Richard Condon

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John F. Baker (interview date 24 June 1983)

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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 those computers!"

Since Condon is known as one of the first name authors ever to go the word processor route—he has been using one for at least seven years now, which makes him practically one of the Wright Brothers—his alarm at the electronicization of books seems excessive. But he specializes in keeping his hearers, like his readers, slightly off balance. The scene of the meeting with PW is The Mansion, Dallas's most exclusive restaurant, and he describes with conspiratorial glee how the city's wealthy elite breakfast there often. "At 6.30 A.M. the driveway will be full of Cadillacs and Mercedes, and an hour later, long before you or I get to breakfast, they'll all be gone!" The unexpected has always been his trademark, and after a series of contemporary and sometimes even futuristic thrillers, he has now come up with a book completely out of left field: a papal historical novel called A Trembling Upon Rome, which is coming out in a few weeks from Putnam.

The idea has haunted Condon, he says, ever since 1967, when he first became interested in the fact that for a time, during the late 14th and early 15th centuries, there were three different popes sitting simultaneously in the Roman Catholic world—in Rome, in Avignon, in Pisa and, finally, Constanz. "The Catholic Church has always been powerful, but when you're talking about it in that period, you're talking law, you're talking international finance and, above all, government. The popes then were stronger than kings." The picture Condon draws is one of ruthlessness, cruelty, greed and opportunism, with questions of faith far at the back of the minds of all his scheming popes, cardinals and bishops.

He acknowledges that there is a lot of historical background to grasp before his plot becomes clear and that "perhaps it's a hard book to get into. But," he adds mischievously, "I guess I'm relying on a number of professional Catholics who will read it in outrage. Perhaps the 'Phil Donahue Show'…."

Does he see the book's picture of a corrupt and worldly Church as relevant to today? "Well, no religion can exist without money, and the Vatican still has its banking problems, doesn't it? I wanted to show that things were much the same in the 15th century." One of the things Condon discovered in his research was that one of the most venal of the Schism Popes was John XXIII; when the Church bestowed that name and number on one of the most beloved of recent popes, he saw it as a deliberate attempt to obliterate the memory of the previous John XXIII.

Where do all Condon's often offbeat ideas come from? Ranging as his novels do from right-wing political plotters (The Manchurian Candidate, still probably his best-known book) through a presidential assassination (Winter Kills) to Mafia machinations (Prizzi's Honor) and a dark feminist future ( Whisper of...

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the Axe), and now to Church history, he probably covers a wider range of subjects in his fictions than any popular novelist. "Well," he says, "if you spend eight hours a day thinking about something obsessively, you're bound to be ahead of anyone else. Then once you're ahead, in terms of what you know about the subject, you add a dash of melodrama, and there you are."

He has an entertaining presentation of his life which he has now polished, through interviews and self-sketches, to perfection: a faintly bemused man who has simply stumbled from one thing into another without any very clear sense of direction. He grew up in New York, went to sea on a cruise liner as a waiter, later became a movie publicist (most notably for Walt Disney at the height of the Disney success in the late '30s and early '40s). "From the time I joined Disney in 1936 to the time I finally left the film industry in 1957, I worked for all the major companies except Warner and Metro." The occupational disease of that profession, duodenal ulcers, finally caught up with him, and, "since the only other thing I knew how to do was spell, I decided to write novels."

There have now been 20 of these, beginning in 1958 with The Oldest Confession. As for publishers, after a few books in the first years of his writing career with McGraw-Hill and Random House, he settled in with Joyce Engelson at Dial and stayed for 14 years, following her to Richard Marek when that imprint went to Putnam and staying on there, contractually, after Marek and Engelson left for St. Martin's.

Apart from his fiction, he writes extensively on food (he now has, he says, seven pieces in the backlog at Gourmet magazine and remembers fondly as the best title ever put on a piece of his, an article about cooking spaghetti called "Remembrance of Things Pasta," which appeared in Venture magazine in the '60s). His only book in this vein, The Mexican Stove, he wrote with his daughter Wendy Bennett; it was originally published by Doubleday and, he says, is about to be reissued next year.

He is, as always, working on his next book. It will be called The Averted Eye and will, he says, be about a womanizing TV anchorman who becomes involved in national politics and soap opera ("How else would you get to be president today?" the novelist asks, not entirely rhetorically).

One of Condon's favorite jokes is to put people he knows, by name, into his books as minor characters, in much the way Alfred Hitchcock always inserted shorts of himself into his movies. This has happened so far to no fewer than 130 of Condon's friends and acquaintances, and he calls them the International Confederation of Book Actors. The longest-lived of them, a friend called Franklin Keller, he calls his "hiring chief," and he has appeared in most Condon books. Putnam's vice-president for public relations, Harriet Blacker, is, he says, one of the latest additions to the roster. "She'll be a tough Wall Street lawyer," he grins, to Blacker's rather dubious delight.

Since many moviegoers first became familiar with Condon's name through the brilliant movie made of The Manchurian Candidate, and he has been around movies for so much of his adult life, it's only natural to talk about films of his books. There have been four so far, "and a lot of expensive options," but the movie version of Winter Kills released in 1979 makes by far the oddest story (and one that Condon himself tells, at fascinating length, in the May issue of Harper's).

To recap his tale very briefly, the producers who originally put up the money are now, respectively, dead (murdered) and behind bars for cocaine smuggling. The movie was finished, after horrendous difficulties, only because many of the all-star cast and crew agreed to forfeit their salaries. It opened to audience and critical enthusiasm and was then abruptly withdrawn (it was never shown in many overseas markets at all); recently it resurfaced briefly to equal enthusiasm and disappeared again. It seems to be currently in limbo—and is meanwhile on the way to becoming a sort of cult classic. Condon hints darkly that his theme, that a presidential assassination is in the interests of many of the world's most powerful people, may be behind the movie's strangely checkered career to date.

But withal he is cheerful. "In the course of writing seven hours a day seven days a week, I have piled up four- or five-million words and have made about $2 1/2-million. That sounds like a lot, but it's only about what someone in middle management would have made over the same period in salary. The difference—and it's an important one—is that I've lived wherever I wanted to, and I didn't have to drive to the office every day."


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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."

