"They asked me to speak about what I've been doing lately. So instead I decided to show you what I've been doing lately," Dr. Michael Crichton '64 said yesterday at a preview of his new movie "Coma" at the Law School Forum.
Crichton, author of best-selling novels "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Terminal Man," directed "Coma" after writing the screen-play based on the novel by Robin Cook.
"Coma" is a suspense novel about a third-year Harvard Medical student who discovers a plot among her superiors to reduce essentially healthy patients to comas in order to use their organs for research purposes.
In an interview during the showing of the movie, Crichton said he was intrigued by the prospect of directing "Coma" because he "wanted to do a movie about a woman who wasn't a hooker or a housewife."
Crichton, a graduate of the Medical School, said he was able to draw on his experiences "to establish a tone, a political atmosphere," but added that the specific events in "Coma" were not ones he witnessed at the Medical School.
"The relationship between real experience and fiction is complicated," Crichton said. "People who write books in which the characters f--- a lot are assumed to f--- a lot themselves, when in reality, people who write books in which the characters f--- a lot often aren't getting laid. 'Coma' isn't meant to be a documentary," he added.
Crichton is author of more than 17 novels and has directed several films before "Coma."
He published "The Andromeda Strain" in his last year at the Medical School. He had already published six other novels, five under the alias John Lange and one under the alias Jeffrey Hudson.
"I was paying my way through medical school and I had to do something to earn a lot of money fast," Crichton said in explanation of his habit of writing novels while in medical school.
"Making money was always my reason for writing," Crichton said. "It still is one reason for writing."
I had always earned money as a writer; it was like waiting tables," Crichton added, "I could write a fifty thousand word thriller in a week, ten thousand words a day."
When he could not pay his tuition by writing thrillers during summer, Christmas, and Easter vacations, Crichton realized he would have to write one during the school year.
"I knew I was allowed to flunk one course a year," he said. "So I picked my one course and flunked it while I was writing my books. Finally I realized I enjoyed writing a lot more than I enjoyed medical school," he said.
Crichton said he had never liked medical school very much, and began seeing a psychiatrist in the middle of his second year.
"The thing about medical school is that they tell you 'Even if you don't like this stage, you'll like the next one. Or you'll like being a doctor,"' Crichton said.
"By the time 'The Andromeda Strain' was published, I was in my last year and I figured they were right--I might as well finish and get the degree," he added.
Since graduating from the Medical School in 1969, Crichton has not practiced medicine, although he spent a year on the research staff at the Salk Institute. He has devoted most of his time to writing novels and. more recently, to directing films.
Crichton's next project will be the filming of "The Great Train Robbery," scheduled to begin shooting in Ireland in April, 1978.
After that, he said he plans to write another book.
When asked how he felt about medical care in America, Crichton said, "I think we can all agree that Ame ican medicine, the way it is now, is not successful. But there's no evidence that the government can run anything. If you like the post office, you'll like socialized medicine.