the exorcist facts "The Exorcist," released on December 26, 1973, is widely regarded as the scariest movie ever made, but after four decades, two sequels, two prequels, and countless spoofs, is there anything about the tale of demon-possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) and the priests who try to save her (Max von Sydow and Jason Miller) left to jolt and shock us?

Maybe there is. "Exorcist" director William Friedkin's 2013 memoir, "The Friedkin Connection," has three chapters full of dish on the making of the film, including which characters were based on famous people, how some of the famous special effects were accomplished, how he came to slap a Jesuit priest, and whether or not the production was cursed. Here are 25 things you may not know about "The Exorcist," many of them from Friedkin's recent book.

1. The real case that inspired William Peter Blatty's novel and screenplay was the 1949 exorcism of a 14-year-old boy, named in press accounts as "Roland Doe" or "Robbie Mannheim." The incident occurred in Washington, D.C., while Blatty was a student at the city's Georgetown University. In his novel, he would change the boy to a girl, but he kept many of the reported details, including the D.C. setting, the levitating furniture, the strange words appearing on the child's body, and the guttural voice heard when the boy opened his mouth.

2. Blatty made his career as a comic novelist and screenwriter of Hollywood comedies, including "A Shot in the Dark" and "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home." But he'd long been haunted by the Roland Doe story and finally began writing the novel in 1969.

3. Published in 1971, the book earned strong reviews but was not an immediate hit. Blatty lucked into an invitation to appear on the Dick Cavett talk show after another guest's last-minute cancellation, and he got to spend 40 minutes pitching his novel to a national TV audience. After that, the book climbed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

4. Warner Bros. bought the film rights and offered it to several top directors, who all turned it down, including Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, and Mike Nichols, who said he doubted he could find a 12-year-old girl who could carry the movie.

5. The studio's next choice was Mark Rydell, director of the then-recent Warner release "The Cowboys." Blatty, however, wanted the little-known Friedkin and threatened to announce during the author's upcoming appearance on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" that the studio wasn't letting him have the director he wanted. The studio may have relented anyway, but on the scheduled day of Blatty's "Tonight" visit, "The French Connection" opened and instantly turned Friedkin into a director in demand.

6. The model for Chris MacNeil, Regan's film-actress mother, was Blatty's friend and "John Goldfarb" star, Shirley MacLaine. The actress expressed interest in starring in the movie, but Friedkin demurred, since she had just starred in the similar "The Possession of Joel Delaney." Audrey Hepburn was offered the role, but she didn't want to leave her home in Rome to film in America. Anne Bancroft wanted to play Chris, but she was pregnant and unavailable. Jane Fonda declined, in a profanely-worded telegram. Finally, Ellen Burstyn, then best known for her supporting role in "The Last Picture Show," insisted to Friedkin that she was right for the part. (Among other things, she was a lapsed Catholic and the mother of a teenager.) With persistence, she won the role.

7. The model for Burke Dennings, the director of the movie Chris shoots in Georgetown, was J. Lee Thompson, who had directed "John Goldfarb" (as well as other hits, like "Cape Fear"). He would be played in "The Exorcist" by Jack MacGowran.

8. The model for Father Karras was Blatty himself, a Catholic undergoing a crisis of faith. The filmmakers signed Stacy Keach, but then they met Jason Miller, the playwright whose "That Championship Season" was about to win the Pulitzer Prize. Miller, who'd dropped out of a Catholic seminary before becoming an actor and playwright, insisted he should play the doubtful, tormented priest. He persuaded Friedkin to let him screen test with Burstyn. Friedkin was sold, and Warner Bros. was forced to buy Keach out of his contract.

9. The model for Father Lankester Merrin was Gerald Lankester Harding, an acquaintance of Blatty's who was both priest and archaeologist; he'd been involved in the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Friedkin thought he bore a resemblance to Max von Sydow, who read the script and accepted the role immediately.

10. To find Regan, the filmmakers auditioned more than a thousand girls before they met 12-year-old Linda Blair. Friedkin hired her once he was convinced that she was not only talented enough to handle the acting challenge, but well-adjusted enough to handle what would surely be a traumatic filmmaking experience for a young girl.

11. One small but key role was the drunken beggar who accosts Father Karras in the subway -- and whose voice is later heard coming from Regan's mouth, as a demonic taunt. Friedkin's casting director found Vinny Russell, an actual New York barfly whose only known address was the White Rose Tavern. Friedkin says Russell was drunk and wearing his own clothes when they shot the scene, and was still drunk months later when they brought him back to the sound studio to re-record his one line. And that was the extent of Vinny Russell's film career.

12. While the exteriors for the film were shot in Georgetown, most of the shoot took place in Manhattan. The interior of the MacNeil house was a set built in a warehouse. The bedroom was its own set, built on top of a giant ball to create the pitching effect, with a hidden forklift attached to the bed to create the jumping bed effect, piano wires suspended from the ceiling for Regan's levitation, and refrigeration units that cooled the room to a frigid 30 degrees below zero for scenes showing the actors' breath.

