While not a household name like Stephen King or Michael Crichton, of adventure novelist Clive Cussler's dozens of books, nearly 20 appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. Enthralled with the m...
Aurora, Illinois, USA
|Wrote 21st novel in Dirk Pitt series Crescent Dawn|
|Third Dirk Pitt novel Raise the Titanic! (1976) adapted into feature film starring Jason Robards; made cameo as a bearded reporter|
|Introduced primary protagonist, renowned adventurer Dirk Pitt in The Mediterranean Caper|
|Published first nonfiction work The Sea Hunters: True Adventures With Famous Shipwrecks|
|Adventure film "Sahara," starring Matthew McConaughey (as Dirk Pitt) and Penélope Cruz, adapted from 1992 novel of same name|
|Worked in advertising industry, first as a copywriter and later as a creative director for two successful national agencies|
|Adventure novel Pacific Vortex! released; also revealed this was first story he wrote featuring Dirk Pitt|
|Enlisted in U.S. Air Force during Korean War|
|Published second Dirk Pitt novel Iceberg|
|Published first children's book The Adventures of Vin Fiz|
Clive Eric Cussler was born on July 15, 1931 in Aurora, IL, although raised in the Southern California city of Alhambra from an early age. An unremarkable student, Cussler was prone to daydreaming during class. One area of academia in which he did excel, however, was reading. A voracious and accomplished reader, a grade school book report by Cussler on Gone with the Wind prompted a dubious English teacher to call his mother and confirm that the young boy had, in fact, read the lengthy tome. After graduating from high school, Cussler enrolled at nearby Pasadena City College until world events and a dislike of school prompted him to drop out and join the U.S. Air Force in 1950 at the start of the Korean War. Stationed in Hawaii - where he met life-long friend Al Giordino and took up the pastime of scuba diving - Cussler served as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer for the Military Air Transport Service, attaining the rank of Sergeant by the time of his 1954 discharge. Having met Barbara Knight while on leave, Cussler married her in 1955 shortly after returning to California. Possessing a keen imagination and a facility for the English language, Cussler found work at a prominent Los Angeles advertising agency, first as a copy writer and later as a creative director, where his radio and television work garnered Cussler several awards, including one at the Cannes Film Festival.
Despite these early successes, Cussler felt a persistent, as yet undefined, creative itch that needed to be scratched. In 1965, Cussler's wife, bored with being a stay-at-home mother, took on a clerical position at a L.A. police station, leaving Cussler to be, essentially, a househusband. Left alone at night, Cussler began to ponder writing something similar to the stories he had enjoyed as a young man. He set about creating his own literary adventure hero in the classic mold, albeit a character that might distinguish himself from the likes of such iconic pulp figures as Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Phillip Marlowe or James Bond. Realizing that no previous protagonist operated primarily on the sea, and utilizing his longstanding love of diving, Cussler created the character of Dirk Pitt, field operative for the fictional National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). In casting about for a strong name, Cussler chose that of his own six-year-old son, Dirk, and began forming a hero who possessed a respect for the sea, wry wit in the face of imminent danger, a love of classic cars, and a lust for adventure. Clearly much of Pitt's inherent traits reflected the aspiring author's personal interests. Working in the evening and on weekends, Cussler eventually completed his first novel, Pacific Vortex! - a tale involving a missing nuclear sub and a fictional area similar to the Bermuda Triangle. Although written in a straight forward, action-packed style that was favorably compared to that of prolific action-adventure novelist Alistair MacLean, Cussler had no luck attracting a publisher. Even his wife told him that she doubted it would ever sell.
Undaunted, Cussler began work on his second book, The Mediterranean Caper, and having quit the advertising game, took on less demanding work at a Southern California dive shop. By 1969, Cussler had completed the second novel - this time pitting Dirk against vicious drug smugglers in the Aegean Sea - and realized that he might benefit from professional representation. In a devious maneuver deserving of his wily seafaring hero, Cussler hoodwinked William Morris agent Peter Lampac into reading his two manuscripts by posing as a Hollywood talent agent himself. Fortunately, the gambit paid off and a suitably impressed Lampac signed Cussler on as a client. Nonetheless, years went by without a sale until The Mediterranean Caper was at last published in 1973. Despite receiving an Edgar Award nomination for Best Paperback Original Novel of the Year, the print run was modest and the sales even less impressive. By then, Cussler had already begun writing a third Dirk Pitt adventure, Iceberg, which marked a transition from the earlier straight-forward storylines to more complex, historically-themed plots populated by a large cast of characters. Having grown weary of California, Cussler relocated his family to Colorado and, after a brief return to the world of advertising, at last committed to writing full time. In 1975, Iceberg was released, although like its predecessor, the novel was greeted with only moderate interest.
