.
Oh, and by the way, he had an on-screen role, Father Dyer, in the 1973 movie, “The Exorcist.” He also was a technical adviser for the flick.
This month, Father O’Malley—though more than 35 years have passed since being taught and influenced by him, I still can’t bring myself to refer to him as Bill—recounted the story of how he landed the role. The occasion was the death of William Peter Blatty, who wrote the novel that the movie was based on.
America, a national Catholic weekly magazine, asked Father O’Malley, a longtime contributor, to recall how his collaboration with Blatty began.
“When I lived in Rochester, N.Y., the downtown public library had an oral book review called ‘Books Sandwiched In’ during lunch every Tuesday. I was teaching at McQuaid, and the library invited me to review ‘The Exorcist.’ I hadn’t read it, but I knew it had been selling since God was a child and I couldn’t possibly hold out much longer.
“I read the book alone in a lakefront cottage over a weekend, and I was so impressed I wouldn’t douse the light when I finished. I’m a reasonably intelligent man and I know no demon is going to materialize next to my bed. Nevertheless.”
He later wrote the review and sent it off to Blatty. The author’s response was not entirely positive, including “that I had missed the whole point of the book (admittedly a flaw).” Blatty also took exception to “my critique that the two Jesuits in the book were too icily witty or, in Bill’s words, ‘cutesy flip.’”
Still, Blatty invited the Jesuit to dinner, at which the priest was, well, “cutesy flip.”
“Two weeks later, I got a call from Bill at Warner Brothers asking, ‘Howjalike to play Father Cutesy Flip?’ To a guy who directed 99 high school plays and musicals, that was like Charlie Brown being asked if he’d like a season with the Yankees.
“That was 45 years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. But he’s left me very sadly without a final riposte. He leaves a large empty space in a lot of lives.”
The full article, “First Lunch, Then a Role in ‘The Exorcist,’” appears at www.americamagazine.org.
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