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Retro Reading: The Tower and The Glass Inferno

Updated on May 20, 2019

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it took two books to bring The Towering Inferno to the big screen.

Both The Tower by Richard Martin Stern and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson were published within a few months of each other in 1974 and were the inspirations for the big screen disaster epic. And what an epic it was for Academy Award winning screenwriter Stirling Silliphant.

Since Silliphant had two original source materials, a majority of The Tower seems to have ended up on the silver screen.

The Tower takes us through the day of the building's dedication ceremony. During that time, it has come to the attention that costs were cut on the electrical side of the construction, but the big problem here is a bomb has been planted by a disgruntled employee.

Set in New York, the fictional World Tower is 125 stories and towers over the Trade Center located a few blocks away.

Undoubtedly, this is the darker of the two books as all of the action takes place at the cocktail party and there are no other occupants in the building. In this book, the building loses power in the late day sunset.

What was used for the film:

*the dedication party

*Patty and Paul (later changed to Roger for the film since there are an overabundance of "Pauls" in the book)

*the cutbacks in the electrical system

*the Mayor and his wife (Paula)

*Will Giddings (even though a major character here, his role is cut in the movie)

*the character of Zib Wilson is changed to Susan Franklin, Faye Dunaway's role)

*the use of the breeches bouy

*Senator Peters' name is changed to Parker

*Grover Frazee acts as the PR person for the event (see under The Glass Tower for more information)

While The Glass Tower doesn't have a specific city in which it takes place in, authors Scortia and Robinson have set the story in a northern climate due to sleet and snow as a hamper in rescue operations.

Unlike The Tower, its the night before Thanksgiving and the building is occupied. There are people living in the apartments and many tenants have occupied the building's retail and office space.

By using the start of the holiday season and a fuller building, there's a livelier feel to the book which makes the sixty six tower come alive. Characters are working late and the apartment residents go about life as they normally would.

Although there is no party in the building's restaurant, you will find a lot of action up there amongst those who will soon be trapped.

Also, a television reporter has been working on a story regarding the Glass Tower and the potential problems if there were to be a fire.

Elements used for the film:

*as mentioned above the Grover Frazee character was changed to Dan Bigelow. Bigelow in this novel is named John and is vice-president of Motivational Designs. His "guest" in the office is actress Deirdre Elmon. For the movie, Deirdre's character becomes Lorrie, Bigelow's secretary

*Lisolette Mueller, Harlee Claiborne and Harry Jernigan are featured characters

*The Albrecht family is trimmed down to Mrs. Albrecht and her two children along with a name change

*the scenic elevator is used

The best out of the two novels is the latter, since there is more action and you do care more for the characters (probably because they're more familiar to the movie going population of the time) but all in all, it was good to see just how the movie was written using these two books.

Adapting a novel into a screenplay is tough, and I think the latter offered a much better story. Each has its own merits but without these two novels you have to wonder just how The Towering Inferno would have ended up if each were produced separately.


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