Walker Percy: The Man & the Movie

October 1993By Ronald Austin

Ronald Austin is a Hollywood writer and producer, and Chairman of the New Oxford Review Forum of Southern California. He is currently adapting Walker Percy's The Thanatos Syndrome for the screen.

Walker Percy would have liked the location of the Second Annual Percy Symposium held on March 20, 1993: The Holiday Inn in Covington, Louisiana, is upscale but it might possibly have been the model for the burnt-out motel where Dr. Tom More (in Love in the Ruins) takes refuge in those apocalyptic days when racial and political violence has brought America to its knees. Motels, especially Holiday Inns, meant something to Percy. He has Tom More recall how he and his wife and daughter used to "roar seven hundred miles a day along the great interstates to some glittering lost motel...." Percy often found a kind of epiphany in the mundane.

Today, the Inn is filled with Southern hospitality and graciousness. I recognize Mrs. Walker Percy, called "Bunt," from her photo. She's gracious and interested in our plans to adapt her husband's novel The Thanatos Syndrome to the screen. The Percys' adopted daughter, Mary Pratt, joins us. She teaches school in an outlying area, and, like her mother, seems to know everyone present, greeting them in that easy, small-town way.

Phin Percy appears. He looks enough like his older brother to give you a sense of the physical presence that accompanied that extraordinary mind. Phin, a former law professor at Tulane, is modest and plainspoken with, one suspects, his brother's eye for the foolish. Brother Leroy, he ex­plains, was unable to attend. He's in Mississippi, still managing the Percy lands.

Anne, the Percy's second and natural child, arrives last. Deaf since birth, she moves comfort­ably among familiar faces, reading lips which offer greetings. She owns the local bookstore which of­fers, among other things, her father's books and the growing number of books about him. I notice later that she is reading the speeches from provided texts.

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