- Terry Southern
Terry Southern (
May 1, 1924– October 29, 1995) was a highly influential American short story writer, novelist, essayist, screenwriter and university lecturer noted for his distinctive satirical style. He was part of the Paris postwar literary movement in the 1950s and a companion to Beat writers in Greenwich Village; he was at the center of Swinging Londonin the sixties and helped to change the style and substance of Hollywoodfilms of the 1970s. In the 1980s he wrote for " Saturday Night Live" and lectured on screenwriting at several universities in New York.
Southern's dark and often absurdist style of broad yet biting
satirehelped to define the sensibilities of several generations of intelligent writers, readers, directors and film goers. He is credited by journalist Tom Wolfeas having invented New Journalismwith the publication of "Twirling at Ole Miss" in "Esquire" in 1962, and his gift for writing memorable film dialogue was evident in "", "The Loved One", " The Cincinnati Kid" and " Easy Rider". His work on "Easy Rider" helped create the independent film movement of the 1970s, in opposition to Hollywood film studios.
Alvarado, Texas, Southern left Southern Methodist Universityto serve as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II, returning to the States to study at Northwestern University, where he graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1948.
Southern left the USA September 1948, using a
G.I. Billgrant to travel to France, where he studied at the Faculté Des Lettres of the Sorbonne. His four-year stint in Paris was a crucial formative influence, both on his development as a writer and on the evolution of his "hip" persona, and during this period he made many important friendships and social contacts as he became a central player in the expatriate American café society. He became close friends with Mason Hoffenberg(with whom he subsequently co-wrote "Candy"), Alexander Trocchi, John Marquand, Mordecai Richler, Aram Avakian(photographer and brother of Columbia Recordsjazz producer George Avakian) and jazz musician Allan Eager, and also met expatriate American writer James Baldwin and leading French intellectuals Jean Cocteau, Jean Paul Sartreand Albert Camus.
He frequented the
Paris Cinemathequeand saw jazz performances by leading bebopmusicians including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monkand Miles Davis. During this time he wrote some of his best short stories, including "The Automatic Gate" and "You're Too Hip, Baby". His story, "The Sun and the Still Born Stars" was the very first short story published in the " Paris Review". Southern became closely identified with the "Paris Review" and its founders, Peter Matthiessen, H.L. "Doc" Humes and George Plimpton, and he formed a lifelong friendship with Plimpton. He met Pud Gadiotduring 1952; a romance soon blossomed and the couple married just before they moved to New York City. [Lee Hill: "A Grand Guy: The Life and Art of Terry Southern" (Bloombsury, 2001), pp.27-49]
Greenwich Village, 1953-56
In 1953 Southern and Gadiot returned to the USA and settled in
Greenwich Villagein New York City. As he had in Paris, Southern quickly became a prominent figure in the artistic scene that flourished in the Village in the late 1950s. He met visual artists including Robert Frank, Annie Truxelland Larry Rivers, and through Mason Hoffenberg, who made occasional visits from Paris, he was introduced to leading writers including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsbergand Gregory Corso.
He frequented renowned jazz venues like the
Five Spot, the San Remo and the Village Vanguard. It was in this period that Southern discovered and became obsessed with the work of British writer Henry Green. Green's writing exerted a strong influence on Southern's early work, and Green became one of Southern's most ardent early supporters.
Southern struggled to gain recognition in this period, when he was writing his first solo novel, "
Flash and Filigree". Only a few of his short stories were accepted, and he was rejected by dozens of leading magazines and journals. Here, as in Paris, Southern was almost entirely supported by his wife Pud, but their relationship fell apart within a year of their arrival in New York and they were divorced in mid-1954.
During 1954-55 Southern met two of his literary heroes,
William Faulknerand Nelson Algren, author of "The Man With The Golden Arm". Southern interviewed Algren for the "Paris Review" in the autumn of 1955 and they became good friends; they remained in touch after the interview and Algren became another of Southern's early champions.
Southern's fortunes began to change after he was taken on by the Curtis-Brown Agency in mid-1954; through them he had three of his short stories accepted by "
Harper's Bazaar". They published both "The Sun and the Still-born Stars" and "The Panthers" in the same edition in late 1955, and "The Night Bird Blew for Doctor Warner" was featured in the January 1956 edition.
In October 1955 Southern met model and aspiring actress Carol Kauffman; a romance soon developed and they were married on 14 July 1956. In December 1955 Southern attended the funeral of jazz legend
Charlie Parker, who had died on 5 December, aged 35. [Hill, pp.51-67]
Southern returned to Europe with his wife Carol in October 1956, stopping off in Paris before settling in
Geneva, Switzerland, where they lived until 1959. Carol took up a job with UNESCO, which supported them as Terry continued to write. Although largely removed from the social whirl he had enjoyed in Paris and New York, the years in Geneva were a very productive period, during which he prepared "Flash and Filigree" for publication, and wrote both "Candy" and "The Magic Christian", as well as TV scripts and short stories. The couple also made trips to Paris, where they visited Mason Hoffenberg, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and to London, where Southern met both Henry Greenand Kenneth Tynan.
Maurice Girodiasoffered Southern $1000 to write a "dirty" novel for Olympia Pressand he was advised by his agents to use a pseudonym, so that it would not affect his reputation and chances of future work. Southern began work on "Candy" in early 1957, but his enthusiasm for the project soon waned so he brought in his old friend Mason Hoffenberg as a collaborator, giving most of his attention to other work, especially "The Magic Christian".
Andre Deutsch accepted his first novel, "Flash and Filigree" early in 1957, and the short story "South's Summer Idyll" was published in "Paris Review" #15. The Southerns spent some time in Spain with Henry Green during the summer and Southern interviewed him for "Paris Review". Several more short stories were published later in the year, by which time he was finishing work on "Candy". Southern and
Gregory Corsoalso helped convince Girodias to publish the controversial novel " Naked Lunch" by then-little-known author William S. Burroughs.