13. Makeup artist Dick Smith and his protégé, Rick Baker, spent three hours a day turning Blair into the demonically-possessed Regan. But they spent four hours a day turning 43-year-old Von Sydow into the 70-something priest.

14. To play Father Dyer, Father Karras's colleague, Friedkin cast an actual Jesuit priest, Father William O'Malley. But for an emotional scene at the end of the movie, Friedkin couldn't get the performance he wanted from the amateur actor. After 20 takes, Friedkin took Father O'Malley aside, told him he loved him, then slapped his face and pushed him to his knees. He got the take he wanted.

15. Friedkin had a similar problem with von Sydow during the scene where Father Merrin commands the demon to leave "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," at which point Regan's bedroom ceiling cracks open. Friedkin spent three days trying to get the line reading he wanted, going through nearly 20 fake ceilings in the process. Finally, von Sydow admitted that he had trouble with the words because he himself didn't believe in God. Friedkin asked how he'd been able to play Jesus so convincingly in "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Von Sydow replied that he'd played Jesus as a man, not a god. Friedkin suggested that he play Father Merrin as a man, and though he instantly thought that was a weak bit of direction, it worked on von Sydow, who went off by himself for an hour, returned, and delivered the line with the intensity Friedkin wanted.

16. Friedkin insisted on shooting the prologue in Iraq, where Father Merrin finds the statue of the demon Pazuzu, on location in that country. Friedkin spent more than a month there, facing such obstacles as 130-degree weather, illnesses among the crew, a thwarted government coup, a curious tribe of actual devil-worshippers, and difficulties with the key prop, the statue, which was mistakenly shipped to Australia before finding its way to Baghdad.

17. Friedkin denies that the production was cursed, but he catalogs a lot of freaky mishaps and tragedies that occurred during the production. An unexplained fire destroyed the entire MacNeil interior set except for Regan's bedroom. Jason Miller's toddler son (future "Lost Boys" star Jason Patric) was hit by a motorbike and hospitalized. Von Sydow's brother died, and he had to take time off to return to Stockholm for the funeral. Not mentioned by Friedkin: A scene where Chris is thrown against the wall gave Burstyn a permanent back injury. MacGowran and Vasiliki Maliaros (Father Karras's mother), whose characters die in the film, both died after production was complete but before the movie was released.

18. For the voice of the demon-possessed Regan, Friedkin hired veteran Oscar-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge. She had long since quit the drinking and smoking that had given her such a distinctively raspy voice, but she started up again for the sake of her performance. She would also drink raw eggs and have herself tied to a chair, so that she could feel the restraints Regan felt when she was bound to the bed. Friedkin claims that McCambridge insisted on doing the performance without credit so as not to take away from Blair's accomplishment, but when the film opened, McCambridge complained that she'd been denied credit and threatened to sue. Warner Bros. hastily spliced her name into the credit reel.

19. Music producer Jack Nitzsche made the eerie sounds over the opening credits by rubbing the rim of a wine goblet. He also placed a microphone by his girlfriend, who was sleeping face-down on a sofa, then ran across the room and jumped on her back, landing on his knees. Her shrieked reaction was used as the sound of Regan projectile-vomiting.

20. The rest of the music was harder to find. Friedkin sought out legendary movie composer Bernard Herrmann ("Psycho"), but they couldn't agree on what the score should sound like. He hired Lalo Schifrin ("Mission: Impossible") but didn't like the overly orchestral results and fired him. Friedkin finally found the minimalist sound he wanted when he stumbled across Mike Oldfield's recording "Tubular Bells." Once the piece became known as the "Exorcist" theme, "Tubular Bells" became the first million-selling record for Richard Branson's then-new Virgin Records label.

21. The movie was booked at first in just 26 theaters across the country. Friedkin visited every single one of them before the film's release to insure that its lighting and sound quality were up to his standards.

22. The film earned $66 million in 1974 in North America, making it one of the most lucrative films of all time (if adjusted for inflation). After various re-releases, it has earned $233 million to date in North America and $441 million worldwide.

23. The film was nominated for 10 Oscars, including nods for Friedkin, Burstyn, Miller, and Blair, but it won just two: Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture.

24. In 1982, Miller directed the film version of his play, "That Championship Season," and gave a prominent role in it to Stacy Keach, the actor whose "Exorcist" role he'd taken.

25. Rick Baker, whose first movie gig was as makeup artist Dick Smith's assistant on "The Exorcist," went on to a distinguished career in monster makeup and special effects, highlighted by his work on "An American Werewolf in London," Michael Jackson's "Thriller," Eddie Murphy's "Nutty Professor" movies, and the three "Men in Black" films.
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The Exorcist
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One of the most profitable horror movies ever made, this tale of an exorcism is based loosely on actual... Read More