Richard Condon Condon, Richard (Vol. 100) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Condon 1915–1996

American novelist.

The following entry provides an overview of Condon's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 6, 8, 10, and 45.

A prolific and popular author, Condon blended satire and suspense to create entertaining, often humorous novels that comment on contemporary society. Characterized by intricate plots, an abundance of factual information, and sumptuous meals, Condon's fiction concerns paranoia, greed, and the exploitation of power, usually within a political context. Although critical opinion of his novels varied throughout his career, Condon perhaps is best remembered for The Manchurian Candidate (1959), Winter Kills (1969), and Prizzi's Honor (1982), each of which were adapted for film. Herbert Mitgang observed: "The singular Condon genre combines American politics, scoundrels in various corners of the world, linguistic shenanigans, cholesterol-loaded meals, cold warriors in intelligence agencies, legalized thievery in Washington and put-downs of the high and mighty everywhere."

Biographical Information

Born March 18, 1915, in New York City, Condon graduated from De Witt Clinton High School, but because his grades there were so bad, he never attended college. He worked as an elevator operator, a hotel clerk, a waiter, and briefly as a copywriter at an advertising agency. Copywriting led him into movie publicity, and he joined Walt Disney Productions in 1936. During the 1940s and 1950s Condon worked as a movie publicist at nearly every major Hollywood studio, where he observed the art of storytelling. In the late 1950s Condon returned to New York to become a novelist. The commercial successes of The Oldest Confession (1958), his first novel, and The Manchurian Candidate, which was adapted for film in 1962, allowed Condon to devote himself to writing. In 1959 he left the United States, living first in Mexico for a few years, then in Switzerland, and finally in Ireland, where he arrived in 1971. During the 1960s and 1970s some of Condon's novels received more critical attention than others, notably An Infinity of Mirrors (1964) and Winter Kills. In 1980 he returned to the United States and settled in Dallas, Texas. Condon's literary career revived upon publication of Prizzi's Honor, the first of four novels about the mobster family Prizzi. John Hurston directed the hit film version of the novel, which starred Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner, and Anjelica Huston; the screenplay, which Condon co-wrote with Janet Roach, earned an Academy Award nomination. Condon wrote several other novels, notably The Final Addiction (1991) and The Venerable Bead (1992) before he died in Dallas in 1996.

Major Works

Condon's earliest novels feature satiric attacks on contemporary culture, while parodying the suspense genre. The Oldest Confession tells of an international art theft; The Manchurian Candidate, set during the Korean War, details the capture of an American GI who is brainwashed by communists and programmed to assassinate the Republican presidential candidate modeled on Senator Joseph McCarthy. Statistical and historical details and preposterous plots form many of Condon's novels during the 1960s and 1970s, including An Infinity of Mirrors (1964), which relates the experiences of a German colonel who falls in love with a French Jewish girl during World War II; The Ecstasy Business (1967), which satirizes the American film industry; and Mile High (1969), which represents a fictional account of the Prohibition era. Condon's next novels raise paranoia to its highest level in his art. Set in the early 1960s, Winter Kills recounts the CIA-influenced assassination of U.S. President Tim Keegan, a character based on John F. Kennedy, and The Whisper of the Axe (1976) recounts a conspiratorial group of wealthy men who instigate urban terrorism to trigger another American revolution. Condon's later fiction emphasizes the abuse of power and features some of his most entertaining characters, especially the members of the Prizzi family of mobsters in Brooklyn. Prizzi's Honor, which relates the adventures of henchman Charley Partanna and his marriage to Maerose Prizzi, granddaughter of don Prizzi; Prizzi's Family (1986), a "prequel," which recounts Charley's formative years; Prizzi's Glory (1988), which concerns a deal between Maerosa and the don to achieve respectability for the next generation of Prizzis; and Prizzi's Money (1994), in which Maerosa gains control of the entire Prizzi family fortune. The Final Addiction, a political satire about "image," targets a number of American presidents and institutions, including the CIA, FBI, and NRA. The Venerable Bead lampoons American business practices, especially its influence in national politics.