In early 1958 Southern made his first foray into screen writing, working with Canadian director
Ted Kotcheff, who had come to Britain to work for the newly established Associated TeleVision(ATV) company. Kotcheff directed Southern's TV adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's " The Emperor Jones", which was broadcast in the UK in March. This coincided with the publication of "Flash and Filigree", which was well reviewed in the UK but coolly received in the USA.
The first major magazine interview with Southern, conducted by
Elaine Dundy, was published in UK " Harper's Bazaar" in August 1958. In October Olympia published "Candy" under the pseudonym Maxwell Kenton and it was immediately banned by the Paris vice squad. Southern's first solo novel "The Magic Christian" satirically explores the corrupting effects of money. Southern finished the book in Geneva over the fall and winter of 1958-59 and it was published by Andre Deutsch in spring 1959 to mixed reviews, although it soon gained an avid cult following. By the time it had been published, the Southerns had decided to return to the USA; they left Geneva for New York in April 1959. [Hill, pp.69-91]
East Canaan, 1959-62
After moving back to the U.S. the Southerns stayed with friends for several months until they were able to buy their own home. They were looking for a rural retreat close enough to New York to allow Terry to commute there. Southern met and became friendly with famed jazz musician
Artie Shawand they began looking for properties together. Shaw put down a deposit on a farm in East Canaan, Connecticut, but at the urging of a friend Southern convinced Shaw to let him buy the farm, which he purchased for $23,000.
During 1959-60 he continued working on a never-completed novel called "The Hipsters", which he had beguan in Geneva. He became part of the New York 'salon' of his old friend George Plimpton, who had also moved back to New York, rubbing shoulders with James Jones,
William Styron, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, H.L. Humes, Jack Gelber, the Aga Khan, Blair Fuller, the cast of " Beyond The Fringe", Jules Feiffer, Jackie Kennedy, British actress Jean Marsh, Gore Vidal, Kenneth Tynan, and his first wife, Elaine Dundy, through whom Southern met satirist Lenny Bruce.
"Flash and Filigree" had been published in the USA by Coward McCann in the fall of 1958. Several fragments from "The Hipsters" were published as short stories during this period, including "Red-Dirt Marijuana" (published in the January-February 1960 edition of "
Evergreen Review" and "Razor Fight", published in "Glamour" magazine. He had an essay on Lotte Lenyapublished in "Esquire" and in early 1960 he began writing book reviews for "the Nation", which were published over the next two years. During the year he also collaborated with his old Paris friends, Alexander Trocchi and Richard Seaver, compiling an anthology of modern fiction for the Frederick Fall company. The editing process took much longer than expected, due to a drug bust that forced Trocchi to flee to the UK via Canada, leaving Southern and Seaver to finish the book.
Terry and Carol's son and only child Nile was born on 29 December 1960. Around this time Southern began writing for Maurice Girodias' new periodical "
Olympia Review". He began negotiations with the Putnam company to reissue "Candy" under his and Hoffenberg's real names, and he hired a new literary agent, Sterling Lord.
In the summer of 1962 Southern worked for two months as a relief editor at "Esquire", and during this period he had several stories published in the magazine, including "The Road to Axotle". The "Esquire" gig also enabled him to interview rising filmmaker
Stanley Kubrick, who had just completed his controversial screen adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel "Lolita". Although Southern knew little about Kubrick, the director was already well aware of Southern's work, having been given a copy of "The Magic Christian" by Peter Sellers during the making of "Lolita".
Southern's life and career changed irrevocably on November 2, 1962, when he received a telegram inviting him to come to London to work on the screenplay of Kubrick's new film, which was then in pre-production. [Hill, pp.93-108]
Partly on the recommendation of
Peter Sellers, Stanley Kubrickasked Southern to help revise the screenplay of "" (1964). The film was based on the Cold Warthriller "Red Alert" (1958) by Peter George, the rights to which Kubrick had secured for US$3000. Kubrick and George's original screenplay (which was to be called "Edge of Doom") was a straight political thriller. They then reworked it into a satirical format (provisionally titled "The Delicate Balance of Terror") in which the plot of "Red Alert" was situated as a film-within-a-film made by an alien intelligence. ["The Making of Dr Strangelove" - "Dr Strangelove" 40th Anniversary DVD edition, special feature.]
Southern's work on the project was brief but intense; he officially worked on the script from November 16 to December 28, 1962. Southern began to rely on the amphetamine "diet pill"
Dexamylto keep him going through the frantic rewriting process; in later years he became increasingly reliant on the drug and he developed a long-term dependency. His amphetamine abuse, combined with his heavy intake of alcohol and other drugs, contributed significantly to his health problems in later life.
The major change Southern and Kubrick made was to jettison the "film within a film" structure and recast the script as a black comedy. Kubrick, George and Southern shared the screenplay credits, but competing claims about who contributed what led to confusion and some conflict between the three after the film's release. The credit question was further confused by Sellers' numerous ab-libbed contributions – he would often improvise wildly on set, so Kubrick made sure that Sellers had as much camera 'coverage' as possible during his scenes, in order to capture these spontaneous inspirations.
It is claimed that most of the dark and satiric dialogue was written by Southern. According to Art Miller, an independent producer who hired Southern to write the screenplay for a never-completed comic film about the bumbling Watergate burglars, Southern told him that the best example of his writing in "" was the classic scene in which B-52 pilot T.J. "King" Kong, played by Slim Pickens, reads off a list of the contents of a survival kit to his crew, concluding that a man could have "a great weekend in Vegas" with some of the items (condoms). When the scene was shot, Pickens spoke the scripted line ("Dallas"), but the word "Vegas" had to be overdubbed during post-production because the film was released not long after the assassination of President
John F. Kennedyin Dallas. ["The Making of Dr Strangelove"] According to Miller, Peter Sellers quietly paid Southern tens of thousands of dollars to create some of the best-known comedy bits for Sellers' beloved character Inspector Clouseau in the " Pink Panther" film series.