Doggedly determined, Cussler continued with a fourth Pitt adventure. After a fortuitous bidding war resulted in an impressive print run and advance publicity from publisher Viking Press, 1976's Raise the Titanic! proved to be Cussler's breakthrough novel. Tied to an over-the-top scheme to retrieve the ill-fated luxury liner and an exceedingly rare and valuable mineral that was reportedly on board, it seemed that Cussler had at last found his winning formula. Raise the Titanic! quickly became an international bestseller and film rights were soon snatched up by Britain's ITC Entertainment for a tidy sum. Life began to imitate life in 1978 when Cussler formed a real life National Underwater and Marine Agency after it was suggested that the diving enthusiast create his own non-profit organization. It was also put forth that Cussler name the organization after his fictional hero's agency, and so, remarkably, NUMA was born for a second time. Over the years, NUMA was credited with discovering more than 60 wrecks, including the Confederate Civil War submersible, the H. L. Hunley. After a lengthy, complex and expensive production period, Dirk Pitt at last made his feature film debut in the big-budget adventure "Raise the Titanic" (1980). Starring Richard Jordan as Pitt and co-starring Jason Robards, Anne Archer and Alec Guinness, the film met with poor reviews and dismal box office returns. Of the costly debacle, ITC Entertainment's Sir Lew Grade sardonically speculated, "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic." For his part, Cussler was so utterly disgusted with the result that he took his literary properties off the film market for nearly 25 years.
In the meantime, Cussler continued to churn out more Pitt adventures at a rate of a novel every two to three years, including the eventual printing of his first book, Pacific Vortex! in 1983. The Sea Hunters, Cussler's entry into the world of non-fiction, was published in 1996. Having served on the Board of Governors of the Maritime College, State University of New York for a number of years, Cussler was awarded a Ph.D. by the institution after it accepted the book in lieu of a thesis paper in 1997. Presented with a seemingly inexhaustible market for his material, Cussler soon began collaborating with a rotating group of co-authors on numerous spin-off series, such as The NUMA Files and all-new franchises like the Isaac Bell Adventures, a Western series set in the early 20th century. Though still wary of Hollywood's take on his fictional universe, Cussler did lend his name and presence to the oceanic documentary series "The Sea Hunters" (National Geographic, 2002), chronicling various shipwreck discovery excursions. In 2003, Cussler was dealt a personal blow when his wife of nearly 50 years passed away. Perhaps feeling his own mortality more keenly than ever, the prolific author brought on his son Dirk, to being co-writing the Pitt adventures with his father, debuting with their novel Black Wind.
Against his better judgment, Cussler was eventually convinced to do business with Hollywood again. Based on the author's 1992 novel of the same name, "Sahara" (2005) starred Matthew McConaughey as Pitt and co-starred Penélope Cruz. By the time the film was released, it appeared that history was repeating itself. With an escalating budget that ballooned to well over $150 million, even a moderately successful opening weekend could not prevent the film from losing an estimated $78 million for the studio. Less than stellar reviews only added insult to injury for Cussler, who quickly sued the production company, billionaire Philip Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment, claiming they reneged on his contracted right to script approval. Crusader quickly counter-sued, alleging that not only did Cussler hinder the film's production and promotion, but willfully exaggerated the sales of his novels to the producers. Although an initial win for Crusader was later overturned in favor of the author, the end result remained the same for Cussler, who once again swore he would never let Hollywood touch another of his properties. Concentrating on his fields of expertise, Cussler remained active with NUMA and embarked on such new publishing endeavors as his first children's book, The Adventures of Vin Fiz in 2006. Other passion projects included the operation of the Cussler Auto Museum in Colorado, which housed over 100 of his own classic vehicles. Along with his children, Dirk, Jr. and Summer - who had been introduced to the series a decade earlier - the indomitable Dirk Pitt continued his adventures in Cussler's 22nd entry in the long-running franchise with Poseidon's Arrow in 2012.
By Bryce P. Coleman
|Cussler was awarded a Doctor of Letters degree in 1997 by the Board of Governors of the State University of New York Maritime College.|
From classic movie palaces to the state-of-the-art IMAX screens.