Critical Reception

Although critical reception of his twenty-six novels has varied throughout his career, Condon maintained a large, loyal readership, sometimes referred to as the "Condon Cult." Charles McCarry called The Manchurian Candidate "arguably the best thriller ever written," observing that Condon "was to paranoia what Tennyson was to melancholy, a writer of powerful and utterly unique imaginative gifts who transmuted a form of madness into the intellectual coinage of his time and place." Commentators praised Condon's ability for wildly funny, mesmerizing storytelling and maniacal characterization, often citing his mastery of English sentence structure. Others found some of Condon's works burdensome or overly lengthy, faulting his highly dense, detail-oriented narrative structure and convoluted plots. Mel Gussow summarized Condon's literary achievement: "Novelist is too limited a word to encompass the world of Mr. Condon. He was also a visionary, a darkly comic conjurer, a student of American mythology and a master of conspiracy theories."

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Oldest Confession (novel) 1958
The Manchurian Candidate (novel) 1959
Some Angry Angel: A Mid-Century Fairy Tale (novel) 1960
A Talent for Loving; or, The Great Cowboy Race (novel) 1961
Any God Will Do (novel) 1964
An Infinity of Mirrors (novel) 1964
The Ecstasy Business (novel) 1967
Mile High (novel) 1969
The Vertical Smile (novel) 1971
Arigato (novel) 1972
The Star-Spangled Crunch (novel) 1974
Winter Kills (novel) 1974
Money Is Love (novel) 1975
The Whisper of the Axe (novel) 1976
The Abandoned Woman (novel) 1977
Bandicoot (novel) 1978
Death of a Politician (novel) 1978
The Entwining (novel) 1980
Prizzi's Honor (novel) 1982
A Trembling Upon Rome (novel) 1983
Prizzi's Family (novel) 1986
Prizzi's Glory (novel) 1988
Emperor of America (novel) 1990
The Final Addiction (novel) 1991
The Venerable Bead (novel) 1992
Prizzi's Money (novel) 1994

John F. Baker (interview date 24 June 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Richard Condon," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 223, No. 25, June 24, 1983, pp. 66-7.

[In the following interview, Baker presents Condon's comments on his writing career, including highlights from his personal life.]

Richard Condon, who has been writing novels for 26 years—and living in various overseas parts of the world for much of that time—was astonished recently to find the American Booksellers Association convention right on his doorstep, where he now lives in Dallas. "I don't get out of the house much," he said with his rather inscrutable smile. "But I couldn't resist just taking a look, and it was terrifying: all those people, all those books, all...

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John Skow (review date 22 September 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Mafioso," in Time, Vol. 128, No. 12, September 22, 1986, p. 95.

[In the following review, Skow comments on the characters of Prizzi's Family.]

"Prequel" is one of those smarmy coinages, like "brunch," that make a self-respecting user of language want to wash his mouth out with whisky. Brunch can be avoided by not getting out of bed before noon on Sundays, but prequel—ptui!—probably is inevitable for works such as Richard Condon's rowdy new novel, a report on the formative years of the author's lovable but dumb Mafia assassin Charley Partanna.

Condon's book [Prizzi's Family] is not so stirring an achievement as to be...

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Michael Neill (essay date 8 December 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "His Years of Self-Imposed Exile Over, Richard Condon Is Back in America, Sitting Prizzi," in People Weekly, Vol. 26, No. 23, December 8, 1986, pp. 129, 131, 133.

[In the essay below, Neill reviews Condon's life and literary accomplishments.]

Like Don Corrado Prizzi, Richard Condon believes in family. For the Don—venomous and ancient, the spider at the center of Condon's Prizzi novels—family has to be protected; family is reason to kill. For Condon, affable but getting on in years himself, family is a reason finally to settle down in America after 19 years living in various spots around the world. And family is the reason he keeps writing at 71,...

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Roderick Mann (essay date 16 August 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Condon Still Waiting with 'Prizzi' Prequel," in Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1987, p. C37.

[In the following essay, Mann relates the difficulties of transforming Condon's novels into screenplays]

Because his novel Prizzi's Honor was such a success, both as a book and a movie, Richard Condon finished his follow-up book Prizzi's Family confident that the phone soon would ring with Hollywood offers.

They didn't come.

And now, almost a year since hardcover publication and with the paperback on sale, the book still has not been picked up.

Condon is mystified.

"There've been no...

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Charles Champlin (review date 18 September 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Bloody Sunday," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 18, 1988, p. 13.

[In the following excerpt, Champlin finds Condon's "gift for the preposterous undiminished" in Prizzi's Glory.]

After Prizzi's Honor and a prequel, Prizzi's Family, Richard Condon concludes his trilogy with Prizzi's Glory, a sequel that takes us into years not yet born and into the higher reaches of respectability.

By now the Prizzis are unthinkably rich. Their holding company grosses nearly $17 billion annually, owns among other items 32 law firms, 137 hotels and 381 hospitals and has 9,208 senior executives, lawyers and accountants. It has...

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Vincent Patrick (review date 9 October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Prizzi for President," in The New York Times Book Review, October 9, 1988, p. 24.

[In the review below, Patrick praises Condon's characterization in Prizzi's Glory.]

The final volume in the Prizzi trilogy, Prizzi's Glory, opens in 1985 with the family doing business as usual in Brooklyn under the skilled stewardship of its 48-year-old C.E.O., Charley Partanna, whom Richard Condon fans know as the Mafioso whose single venture into matrimony, with a hit woman for the mob, ended with her tragic death in California.

At the start of the present volume Charley marries Maerose Prizzi, a great beauty and granddaughter of Don Corrado, bringing...

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Jonathan Yardley (review date 7 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Condon's Hilarious Nightmare," in Washington Post, No. 64, February 7, 1990, p. C2.

[Below, Yardley applauds the accuracy of Condon's satire in Emperor of America.]

Richard Condon's 23rd work of fiction isn't so much a novel as a jeremiad, but that is scarcely likely to scare away his many admirers. Emperor of America is, so far as plot and characterization and other such trifles are concerned, rather short of the mark; but as a sendup of the Reaganite nightmare and the televidiotic culture upon which it fed, Emperor of America is bang on from first page to last—a mean, nasty and thoroughly hilarious piece of social and political lampoonery....

(The entire section is 739 words.)

Ray Blount Jr. (review date 11 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Fat Cats in the Driver's Seat," in The New York Times Book Review, February 11, 1990, p. 34.

[In the review below, Blount finds Emperor of America not representative of Condon's usual fiction.]

The imminent legacy of Reaganism: an America governed so effectively by fat cats and image-mongers that the Constitution is abandoned, the District of Columbia is obliterated by a private-sector nuclear device, royalty is instituted and the figurehead chief of state is Caesare (Chay) Appleton, a Reaganesque and Ollie Northern hero of the Nicaraguan Conflict, whose trademark is a homburg hat worn—even into battle—sideways.

Richard Condon has...

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Herbert Mitgang (review date 14 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Twisting Road of Humor to an Imperial America," in The New York Times, February 14, 1990, p. C19.

[In the following review, Mitgang reviews Condon's strong political opinions in Emperor of America, "even if they come across like rabbit punches."]

Who would dare to combine the styles of the Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honor, more or less, and invent a character who heads the Royalty Party, not in Naples but in the United States? None other than Richard Condon in his latest sendup of the American scene and Presidency.

In Emperor of America, his 23rd novel, Mr. Condon is a little more hortatory than usual. He...

(The entire section is 844 words.)

Carolyn See (review date 26 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Words—and Satire—Fail in Novel," in Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1990, p. E5.

[In the following review, See faults Emperor of America for its lack of genuine satire, claiming the novel "is funny as a crutch."]

The time is 1990; the place, America. The international situation is, as usual, exciting.

Col. Caesare Appleton has succeeded in bravely fighting back another bloodthirsty wave of Sandinistas, this time in southern Portugal. Those pesky Nicaraguans in 1980 had only a population of 3 million people. But by "practicing advanced breeding techniques, they had been able to swell to 21 million by CIA estimate, almost all of them...

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Sarah Booth Conroy (review date 10 May 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "From 'Prizzi' to Politics, Slippery Satire," in Washington Post, May 10, 1990, pp. D1, D6.

[In her review of Emperor of America below, Conroy questions Condon on a variety of topics, including his politics, his writings, and his future plans.]