John Skow (review date 22 September 1986)

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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 inevitable, but it is cheerful and funny, and no effort should be made to avoid it. Charley, of course, is the hero of Prizzi's Honor, the 1982 Condon novel that Director John Huston turned into one of Jack Nicholson's better films. There Charley was seen at mid-life, and his crisis was that his wife (Kathleen Turner in the film) turned out to be not only a Mob hit woman but a boodler who tried to grab some Mafia loot. Wistfully but dutifully, Charley killed her, after she was set up by his old and still smoldering sweetheart Maerose Prizzi (Anjelica Huston).

The new novel precedes Honor by a few years and more or less explains Charley's problem: he is girl-simple, as his associates accurately put it. He could be content with living the good life as a respected professional man, blasting some slob with an assault rifle here, acing out several losers with cyanide grenades there, and studying hard for his high school diploma at night school, where he earns the respect of all and is voted secretary-treasurer of his class.

Instead he becomes involved, in the manner of horsemeat becoming involved with lions, with a jumbo showgirl named Mardell and with the volcanic Maerose. "It was like being locked in a mailbag with eleven boa constrictors … His head came to a point where it suddenly melted and flopped all over his shoulders and out all over the bed. His toes fell off." This is sex with Maerose—all very well, except that she is the granddaughter of Don Corrado Prizzi, a Mafia eminence not to be messed with.

Complications ensue like crazy. One of them is a candidate for the New York City mayoralty, who made his pile in the TV tabernacle dodge. He is an out-of-towner, really, who does not understand how things work in New York, and he wants to have Charley indicted for his sixth-to-lastmurder. Maerose, a more serious troublemaker, wants to take over her grandfather's operation. As usual with the author's recent entertainments, the fact that none of this makes much sense becomes a literary metaphor on the order of Melville's white whale, implying as it does that the entire world is nuts. This is clearly Condon's view, and he is mightily persuasive as he defines human character: foaming perversity, rascality, obsessional lunacy, wowserism, religious mania, assault and battery, and our old friends greed and lust. No sloth, though, Charley and his chums sure do keep active.

Principal Works

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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

Michael Neill (essay date 8 December 1986)

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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, despite the estimated $2 million he has made from his books and despite the two recent abdominal operations.

"A friend asked, 'Why does one still do it?'" Condon says with a laugh in the art-filled living room of the Dallas home he has lived in since 1980. "I said, 'One does it for one's estate.'" Condon's latest estate-fattening effort is Prizzi's Family, a prequel to his best-selling Prizzi's Honor and the 21st in a line of novels stretching back to 1958. The sixth of Condon's novels to be brought to the screen, Prizzi's Honor earned eight Academy Award nominations. Condon co-authored the screenplay and says, "I loved the movie. John Huston [the director] is the best cinematic storyteller we have."

Condon has written his novels while living in Mexico, France, Spain, Switzerland and, for 10 years, Ireland. Now Condon and Evelyn, his wife of 48 years, live in Texas to be near their younger daughter, Wendy Jackson, and her two children. Their other daughter, Deborah, lives in England. In Dallas, Condon combines his dual roles of family man and grand old man, producing a book every 11 months or so.

Condon has a theory about why writing comes so easily to him. "I'm a stutterer," he says. "Words fascinate me. I've had to have six synonyms ready at all times while talking, because if I know I'm going to stutter, I can make those interchangeable shifts." However much the critics praise his work, though, he has his own ideas about what he's doing. "I have never written for any other reason than to earn a living. This is most certainly true of other writers, but some poor souls get mightily confused with art. I am a public entertainer who sees his first duty as the need to entertain himself."

The family warmth Condon now enjoys was missing when he was a child in New York City, the eldest son of a successful lawyer who had high ambitions for him. "My father was a shouter," remembers Condon. "I became a stutterer, and I was stuck with it the rest of my life. I think, unconsciously, knowing how his shouting hurt me, I wanted to wound him [by stuttering]—and it worked out that way."

Condon found another way to rebel, too. At DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he says, "I finished so far down in my class that no university in the country would accept me." Much to his father's dismay, Condon worked as an elevator operator, a bellboy and a waiter on a cruise line.

Condon eventually got a job writing package inserts, which he describes as "those little scraps of paper tucked inside product boxes that nobody ever reads." That led to writing copy for an advertising agency, and that in turn led him to marriage. As Condon tells it, the agency needed to fill a hotel dining room with elegant-looking people for a photographic shoot. Five professional models sat up front, close to the cameras. The rest of the diners were agency employees, including a tuxedoed Condon. One of the models was Evelyn Hunt, then with the Powers Agency. They met that night; they were married a year later.

From advertising, Condon made the leap into public relations, working for the Disney studio and handling the publicity for such movies as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo. He also wrote a play called Men of Distinction that had a four-performance run on Broadway in 1953. Four years later Condon decided the publicity business wasn't fun anymore. As he told Evelyn at the time, "The only thing I know how to do besides publicity is spell," so he started writing. His first novel, The Oldest Confession, was published when Condon was 42. He immediately sold both paperback and film rights and says, "I've never had to look back."

Condon already is planning a third Prizzi novel—to be called Prizzi's Glory—which will be set a few years in the future. "I believe that in about 30 years, the survivors of what we know as the Mafia will be our leaders," he says. "Money demands respectability. Go back to the 1860s, with the robber barons—the Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Vanderbilts, the Astors. They were vilified, yet today they are the social, political and business leaders of the nation."

That sort of transition is not so different from that of a New York City kid with a bad stutter who couldn't get into college and became one of America's best-selling authors.

Roderick Mann (essay date 16 August 1987)

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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 overtures at all," he said the other afternoon on a visit to Los Angeles from his Dallas home. "Very surprising."

Prizzi's Family is a prequel to Prizzi's Honor in which Condon fills in the background to the people involved in this organized-crime story. In it Charley Partanna, the hit man played so splendidly by Jack Nicholson in the movie, is just 30.

"And that seems to be the problem," said Condon. "Nicholson is so firmly entrenched in people's consciousness as Charley that they can't see anyone else playing it. And they don't see him passing for 30."

But Condon, whose 21st novel this is, is far from downhearted.

