Monday, August 23, 2010


These days I often purchase books from Charity shops enjoying finding random literature to read. Terry Southern's 'Candy' (1958) was one such book. Hailed as the 'first and best of our new wave of American writers, defining the cutting edge of black comedy' (Joseph Heller), Terry Southern's 'Candy' is a parody of Voltaire's 'Candide'. It's a satirical story of a big-hearted blonde who finds her affectionate nature invariably exploited. Candy's adventure to find the meaning of life discovers that American society is obsessed with sex and that every man she so innocently encounters only wants to have sex with her!

Well-written snappy dialogue, quite funny and playful in its depiction of sex, it's hard to believe that in England a book as tame as D.H.Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' with its occasional vulgar word was the test-case for the Obscene publications Act of 1959, while in America, 'Candy' a non-stop erotic comedy which borders on pornography at times, could be published with little public concern. It does get a little tiresome to read the phrase 'clitoral stimulation' over and over again, as if a naughty school-boy is writing, but then for 1958 that is quite a daring phrase. Ten years after its publication a film of the book was made which quite frankly must be one of the biggest turkey's of all time. Luckily a friend's phone-call interrupted my viewing a hammy performance by Richard Burton, a mere 17 minutes into the film. I simply could not return to watch further cringe-worthy performances by the likes of Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau and Ringo Starr.

Early in his career Southern seems to have met and been revered by nearly everyone associated with the 'Counter-Culture'. In Greenwich Village he associated with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Living in Paris he heard musicians such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis perform. He also met leading French intellectuals Jean Cocteau, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. In London he befriended the painter Francis Bacon, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, appearing on the cover of 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart Club' album in sun-glasses.

Interspersed in Terry Southern's life (1924-1995) one of promise, disappointment, unsuccessful projects and an increasing reliance upon amphetamine pills, are several note-worthy screen-plays for 'cult' films. His career as a screen-writer developed when the maverick actor Peter Seller's gave a copy of his favourite book, Southern's 'The Magic Christian' to the film-director Stanley Kubrick to read. Terry Southern's screen-plays includes the films Doctor Strangelove (1964), Barbarella (1967), Easy Rider (1968) and the film of his novel 'The Magic Christian' (1969) which like Candy was written ten years earlier.

'The Magic Christian' is the vehicle for some of Southern's blackest humour in which he demonstrates that people will do anything, absolutely anything to acquire money. The writer Hunter S. Thompson said of the novel , 'I started reading The Magic Christian and I thought I was going to go insane... it was an incredible influence on me.' The film of 'The Magic Christian' (1969) is not a complete turkey but episodic and uneven with many cameo appearances including Roman Polanski, Yul Brynner, Raquel Welch as well as British comedians, John Cleese, Grahame Chapman and Spike Milligan.

Terry Southern's life, like so many artists associated with the 'Counter-culture' was cut short prematurely through his heavy drinking and drug-abuse. His black humour and sly surreal perspective upon American society and its values has many imitators but he was one of the first American 'counter-culture' writers to gain fame and notoriety. His influence endures.
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