Southern also helped Peter Sellers with dialogue coaching. Sellers had originally been slated to play four roles, including that of the crazed bomber pilot, but he had difficulty mastering the accent. Southern, a native Texan, made a tape of his own voice for Sellers, who was then able to 'nail' the accent in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, Sellers injured his ankle during the filming of the scenes inside the bomber, he was forbidden by his doctors to continue working on those scenes, and Kubrick was forced to re-cast the part. It had originally been written with Western star
John Waynein mind, and it was offered to him after Sellers was forced to drop out, but the ultra-conservative Wayne turned it down immediately. Kubrick then remembered Texan actor Slim Pickens, whom he had met during his brief stint working on Marlon Brando's " One Eyed Jacks".
After the film went into wider release in January 1964 Southern was the subject of considerable media coverage, and was erroneously given primary credit for the screenplay, [Hill, p.124] a misperception he apparently did little to correct. This reportedly angered both Kubrick – who was notorious for his unwillingness to share writing credits [Hill, p.126] – and Peter George, who was moved to pen a complaint to "
Life" magazine in response to a lavish photo essay on Southern published in the 8 May 1964 edition. Stung by the article's assertion that Southern was responsible for turning the formerly "serious script" into an "original irreverent satirical film", a rightly aggrieved George pointed out that he and Kubrick had been working together on the script for ten months, whereas Southern was only "briefly employed (November 16 to December 28, 1962) to do some additional writing". [Hill, p.124-125] .
Towards the end of his work on "Dr Strangelove", Southern began canvassing for more film work. Jobs he considered included a proposed
John Schlesingerscreen adaptation of the Iris Murdochnovel " A Severed Head", and a project called "The Marriage Game", to be directed by Peter Yatesand produced by the James Bondteam of Harry Saltzmanand Cubby Broccoli. He also wrote an essay on John Fowles' novel " The Collector", which led to his work as a "script doctor" on the subsequent screen version.
Boosted by the attention he gained through "Dr Strangelove", Southern's writing career took off during 1963. His landmark essay "Twirlin' At Ole Miss" was published in "Esquire" in Feb. 1963, and this famous work of satirical reportage is now acknowledged as one of the cornerstone works of "
New Journalism". This was quickly followed by the publication of several other important essays, including the Bay of Pigsthemed "Recruiting for the Big Parade", [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/convention96/retro/southern.html "I Am Mike Hammer"] and one of his best Paris stories, "You're Too Hip, Baby". The fiction anthology "Writers In Revolt" was published in the spring, soon followed by the U.S. publication of "Candy", which went on to become the #2 American fiction best-seller of 1963.
"The Big Time", 1964-70
The success of "Dr Strangelove" and the re-published version of "Candy" was the turning point in Southern's career. They made him one of the most celebrated writers of his day and, in the words of biographer Lee Hill, Southern spent the next six years in "an Olympian realm of glamour, money, constant motion and excitement", mixing and working with the biggest literary, film, music and TV stars in the world.
Most importantly, his work on "Dr Strangelove" opened the doors to lucrative work as a screenplay writer and "script doctor" and it also allowed him to greatly increase his fee, from the reported $2000 he received for "Dr Strangelove" to as much as $100,000 thereafter. [Hill, p.127]
During the latter half of
The SixtiesSouthern worked on the screenplays of a string of 'cult' films that cemented his reputation as one of the best comedic screenplay writers of his day. His credits in this period include " The Loved One (film)" (1965) " The Collector" (1965) " The Cincinnati Kid" (1966) "Casino Royale" (1967), "Barbarella" (1967), " Easy Rider" (1968), "The Magic Christian" (1969) and " The End of the Road" (1970) .
"The Loved One" / "The Cincinnati Kid"
In early 1964, Southern was hired to collaborate with noted British author
Christopher Isherwoodon a screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel " The Loved One", directed by British filmmaker Tony Richardson. When filming was postponed in spring of '64, Southern returned to East Canaan and continued work on a rewrite of the script for the film version of John Fowles' " The Collector" but he eventually dropped out of the project because he disagreed with the change to the ending of the story.
In August 1964, the Southerns moved to
Los Angeles, where Terry began work on the screenplay of "The Loved One", for which MGM/ Filmwayspaid him $3000 per month. Southern's work and his tireless networking and socializing brought him into contact with many Hollywood stars including Ben Gazzara, Jennifer Jones, Janice Rule, George Segal, Richard Benjamin, James Coburn, Peter Fondaand Dennis Hopperand his wife Brooke Hayward. Hopper, a passionate fan and collector of modern art, would later introduce Southern to influential British gallery owner and art dealer Robert Fraser.
Not long after arriving in L.A., Southern met a beautiful young Canadian-born actress and dancer,
Gail Gerberon the MGMbacklot. Gerber was working as a dancer on an Elvis Presley movie being made at the time, and she also had a non-speaking role in "The Loved One". Southern and Gerber soon began an affair, which Gerber tried to end after a few dates, but she was pushed into continuing it by Jennifer Jones. The relationship intensified during July-August '64, and after Southern's wife and son went back to East Canaan, Southern and Gerber moved in together in a suite at the famous Chateau Marmonthotel.
Working with Richardson and Isherwood, Southern turned Waugh's novel into "an all-out attack on Hollywood, consumerism and the hypocrisies surrounding man's fear of death". [Hill, p.134] Southern also wrote the text for a souvenir book, which featured photos by
Work on the film continued through most of 1965, with Southern and Gerber spending much of their "down time" hanging out with their newfound film star friends in Malibu. "Loved One" co-producer
John Calleywas a frequent visitor to Southern's Chateau Marmont suite and he hired Southern to work on several subsequent Filmways projects including " The Cincinnati Kid" and " Don't Make Waves".
