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You Don’t Know Harry!
By Tod Jonson
On a crowded, celebrity-star-studded night in our Ajijic auditorium (May 3, 2011) Harry Wylie became the latest LIFETIME ACHIEVER here at Lakeside, being the only local author ever to write a book which was turned into a 5-time top award-winning movie.
Harry Wylie was born and educated in Nova Scotia. I believe it was Robert Stanfield, once (Premier of Nova Scotia) who made the statement, “that the greatest export of N.S. is brains!” Harry did his best to live up to it, and so he did! At an early age, Harry wanted to ‘depart south’ to warmer climates, but only made it to Detroit. Harry’s vocation was primarily in the auto industry, and he ended his working career as president of an automotive engineering support company.
While living in West Bloomfield, MI, Harry’s delightful wife Arlene, along with daughter (Sandra Lee) and sons (Sean and Fraser) had the good fortune to have Jack Kevorkian as their next-door neighbor, a man who enriched their lives with his wit, savoir faire, artistic abilities, and assemblage of erudite friends.
Jack Kevorkian (aka Dr. Death) was the first US physician who openly assisted in euthanasia. When Kevorkian was imprisoned for 10–25 years in state penitentiaries, Arlene and Harry were two of ten allowable visitors; they visited him monthly for eight years. The state of Michigan literally severed outside communication and eventually most people actually thought Jack was dead.
To enlighten the public to Kevorkian’s plight, Harry decided to come out of “retirement” and write his first book. Although Jack approved of this venture by signing over his “life rights” to Harry, he would not contribute a word to the book.
Three years later, the original book, Between the Dying and the Dead, was published in the UK and USA. Major critics were very positive. One stated, “What I had assumed was Wylie would produce an essentially worshipful work that was more hagiography than biography. Fortunately I was wrong. It is a much better book, and tells us what the forces were that shaped Jack Kevorkian.” Readers everywhere have felt the same, and the book became wildly popular.
HBO acquired the rights to Harry’s book as well as Kevorkian’s “life rights.” Two years transpired before a full length movie titled “You Don’t Know Jack” (which actually was the original title of the book but was scratched because the first publishers were British and were unaware of the American vernacular) was produced. The movie, directed by Barry Levinson, starred Al Pacino (winning best actor of the year three times) and co-starred Susan Sarandon, Brenda Vaccaro, John Goodman, and Danny Huston. It was first aired on HBO April 24, 2010—a very controversial first for HBO.
The movie was filmed on Staten Island, NY and in Detroit, MI. during the fall of 2009. During September of that year, the Wylie’s were on the set as “actors” in a scene depicting a 1992 event which the Wylie’s actually attended. As it turned out the film had Emmy written all over it for actor Pacino and HBO’s best film of the year!”
While the book and film were becoming famous, in private life Harry was now an officer in the Canadian Armored Corp. He was also one of 20 “ice curling champs” representing the US in a 25-day, 41-game tour of Scotland in 2002. Harry claims they ‘beat the hell’ out of the Scots.
Harry and Arlene, married 45 years, first visited Ajijic seven years ago. They now spend their time between Ajijic, the Gatineau Hills in Quebec and visiting their children in Alberta, near Canton, MI, as well as Atlanta when he is now writing his second book: The Second Fathers of Confederation.
You Don’t Know Jack has now gone into the second printing, under this title. LCS has a lending copy of the book.