‘The Mephisto Waltz’
By this time Stewart had married Joan Richardson, a literary agent, and they lived in a 19th-century townhouse in Greenwich Village in New York City. He drew on his neighborhood for a setting and created a character who was a young pianist turned writer (also Stewart’s own experience) who interviews a successful older pianist. The older pianist, who is a secret Satanist, notices that the writer has a concert pianist’s hands and decides to take over the writer’s body when it comes his time to die.
Stewart titled the book “The Mephisto Waltz,” which is an actual piece of concert music. As a gimmick, Stewart’s publisher had him record “The Mephisto Waltz” and issued the book’s publicity packet with a 45-rpm recording of the title song.
The story was suitably creepy and the book sold well.
Stewart did a booksigning tour which brought him to Decker’s bookstore in Anderson. His beginner’s luck continued when Hollywood producer Quinn Martin bought the movie rights to “The Mephisto Waltz” for $250,000. The book was made into a movie starring Alan Alda of “M*A*S*H” fame.
Impressed with Anderson
Stewart was launched on a writing career, although it would take several years before he would find that level of success again. He tried several fiction genres. His next novel, “The Methuselah Enzyme,” was a science fiction novel. “Six Weeks” (which was made into a not-very-successful film starring Mary Tyler Moore) was a contemporary romance. “The Mannings” was a family saga and contained elements of his Indiana childhood. (He included fictionalized mentions of Anderson’s Whitehall and the Green Lantern roadhouse.) Stewart’s most successful novels were probably family sagas, a genre he enjoyed very much. The novel “Century,” which deals with an Italian family and is set in Rome, New York and Los Angeles, was inspired while on a trip to Italy. Stewart followed it with “Ellis Island,” another novel about the immigrant experience. Both novels were made into successful television mini-series.