"Remember," he said, "the first book took 14 months to sell. Though that was because the copy I sent [director] John Huston never reached him in Mexico. Finally, I had the book hand-delivered to him and he called me and said yes within two days."

It was Huston who had to convince Condon that Nicholson (who starred in the movie with Kathleen Turner) was right for the role.

"I don't mind admitting I opposed Jack's casting," said Condon. "I felt he looked too German-American to play a Sicilian. I was proved wrong, of course. He did a smashing job.

"Not only did he dazzle me in the movie, but he changed the contours of Charley Partanna when I came to write the second book. I had a different Charley in mind when I wrote Prizzi's Honor. When I wrote Prizzi's Family, the image of Jack kept crowding into my mind."

Prizzi's Honor was the sixth Condon novel to be made into a movie (some of the others: The Manchurian Candidate, A Talent for Loving, Winter Kills). But it was the only one for which he wrote the screenplay.

"I lived out of the country for so many years that always before I was just glad to take the money and forget about the projects," he said. "But when this came up, I'd moved back to Dallas so I was available.

"Then when I was writing the screenplay, I was hit with an aneurysm of the aorta, which put me out of business for nearly six months. It's a fairly big number, that operation. The survival rate is only 3%, they tell me. For months, all I could do was sit in a chair, I felt so weak. Now I have a Dacron aorta."

Condon decided to live abroad after spending years in movie advertising and publicity, a calling that eventually earned him several ulcers. He has lived in Mexico, Spain and France, though the majority of his years overseas were spent in Switzerland (9 years) and Ireland (almost 10).

Condon liked Switzerland and this month, in Travel and Leisure magazine, writes a paean of praise to its railways.

"I don't understand why people always say it's boring," he said. "The Swiss have a good sense of humor, though they are serious about their work. I think people's attitude stems from that sneer of Orson Welles' in The Third Man in which he dismissed them as a race that had produced nothing more interesting than the cuckoo clock."

Ireland, too, he enjoyed. He lived there in a Georgian house, Rossanarra, which was designed by the architect responsible for the White House, James Hoban.

And he says his return to the United States in 1980 was prompted not so much by homesickness as a desire to spend time with his two grandchildren in Dallas.

"I miss Europe," he said. "Next month, Evelyn [his wife of 48 years] and I are going over to look for a flat in London."

Did he find writing easier when he lived abroad?

"Only because I don't speak any foreign languages, which means I don't have to go to any dinners or cocktail parties and can devote more time to writing. To me, two women sitting behind me on the bus chattering away sound interesting because I've no idea what they are saying. The fact that they are probably grumbling about the quality of the meat some butcher has given them doesn't concern me."

In Ireland, of course, he could understand….

"Yes. But there I lived in such an isolated place it didn't make any difference. I never saw anyone."

At his home in a Dallas suburb—"It's all white houses with picket fences, rather like the back lot at Metro must have been when they were making those Andy Hardy movies"—he is at work on his 23rd novel.

The 22nd—Prizzi's Glory, the sequel to Prizzi's Honor and the final book in the trilogy—is already set for publication next year.

"My only contact with the world is looking out of the window at the occasional automobile passing by," the 72-year-old author said. "I know of no indulgence like being an author. When a chap writes a novel he runs the show."

And there's another thing: Since becoming a novelist, Condon has not had one ulcer.

Further Reading

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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 numbers.

Coates, Joseph. "Nicaraguans Out 'to Take Europe'?" Chicago Tribune (22 February 1990): sec. 5, p. 3.

Praises the action and language in Emperor of America.

Coates, Joseph. "Reality Set to Satirical Music." Chicago Tribune (26 September 1991): sec. 5, p. 3.

Favorable review of The Final Addiction, suggesting that Condon is "right on target when he identifies America's fatal addiction as the image."

Dooley, Susan. "Fiction." The Washington Post—Book World (23 January 1994): X6.

Summarizes the plot of Prizzi's Money.

Epps, Garrett. "The Life and Loves of a Hit Man." Book World—The Washington Post (24 August 1986): 1-2.

Compliments Condon's sense of humor and irony in Prizzi's Family.

Firth, Brian. A review of Emperor of America, by Richard Condon. West Coast Review of Books 15, No. 3 (1990): 26.

Asks if "we today are repeating the mistake made by the critics of [Jonathan] Swift, and taking masterly satire for mere entertainment?"

Greenwell, Bill. "Sledgehammers." New Statesman and Society 3, No. 96 (13 April 1990): 40.

Calls Emperor of America "a wicked little spoof that should have been wrapped up in a shorter story."

Jeffery, Keith. "Moving among Powerful People." The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4607 (19 July 1991): 21.

Describes The Final Addition as "many things," including a satire, a parable, and a feminist tract.

Kent, Bill. A review of The Final Addiction, by Richard Condon. The New York Times Book Review (17 November 1991): 20.

Claims the novel "churns up absurdities into a fizzy froth of political satire, melodrama, and gratuitous silliness."

A review of Prizzi's Family, by Richard Condon. Kirkus Reviews LIV, No. 14 (15 July 1986): 1040.

Mixed assessment, faulting Condon's "gross rather than pointed satire."

A review of Prizzi's Glory, by Richard Condon. Kirkus Reviews LVI, No. 14 (15 July 1988): 991-92.

Notes the "vitriolic swipes at US politics" and "Condon's inventive and literally tasty prose."

A review of Emperor of America, by Richard Condon. Kirkus Reviews LVII, No. 23 (1 December 1989): 1693–694.

Finds the novel "both heavy and tedious."

A review of The Final Addiction, by Richard Condon. Kirkus Reviews LIX, No. 13 (1 July 1991): 805-06.

Highly favorable review, observing that "the 'final addiction' is to the public's stupidity."

A review of Prizzi's Money, by Richard Condon. Kirkus Reviews LXI, No. 22 (15 November 1993): 1407.

Claims that Condon is "in top form" with this novel, calling it "a tangled web!"

A review of Prizzi's Glory, by Richard Condon. The New Yorker LXVI, No. 45 (26 December 1988): 96-7.

Praises Condon's satirical skill, comparing the novel to a "feast of cheerful mordancy."

Lyons, Gene. "Married to the Mob." Entertainment Weekly, No. 208 (4 February 1994): 48-9.

