Terry Southern Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

One of Southern’s first novels, Candy, parodies Voltaire’s Candide; it was not published until 1959 because publishers were leery of its sexually explicit material. After it was published The New York Times refused even to review it; not until 1965 did the newspaper lift its self-imposed ban on advertising the book. In Great Britain Candy was issued in a shorter version that omitted several sexually graphic passages. These changes were prompted by the experience that a British publisher had with Hubert Selby, Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, which a 1967 British court ruled obscene (the ruling was overturned in 1968). In 1967, however, American publishers were concerned about possible British censorship. The situation in France was simultaneously more serious and more ludicrous. After Candy was banned as indecent by the French government, its Parisian publisher changed the book’s title in order to resume publication: The new title was Lollipop (1962).

Southern’s other books were less overtly censored. His novels The Magic Christian (1960), later transformed into a considerably tamer film, and Blue Movie (1970) offended the religious right and the right-wing media watchers, who feared the influence of film. Informal but organized efforts to keep these novels off library shelves and out of bookstores limited their reading audiences.

Southern was also interested in making films, as the story of Blue Movie suggests (the novel is about a serious filmmaker who makes an explicitly pornographic film). While he continued to write short stories and novels, he turned his attention to screenwriting. His film credits include The Loved One (1965), an adaptation of novelist Evelyn Waugh’s satire on the American funeral industry; Easy Rider (1969), the classic road/buddy film; The End of the Road (1969), an adaptation of John Barth’s savage academic novel; and Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), an antiwar film suggesting American fascist tendencies. Of these films, only Dr. Strangelove received much criticism, not because of its quality, but because of its liberal stance on the Cold War. Southern was a satirist whose work was not understood or appreciated by American conservatives.