Soon after principal shooting on "The Loved One" was concluded, Southern began work on the script of "The Cincinnati Kid", which starred Steve McQueen, although he was one of several noted writers who had worked on versions of the screenplay, including
Paddy Chayevsky, George Goodand Ring Lardner Jr. Original director Sam Peckinpahwas fired only one week into shooting, allegedly because he shot unauthorized nude scenes, and he would not make another film until 1969's " The Wild Bunch". He was replaced by Norman Jewison. During production Southern formed a close and enduring friendship with cast member Rip Torn.
"Casino Royale" / "Barbarella" / "Candy"
By 1966 the film adaptations of
Ian Fleming's James Bondseries, produced by Albert R. Broccoliand Harry Saltzman, had become the most successful and popular franchise in film history. However, the rights to Fleming's first Bond novel "Casino Royale" had been secured by rival producer Charles K. Feldman. He had attempted to get "Casino Royale" made as an official James Bond movie (i.e. one made by EON Productions) but Broccoli and Saltzman turned him down. Believing he couldn't compete with the official series, Feldman then decided to shoot the film as a spoof, not only of James Bond but of the entire spy fiction genre. The casino segment featuring Peter Sellersand Orson Wellesis the only portion based upon the novel.
Southern and Gail Gerber moved to London in early 1966, when Southern was hired to work on the screenplay of "Casino Royale". The episodic "quasi-psychedelic burlesque" proved to be a chaotic production, stitched together from segments variously directed or co-directed by a team that included Joseph McGrath,
Robert Parrish, Val Guest, John Huston, Richard Talmadgeand Ken Hughes. Many planned scenes could not be filmed due to the feud between Orson Welles and Peter Sellers, which climaxed with Sellers walking out during the filming of the casino scenes and refusing to return. Many writers contributed to the screenplay; they included Southern (who wrote most of the dialogue for star Peter Sellers), Woody Allen, Wolf Mankowitz, Michael Sayers, Frank Buxton, Joseph Heller, Ben Hecht, Mickey Roseand Billy Wilder.
Southern had been introduced to
Robert Fraserby Dennis Hopper, and when he went to London to work on "Casino Royale" he and Gail became part of Fraser's " jet-set" salon that included The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, photographer Michael Cooper, interior designer [http://www.christophergibbs.com Christopher Gibbs] , model-actress Anita Pallenberg, filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, painter Francis Bacon, producer Sandy Lieberson, Guinnessheir Tara Browne(whose subsequent death in a car accident was woven into John Lennon's " A Day in the Life") and model Donya Luna. Southern became very close friends with photographer Michael Cooper, who was part of The Rolling Stones' inner circle and who shot the cover photos for The Beatles' " Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" LP.
Southern attended the
Cannes Film Festivalin the spring of 1966, where he met Andy Warholand Gerard Malanga, and he remained in touch with Malanga for many years. On his return to London he continued work on the "Casino Royale" screenplay and a screen adaptation of "The Magic Christian" for Peter Sellers, who planned to make a film of it. Sandy Lieberson optioned Southern's first novel "Flash and Filigree" and United Artistsoptioned "Candy". Michael Cooper also introduced Southern to Anthony Burgess' novel " A Clockwork Orange", and Southern later encouraged Stanley Kubrickto make his film version of the book after MGM refused to back Kubrick's planned film on Napoleon. Southern and Cooper then began to talk up their own film adaptation of the novel, to star Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones as Alex and his gang of droogs.
Si Litvinoff, Southern optioned the book for the bargain price of US$1000 (against a final price of $10,000) and Lieberson and David Puttnamset up a development deal with Paramount, who underwrote a draft by Southern and Cooper. Actor David Hemmingswas briefly considered for the role of Alex – much to the chagrin of Cooper and the Stones – and the director's chair was initially offered to Richard Lester, who turned it down. Southern's old friend Ted Kotcheff was then approached, but at the project stalled after treatment was sent to the British Lord Chamberlain, who returned it, unread, with a note attached that said: "I know this book and there is no way you can make a movie of it. It deals with youthful incitement, which is illegal." As a result, Paramount put it into "turnaround" and it was eventually picked up by Kubrick three years later.
During the frequent downtime periods in the filming of "Casino Royale", Filmways hired Southern to do a "tightening and brightening" job on the screenplay of the occult thriller "
Eye of the Devil", which starred David Nivenand featured Sharon Tatein her first film role. Through the winter of 1966-67 he also began work on the screenplay for Roger Vadim's "Barbarella" and he also contributed to a TV version of " The Desperate Hours" directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring George Segaland Yvette Mimieux.
June 1, 1967release of " Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" gave Southern pop-culture immortality, thanks to his photograph being included (on the recommendation of Ringo Starr) on the album's famous front-cover collage, which was photographed by his friend Michael Cooper. Soon after, a collection of his short writing " Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes", was published in the USA. It received strongly favourable reviews from critics and the cover ' blurb' featured a highly complimentary quote from Gore Vidal, who described Southern as "the most profoundly witty writer of our generation".
Work on "Barbarella" continued through late 1967, and Southern convinced Vadim to cast his friend
Anita Pallenbergin the role of the Black Queen. In December 1967 the film version of "Candy" began shooting in Rome with director Christian Marquand. It starred newcomer Ewa Aulinin the title role and like "Casino Royale" it featured a host of stars in cameo roles, including Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, John Astin, Ringo Starrand Walter Matthau, and Anita Pallenbergalso appears.
The original screenplay by Southern was rewritten by
Buck Henry(who also has an uncredited cameo in the film). Like "Casino Royale" it proved to be a chaotic production and failed to live up to expectations; it was generally panned by critics on its release in December 1968 and its impact was further weakened by the financial collapse of its major backer.