Summarizes the plot of Prizzi's Money.

A review of The Final Addiction, by Richard Condon. The New Yorker LXVII, No. 36 (28 October 1991): 119.

Comments on "the deadpan precision with which the author marries completely outlandish and surreal plot developments of accurate but equally surreal descriptions of public service."

Petrakos, Chris. "Richard Condon Takes on the CIA, the NRA and Madonna." Chicago Tribune (8 November 1992): 8.

Detects "a genuine sense of indignation and anger" behind Condon's satire in The Venerable Bead.

Pinsky, Mark I. A review of Prizzi's Family, by Richard Condon. Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 November 1986): 4.

Brief favorable assessment, calling the novel "a tasty morsel."

A review of The Final Addiction, by Richard Condon. Publishers Weekly 238, No. 31 (19 July 1991): 45.

Finds "Condon's satirical eye is as wickedly sharp as ever."

A review of The Venerable Bead, by Richard Condon. Publishers Weekly 239, No. 40 (7 September 1992): 76.

Notes that "Condon here afflicts the comfortable to hilarious effect."

A review of Prizzi's Glory, by Richard Condon. Time 132, No. 12 (19 September 1988): 95.

Negative review, observing that "there is too much stuff and not enough funny."

Sanders, John. "The Fantastic Non-fantastic: Richard Condon's Waking Nightmares." Extrapolation 25, No. 2 (Summer 1984): 127-37.

Examines Condon's spy novels in terms of what the critic calls "'borderline' fantastic literature."]

Wilkinson, Burke. A review of The Venerable Bead, by Richard Condon. The Christian Science Monitor (7 June 1993): 13.

Brief positive review.

Charles Champlin (review date 18 September 1988)

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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 respect but not respectability, for which Maerose (the Angelica Huston character in the film) is aiming with a drive that has overwhelmed even the old Don himself.

Paving the road to respectability, Maerose takes husband Charlie Partana away from his killing chores and, against his better judgment, sees that he has a new name, face, voice and MO. When last seen, he is rushing up a veritable peak of propriety, uttering curses like "What in tunket!" and "Great Godfrey!"

Condon, as usual, wields a pen that is part scalpel, part Samurai sword. The legitimatizing of criminal money and the illegitimizing of the higher (and lower) reaches of government are equal themes.

Prizzi's Glory is with all else a hymn book in favor of Italian cooking. Too, it is also a satirical litany of the trappings of success. It is not kind to the incumbent Administration or televised religion, but it does celebrate family togetherness. Condon's powers of invention and expression and his gift for the credibly preposterous are undiminished.

Vincent Patrick (review date 9 October 1988)

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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 to fruition their 19-year engagement. The most Sicilian of the Don's offspring, she paradoxically longs for respectability and acceptance into New York's nouvelle society. To this end, Charley—who runs the Prizzis' street operations and who is "not an originator" but a man who "could carry out orders with the dedication and mindlessness of a lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps"—is made over with a new name, face and background as well as British elocution lessons. As Charles Macy Barton, he replaces Edward S. Price (the Don's son, Eduardo Prizzi, himself made over years earlier) as head of America's largest conglomerate.

Eduardo is a man so attuned to public relations that the interior of his private DC-10, acquired from his late, great friend, the Shah of Iran, is as austerely decorated as a turn-of-the-century Vermont store, complete with cracker barrel and roll-top desk. He also keeps several sets of dentures for different occasions. To indicate total submission at meetings with the Don, he has a copy of George Bush's teeth made from photographs taken on the day the Iran-contra scandal broke. Since Charley is to replace him, a suitable slot needs to be found for Eduardo—the family runs him for President of the United States in the 1992 election. The Prizzis' street operations (loan sharking, extortion, etc.) are franchised out to the highest bidders, thus getting the family off the street completely and into the far more lucrative area of politics.

The plot gives Mr. Condon ample elbow room for political and social satire that is always funny. Much of it is based on observations from the point of view of Charley Partanna or his cohorts, clear-thinking, pragmatic Sicilians whose values aren't learned from this season's television series. We like them for that, and Mr. Condon doesn't invest his characters with cute, endearing qualities; rather, the Prizzis' charms stem from their complete lack of hypocrisy.

Toward the end things take an unexpectedly serious turn and a touch of tragedy leavens the humor, a feature of the Prizzi novels that works perfectly here. We close the book with a sense of loss for Charley and for ourselves. We are going to miss these Prizzis.

Jonathan Yardley (review date 7 February 1990)

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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.

Its underlying premise is that, as "Ronald Reagan had very nearly broken his heart in trying to warn America," Nicaragua is "out to conquer the world." The Sandinistan designs are ghastly:

In 1980, Nicaragua had 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 fierce males who wanted to invade and occupy the United States, rape the flower of American womanhood, desecrate the flag, and ban the Pledge of Allegiance from all American schoolrooms, while making it part of martial law that all women have abortions regardless of race, creed or color.

All across the globe the Nicaraguan hordes are on the march, waving the banner of godless communism and launching invasions of strongholds of "the Free (Anti-Nicaraguan) World." One of these is against Portugal, but it is repelled by American forces led by Col. Caesare (Chay) Appleton, "a spit-and-polish soldier who had very little understanding of almost everything all other people took for granted," a 37-year-old career officer who suddenly finds himself, thanks to this famous victory, an American hero.

One thing leads very quickly to another. The District of Columbia is leveled by a nuclear explosion that "vanished the White House, demolished the Capitol, and caused all but one national government building, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency at Langley, Virginia, to disappear." The culprit is neither Nicaragua nor the Soviet Union but the enemy within, the Royalist Party, which stands for "strictly PR and looting all the way" and which is masterminded by Chay Appleton's brother-in-law, Wambly Keifetz IV, "the second-richest man in the world, lacking only that extra two billion to overtake an octogenarian Bochica Indian in Colombia who was El Supremo in cocaine production."

Keifetz needs a figurehead, and Chay is the perfect foil. Good military man that he is, he obeys orders and accepts the job of CINCAFUS-CIAFBIANSA: "Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency," which makes him "one of the most powerful men in the world, outranking his mother." In time he rises still higher, after "the American Republic had been transformed into an Imperial government over which Caesare Appleton, then Chairman/CEO/World Hero, had been named as the nation's first monarch, Emperor Caesare I, absolute ruler of the American people."

With that Condon is off and running, heaving grenades right and left as he polishes off just about every target offered to the satirist by this age of self-indulgence and excess. The list is recited by Wambly Keifetz:

Ronald Reagan was the greatest President this country has ever produced. He gave us the FBI race wars, the Qaddafi bombings, the Star Wars flapdoodle, the Grenada farce, the Bitburg shaming, the endless bank failures, the Lebanon disasters, the crumbling national airlines, the rape of HUD, the oligarchy of Big Oil, insured inflation, and the shoring-up of sinister Israeli politicians—all to keep our people diverted and entertained until the Royalty Party could consolidate its position. He fought for an end to legal abortion so that the market for our hard-ticket items would never be jeopardized but always expand beyond the food supply. He taught our people to get the money.

If it's all a bit on the broad side, from time to time crossing the line that separates satire from slapstick, who cares? Sex, drugs, the Mafia, the CIA, momism, television, Texas—you name it, Condon has an unkind word for it. His characters are caricatures and his plot is preposterous, but who cares about that, either? Emperor of America may be a pie-throwing exhibition, but say it for Condon that most of his meringues land right smack on target.

Ray Blount Jr. (review date 11 February 1990)

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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 a new novel, Emperor of America. Its premise is the above, all of which I buy, except for the hat.

In my view, a popularly tenable vision of national Republicanism as both ludicrous and menacing is at least 10 years overdue. And who better to provide such a vision than Mr. Condon, whose witty and highly readable novels have included The Manchurian Candidate, Winter Kills and Prizzi's Honor, all three of which have been made into memorable movies. I welcomed this book with open arms.

Then, after bringing those arms somewhat closer together (as befits a reviewer), I started reading. The first thing that tempted me to open my arms again, and drop the book, was a bit of military communications confusion caused by someone's name being Roger Over. That sounds like a joke Ronald Reagan might tell.

The second thing was the hat.

How can the same man who created Maerose Prizzi have also created a mediagenic man-on-horseback character who wears a homburg sideways? Surely such a trademark would look dumb and forced to any viewer, however credulous, and would wobble. I regret to report that the hat characterizes the book.

Of Wambly Keifetz IV, the greedhead power broker whose machinations shape the new America, Mr. Condon writes: "He was ardently committed to the Flag to which he referred affectionately as 'Old Tootsie,' and he led the sixty-seven-person staff at Keifetz Hall, Greenwich, each morning in singing the national anthem, controlled by pitch pipe, followed by a massed Pledge of Allegiance in Latin, the original form of the oath as it had been taken daily by the Roman legionaries under Julius Caesar in 40 B.C. with: 'I pledge allegiance to the balance of trade and to the Export-Import Bank for which it stands. For tax loopholes indivisible with a kiss-off and a promise for all.'"

This is high school level sardonicism, and not at its most accessible. In Emperor of America, for some reason, the heretofore deft Mr. Condon becomes not only heavy-handed but airily hard to follow. Only professional doggedness kept this reviewer wading back and forth through sentences like "Jon's fiancee. Elizabeth, had moved him even beyond his own belief in any conceivable extent that a woman had ever moved any man."

Occasionally, out pops an arresting, Chandleresque line ("a jaw like a hammock filled with fat people"). Other passages have their own peculiar charm: "'I am not a politician,' he said with the odd sincerity of the overweight."

But how do you like this for an image: "Chay used his expressive eyes for television…. With the right television makeup, they seemed to leak out of his face like pieces of canned fruit."

Here is a sentence that I can't get out of my mind, somehow: "She experienced the terror of possibly falling out of the chaise longue."

The plot, in my judgment, is too slapdash to go into.

The hell of it—well, part of the hell of it—is that Mr. Condon makes some good points. The big-money forces behind Emperor Appleton supply him with a self-image consultant (formerly an assistant to Michael Deaver), whose job is to convince Appleton, as the aforementioned Keifetz puts it, "that his magic came to him in the form of his immeasurable luck. If he believes that, everything has to come out right and he will do anything we tell him because he won't be interested in thinking for himself, he'll let his magical luck come up with the solutions…. And God knows that if they are told about his magic, the people will absolutely believe in him, and we'll stay where we belong, in the driver's seat." I don't think I have encountered anywhere else such a plausible sinister analysis of the Reagan dynamic.

In our time, this book insists, the consent of the governed is best obtained and retained by what we might call govertainment. Or, in the words of Keifetz: "Television! The key to all minds and all hearts because it permits the people to be entertained by their government without ever having to participate in it…. Representation is fiction."

This fiction, however, is not representative—of Mr. Condon's litertainment or, I like to think, of anti-Reaganism. Can it be the work of some impostor, a Republican dirty trickster?

Other possible explanations:

• What the author refers to rather nicely as Ronald Reagan's "Harold Teen manner" somehow scuttles satirical attacks on the old phenom. Only Garry Trudeau slashed away at Mr. Reagan steadfastly throughout the 1980's, and as a result "Doonesbury" was widely criticized (though not by me) as no longer funny.

• Mr. Condon has given vent to a kind of nausea brought on by the corruption of political discourse in the Reagan-Bush years. Consider this outburst, which has to do with the unhealthy magic of television viewing: "Does it not seem passing strange? The mayhem there, the palmistry of lewdness produced at such low cost? A pod of wattage for a chair, to enjoy, in congress, busts of stellar consequence? Villains into shining heroes, tailored changelings by the magic wands of light? But wait! Keyholes for pain are not all it reaches. It proves that the possession of money, reason for such Eden, is why we're here." Surely no one who has ever written well could write this badly except on purpose. Can it be a hint that the novel's opening scene is in a town called Almódovar, which is the name of the director of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?

• The author decided he was going to be wildly fanciful in this one, and therefore didn't have to be rigorous. Actually, of course, the wildly fanciful has to be more rigorous than anything.

• Mr. Condon, like his Manchurian candidate, was programmed years ago by the Republicans to establish himself as a trenchant observer and then, when the time came, to render the truth about Reaganism in self-discrediting form.

• Luck.

