Shirley Jackson became interested
in the idea of writing a Haunted House novel in the mid-50's,
after reading an article about psychic researchers.
Shortly thereafter, while traveling
by train in New York, she saw a "building so disagreeable
that (she) could not stop looking at it." It was tall, black,
and foreboding, and that night Jackson was so troubled by nightmares
that she had to turn on every light in the hotel room and walk
around for a few minutes to convince herself that she'd only
She later learned that she
had seen the place from the only angle it was still visible -
most of it had burned to the ground some months before, killing
Soon after that, she came across
a photo of an old house in a magazine which gave her similar
feelings of dread. Realizing it was the perfect model for the
house she wanted to write about, and noting that it was identified
only by the name of a town in California, she wrote to her mother
- a life-long resident of California.
Her mother's reply sent chills
down her back - the house had been built by Shirley's own great-grandfather,
and had burned down recently after standing empty for years.
A few weeks later, Jackson
awoke one morning and went downstairs to find a sheet of paper
with the words "dead dead" written on it. The paper
had not been there when she retired, and yet the words were in
her own handwriting! She began writing the novel with no further
The book was released, and
was something of a hit, and eventually the inevitable film version
was planned. I ran into the director, Robert Wise, a couple of
years ago, and he assured me that I was not alone in considering
"The Haunting" one of his finest works. Russ Tamblyn,
however, didn't think such would be the case at the time. He
and Wise had previously joined forces for "West Side Story,"
and Russ felt his role in "The Haunting" wasn't a suitable
followup. He agreed to do the film only after the studio threatened
to suspend him. Afterwards, of course, he loved the result.
The interiors of Hill House
were sets, filmed in Hollywood, but for the exterior director
Wise found an incredibly creepy old manor house in the north
of England. Tamblyn found himself with nothing to do on one such
occasion when they were filming exteriors, and decided to walk
around. He found himself in the house's private family cemetery,
and recalled that there was indeed supposedly a legend of a headless
female ghost who would walk those hallowed grounds.
Suddenly, he felt a cold, icy
touch upon his neck. He very quickly vacated the premises, and
told no one for years of his experience.
Let us move from exterior to
interior, now, and focus our gaze upon Hollywood, or more specifically
Beverly Hills. Actress Elke Sommer and her husband Joe Hyams
had a nice little house there, nice except for a couple of minor
distractions - such as a mysterious man who would appear out
of nowhere and vanish before one's eyes when confronted, and
strange noises in the dead of night, as of many chairs being
pushed back at the close of a dinner party.
As with "The Haunting,"
(no more plot hints - read the book & see the movie!) the
couple brought in a team of paranormal investigators. While the
team of eight came to independent agreement as to the nature
of the "visitor" (a middle aged, heavy set man), nothing
Sommers and Hyams were traveling
a lot at this time, and rented the house out - although Mrs.
Red Buttons, one potential tenant, refused to set foot in the
place, saying it had an "evil aura."
The people that eventually
rented it for three months, however, had no experiences whatsoever,
and somewhat foolishly decided to celebrate with a "Goodbye
That night, in the middle of
the festivities, all the lights went out, and a heavy candelabra
came crashing down to the floor.
After the couple returned to
the house, the noises resumed, and they made up their minds to
sell the place. They found a new home, and prepared to move.
It was April of 1967, and "The
Haunting" was making its television debut. They stayed up
to watch it, musing aloud about whether their resident ghost
was aware of their moving.
Later that night, a loud knocking
on their bedroom door startled them out of their sleep. Hyams
opened the door, saw no one, but heard an eerie laughter in the
distance. And saw smoke. Lots of smoke. The house was on fire!
At any rate, they escaped,
and left the place for good. I wonder who got it next?
We began and ended this little
lark with a burning house. One is reminded of Russ Tamblyn's
closing remarks in the film: "It oughtta be burned down,
and the ground sowed with salt."
As I write this, I've just
gotten word that Dreamworks has purchased the rights to "The
Haunting of Hill House," and plans a remake - possibly with
Spielberg directing. Perhaps someone should warn them . . .
Heh heh heh . . .
Don't forget to tune in next
month for our special Halloween edition!