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The Nightmare life of the Nightmare Alley novelist

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After the Oscar winning success of The Shape of Water Guillermo Del Toro turned to film noir based on Nightmare Alley novelist William Lindsay Gresham’s fatalistic novel published in 1946 about a charismatic huckster consumed by uncontrolled ambition.  Naturally drawn to the macabre and profoundly human world of carnival sideshows, Del Toro saw Gresham’s novel as autobiographical and wanted to explore the murky lines between illusion and reality, desperation and control, success, and tragedy.  He saw it as a cautionary tale about the dark side of American capitalism. 

But the Nightmare Alley novelist William Lindsay Graham’s life became an increasing nightmare itself…..

  • He was a non-fiction author born on August 20, 1909 and was particularly well-regarded among readers of noir. His work consists of: Nightmare Alley(1946), Limbo Tower (1949), Monster Midway: An Uninhibited Look at the Glittering World of the Carny (1954), HoudiniThe Man Who Walked Through Walls (1959), and The Book of Strength: Body Building the Safe, Correct Way (1961) 
  • Originally from Maryland, he moved to New York with his family and became fascinated with Coney Island.
  • In 1926, he graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. After high school he drifted from job to job and volunteered in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. This is where he befriended a sideshow employee, Joseph Daniel “Doc” Halliday who inspired a lot of his work from their long conversations.
  • He returned to the United States in 1939 and suffered from a tortured mind from a troubling time in a tuberculosis ward and attempted suicide.
  • In 1942, Gresham married the poet Joy Davidman and had two sons but their marriage eventually ended in divorce in 1954.
  • Gresham was an alcoholic and he developed an interest in Spiritualism from going to alcoholic anonymous after his divorce.
  • Nightmare Alley was published in 1946 and spent most of his time writing the novel in Hotel Carter, Manhattan. It was later adapted into a film in 1947 starring Tyrone Power. 
  • In 1962, Gresham was diagnosed with cancer and started to lose his vision in one eye. He eventually took his own life in the same hotel he spent writing Nightmare Alley years prior     
  •                                            Watch the trailer HERE

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