"Easy Rider" / "The End Of The Road"
As production on "Barbarella" wound down in October 1967, director
Roger Vadimbegan shooting an episode for the omnibus film " Spirits of the Dead", which co-starred Peter Fondaand Jane Fonda. It was during the making of this film that Peter Fonda told Southern of his idea for a 'modern Western'. Fonda pitched his idea to his friend Dennis Hopper on his return to America, and Southern added his weight to the project, agreeing to work on the script for scale ($350 per week). Southern, Fonda and Hopper met in New York Cityduring November 1967 to develop their ideas and these brainstorming sessions formed the basis of the screenplay that Southern then wrote from December 1967 to April 1968. On the basis of Southern's treatment, Raybert Productions, which had produced the hugely successful TV series " The Monkees" and the Monkees movie "Head", agreed to finance the film with a budget of US$350,000 (in return for one-third of the profits) with Columbia Picturesagreeing to distribute the film.
Southern would eventually share the writing credit with Hopper and Fonda, but there has been considerable dispute over their various contributions to the screenplay. Hopper and Fonda later tried to downplay Southern's considerable input, claiming that many sections of the film (such as the graveyard scene) had been improvised, whereas others involved in the production (including Southern himself) have asserted that most of these scenes were fully scripted and primarily written by Southern.
Although the basic idea for the film was Fonda's, the title "Easy Rider" was provided by Southern (it is an American slang term for a man who lives off the earnings of a
prostitute) and it later emerged that Southern wrote several drafts of the screenplay. During production, Southern became concerned at Hopper and Fonda's replacement of his writing by what he described as "dumb-bell dialogue", and more of the material Southern wrote for the main characters was cut out during the editing process.
The character of the small-town lawyer played by
Jack Nicholsonwas written for Southern's friend Rip Torn, but Torn dropped out of the project after an altercation with Hopper in a New York restaurant, in which the two actors almost came to blows.
Southern continued to work on other projects when "Easy Rider" began shooting—he completed his next novel "Blue Movie", began working with
Larry Riverson a book project called "The Donkey and The Darling", he worked on the final drafts of the screenplay for "The Magic Christian" and he began discussions with Aram Avakianabout a movie project called "The End of the Road".
In summer 1968 he was approached by "Esquire" magazine to cover the
1968 Democratic National Conventionin Chicago. Southern attended the controversial event with William S. Burroughs, Jean Genet(a last-minute substitute for Samuel Beckett) and John Sack, and his friend Michael Cooper took photographs; Southern and friends were in the thick of the action when peaceful demontrations erupted into savage violence after protestors were attacked by police. Southern's essay on the event, [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/convention96/retro/southern.html "Groovin' In Chi"] , was his last work published in "Esquire".
The editing of "Easy Rider" continued for many months, as Hopper and Fonda argued over the final form. Hopper ditched a planned score by
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Youngand returned to the now famous group of songs he had used for the rough cut, which included music by The Byrds, Jimi Hendrixand Steppenwolf. The film caused a sensation when it was screened in Cannes and it went on to become the fourth highest-grossing American film of 1969, taking US$19 million, and receiving two Academy Awardnominations. Although "Easy Rider" brought Hopper and Fonda great financial and artistic rewards and helped to open up the Hollywood 'system' for young, independent producers, Southern gained little of the financial windfall and saw his contributions repeatedly downplayed by the other principals.
Southern's next major screenplay was for another independent film, "
The End of the Road", adapted from the novel by John Barth, starring Stacy Keachand James Earl Jones. It was directed by his friend Aram Avakian (a director and editor whose previous credits included " Jazz on a Summer's Day, Mickey One, The Miracle Worker" and many more). The director and the film were the subject of a major spread in " Life" in November 1969, which reportedly led to a critical backlash, and the film was savaged on its release, and was especially criticised because of a graphic scene in which the main female character undergoes an abortion.
"The Magic Christian"
"The Magic Christian" was one of
Peter Sellersfavourite books—his gift of a copy to Stanley Kubrick had led to Southern being hired for "Dr Strangelove"—and a film version had long been a pet project for the actor, who intended to play the lead role of Guy Grand. In 1968 Southern was hired for the project and he worked on a dozen drafts of the screenplay for the "The Magic Christian", but Peter Sellers also tinkered with it while Southern was working on "The End of the Road". At Sellers' request, a draft by Southern and director Joseph McGrath was re-written by Graham Chapmanand John Cleese, two young British TV comedy writers who would soon become famous as members of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Cleese later described McGrath as having "no idea of comedy structure" and complained that the film ended up as "a series of celebrity walk-ons"
The film was shot in
Londonbetween February and May 1969. The cast was headed by Sellers (as Guy Grand) and Ringo Starras his son Youngman Grand (a new character created for the movie) with cameo appearances by major stars including Spike Milligan, Christopher Lee, Laurence Harvey, Raquel Welch, Roman Polanskiand Yul Brynner. As with "Dr Strangelove", Sellers habitually improvised on the script during filming. During production McGrath and Southern discussed a future project based on the life of gangster Dutch Schultz, to be made in collaboration with William Burroughs and Alexander Trocchi, but nothing came of it.
"The Magic Christian" ends with the famous scene in which Grand fills a huge vat with offal and excrement and then throws money into the fetid mixture to demonstrate how far people will go to get money for nothing. It was planned to film this climactic scene at the
Statue of Libertyin New York and, remarkably, the U.S. National Park Serviceconsented to the site being used. Sellers, McGrath and Southern then travelled to New York on the " Queen Elizabeth II" (at a reported cost of US$10,000 per person) but the studio then refused to pay for the shoot and it had to be relocated to London. The scene was eventually shot on the South Bank, near the new National Theatre. The film premiered on 12 February 1970 to lukewarm reviews.
With the beginning of the 1970s Southern's pre-eminence waned rapidly. His screen credits dwindled, his book and story output diminished and he acquired a public image of an out-of-control substance abuser. He certainly drank heavily and took various drugs, and his growing dependence on Dexamyl badly affected his health as he grew older. His biographer Lee Hill suggests that Southern was, at worst, a functioning alcoholic and that his image was largely based on his occasional public appearances in New York, partying and socialising. In private, he was relatively sober and he remained a tireless worker. He continued to worked on scores of projects, often balancing several at a time, but regrettably most never came to fruition, and these tended to distract him from work on his own novels and stories.
His later career was persistently complicated by his ongoing financial woes. In the late 1960s Southern's free-spending ways and poor financial advice led him into trouble and he was audited by the
IRSon several occasions, resulting in heavy tax bills and penalties. Tax problems dogged him for the rest of his life, and it has been suggested that he might have been targeted because of his 'radical' views and his anti-war stance. It later emerged that Southern and his wife Carol had been under surveillance by the FBIsince 1965.
In December 1970 Southern found himself in the humiliating position of having to beg Dennis Hopper for a profit point on "Easy Rider" (which Hopper refused to grant). Southern's tenuous financial position was in stark contrast to that of his creative partners, who became wealthy thanks to the film's runaway commercial success. For the rest of his life Southern was repeatedly forced to take on work simply in order to pay tax bills and penalties, and on many occasions he struggled to keep up the mortgage payments on the East Canaan farm.
"Blue Movie" was published in the fall of 1970, with a dedication to Stanley Kubrick. It received only moderate reviews, and sales were hampered by the refusal of the "New York Times" to run ads for the book.
Southern worked on a variety of screenplays after "Easy Rider" including "God Is Love", "DJ" (based on a book by
Norman Mailer), "Hand-Painted Hearts" (based on a story by Thomas Baum) and "Drift" with Tony Goodstone. Although Fonda and Hopper continued to play up the notion that much of "Easy Rider" had been improvised, Southern remained largely silent about his role, although he was prompted to write a letter to the "New York Times" to counter a claim that Jack Nicholsonhad improvised his speech during the famous 'graveyard' scene.
Terry and Carol Southern were divorced in early 1972 but they remained on good terms and Southern continued to support and help raise their son Nile. The attentions of the IRS had also affected Carol, who had an inheritance from her late father seized as part of Terry's tax settlement. She later became an editor with
Crown Publishing, and re-married to critic Alexander Keneas.
Among Southern's unrealised projects in this period were an adaptation of
Nathanael West's " A Cool Million", and a screenplay called "Merlin", based on Arthurian legend, which was written with Mick Jaggerslated to play the lead role.
Southern covered the infamous Rolling Stones 1972 American Tour, where he met and began a collaboration with
Peter Beard, and they would work on the never-filmed screenplay "The End of the Game" sporadically until Southern's death. Southern immersed himself in the bacchanalian atmosphere of the tour, and his essay on the Stones tour, "Riding The Lapping Tongue", was published in the 12 August 1972 edition of "Saturday Review". He also wrote a bawdy anti-Nixon skit which was performed at a George McGovernfundraiser, and "Twirlin' at Ole Miss" was published in " The New Journalism".
By late 1972 Southern's money woes had become acute, so he took on a position as a lecturer in screenwriting at
New York University, where he taught from the fall of 1972 to the spring of 1974. His students included Amy Heckerling, Steven Aronsonand Lee Server. To make ends meet, Southern also began writing for "National Lampoon" in November 1972. He also served on the jury at the 1972 New York Erotic Film Festivalwith William S. Burroughs, Gore Vidal and Sylvia Miles.
In 1973 he wrote a new screenplay called "Double Date", which in some respects anticipated the later
David Cronenbergfilm "Dead Ringers", but he eventually abandoned it. In early 1974 John Calley (now at Warner Brothers) hired Southern to write a screenplay of "Blue Movie", with Mike Nicholsslated to direct, but the deal eventually fell apart due to a protracted dispute between Warners and Ringo Starr, who then owned the screen rights.
A new short story, "Fixing Up Ert" was published in the Sep. 1974 edition of "Oui" magazine, and around this time Norwegian director
Ingmar Ejvehired Southern to write a screenplay based on the Carl-Henning Wijkmark novel " The Hunters of Karin Hall". His old friend Ted Kotcheffthen hired Southern to write the screenplay for the Watergate-themed project "A Piece of Bloody Cake", but he was unable to get the script approved.
Southern's only on-screen credit for the 1970s was the teleplay "Stop Thief!", written for the TV miniseries "
The American Parade". In the summer of 1976 Southern visited Rip Tornin New Mexico during the making of Nic Roeg's film version of "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and Roeg gave Southern a cameo in the crowd scene where Newton is arrested just as he is about to board his spacecraft. Roeg also used an excerpt from "The End of the Road" playing on one of the TV screens, in the scene in which Newton watches multiple TV sets at the same time. Southern's career hit an all-time low when he wrote the pornographic film, which was made by young director Philip D. Schuman, who had earlier made a brilliant short film of Southern's Red Dirtwhich took a Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1973.
During 1977-78 Southern was embroiled in a lengthy and chaotic attempt to make a film version of William S. Burroughs' celebrated drug novel "Junky", but the project eventually collapsed due to the erratic behaviour of Jules Stein, who had offered to underwrite the project. In August 1978 Southern wrote a skit called "Haven Can Wait", which was performed atan all-star benefit for
Abbie Hoffman, with a cast including Jon Voight, Allen Ginsberg, Bobby Sealeand Rip Torn.
Another unsuccessful project from this period was his work for Si Litvinoff on the screenplay for the opera drama "Aria". Southern's script was considered 'below par' and was rejected by Fox. More positively, a new story was published in the 20th-anniversary issue of the "Paris Review" and "Blue Movie" was optioned by
Another lost opportunity from this time originated with his old friend Peter Sellers. Sellers had made few significant films in the '70s, but he scored a huge hit in 1979 with the film version of "
Being There", another of his pet projects. Around this time, Sellers had a chance meeting with an arms dealer during an air flight, and this inspired him to contact Southern and ask him to write a script on the subject of the shady world of the international arms trade. The resulting screenplay, "Grossing Out" was reputed to have been of high quality, and Hal Ashbywas provisionally attached as director, but the project went into limbo after Sellers' sudden death from a heart attack on July 24, 1980.
