Walter Wager

Thriller writer who broke into Hollywood

The New York thriller writer Walter Wager was as prolific as he was imaginative and many of his books had at their core terrorist attacks which mirror the violent times in which we live.

Walter Herman Wager, novelist: born New York 4 September 1924; married first Sylvia Leonard (died 1989; one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Winifred McIvor; died New York 11 July 2004.

The New York thriller writer Walter Wager was as prolific as he was imaginative and many of his books had at their core terrorist attacks which mirror the violent times in which we live.

In Tunnel (2000) a group of international terrorists, the Beirut Brigade, threaten to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson River unless their demands are met. In The Spirit Team (1996) a North African dictator plots to use a poisonous blue fungus against New York. Otto's Boy (1985) deals with an attempt to unleash nerve gas into a subway. Less convincingly, Wager's last book, Kelly's People (2002), introduces us to five transplant patients, all secret agents, who have their recuperation cut short to foil a conspiracy of a disgruntled Russian general and an extremist Arab leader.

Walter Wager was born in the Bronx in 1924, son of a doctor and a nurse from Tsarist Russia. Like many from immigrant backgrounds he felt the pressure to make his mark. He entered Columbia University in 1943 to study pre-law, and then went on to graduate in law at Harvard. He passed the Bar exams but did not practise law. Instead, he gained a master's degree in aviation law from Northwestern University in 1949 followed by a Fulbright scholarship at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was then offered a job as an aviation law consultant by the Israeli government to assist on negotiations on an air space treaty.

After a year in Israel he returned to New York to work for the UN editing documents. But this job did not last and Wager started writing radio and television scripts. He wrote and produced for CBS radio and television and for NBC-TV, and was Editor-in-Chief at Playbill from 1963 to 1966. He then worked as an editor and public relations director for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and in the early 1990s was Director of Public Information for the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut.

Wager sold his first novel, Death Hits the Jackpot, through a friend, to a paperback publishing house in 1956. Appearing under the pen name John Tiger, the book told the story of two CIA agents who used agency dollars for gambling. He published a second novel, Operation Intrigue (1956, as Walter Hermann), on the chilling subject of a US invasion of China. These were the first of 25 novels, many of which have been translated in other languages. Wager also wrote several works of non-fiction.

Wager admitted to having been influenced by John le Carré, Eric Ambler and Raymond Chandler. Despite state-of-the-art technology in his plots, he still wrote his books on an old manual typewriter. New York often featured in his books because he was attached to his native city and its fate and because, at a practical level, he was familiar with the locations.

In 1977 Wager broke into Hollywood with the adaptation for the screen of his spy novel Telefon (1975), starring Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasance. Pleasance plays a psychotic KGB clerk who plans to start World War III through his control of 51 "sleepers", human time-bombs who can be activated by a telephone call; Charles Bronson is the "good" KGB agent sent to America to eliminate him.

The same year Viper Three (1971) was adapted as Twilight's Last Gleaming. A US-West German co-production directed by Robert Aldrich, the film starred Burt Lancaster as a cashiered US Air Force officer who seizes a nuclear missile site to force public disclosure of secret Vietnam War policy aims. It was criticised in some circles as not doing justice to the book by cutting the references to the Vietnam War. The box-office hit Die Hard II (1990), staring Bruce Willis, was based on Wager's 1987 novel 58 Minutes. In this all-action thriller, terrorists take over Washington's Dulles Airport in order to secure the release of a Latin American dictator being delivered to the US for trial.

David Childs



Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor