| Michael Crichton
Two months ago, Michael Crichton thought he was going to die. In the middle of the night, he woke to find himself staring at a handgun, and two masked men standing over his bed.
At Harvard, everyone assumed Crichton would spend his life in a laboratory or doing research. “When I let it be known that I might prefer making movies, there was a real sense of shock”
“They told me not to move,” Crichton recalls, “and I did what they said. I didn’t move an inch, not with that gun pointed at my head.” The men had broken into the home of one of America’s richest writers. As the creator of Jurassic Park, Twister and the television drama ER, Crichton has received fabulous sums from Hollywood. According to Forbes magazine, his income in the late Nineties ranged between £40 million and £70 million a year.
Obviously, he was an inviting target for thieves, but how did they get past the high walls and barred windows of his home in Santa Monica, California' Didn’t alarms ring and guard dogs howl'
Crichton gives me a sheepish smile, and shrugs. “No, I didn’t have the alarm turned on. There was no special security. It isn’t that kind of house.”
Perhaps the most startling news about Crichton’s ordeal is that it took place not in a mansion, but in a modest bungalow on an ordinary street far removed from the city’s ritzy beachfront properties. The neighbours — people of average means — didn’t know they were living next to a man with enough money to buy the whole neighbourhood. Crichton is a shy, reclusive character who likes to keep his personal life as secret as possible. For our meeting, he has hired a small room at a good but unremarkable hotel in Santa Monica. It is blazing hot on the beach below, but the author is dressed in a jacket and tie and looks like a visiting banker.
Now that the secret of his bungalow hideaway is out, he doesn’t mind admitting that he was trying to live anonymously in a part of town where nobody would think to look for him. He had just separated from his wife — screenwriter and former actress Anne-Marie Martin — and was avoiding the spotlight.
That’s not easy, however, when you’re as famous as Crichton, and as tall. At 6 feet 9 inches, he is impossible to overlook. At just under 6 feet, I feel like a Lilliputian next to him and can sympathise with the comments of Kathleen Kennedy, his producer on the film Jurassic Park, who complained: “I found myself climbing up on things without even knowing it, just to talk to him.” But, at 60, he has been towering over people for so long that he seems to take his height for granted.
“I wanted a quiet life where I could do my work in peace, and this house had everything that I needed. It didn’t call attention to itself. As far as I knew, it was a closely guarded secret that I lived there. But I was wrong. Somebody had figured it out, because it’s clear to me that the robbers knew who I was and had targeted me. Why else would they break into a house like that' You wouldn’t guess from the outside that it was worth robbing.”
Yes, but an astute criminal might think it odd that a very fit, prosperous-looking giant resided there. In any case, it wouldn’t take too much effort to identify a face that has graced millions of book covers in 20 languages.
Unfortunately, Crichton was not alone when the intruders came. His only child - 13-year-old Taylor, his daughter by Anne-Marie — was asleep in the house and was also held at gunpoint. The two were tied up, the house was ransacked and the robbers made a clean getaway. A few minutes later, the author was able to free himself and his daughter and to call the local police. He is still shaken by the event, and is only now willing to talk about it.
He made his fortune inventing stories about the dangers of mysterious viruses, runaway robots, killer tornadoes and mutant dinosaurs, so he is aware of the irony that his greatest peril in real life was far less exotic. “A lot of people have come up to me and told me that they have suffered similar experiences. Robberies and muggings and that kind of thing are far more common than I knew. But you don't think about that until it happens to you.
“Ordinarily, I live in a world where I can arrange things to my liking. It gives me the impression that I'm in control. That's a mistake. After the robbery, I was reminded that life is full of surprises that you can't do anything about. Some things are just the way they are, whether you like it or not.”