Fifty years ago today, on January 29th, 1964, Stanley Kubrick’s film Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned t to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb was released.
In light of the Cold War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kubrick (like millions of others) was deeply concerned at the thought of a possible nuclear war between America and Russia. He decided to make a movie about it, and read numerous books on the subject. At first, he considered making a straightforward thriller about a possible nuclear accident. As this rough idea evolved, Kubrick bought the rights for Peter George’s Red Alert (aka Two Hours to Doom) and began working on a screenplay.
As he researched the subject further, Kubrick began to see the total absurdity of an all out nuclear war, and opted to make “a nightmare comedy.” An original draft opened with extra-terrestrials viewing Earth after a nuclear holocaust. It was to be called The Delicate Balance of Terror. Kubrick then decided the film required a level of “inspired lunacy” within a realistic framework. He therefore brought in “Existentialist hipster” and controversial author of Candy, Terry Southern.
As the late film critic Alexander Walker described it, the result was:
“...the most perfectly written comedic screenplay of post-war cinema.”
According to Todd Brown at Twitchfilm, an uncompleted outline for Son of Strangelove, a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s immortal 1964 Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was found among the effects of the legendary screenwriter Terry Southern (Easy Rider, Barbarella) after his death in 1995. The story was set in the underground bunkers discussed in the infamous war room scene of the original film. As tantalizing as it is to wonder how such a film would have turned out had it indeed come to pass, it turns out that Kubrick had Monty Python refugee and great visionary of the dismal Terry Gilliam in mind to direct. Straight from Gilliam himself:
I was told after Kubrick died - by someone who had been dealing with him - that he had been interested in trying to do another Strangelove with me directing. I never knew about that until after he died but I would have loved to.
This is my face, just thinking about ‘Son of Strangelove.’
In early 1968, Hollywood producer Si Litvinoff was trying to find a director for Terry Southern’s screenplay adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novella, A Clockwork Orange. He sent the script around to the likes of John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Tinto Brass, Ken Russell, Nicolas Roeg and John Schlesinger with cover letters suggesting that The Beatles were interested in doing the soundtrack and that Mick Jagger or David Hemmings would be good for the lead Droog “Alex,” the role that went to Malcolm McDowell in Stanley Kubrick’s film.
At one point Jagger actually owned the rights to the Burgess novella—he bought them for about $500 at time when Anthony Burgess was apparently flat broke—and then later sold them at a nice profit to Litvinoff.
When the news reached the Stones camp that Hemmings was the favorite for the role, not Mick, Marianne Faithfull, all of The Beatles, Candy director Christian Marquand, artist Peter Blake and several others sent a note to Terry Southern:
DEAR MR SOUTHERN, WE, THE UNDERSIGNED, DO HEREBY PROTEST WITH EXTREME VEHEMENCE AS WELL AS SHATTERED ILLUSIONS (IN YOU) THE PREFERENCE OF DAVID HEMMINGS ABOVE ****** MICK JAGGER ****** IN THE ROLE OF ALEX IN ‘THE CLOCKWORK ORANGE’...
Candy should, I repeat should be off the scale incredible. But it’s not.
Candy was a film that was always talked about, but no one ever saw it. The poster of Candy topless in the airplane cockpit would always be for sale in the back pages of magazines like “Famous Monsters of Filmland” next to ones of King Kong and Frankenstein and it became a familiar image of the era. But the movie you never saw. Not on any late night movie show, never on a Sunday morning “Million Dollar Movie” or anything like that, Candy was seemingly banned from TV for being too racy and for whatever reason was never released on VHS either. Nor was it ever on HBO or Showtime. It was the great lost movie in my eyes.
I became mildly obsessed with this film I could never see and went about collecting movie posters, lobby cards, publicity photos and I own several different versions of the novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg with different groovy covers. The mythical Candy became a cult movie Holy Grail for me. I really built it up in my mind. For years I tried to get hold of a copy in the tape trading underground, but the best I was ever able to find was still unwatchable. Then finally it came out on DVD. It was like Christmas had arrived.
But it sucked! Really sucked. It was such a let down!
I mean just LOOK at the cast: Ringo Starr (Emmanuel, the Mexican gardener), Charles Aznavour (the horny hunchback), Marlon Brando (Grindl, the horny (fake) Indian guru), Richard Burton (MacPhisto, the drunk, horny Welsh poet), James Coburn (egotistical surgeon), John Huston (dirty old man doctor) and Walter Matthau (horny military general). Sugar Ray Robinson and Anita Pallenberg make cameo appearances. How could you go wrong with a cast like that?
Let’s not forget the amazing opening space travel sequence by Douglas Trumbull who went on to make 2001 with Stanley Kubrick. And the soundtrack by The Byrds, Steppenwolf and soundtrack great Dave Grusin (it’s INCREDIBLE and easy to find on audio blogs). The script was adapted by Buck Henry. HOW could this fail?
It even featured the decade defining pulchritude of Miss Teen Sweden, Ewa Aulin, in the title role of “Candy Christian,” the ultimate All-American girl.
But despite all this Candy is a terrible film and even worse, it’s boring.
One of the things that must have mucked up things badly for the production is—and I am just theorizing here—the contracts for the lead actors. These were THE leading actors of the day, all of them top drawer A-list 60s talent. After watching Candy the thought occurred to me that Marlon Brando’s agent probably asked how much screen time Richard Burton was getting and demanded the same for his client. Then James Coburn’s manager asked the same question and demanded equal time for his client and so on and so until each actor was guaranteed “Most Favored Nations” equal screen time. How else to explain the film’s structure? It’s maddening to watch and Candy feels like it’s never going to end.
STILL, I’m not saying it’s so bad you shouldn’t watch it. Actually I think that if this sounds even remotely intriguing to you then it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s not good, no, we’ve already established that fact, but it is a super insane, trippy, campy relic of the 1960s with some of the most iconic actors of the decade behaving like total hambones, each trying to outdo the other in chewing up the scenery.
I’ve been a hugeTerry Southern fan for as far back as I can remember—I’d even go so far as to say that I’m a Terry Southern nut. Posting some of his unpublished work here on Dangerous Minds has been a thrill for me. In my day, I have gone about collecting a fair amount of first editions, magazines, memorabilia and just stuff that relates to Southern’s career. In fact, as I sit here typing this, there is a framed poster of The Magic Christian hanging on the wall in my office (it’s the exact one you see above). Terry Southern is a charter member of my personal pantheon of 20th century heroes.
Terry Southern (1924–1995) was an American satirist, author, journalist, screenwriter, and educator and is considered one of the great literary minds of the second half of the twentieth century. His bestselling novels—Candy (1958), a spoof on pornography based on Voltaire’s Candide, and The Magic Christian (1959), a satire of the grossly rich also made into a movie starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr—established Southern as a literary and pop culture icon. Literary achievement evolved into a successful film career, with the Academy Award–nominated screenplays for Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which he wrote with Stanley Kubrick and Peter George, and Easy Rider (1969), which he wrote with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.
Truly a “writer’s writer,” Southern was lauded by the likes of William Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Stanley Kubrick, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe. Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut. He also wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for Barbarella, The Loved One and The Cincinnati Kid and for a while, worked for Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. He was declared “the most profoundly witty writer of our generation,” by novelist Gore Vidal, no slouch in the wit department himself and is one of the “people we like” chosen by the Beatles for the Sgt. Pepper’s collage. Now the city of Dallas, TX has proclaimed May 1st, 2011, “Terry Southern Day” in recognition of one of the Lone Star State’s few genuine literary legends.
On that day Dr. Strangelove will screen at the historic Texas Theatre (where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended, btw) and Dallas City Councilwoman Delia Jasso will present Southern’s son, Nile Southern, with the official proclamation for “Terry Southern Day.” Nile Southern will also be showing a portion of his upcoming documentary Dad Strangelove, about his famous father. A Q&A session will afterwards will be moderated by The Dallas Observer’s Robert Wilonsky, who recently wrote a fascinating article about Nile and the important job he performs of archiving his father’s legacy for cinema historians and literary scholars of the future.
(The following is a transcript of a conversation which took place recently at Mr Trump’s penthouse office atop the Trump Plaza Hotel)
Terry Southern: Unless I’m very much mistaken, you have rather low-profiled your gayness until now, isn’t that so?
“Donald Trump”: Oh absolutely! Good heavens yes! I could not care less about it! It’s just so silly, all the fuss about it! And at this late date! Good grief!
TS: Yes, well, just what caused your change of mind in that regard?
DT (with a toss of head, half-closed eyes): Oh well, that’s always one’s prerogative, isn’t it? Or am I beginning to sound too much like Doris Day?! Good grief, I hope not! I dunno, maybe it was peer pressure—I hate that expression!—but maybe that was it. Anyhoo, Leona—my very dearest friend, Leona Helmsley—kept after me about it. “Fess up, Donnie!” she would say, “fess up. fess up!” And finally I said “What the heck!” So here I am! (beams) Ready or not!
TS: Have you been able to use gayness to advantage in your financial affairs?
