The Candy Men

The Rollicking Life and Times of the Notorious Novel Candy

by Nile Southern

Arcade, 408 pp., $27.95

THIS BIOGRAPHY, The Candy Men, has one whale of a come-on as its subtitle: "The Rollicking Life and Times of the Notorious Novel Candy." The name of the "notorious" novel probably won't resonate strongly with anyone who didn't experience the 1960s, but many will recognize two films nominated for Academy Awards scripted by Candy coauthor Terry Southern: Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider--works nearly as emblematic of that period as the Beatles.

Indeed, there's a reason Terry Southern's picture is among the crowd that fills the cover of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album: The man was everywhere, for one brief moment, a success story of hip writing and hip living. A failure story, as well, of course, for the man who was everywhere ended up nowhere. Who now reads Terry Southern? His readers, like his books, have fallen to dust and blown away.

Terry Southern died in 1995, forgotten and unproductive, but his son Nile Southern has attempted to create in The Candy Men a coherent portrait of his father's time, working from a chaotic, confused, and seminal mass of debris. The result--produced from letters, legal documents, telegrams, and odd notes scrawled on crumpled paper napkins--reads like a lengthy cut-and-paste job.

Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg met in Paris in 1948, both on the G.I. Bill, nominally enrolled at the Sorbonne, each finding in the other a kindred spirit, and sharing a sense of humor. Life meant sitting around in the cafés of St. Germain des Près, drinking and smoking and above all talking. In time, drugs and alcohol played a role as well.

Along the way, they met a publisher named Maurice Girodias, and in a giddy burst, the three of them conceived and wrote a joke novel called Candy. It was a kind of pornographic take-off on Voltaire's Candide, in which a young American virgin finds herself unable to say no to any quirky sexual situation the authors could create. The 1968 film version had a star-studded cast--Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, John Huston, and Ringo Starr--and got as spectacularly bad reviews as a film could possibly receive. It's available on DVD for those curious enough to verify critical and popular judgment.

In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I too was in Paris during those days, many a night in the Café de Flore and Café des Deux Magots. I came to know many of the people mentioned in The Candy Men. The story the book covers concerns the conception of Candy and the subsequent years of legal entanglements with French publisher Girodias, and it was for me like some strange kaleidoscope, as page after page referred to memories I had long buried.

On page 11, for instance, the name of Austryn Wainhouse appears. I'd first known him in Albert Guerard's writing class at Harvard, along with John Hawkes and Frank O'Hara, and then a little later in Paris, where his wife Muffie was working in the Code Room of the American Embassy. They helped my husband and me find our first apartment on the Left Bank. They were also the first anti-Americans I'd ever met. Austryn studied the Marquis de Sade, whose works at that time were banned both in France and the United States. The Wainhouses eventually separated--she to pursue an affair with Girodias and he eventually to translate all de Sade's books. On May 6, 2001, Muffie died in Corrales, New Mexico, where she had been the innkeeper of a bed and breakfast.

I knew Maurice Girodias as well. He was a second-generation pornographer whose English father, Jack Kahane, published under the imprint of Obelisk Press the works--by Henry Miller and Frank Harris and the like--that several generations of American tourists smuggled past U.S. Customs coming back from Paris. On his death, the day after World War II broke out, he left his printing plates, artwork, and rights to his son, who took his mother's maiden name (Kahane having been Jewish) to avoid being arrested by the Germans while he lived out the Occupation in Paris.

GIVEN TO PUBLISHING what the trade called "d-b's"--dirty books--for an under-the-counter trade to British and American visitors, Girodias started up one imprint slyly entitled the "Traveler's Companion Series" and another--little dark green-colored books--under the name of Olympia Press. He trolled the cafés of St. Germain des Près questing for would-be writers, engaging them--at $300 to $500, decent money in those days--to indulge in their erotic fantasies, publishing them under colorful pseudonyms.

Sometime in the mid-1960s I interviewed Girodias for an article I'd been commissioned to write on pornography for some now long defunct men's magazine. Although Nile Southern makes Girodias out to have been a pretty dashing and cool character in his time, I recall describing him to friends at the time as a geek. I do recollect one thing he had to say about the writing of pornography, however. He said that the trouble was most writers only had one erotic fantasy, and once that was written, they had nothing left to say. This was why, he claimed, he was always on the lookout for new writers. He asked if I'd be interested and sent over to our apartment a big carton of his little green books as inspiration for me.

Girodias did publish a few books that at the time wouldn't have been able to find a respectable publisher but now can be found in just about any good-sized bookstore, particularly Lolita (Southern describes at length the complicated legal problems of Nabokov), The Ginger Man, and Naked Lunch. Candy, however, found an eminently proper American publisher in 1964, Putnam, whose editors got some admirable advance blurbs from the likes of William Styron, Dwight Macdonald, James Jones, and Robert B. Silvers. But the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune refused to advertise the book, while Publisher's Weekly referred to "sick sex and pulp writing." Then Nelson Algren wrote the first national review of Candy for Life magazine, calling Southern "a first-rate writer." And as his son puts it, "the press began to package him as a self-made man who had arrived to save America from its stuffy Puritanism and Eisenhower hangover."

While coauthor Hoffenberg stayed on in Europe, Terry Southern was on hand in the United States to appear on television, also having coauthored the much-praised script of Dr. Strangelove. The sloppiness of the coauthors' original arrangements led to squabbles, and eventually Putnam split the royalties: 40 percent to Southern, 40 percent to Hoffenberg, and 20 percent to Girodias, though most of the money disappeared in legal fees. The share-out ultimately in 1970 was $9,000: "the bitter and paltry spoils of a dissatisfying war."

IN 1965, the U.S. district attorney judged Candy was not a suitable vehicle for prosecution, and in 1966, Burroughs's Naked Lunch was the last work of fiction to be censored by the Post Office. As author Southern puts it: "The world finally was safe for erotic works of the imagination to see the light of day." He goes on to quote Edward de Grazia, then the lawyer for Grove Press, who "finds our revolution, in terms of sexual expression, particularly in the works of the imagination, remains quite secure." But today de Grazia finds alarming "the term of terrorism in the hands of this [Bush and Ashcroft] administration." Young Southern comments, "Indeed, unprecedented rollbacks are in many ways more chilling yet undefined labels than 'pornographer' and 'pornography' ever were."

Well, it's not a surprise he should think so, I guess. What's left for him to rebel against? The last decades of the lives of the authors of Candy were sad and dismal: drugs and liver cancer for Hoffenberg in 1986; drink and deep depression for Southern in 1995.

As for Girodias, he was felled in 1990 by a heart attack while promoting his autobiography on French radio. The 1960s were long, long over for them all--and having abused and squandered their talents, they found they had nothing but leftover life to kill.

Cynthia Grenier is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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