Each time Chay would make a plan to slip into New York incognito, Keifetz and Grogan would increase the mood-altering drugs, which led to more hypnosis, which led to more biofeedback, which led to making him feel more and more and more that he was actually Ronald Reagan, until he began to reach the point where he ran the country's foreign affairs and Defense Department purchasing by astrology....

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Alex Heard (review date 10 September 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "As the Political World Turns," in Washington Post, September 10, 1991, p. F3.

[In the following review. Heard profiles the central characters in The Final Addiction, concluding that Condon "keeps things running nicely."]

As fans of The Manchurian Candidate will recall, when Richard Condon puts on his political-satire hat, he has a thing for extremely stupid, cardboard male politicians who are backed by wily women. In The Final Addiction, a broad tour through the barrens of contemporary politics, the viper's nest of the global spy game, the void of Our National Mind and the shadowy controlling presence of organized crime (yes, the good old...

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Herbert Mitgang (review date 18 September 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Insulting without Libel in a Satirical Novel," in The New York Times, September 18, 1991, p. C18.

[In the review below, Mitgang discusses the targets of Condon's satire in The Final Addiction.]

There's nobody else quite like Richard Condon writing satirical novels today. The singular Condon genre combines American politics, scoundrels in various corners of the world, linguistic shenanigans, cholesterol-loaded meals, cold warriors in intelligence agencies, legalized thievery in Washington and put-downs of the high and mighty everywhere. As the comedian Mort Sahl used to say in his nightclub act at the Hungry I in San Francisco. "Is there anyone here I haven't...

(The entire section is 1003 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Venerable Bead, in Kirkus Reviews. Vol. LX, No. 18, September 15, 1992, p. 1144.

[Below, the critic briefly summarizes the major themes of The Venerable Bead.]

Galloping satire whose hairpin turns can be followed only by God (the Bible) and Condon (The Manchurian Candidate, etc. etc.), and one of those may still be in the dark.

Condon veterans will brace themselves for the same gaudy density of higgledy-piggledly jokery that filled 1991's The Final Addiction—but this time Condon outdoes himself. Set in the early 70's, [The Venerable Bead] finds the Commie menace in full bloom. Any theme laid...

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Jay Cantor (review date 29 November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Whatever Leila Wants …," in Book World—The Washington Post, November 29, 1992, p. 9.

[In the review below, Cantor analyzes the plot of The Venerable Bead.]

Even in the more than 10,000 words The Washington Post has provided for me to review Richard Condon's new novel, The Venerable Bead, I couldn't possibly summarize the plots within plots that Condon invents in order to reveal what is really already happening to us, those open secrets and purloined letters that are the nightly news.

Leila Aluja, our main character (or should I say characteroid, or center of narrative interest?), is first of all a secret agent for the...

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Herbert Mitgang (review date 2 December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Intrigue in the Business World and in Suburbia," in The New York Times, December 2, 1992, p. C22.

[In the following excerpt, Mitgang lauds Condon's mockery of the politically powerful in The Venerable Bead.]

The heroine of Richard Condon's 25th novel—his deadliest satire on the underbelly of American life since his series of Prizzi novels—starts out as Leila Aluja, the canny daughter of Iraqi immigrants, who acquires the rights to Tofu Pizza, the taste sensation of Europe and Asia. She advances from demonstrating pre-packed lunches at a trade school in Michigan to become the billionaire head of the world's largest fast-food conglomerate. Her companies own...

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Donald E. Westlake (review date 13 December 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Stalin Goes Hollywood," in The New York Times Book Review, December 13, 1992, pp. 9, 11.

[Below, Westlake calls The Venerable Bead "a lot of fun, loose-jointed, manic, over the top from first word to last."]

Richard Condon has always been way out there on the cutting edge between prescience and lunacy. In toughly comic novels from The Manchurian Candidate to Prizzi's Honor and beyond, he has reflected the real world through a slightly distorting mirror in which our near future grins back at us, without comfort. In such books, there's tight and brilliant control over story, over character, over Mr. Condon's own savagely satirical instinct....

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Joe Queenan (review date 6 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Swept Away by the Hit Man's Daughter," in The New York Times Book Review, February 6, 1994, p. 9.

