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Arthur Hailey
Arthur Hailey.jpg
Born Arthur Frederick Hailey
(1920-04-05)5 April 1920
Luton, Bedfordshire, England
Died 24 November 2004(2004-11-24) (aged 84)
Lyford Cay, New Providence, Bahamas
Occupation Novelist
Nationality British-Canadian
Notable works Hotel (1965)
Airport (1968)
Wheels (1971)
Spouses Joan Fishwick (1944–1950; div.)
Sheila Dunlop (1951–2004; his death)
Children 6

Arthur Frederick Hailey (5 April 1920 – 24 November 2004) was a British-Canadian novelist whose plot-driven storylines were set against the backdrops of various industries. His books, which include such best sellers as Hotel (1965), Airport (1968), Wheels (1971), The Moneychangers (1975), and Overload (1979), have sold 170 million copies in 38 languages.

Early life

Arthur Frederick Hailey was born on 5 April 1920, in Luton, Bedfordshire, England, the only child of George Wellington Hailey, a factory worker, and Elsie Wright Hailey. An avid reader, Hailey began to write poems, plays and stories at a young age. He once said, "My mother left me off chores so I could write." Elsie encouraged her son to learn typing and shorthand so that he might become a clerk instead of a factory worker.

At fourteen, Hailey failed to win a scholarship which would have enabled him to continue his schooling. From 1934 to 1939 he was an office boy and clerk in London. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939, and served as a pilot during World War II, eventually rising to the rank of flight lieutenant. In 1947, unhappy with the post-war Labour government, he emigrated to Canada, becoming a dual citizen. Settling in Toronto, he held a variety of jobs, in such fields as real estate, sales, and advertising. He was editor of a trade magazine called Bus and Truck Transport. During these years, he continued to write.


Hailey's professional writing career began in 1955 with a script called Flight into Danger, which was purchased by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and telecast on 3 April 1956. This story of a plane flight in jeopardy after its crew is incapacitated was "the smash hit of the season," won enormous acclaim, and was broadcast internationally. It was adapted as a novel by "John Castle" (a pseudonym for Ronald Payne and John Garrod), with Hailey credited as co-author; it was published by Britain's Souvenir Press in 1958 under its original title, but renamed Runway Zero-Eight (Doubleday) for its 1959 American publication. The story was filmed in 1957 as Zero Hour! (Paramount), and for television in 1971 as Terror in the Sky. Perhaps most famously, its plot device was recycled as the basis for Paramount's 1980 parody Airplane!.

With the success of Flight into Danger, Hailey was in demand as a television writer, and wrote for such shows as Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, Playhouse 90, and Suspense. In 1959, he adapted his teleplay No Deadly Medicine (for which he won an Emmy nomination) into his first novel The Final Diagnosis. Published by Doubleday, it's the story of the chief pathologist at a Burlington, Pennsylvania, hospital. The book received good reviews, and was a selection of the Literary Guild of America. Hailey's second novel, In High Places (Doubleday) was published in 1962. Dealing with international politics the book was again selected by the Literary Guild, and was a best seller in Canada.

Hailey's commercial breakthrough came in 1965 with publication of Hotel (Doubleday), which followed five days in the lives of employees and residents of New Orleans' luxurious St. Gregory Hotel. The book spent 48 weeks on the New York Times best seller list, peaking at #3, and became the eighth highest-selling novel of the year. It established the template for Hailey's future works: ordinary people involved in extraordinary situations in a business or industry which is described in meticulous detail.

Following the success of Hotel, Hailey moved to California. In 1968 he achieved international fame with his fourth novel, Airport (Doubleday), the story of one eventful night at a midwestern international airport. The novel was No. 1 in the New York Times for 30 weeks, and became the top-selling novel of the year. The film adaptation, released in 1970, was the second-highest-grossing film of the year (second only to Love Story) and received ten Academy Award nominations, including best picture. The success of the film, together with that of 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, led to the proliferation of "disaster films" during the 1970s, which included three additional films in what became the Airport franchise.

After the financial success of Airport, on the advice of his tax attorney, Hailey moved as a tax exile to the Bahamas settling in Lyford Cay on New Providence Island. He had intended to stay for just two years, but liked it so much that he remained there for the rest of his life. In 1971, he published Wheels (Doubleday), set in the automobile industry; like Airport, it was a no. 1 New York Times best seller, and the highest-selling novel of its year. Hailey followed it with two additional no. 1 sellers: The Moneychangers (Doubleday, 1975), about the banking industry; and Overload (Doubleday, 1979), about the energy crisis.

In 1979, following publication of Overload, Hailey announced his retirement. After undergoing quadruple heart bypass surgery, however, he felt rejuvenated, and returned to work. His novel Strong Medicine (Doubleday), about the pharmaceutical industry, was published in 1984 and was another major best seller; it became the thirteenth highest-selling novel of the year. His commercial success had declined somewhat by 1990 with publication of The Evening News (Doubleday), and with his final novel, Detective (Crown), which appeared in 1997. Hailey continued to write, but—except for the slim The Lyford Legacy: A Brief History of Lyford Cay from 1788 (Lyford Cay Foundation, 2000),—Hailey now wrote only as a hobby.

Arthur Hailey's papers are housed at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, and at the Harry C. Moore Library of the College of The Bahamas.

Personal life

Hailey was married twice. In 1944 he married Joan Fishwick (1918-2004), with whom he had three children before divorcing in 1950. In 1951 he married Sheila Dunlop (1927–2017), with whom he also had three children. In 1978 Sheila Hailey published I Married a Best Seller: My Life with Arthur Hailey (Doubleday), which was not always complimentary, but the couple remained together for 53 years.

Arthur Hailey died at age 84 in his sleep on 24 November 2004, at his home in Lyford Cay, of what doctors believed to be a stroke.


  • (1959)
  • In High Places (1962)
  • Hotel (1965)
  • Airport (1968)
  • Wheels (1971)
  • The Moneychangers (1975)
  • Overload (1979)
  • Strong Medicine (1984)
  • (1990)
  • Detective (1997)

Selected screen adaptations

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