Herbert Mitgang (review date 14 February 1990)

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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 seems to be warning readers against electing a kingly ruler, as Sinclair Lewis once did in his cautionary anti-dictator novel, It Can't Happen Here, about a flag-waving general in the White House. Mr. Condon obviously aims to be serious, but he can't help it if his writing is outrageous. He keeps putting English on the eight ball, giving his story screwy turns.

Emperor of America is written with a wink and a smirk and the confidence of an author who has resolved that he's not going to hold back his strong opinions, not at his exuberant age of 74, even if they come across like rabbit punches.

Without giving away every detail of the convoluted plot, it can be revealed that Mr. Condon is not an admirer of the former President and First Lady, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who play more than cameo roles in his satire. He doesn't even like their pet, whom he calls a "dear little rented dog." They are mentioned at least a dozen times during the establishment of the fictional imperial presidency.

The time is March 18, 1990. At 11:04 A.M. on that day next month, a nuclear device is exploded in Washington, wiping out the District of Columbia and evaporating 1,397,200 people. The catastrophe causes the White House to vanish, demolishes the Capitol and destroys every national building but the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Royalist Party shares responsibility with the National Rifle Association for causing the atomic explosion.

Afterward, news is sent out by the television networks in the form of daily mass exorcisms that were started, Mr. Condon writes, "by the Reagan Administration (1981–1989): the constant moral bloopers; the Grenada mockery; the Lebanese disasters; the Iran-contra scandals; the Persian Gulf debacles; the Libya fixation; the Supreme Court appointment messes; Congressional committee exposures; the charges, arraignments and indictments of high Federal officials beyond any count of corruption in White House history."

Here is the country's mood after the bomb: "The Royalists had best access to where the American people lived; that vast diamond-bright area of daytime television and prime-time soap." He continues, "The Reagan Administration—that shining definition of reigning glamour and romance associated with queens, big money, great dressmakers, great poverty, colorful (moderate) mullahs, glamorous (if shocking) scandals and entertaining South American drug lords—had overtaken the national imagination of a society which had been compartmentalized by money." Naming names, "The yuppie virus, which had been fed by the decade of Ron and Nancy, the bull market and eight unrelenting years of political fantasy, struck as AIDS had struck."

But follow the money and the military. How does an Army colonel, Caesare Appleton, become the first Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the United States and then Emperor Caesare I? Blame Nicaragua, which the author calls "an evil empire," for his rise to power. With breeding techniques, the Sandinistas swell their population from 3 million in 1980 to 21 million people, "almost all of them fierce males who wanted to invade and occupy the United States, rape the flower of American womanhood, desecrate the flag and ban the Pledge of Allegiance from all American schoolrooms."

Colonel Appleton beats the Sandinistas on the battlefields of Portugal and Southeast Asia, becomes a national hero and takes over as a Royalist. It helps, of course, that his manipulative mother gets him to sign up with the William Morris Agency to make money and a name for himself.

In case of doubt about how Mr. Condon feels about the former President some of his characters pause now and then to emphasize his views indelicately: "Ronald Reagan was the greatest President this country has ever produced. He gave us the F.B.I. race wars, the Qaddafi bombings, the 'Star Wars' flapdoodle, the Grenada farce, the Bitburg shaming, the endless bank failures, the Lebanon disasters, the crumbling national airlines, the rape of HUD, the oligarchy of Big Oil, insured inflation and the shoring up of sinister Israeli politicians—all to keep our people diverted and entertained until the Royalty Party could consolidate its position."

And that's not all. The novel also includes cocaine, rape, the mafia, abortion, a House of Lords in Dallas (where the author lives), sibling rivalry, momism and a huge statue erected on Government grounds to former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. By the end of Emperor of America, Mr. Condon has had more fun than anybody; most of the time his humor is wild enough to work.

Carolyn See (review date 26 February 1990)

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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 fierce males who wanted to invade and occupy the United States, rape the flower of American womanhood, desecrate the Flag, and ban the Pledge of Allegiance from all American schoolrooms, while making it a part of martial law that all women have abortions, regardless of race, creed or color."

So … Col. Appleton, hereinafter referred to as Chay, has become a great American military hero. Our former President, Ronald (The Great Waver) Reagan, and his lovely wife, Nancy, have instilled so many royalist yearnings in our vast population that scarcely anyone notices when Chay's brother-in-law, a corporate-wizard, Donald Trump kind of guy, more or less absentmindedly blows up Washington, D.C., with one well-placed nuclear weapon, builds a "Pink House" out in Southern California to replace the White House in our former capital, and installs Chay and his wife as Emperor of America and his consort—both part of a handsome puppet-couple, tools of a capitalist consortium, and the logical human sequels to our fabled Reagan Legacy.

Why is Chay such a vacant, lobotomized jerk? Richard Condon, whose earlier works include The Manchurian Candidate and other masterpieces about the effects of brainwashing on various luckless individuals, takes the position that Col. Caesare Appleton has become the militaristic moron he is because his mother, a venal, vicious, venomous mom who comes straight out of Philip Wylie's Generation of Vipers, sent her son away to military school when he was only 5, forever depriving him of the consolations of female company and making him a patsy for whatever woman comes along in his adult life.

(Thus, Chay's corporate-king brother-in-law can control him by means of women, which makes for some pretty tasteless and heavy-handed satire—not quotable in a family newspaper.)

So it's hard to tell what or whom the author hates most here—smothering mothers, Corporate America, former President Reagan or the total overall degeneration of American civilization.

For instance: "Television, of course, is everything. Pictures, and their seldom-relating commentary, crowd out thought. With television paving his way, Napoleon could have taken Moscow. Hitler could have had a Hollywood contract. With television, the French Revolution need never have happened. Marie Antoinette would have chatted glamorously on the 10 highest-rated talk shows. Cake would be in. Bread would be out. After all, we have only to look at Reagan." So says one of Chay's scheming lady friends, part of the devilish plot to place this creation on the throne of the United States.

But Emperor of America runs into trouble. It's more than a little difficult to satirize modern American life, for one thing. When Chay decides to invade Nantucket Island to continue the war with the Sandinistas, and the author reports that "the 70,000-man combined U.S. Task Force easily overcame the 679-man Nicaraguan labor battalion," it's just not funny, somehow, not after Operation Just Cause. This kind of military operation is what America does to spend time these days.