[In the review below, Queenan finds Prizzi's Money "riotously funny," emphasizing Condon's "acid prose."

Measles rarely plays a pivotal role in books about the Mafia. But when Charley Partanna, hit man's hit man, is suddenly afflicted by a severe case of the measles 49 pages into Richard Condon's hilarious novel Prizzi's Money, he finds himself incapable of accepting a mob contract to go to London to murder Julia Asbury, a brassy woman who is trying to steal $1.4 billion from the infamous Prizzi family. By the time Charley is feeling well enough to...

(The entire section is 958 words.)

Chris Petrakos (review date 20 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Appraising Condon's Latest 'Prizzi'," in Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1994, sec. 14, p. 7.

[In the following excerpt, Petrakos gives a brief, favorable review of Prizzi's Money.]

Malice, greed, violent death, betrayal, conspiracy—only Richard Condon can write about such matters and leave his readers feeling cheerful and refreshed. While Condon's new book, Prizzi's Money, is not quite up to his previous volumes on the first family of crime, it still delivers enough jabs to the bloated gut of American culture to keep the pages turning at high speed.

The book begins with the spectacular kidnapping of political heavyweight Henry George...

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Lorrie K. Inagaki (review date Summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Prizzi's Money, in The Armchair Detective, Vol. 27, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 361-62.

[In the review below, Inagaki claims that Prizzi's Money is "enjoyable reading."]

George Asbury, a billionaire businessman who has served as "advisor to presidents", is kidnapped while accompanied by two men on a boat in the open sea. Amazingly enough, neither of the two men on board remember anything about Mr. Asbury's disappearance. One moment they were all on board and the next, Mr. Asbury was gone. Julia, his young wife, appears grief-stricken in public but privately knows that she and her husband had planned the kidnapping in order to escape with...

(The entire section is 335 words.)

Mel Gussow (obituary date 10 April 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Richard Condon, Political Novelist, Dies at 81," in The New York Times, April 10, 1996, p. A16.

[In the following obituary, Gussow reviews Condon's literary career and life.]

Richard Condon, the fiendishly inventive novelist and political satirist who wrote The Manchurian Candidate, Winter Kills and Prizzi's Honor, among other books, died yesterday at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. He was 81.

Novelist is too limited a word to encompass the world of Mr. Condon. He was also a visionary, a darkly comic conjurer, a student of American mythology and a master of conspiracy theories, as vividly demonstrated in The Manchurian...

(The entire section is 1005 words.)

Charles McCarry (obituary date 10 April 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Storyteller for a World Gone Mad," in Washington Post, April 10, 1996, p. C1.

[Below, McCarry reminisces about Condon's most significant novels and his contribution to the genre.]

Richard Condon, who died yesterday in Dallas, the city of cities in the world atlas of conspiracies, was to paranoia what Tennyson was to melancholy, a writer of powerful and utterly unique imaginative gifts who transmuted a form of madness into the intellectual coinage of his time and place.

In his second novel, The Manchurian Candidate, arguably the best thriller ever written, Condon turned the certainties of Eisenhower-era America upside down with a tale...

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Myrna Oliver (obituary date 10 April 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Richard Condon; Best-Selling Novelist," in Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1996, p. A12.

[In the obituary below, Oliver presents a summary of Condon's life and career.]

Richard Condon, best-selling author of about two dozen novels—including The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honor, which were made into popular films—died Tuesday in a Dallas hospital. He was 81.

Condon, who spent 27 years in Mexico and Europe, had lived in Dallas for the past 16 years to be near his family. He had suffered from heart and kidney problems.

His 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate featured an American prisoner of war in...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Bandler, Michael J. "The Laundering of the Prizzi Family." Chicago Tribune (24 October 1988): sec. 5, p. 3.

Favorable review of Prizzi's Glory.

Breslin, Jimmy. "Charley and Maerose: The Early Years." The New York Times Book Review (28 September 1986): 13.

Favorable appraisal of Prizzi's Family.

Champlin, Charles. "Criminal Pursuits." Los Angeles Times Book Review (17 January 1993): 10.

Reviews The Venerable Bead, noting Condon's fetish for weird names and precise...

(The entire section is 718 words.)