By Lee Wohlfert
March 31, 1975 12:00 PM

“One of the failures of American banking is that we’ve never encouraged accounts held in foreign currencies—Swiss francs, Deutsche marks, others—as European bankers do. Oh, we accommodate the big corporations because they know enough to insist; and American banks make generous profits from other currencies for themselves. But rarely, if ever, for small depositors.”

The speaker is Alex Vandervoort, an executive vice-president of the First Mercantile American Bank and the protagonist of Arthur Hailey’s just-published layer cake of a novel and certain best-seller, The Moneychangers. Of course, it’s really Hailey speaking, and he is the sort of fellow to take his own advice. So the millions he has earned from his best-sellers (Hotel, Airport, Wheels) are stashed in Switzerland, the Bahamas, Canada, the U.S. and other countries. “Largely in Swiss francs and gold,” says the affable Hailey. “I’m lively and liquid at the moment. We have cash.”

So up-to-the-minute has Hailey been with explorations of modern industrial society in his blockbusters that critics have snidely predicted such future titles from him as Oil, Supermarket and Plumbing, and it has been suggested that his prose reads like computer printout.

His latest story concerns the struggle for power between two executives for the presidency of a midwestern bank. It has enough plot for three average novels, and readers will learn perhaps as much or more about banking, credit, big deals and big dealers—and a lot more entertainingly—than they will from Martin Mayer’s solemn best-seller, The Bankers.

The Moneychangers has been gobbled up by producer Ross Hunter and Paramount and will become a three-or six-hour film for NBC-TV. (Hunter made Airport, the eighth grossing film of all time, for which Hailey received some $650,000 for the film rights alone. He got another $100,000 just for the use of his title in the sequel, Airport 1975.)

Hailey himself is as little known to his public as the sort of executives who populate his books. “I’m rather a dull person,” he maintains—who nonetheless cuts a gaudy figure in his double-knit, splashy tropical togs. (In New York this month to promote his book, he wore a sport jacket in a pattern of sail-boats.) “I enjoy waking up with the birds, taking walks. I like movies like Tora! Tora! Tora!…Anything mechanical and engines—because I trust them…housewives in shopping centers…Jacqueline Bisset…tinkering with stereo sets with my son. To me, the apex of life is to have dinner with a beautiful woman—my wife preferably.”

Most such activities take place in Lyford Cay in Nassau, where he and his wife Sheila moved six years ago from California’s Napa Valley. There, amidst a setting that resembles a dream brochure from the Bahamian tourist office, Hailey works a schedule as rigorous as any vice-president at GM.

Up at 7:30 a.m., Hailey runs through a few Canadian Air Force exercises to keep his 54-year-old physique in trim, then dashes off to his office in a separate building behind the main house. He barricades himself in a hermetically sealed room equipped with double doors, “No Smoking” signs and an IBM electric typewriter. Working from files, interviews and research data he has spent a year amassing, Hailey types out his novels at the rate of 600 words per day. About the only break in his regime is at lunchtime—putting out in his boat with Sheila to a nearby island for a picnic and a swim.

Hailey’s personal life is nearly as ordered as his work habits. “I’ve shared a bedroom with my wife for 20 years and it’s been great. I shared a bathroom with her and it was awful,” he says, admitting that he banished his wife to a separate bathroom (strewn with bobby pins and litter) when they built the Nassau house. Hailey’s wardrobe is filed away as neatly as his research. Every jacket and suit is bagged in plastic and labeled, like so many folders…”Plaid from Saks,” “checked Oxxford suit,” “blue dinner jacket.”

Born the son of a shopkeeper in Luton, England, he left school at 14, became an office boy and then a clerk. In 1939 he joined the RAF and served as a pilot and flight lieutenant in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. “I never had to kill anyone,” he recalls gratefully. After the war he emigrated to Canada, became a citizen and remains one. He worked on trade publications, started his own advertising agency, and eventually began writing TV screenplays. There, too, he met Sheila, an English-born magazine editor, who became his second wife. Together they have three children: Jane, 21, Steve, 19, and Diane, 17. (Hailey has three children by his first wife.) The Haileys refer to themselves as “North Americans,” only faint accents and daily tea hinting at their origins.

When not working, Hailey says, his chief pleasure is an intimate dinner party—often with such friends as Sidney Poitier and Joanna Shimkus—prepared by the Haileys’ Bahamian cook. Should Sheila not be on hand, Hailey likes to invite neighborhood ladies to join him—with his wife’s approval, of course.

With all the opportunities of the Bahamian paradise surrounding him, Hailey remains staunchly unathletic—although he did take up golf to learn enough to write a scene for The Moneychangers that involves a golf-playing U.S. Vice-President (who “isn’t anybody,” he insists). Sheila, who often heads off to the exclusive Lyford Cay Club for tennis, seems not to care. “Arthur’s not very coordinated,” she explains brightly. “Of course, he’s coordinated in bed, and that’s important.”