DT: Oh godness no, I would never ever think of mixing my financial affairs’ no pun intended!—with my personal mode. In fact when I switch into what I like to call my ‘prancing-gay mode,’ I
couldn’t add two plus two!
TS: You really get into it, do you?
DT (quite excited.). And how! Boy-oh-boy! Bro-ther!
TS: What is your response to having been dubbed “an Albrechian yahoo” by the general media?
DT: Oh no! Who said that? Was it Gore? Gore Vidal? Only Gore could say something so silly! Let me tell you exactly what happened! He came into the Palm Court and was as cross as two sticks because I was sitting at what he considered his table! Can you buh-leeve it?!? My Palm Court, my hotel. and his table. Quite the qrand-seigneur, isn’t he? But I simply love his work! Anyhoo, I sent a case of D.P. up to his suite, so perhaps he isn’t so cross with me now! And I most certainly am not what he said. ‘Prancing gay’, yes, but not that other thing. Good grief!
[Legal disclaimer: This is a fictional “conversation” that never actually took place. No, Donald Trump did not come out of the closet back in the 90s. Chances are that if he had, you’d have already heard about it…]
In 1968 Esquire magazine hired Terry Southern, William Burroughs, Jean Genet and John Sack to cover the volatile Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Some voices from the counterculture are so sorely missed in these turbulent times. Kurt Vonnegut, William Burroughs, George Carlin… wouldn’t you just love to hear what they would have to say about the Tea party, Sarah Palin or the GOP’s misguided anti-union putsch? Sadly we never will, but thanks to Nile Southern, we can read exactly what his father, the celebrated satirist, novelist and screenwriter, Terry Southern thought about Rush Limbaugh. Although these unpublished observations were made in the 1990, they still seem pretty fresh today, if you ask me!
Mr. Howard Stern
c/o Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, N.Y. 10020
Dear Howard Stern:
As a long time admirer of your wit, and your enduring integrity re the First Amendment, I was intrigued by your recent expression of the interest in the “actual weight” of the outlandish pumpkin head of the total A-hole, R. Limbaugh. By grand good chance, a friend of mine is a professor in bio-physics here at the university, and, with some sophisticated instruments, and his professorial savvy, he was able to take the measurements necessary for the calculations directly off the video screen. Howard, you will be interested to learn that the weight came in at a whopping 58 ½ pounds; that’s right, fifty-eight and a half pounds of unspeakable slime and putrefaction – perhaps the most concentrated conglomeration of homophobic spleen, racist venom, rancid anti-fem menstrual corruption, all infested with coprophillic and child-abuse fantasies ever to accrue in a single enclosure – Howard, they say that stench of this monstrous vessel will send the needle of an E-Meter right through the side of the goddamn box! Can you believe that he is allowed to regurgitate this foul muck under the guise of public buffoonery? It is outrageous; in his case, I would be obliged to shut down the First Amendment pronto. And yet, you, apparently are so unaware of him as to express only a passing curiosity about the “actual weight” of his pumpkin head. This was disappointing, because you, Howard Howie Stern, have the ideal forum from which to blast this vomitman A-hole. Should you, hopefully, decide to do so, let me tell you that one of the best ways to get his goat, to set him hopping, so to speak, is to confront him (and his moronic viewers) with a few of what he calls his ‘action-warthogs’. Evidently there also exists video tape footage of this horrendous coupling. Howard, they say the imagery will make an ambulance attendant puke.
I’m enclosing a short piece which I think may amuse you. With all best wishes for your continuing and most highly deserved success,
East Canaan, Connecticut
March 23, 1995
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY
To The Editor:
Readers of every stamp and kidney are increasingly perplexed by your failure to respond to the xenophobic rant of the so-called ‘radio commentator’ RASH LAMEBRAIN. To dismiss his remarks as merely the dotty musings of a curmudgeon/buffoon (a la Major Hoople) is to be unaware of the scope and focus of their calculated savagery – which has now progressed from comparing the President’s daughter with a dog, to ridiculing persons dying of AIDS. Why hasn’t at least one of your great champions of truth and decency (Lewis, Rich, Quindlen) been allowed to counter his unopposed spew of sleaze and putrefaction? The fact that they have not is painfully reminiscent of another era of fear and silence in recent American history.
East Canaan, Connecticut
The Most Delightful bit of poetic justice I’ve seen lately happened when, immediately following the Okla City disaster, the crypto curmudgeon/buffoon Rash Lamebrain started barking his mad dog mantra “Bomb the Arabs! Bomb the Arabs!” only to discover the next day that the initial suspects of the deed were the very mirror image of himself – two mindless rednecks. The irony was absolute.