It is funny, maybe, but funny as a crutch. When Condon goes on to write, "In the popular imagination, over the 13 years since Ronald Reagan had invented it and Col. North had made it famous throughout Iran, Nicaragua had become a gigantic country, about the size of China, having a population of nearly 22 million people, all bloodthirsty fighters and dangerous Communists," he's not only failing at satire (since he says no more than the unadorned truth) but he's being repetitive (see earlier quote).

A little desperately, Condon falls back on other things to satirize: All those grasping ladies, and the fact that in northern Australia, in every plane that lands, the passengers are sprayed with pesticide. Again, that's not satire—it's no more than the truth.

Emperor of America finally does no more than illustrate why Reagan really was the "Teflon" President: In the eyes of his supporters, he could do no wrong. To his detractors, his action became almost literally unspeakable, far beyond the reach of any satire.

In Condon's case, the worst thing that can happen to a writer occurred. Words failed him.

Sarah Booth Conroy (review date 10 May 1990)

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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. [Emperor of America]

"Strident, venomous, punitive, mean"—that's the way Richard Condon characterizes his new book, Emperor of America, a rough, ready and raucous satire on Ronald Reagan, and on Lt. Col. Oliver North and co-conspirators.

In which: A businessman drops a nuclear bomb on Washington. An army colonel becomes a national hero battling Nicaraguans bred to fight. The CIA flies Colombian cocaine to Nantucket. And the colonel is crowned Emperor of America.

Well, it's not as though any of his earlier 22 novels were Anne of Green Gables.

The Manchurian Candidate eerily predicted the character of John F. Kennedy's assassin and Lee Harvey Oswald's death.

In Winter Kills, Condon went back to a presidential assassination, presenting another plausible plot; in Death of a Politician he fantasized a Sen. Joe McCarthy-like character.

Condon's most recent hits have been his three Prizzi books—Prizzi's Glory, Prizzi's Family and Prizzi's Honor, from which the magnificent John Huston movie was made.

"If you're writing about the Mafiosi, it's based on a rock bed of reality. If you're writing about politicians, you're writing about marshmallows and smoke," he said. In any case, money is both the villain and the unifying theme in all his books. The constant reader may suspect he prefers the Mafiosi—hit men and women (equal opportunity employers), gangsters, gamblers and cooks (does Prizzi come from Pizza?)—he seems to find them more principled. But then he grew up in Manhattan.

"Because of the universally popular concept of the Mafiosi, I was able to maintain the realism of who and what they were and where they lived while satirizing them."

Condon does not look as though he has ever committed assassination, murder, orgies, coups etc., although those are some of the crimes that he's written about. Not long ago, Condon—ensconced in the ultra-respectable Hay-Adams Hotel—was disguised as a nice 75-year-old author. He drank pitcher after pitcher of—steel yourself—iced tea and explained why he doesn't need Russians to play villains in his stories as long as he has corrupt American politicians.

Emperor of America resulted from Condon's coming back to the United States from Ireland during the 1980 election, at the beginning of Reagan's first term.

On April 26, 1982, the book began to ferment—maybe mold is a better word—in the novel factory in Condon's head. That date was when he was traumatized by reading in Time magazine a full-page story about the visit of the Reagans to Claudette Colbert in Bermuda.

"The story said that the trip was backed up with a fully equipped hospital ship, four helicopters, two fire engines, a new telephone cable for 50 telephones, 110 drivers, 518 people, including 200 journalists. And that slammed home to me that whoever was doing the thinking for Reagan had decided that now was the time for an American monarch. After all, the Divine Right of Kings is the same as the Teflon effect—the king can do no wrong. My book just takes it one step further."

Not until the last year of Reagan's second term did Condon write Emperor. He can't believe "that two days after Reagan left the White House, the New York Times reported he was the most popular president in history. I elected myself as the person to say, 'There's no reason for this man to be a popular president and here's why….' I felt I had to raise my voice, and say, 'Damn it, how can you possibly accept this idiot as your great leader in history?'"

As a character says in Emperor:

Television and only television elected Ronald Reagan, did it not? His lovely tailoring, his Harold Teen manner, his acknowledged genius as a waver—why else would the owners of the country have chosen a failed movie actor to fill the presidency? Television! The key to all minds and hearts because it permits the people to be entertained by their government without ever having to participate in it.

The novelist believes that "the manipulators—I should say the custodians of law and order, our lives and government—have decided that the attention span of the American people is limited to three days. When you think of all the things people have to get done in a day, plus the engulfment of television, all they can do is to view politics as entertainment.

"I think of the American people as sitting on bleachers by the river. Around comes a float—the Iran-contra float; here comes another: our brave president daring to go to Colombia to solve the drug problem. You can't get any more satirical than that…. Satire can only survive by holding a very slippery thin edge of reality. You have to try to make people believe in what you're writing about, even if you're mocking what they have accepted."

Condon expected opinions—literary and political—to be divided on Emperor. He was right. Roy Blount Jr. in the New York Times Book Review wrote that he finds the "hithertofore deft Mr. Condon becomes not only heavy-handed but airily hard to follow." And he postulates, "Mr. Condon, like his Manchurian candidate, was programmed years ago by the Republicans to establish himself as a trenchant observer and then, when the time came, to render the truth about Reaganism in self-discrediting form."

Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World said the book isn't so much a novel as a jeremiad, but he added that "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."

"This is a black book—devastating," says Charles McCarry, a novelist and ghost writer of the biographies of Donald Regan and Alexander Haig. "Inside every cynic is an evangelist," says McCarry. "Richard struggles to keep it corked. And when he does, any writer would be proud of that absolutely original voice."

As you might guess, McCarry is a good friend of Condon. "When I write him, I address him as 'Cher Maitre.'" With Len Deighton and Rod MacLeish, McCarry and Condon name characters after each other. Condon invented the International Confederation of Book Actors—he says it's composed of people "who would have acted in movies, radio or opera if we hadn't been too busy writing." But all he really means is that they borrow each other's names to use for their characters. Condon sends the friends so honored (?) a certificate of performance when he uses their names in a book.

