1921-01-19

The American author PATRICIA HIGHSMITH was born on this date (d. 1995). Born Mary Patricia Plangman just outside Fort Worth, Texas, Highsmith is known mainly for her psychological thrillers which have led to more than two dozen film adaptations. Strangers on a Train has been adapted to the screen three times, notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951.

In addition to her acclaimed series about murderer Tom Ripley, she wrote many short stories, often macabre, satirical or tinged with black humor. She famously preferred the company of animals to that of people, and once said, “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

Highsmith never married but had a number of affairs with both men and women. In 1949 she became close to the novelist Marc Brandel. Between 1959 and 1961, she had a relationship with Marijane Meaker, who wrote under the pseudonyms of Vin Packer and Ann Aldrich, but later wrote young adult fiction with the name M.E. Kerr. Meaker wrote of their affair in her memoir Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s.

Her recurring character Tom Ripley — an amoral, sexually ambiguous con artist and erstwhile murderer — was featured in a total of five novels, known to fans as “the Ripliad,” written between 1955 and 1991. He was first introduced in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). After a January 1956 TV adaptation on Studio One, it was filmed by René Clément as Plein Soleil (1960, aka Purple Noon and Blazing Sun) with Alain Delon, whom Highsmith praised as the ideal Ripley.

The novel was adapted under its original title as a 1999 film by Anthony Minghella, starring Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Cate Blanchett. A later Ripley novel, Ripley’s Game, was filmed by Wim Wenders as The American Friend (1977). Under its original title, it was filmed again in 2002, directed by Liliana Cavani with John Malkovich in the title role. (The editors thought it a botched effort).

Most recently the movie Carol, based on Highsmith’s only explicit lesbian themed novel, The Price of Salt, is a 2015 British-American romantic drama film directed by Todd Haynes, from a screenplay by Phyllis Nagy, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

Highsmith left all of her considerable fortune to the artists’ colony, Yaddo. She completely disinherited any family she had, adding a boost to the arts in this country.