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Philip Wylie

Philip Wylie

American writer
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American writer
Countries United States of America
Occupations Writer Novelist Screenwriter Essayist Playwright Science fiction writer
A.K.A. Philip Gordon Wylie
Gender male
Birth April 12, 1902 (United States of America)
Death October 25, 1971 (Miami)
Education Princeton University
Notable Works When Worlds Collide
Philip Wylie
The details

Philip Gordon Wylie (May 12, 1902 – October 25, 1971) was an American author of works ranging from pulp science fiction, mysteries, social diatribes and satire, to ecology and the threat of nuclear holocaust.

Early life and career

Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, Wylie was the son of Presbyterian minister Edmund Melville Wylie and the former Edna Edwards, a novelist, who died when Philip was five years old. His family moved to Montclair, New Jersey, and he later attended Princeton University from 1920–1923.

A writer of fiction and nonfiction, his output included hundreds of articles, novels, serials, short stories, syndicated newspaper columns, and works of social criticism. He also wrote screenplays while in Hollywood, was an editor for Farrar & Rinehart, served on the Dade County, Florida Defense Council, was a director of the Lerner Marine Laboratory, and at one time was an adviser to the chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee for Atomic Energy which led to the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission. Most of his major writings contain critical, though often philosophical, views on man and society as a result of his studies and interests in biology, ethnology, physics, and psychology.

At least nine movies were made from novels or stories by Wylie. He sold the rights for two others that were never produced.

His wide range of interests defies easy classification, but his earliest work exercised great influence in twentieth-century science fiction pulp magazines and comic books:

  • Gladiator (1930) partially inspired the comic-book character Superman.
  • The Savage Gentleman (1932) "Pulp historians point out that the themes of The Savage Gentleman are replicated to an uncanny degree in the pulp character Clark “Doc” Savage (1933) created by Lester Dent..." - Richard A. Lupoff
  • When Worlds Collide (1933), co-written with Edwin Balmer, inspired Alex Raymond's comic strip Flash Gordon and as adapted as an eponymous 1951 film by producer George Pal.

He applied engineering principles and the scientific method quite broadly in his work. His novel The Disappearance (1951) is about what happens when everyone wakes up one day and finds that all members of the opposite sex are missing (all the men have to get along without women, and vice versa). The book delves into the double standards between men and women that existed prior the woman's movement of the 1970s, exploring the nature of the relationship between men and women and the issues of women's rights and homosexuality. Many people at the time considered it as relevant to science fiction as his Experiment in Crime.

During World War II, writing The Paradise Crater (1945) resulted in his house arrest by the federal government; in it, he described a post-WWII 1965 Nazi conspiracy to develop and use uranium-237 bombs, months before the first successful atomic test at Alamagordo – the most highly classified secret of the war. His nonfiction book of essays, Generation of Vipers (1942), was a best-seller during the 1940s and inspired the term "Momism". Some people have accused Generation of Vipers of being misogynistic. The Disappearance shows his thinking on the subject is very complex. (His only child, Karen Wylie Pryor, is the author of a classic book for breastfeeding mothers, Nursing Your Baby, and has commented that her father was far from being a misogynist.) His novel of manners, Finnley Wren, was also highly regarded in its time.

He wrote 69 "Crunch and Des" stories, most of which appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, about the adventures of Captain Crunch Adams, master of the charter boat Poseidon, which was the basis of a brief television series. In 1941, Wylie became Vice-President of the International Game Fish Association, and for many years he was responsible for writing IGFA rules and reviewing world record claims.

His 1954 novel Tomorrow! dealt graphically with the civilian impact of thermonuclear war to make a case for a strong Civil Defense network in the United States, as he told the story of two neighboring cities (one prepared, one unprepared) before and after an attack by missile-armed Soviet bombers. This was adapted in 1956 by ABC Radio, as a one-hour drama narrated by Orson Welles.

Wylie was also active in writing detective and mystery novelettes for a variety of magazines. Five of them were collected in 2010 as Ten Thousand Blunt Instruments and Other Mysteries, published by Crippen & Landru in its "Lost Classics" series and edited by Bill Pronzini.

An article Wylie wrote in 1951 in The Saturday Evening Post entitled "Anyone Can Raise Orchids" led to the popularization of this hobby—not just the rich, but gardeners of every economic level began experimenting with orchids.

Wylie's final works dealt with the potentially catastrophic effects of pollution and climate change. Notably, Wylie wrote "L.A. 2017", a 1971 episode of the television series The Name of the Game. The series was normally a contemporary drama; however, in this unique science fiction episode, the lead character awakens in a science-fiction dystopia, centred on a psychiatric/fascist government overseeing the underground-sheltered remnants of humanity, the aftermath of an environmental (pollution) catastrophe. The 90-minute episode was directed by Steven Spielberg, and featured Gene Barry, Barry Sullivan, Edmond O'Brien, Severn Darden and Sharon Farrell. Wylie wrote a near-simultaneous novelization of the story as Los Angeles: A.D. 2017.

Wylie's final novel, The End of the Dream, was published posthumously in 1972 and foresees a dark future where America slides into ecological catastrophe.

Philip Wylie, and now the Philip Wylie estate, is represented by Harold Ober Associates.

Personal life

Wylie married Sally Ondek, and had one child, Karen. After divorcing his first wife, he married Frederica Ballard, who was born and raised in Rushford, New York; they are both buried in Rushford.

Wylie's daughter, Karen, is an author who became the inventor of animal "clicker" training; she was the wife of Taylor Alderdyce Pryor, a Marine helicopter pilot who became a Hawaii state senator and a co-founder of Sea Life Park and Oceanic Institute in Hawaii, of which his wife served as director. She later married Jon Lindbergh, Charles Lindbergh's son.

Wylie's niece Janice Wylie, the daughter of his brother Max Wylie, was murdered, along with her roommate Emily Hoffert, in New York in August 1963 in what became known as the "Career Girls" murder case.


Wylie died from a heart attack on October 25, 1971 in Miami. Some of his papers, writings, and other possessions are in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University Library.


  • Island of Lost Souls (1932) screenplay
  • Murders in the Zoo (1933) screenplay
  • King of the Jungle (1933) screenplay
  • The Invisible Man (1933) uncredited
  • Come On, Marines! (1934) story
  • Death Flies East (1935) story
  • Fair Warning (1937) story
  • Under Suspicion (1937) story
  • Second Honeymoon (1937) story
  • The Gladiator (1938) based on novel
  • Charlie Chan in Reno (1939) original story "Death Makes a Decree"
  • The Smiling Ghost (1941) story - uncredited
  • Springtime in the Rockies (1942) story
  • Cinderella Jones (1946) story
  • Night Unto Night (1949) novel
  • When Worlds Collide (1951) novel
  • Johnny Tiger (1966) co-screenplay

TV series

  • Crunch and Des was adapted for a syndicated TV series (37 episodes, 1955–1956) starring Forrest Tucker and Sandy Kenyon and filmed in Bermuda.
  • "L.A. 2017", a 1971 episode of the television series The Name of the Game. A science-fiction dystopia, based around a psychiatric/fascist government in the underground-sheltered remnants of humanity, the aftermath of an environmental (pollution) catastrophe. Wylie wrote the novelization as Los Angeles: A.D. 2017.

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