Following the disastrous 1980-81 series of NBC's "
Saturday Night Live" (considered by many to be the worst season in the show's history) Southern was hired by Michael O'Donoghueto write for the 1981-82 series. However he had trouble fitting in with the writing team, many of his ideas were rejected, and he indulged in the behind-the-scenes drug taking that was reportedly prevalent at that time and used cocaineheavily. Nevertheless, Southern was retained as a writer for some time after O'Donoghue was controversially fired from the series.
Southern's involvement with SNL led to a collaboration with former SNL writer
Nelson Lyon(who became a figure of controversy because of his involvement in the events that led to the death of comedian John Belushi). Southern and Lyon worked on developing a project set in and around The Cotton Club in the 1930s, but it was eventually abandoned after Francis Ford Coppola's similarly-themed film went into production.
During 1982-83 Southern worked with Kubrick's former production partner
James B. Harrison a naval drama called "The Gold Crew" (later retitled "Floaters"), but Southern was diverted from this when he began working with Larry Riverson an independent film project called "At Z Beach".
In April 1983 he was approached to work on a planned sequel to "Easy Rider" called "Biker Heaven". He had little to do with the script, but he was paid about $20,000, which was several times more than he had earned from the original. Around this time Stanley Kubrick requested some sample dialogue for a planned film adaptation of
Arthur Schnitzler's book " Traumnovelle" which was to star Steve Martin(Kubrick eventually made the film as " Eyes Wide Shut") but Southern's bawdy submissions reportedly sabotaged any prospect of further involvement.
A new story was published in "
High Times" in May 1983, and Hopper invited Southern to work on a planned biopicof Jim Morrison, which was to be backed by notorious publisher Larry Flynt, but it soon emerged that Flynt did not own the screen rights to Morrison's story and the project collapsed ignominiously after Flynt's mansion was raided by the FBI.
Southern turned 60 in 1984 and his career continued to see-saw between promise and disappointment. "Flash and Filigree" was reissued by Arbor House with a new introduction by William Burroughs, and
Sandy Lieberson(now at Fox) hired him to work on a script called "Intensive Heat", based on the life of jewel thief Albie Baker, but Southern ran into problems with his long-overdue new book called "Youngblood" (later retitled "Southern Idyll") – publishers Putnam eventually demanded the return of the $20,000 advance, and the novel was never finished. In 1985 Southern featured prominently in the Howard Brooknerdocumentary on his old friend William S. Burroughs, and both "Candy" and "The Magic Christian" were reprinted by Penguin.
In October 1985 Southern was appointed as one of the directors of the production company "Hawkeye", set up by his friend
Harry Nilssonto oversee the various film and multimedia projects in which he was involved and Southern and Nilsson collaborated on several screenplays. "Obits" was a "Citizen Kane" style story about a journalist investigating the subject of a newspaper obituary, but the script was scathingly reviewed by a studio reader and it was never given approval.
The only major Hawkeye project to see the light of day was "The Telephone". Essentially a one-handed comedy-drama, it depicted the gradual mental disintegration of an out-of-work actor. It was written with
Robin Williamsin mind but Williams turned it down. Hawkeye then learned that comedian Whoopi Goldbergwas keen to take the part and she asked Nilsson and Southern to rewrite it for her. New World Filmsagreed to produce it and Southern's old friend Rip Tornsigned on as director.
Production began in January 1987, but New World allowed Goldberg to 'improvise' freely on the screenplay, and she also replaced Torn's chosen DOP
John Alonzowith her then husband. Torn battled with Goldberg and reportedly had to beg her to perform takes that stuck to the script. A year-long struggle then ensued between Hawkeye and New World/Goldberg over the rights to the final cut. Southern and Torn put together their own version, which screened at the Sundance Film Festivalin January 1988; New World's version premiered in cinemas later that month to generally poor reviews.
The steady salary from Hawkeye was a considerable help to the perennially cash-strapped Southern, but the checks stopped abruptly in late 1989 when Hawkeye folded. Nilsson discovered to his horror that his secretary-treasurer Cindy Sims had embezzled all the company funds (and most of the money Nilsson had earned from his music), leaving him virtually penniless. At this point Southern still owed the IRS some $30,000 in back taxes and $40,000 in penalties.
Apart from "The Telephone", Southern's only published new output in the period 1985-90 was the liner notes for the
Marianne Faithfullalbum "Strange Weather" and a commentary on the Iran-Contrascandal published in "Nation".
In February 1989 Southern was admitted to the
Sloan-Ketteringhospital, where he underwent surgery for stomach cancer. Soon after the surgery he was interviewed by Mike Golden, and excerpts were published in "Reflex", "Creative Writer" and "Paris Review". After he recovered from his surgery, Southern collaborated with cartoonist R.O. Blechmanon a project called "Billionaire's Ball", based on the life of Howard Hughes.
Southern landed a job teaching at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in the summer of 1989. He also assisted with the preparation and publication of "Blinds and Shutters", a lavish book on the photography of his late friend
Michael Cooper, edited by Perry Richardson and published in a limited edition of 2000, with copies signed by luminaries such as Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Sandy Liebersonand Allen Ginsberg.
During this time Southern met briefly with Canadian filmmaker
David Cronenbergto discuss a planned adaptation of Burroughs' " Naked Lunch" (which Cronenberg subsequently made) but the meeting was unsuccessful and Southern had no further involvement in the project. In November 1989 he talked with Victor Bokrisand the results were published in "Interview". His profile was given another small boost by the re-publication of the " Red-Dirt Marijuana" collection in 1990.
With encouragement from his son Nile, Southern began work on a long-shelved novel, provisionally titled "Behind The Grassy Knoll". Retitled "Texas Summer", Southern's final novel was published in 1992 by Richard Seaver. Southern's last two major articles were published during 1991; a piece on the Texas band
ZZ Topappeared in the February edition of "Spin", and an article on the Gulf Warappeared in " the Nation" on 8 July. During the year Southern was also invited to teach screenwriting at Columbia Universityand he continued to work there until his death.
In 1992 he collaborated with Joseph McGrath on a screenplay called "Starlets" (later retitled "Festival"), which spoofed the
Cannes Film Festival. During the year Peter Fonda reportedly tried to prevail on Southern to give up any claim on "Easy Rider" in exchange for a payment of $30,000, but Southern refused. Southern also assisted Perry Richardson with another book based around Michael Cooper's photography, "The Early Stones" which was published late in the year.
Southern's health deteriorated over the last two years of his life, and he suffered a mild stroke in November 1992. In February 1993 he made his last visit home to Texas, where he attended a commemorative screening of "Dr Strangelove" and "The Magic Christian" at the Dallas Museum of Art. During 1994 he made a series of recordings of readings from his works for a projected tribute project coordinated by producer
Hal Willnerand Nelson Lyon, but the recording process was complicated by Southern's fragile health and the project remained unreleased until recently.
Harry Nilssondied of a heart attack in January 1994, and Little, Brown publishers subsequently commissioned Southern to write a memoir, but only two chapters were ever completed.
In September 1995 Southern received the
Gotham Awardfor lifetime achievement by the Independent Film Producers Association at the age of 71. The "Easy Rider" controversy reared its head again shortly before Southern's death, when Dennis Hopper alleged during an interview with Jay Lenothat Rip Torn had been replaced because he had pulled a knife on Hopper during their argument in New York in 1968. Torn sued Hopper over the remark, and Southern agreed to testify on Torn's behalf, although this led to a permanent rift with Jean Stein, who was a mutual friend of Hopper and Southern. However the case did bring to light several of Southern's drafts of the "Easy Rider" screenplay, which effectively ended the dispute over his contributions.
In 1995, shortly before his death, Southern hired a new agent and began making arrangements for the republication of both "Candy" and "The Magic Christian" by Grove. His final project was the text for a proposed history of
Virgin Records. He appeared at the Yale Summer Writing Program mid-year, and in October he made his last media appearance when he was interviewed for a documentary on Alexander Trocchhi.
On 25 October 1995 Southern collapsed on the steps of Dodge College at Columbia on his way to class. He was taken to St Luke's Hospital, where he died four days later, on 29 October.
In early 2003 Southern's archives of manuscripts, correspondence and photographs were acquired by the
New York Public Library. The archives include correspondence and other items from George Plimpton, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Frank O'Hara, Larry Rivers, William Styron, V. S. Pritchett, Gore Vidal, Abbie Hoffman, and Edmund Wilson, as well as John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and the Rolling Stones. Fittingly, the announcement of this acquisition was made on April 1.
A film adaptation of Southern's 1970 novel "Blue Movie" is currently in production from director
Michael Dowseand producer Marc Toberoff, to be released by Vertigo Films.
* 1958 – "
Flash and Filigree"
* 1958 – "Candy" (with
* 1959 – "The Magic Christian"
* 1960 – "
Writers in Revolt" (co-editor with Alexander Trocchiand Richard Seaver)
* 1965 – "
Journal of The Loved One" (with photographs by William Claxton)
* 1967 – "
Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes" (essays and short fiction)
* 1970 – "Blue Movie"
* 1992 – "
* 1964 – "" (with
Stanley Kubrickand Peter George) (Academy Award nomination for screenwriting)
* 1965 – "
The Loved One (film)" (with Christopher Isherwood)
* 1965 – "
The Collector" (rewrite; uncredited)
* 1966 – "
The Cincinnati Kid" (dialogue rewrite of Ring Lardner Jr. script)
* 1967 – "Barbarella"
* 1968 – "
Easy Rider" (Academy Award nomination for screenwriting)
* 1969 – "End of the Road"
* 1969 – "The Magic Christian"
* 1975 – "
Stop Thief!" (teleplay; with William Claxton)
* 1980 - with
Philip D. Schuman
* 1986 – "
The Telephone" (with Harry Nilsson)
* "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (journalist at launchpad)
* "Burroughs" (in orgone box with
William S. Burroughs)
Cocksucker Blues" documentary with the Rolling Stones
Album cover photo
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (man in sunglasses)
*"If a writer is sensitive about his work being treated like Moe, Curly and Larry working over the
Sistine Chapelwith a crowbar, then he would do well to avoid screenwritingaltogether." - Terry Southern
* "I started reading "The Magic Christian" and I thought I was going to go insane... it was an incredible influence on me." —
Hunter S. Thompson
* "Terry Southern writes a mean, coolly deliberate, and murderous prose..." —
* "I know you - you're the guy who showed me how to do it - who showed me how you can make a half-million dollar picture - without a studio - and make a lot of money! I know you!" -
Sylvester Stallone, on meeting Terry Southern for the first time in 1980 at Harry Nilsson's home
* "Terry Southern is the illegitimate son of
Mack Sennettand Edna St. Vincent Millay." - Kurt Vonnegut
* "In this world [of "Flash and Filigree"] nothing is true, and censure or outrage is simply irrelevant." -
William S. Burroughs
* "Terry Southern was one of the first and best of the new wave of American writers, defining the cutting edge of
black comedy." - Joseph Heller
* "Terry Southern is the most profoundly witty writer of our generation and in "The Magic Christian" he surpasses
Flaubert's " Bouvard et Pécuchet", a work similarly inspired by conventional wisdom's serene idiocy." - Gore Vidal
* "If there were a
Mount Rushmoreof American satire, Terry Southern would be the mountain they’d carve it from." - Michael O'Donoghue
* "Don't worry, I brought up the white wine with the fish" (originally quoted by Herman Mankiewicz at San Simeon) - Terry Southern, on being chastised by a society hostess for being sick after drinking
* [http://www.terrysouthern.com/ Terry Southern - The Official Site]
* [http://www.pbs.org/newshour/convention96/retro/southern.html "Grooving in Chi" - Terry Southern's "Esquire" magazine article about covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention with William Burroughs and Jean Genet]
* [http://www.altx.com/interviews/terry.southern.html Detailed interview with Southern by Lee Hill, who later wrote Southern's biography "A Grand Guy"]
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