He also sometimes uses allusions to his friends as real people; for example, as a way of chiding McCarry for ghosting political biographies instead of sticking to his great novels, Condon writes in Emperor:

Since the night he had entered his sister's bed, Chay had not wanted anyone to know the true facts about anything in his past … working with such distinguished biographers as Abner Stein and Charles McCarry, or rearranging the facts of his life for the ghost writers who assisted him with his autobiographies, Chay always needed to change the truth to something else.

To confound his fans, who might confuse him with his characters, let it be explained that readers often think that writers have the same sexual adventures, physical characteristics, etc. of their characters, while in truth, writers are usually fatter, more chaste and less murderous than their characters. Hotfooting it all over seven countries in 27 years, Condon perched in, among other roosts, what he calls "gringo heights" in Mexico City; in a palazzo in Lugano; and Rossenarra, an 1824 country house in Ireland. These and all other exotic places he used as settings for his life and his books. He came back to the United States with the wife he skipped the country with, Evelyn Hunt Condon. After 53 years of careful inspection, he still counts the former Powers model as a great beauty.

He's hiding out now in a safe house—the innocuous sort of place you'd expect if he were a federal grand jury witness, relocated under a new identity: in a semidetached house in a suburb of Dallas. (Condon, who grew up in Washington Heights, Manhattan, calls Dallas the most foreign of all his venues.)

"It's like living on the back yard of Metro [Goldwyn-Mayer]—trees and picket fences. Judge Hardy goes by every hour on the hour. We're very tame. Our car is 10 years old and has 19,000 miles. We take long tours of the supermarket."

"We thought about heading out to Timbuktu or the Amazon, but we weren't sure they'd accept our Medicare card," said Condon. There are other attractions on this side of the Atlantic for Condon and his wife: the two Condon daughters (who speak five languages as a result of his travels) and three grandchildren. Imagine! Condon as a grandfather, not a godfather!

Evelyn Condon serves as his first editor. "I'm weak on punctuation," he said. "She makes check marks by what I should change." Condon uses an Olivetti computer—"I was the second professional writer to use a computer, John Hersey was the first. But his was borrowed—in 1976 I was the first writer to buy one." Condon says he's slowing down—"always before, I had two books ahead in my mind."

His 24th novel, not long finished, is even now up for auction. Condon prefers the advance he gets when three publishers bid against each other. "Publishers love to call writers disloyal. But Ronald Wilson Reagan taught us to 'Get the money.'" The 24th, Get out of My Dream [later called The Final Addiction], is a political satire too—set in the 1992 elections—about the entanglement in cocaine dealing of a frankfurter salesman.

Five of Condon's books have been filmed—most recently the block-buster Prizzi's Honor, for which he wrote the script. "Never ask a writer advice on casting," he said with a shake of his head. "I opposed Jack Nicholson bitterly. 'He isn't Italian,' I said. 'He looks German.' Anjelica Huston was the only one in the movie who looked right. But I was wrong. Nicholson was wonderful."

Condon admits that movies sell books. The Manchurian Candidate only sold 14,000 in hard copy. My wife said there must have been only four copies bought and those passed hand to hand. Not until the film was a hit did the softback make back the advance."

Frank Sinatra (who stars in the movie along with Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury) and two others owned the film rights to Manchurian Candidate, Condon said. "In the first place, people were nervous about making a movie about a presidential assassination. Sinatra flew in to the Kennedy compound to see how [Kennedy] felt about it—and Kennedy said he had no objection."

After the film was withdrawn from distribution after the Kennedy assassination, Sinatra bought it from the other owners. "And he wouldn't allow it to be shown again until the distributor straightened out the bookkeeping on it—till then it hadn't made a profit," Condon said. The current re-release helped sell the paperback.

Condon, who once wrote that it takes more than 50 novels to equal the take on two screenplays (but he claimed the proceeds of the film rights to The Manchurian barely covered his Mexican move) is gleeful at the thought of a recent inquiry from a movie company that wants to film one of his best, Infinity of Mirrors, where his wrath is turned to denouncing Nazism. "Even in Texas, there's some consternation about the reunity of Germany. Film people have to be opportunists."

In And Then We Moved to Rossenarra or The Art of Emigrating, Condon admits to only "three out of the seven deadly sins: greed, wrath and gluttony."

Condon, with the intention of living forever, now enjoys food mostly as a voyeur, feeding his heroes and villains well. Emperor is fixated on kalbsbratwurst, a German sausage.

One of his most charming books, The Mexican Stove—Words by Richard Condon, Food by Wendy Bennett [a daughter]—has recently been reissued by a Texas publisher with Condon's original choice of title, Ole', Mole'. Condon makes two claims for the book: It's the only Mexican cookbook written (and test cooked and eaten) in Ireland, and it has the longest introduction (55 pages, also autobiographical) ever written for a cookbook.

After the pouring out of the invective in Emperor of America, no wonder Condon says: "I'm so tired of writing political satire. I think my next one will be about a nice collie—better a dachshund, maybe a hunting dachshund."

You can hear the dog story pawing through his mind.

Who knows, the next book may be about a politician who becomes a weredog at the full moon and is bribed by the Mafioso with feinbratwurst.

Alex Heard (review date 10 September 1991)

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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 Prizzis make an appearance), there are two of these guys. Both are so insipid that you worry—repeated contact may be too much like mainlining marshmallow paste. But Condon, pro that he is, works that out satisfactorily. One of them appears only in tolerably brief scenes. The other mutates into a new, higher, more interesting stupidity life form.

The first is Osgood Noon, a presidential candidate. Take President Bush, liposuction his brain, and you've got Noon. He entered Republican politics by convincing his skeptical father that "this move could help business." Rising through the appointive ranks—ambassador to Monaco, chairman of the National Energy From Toxic Waste Commission, State Department, Reagan's "short list" of 91 candidates for running mate—he's being positioned by his brilliant wife, Oona, to run in 1992 on a pro-flag, pro-Pledge, pro-gun ticket. Downplaying his inherited wealth, "Goodie" claims not one but four heartland states as his home. "I am a working stiff," he says, "a tool handler from the oil fields of Texas who gets by with the sweat of his brow." This dolt's favorite hobby is pecking out "typewriter portraits" of former presidents.

The second is Owney Hazman, son of an American triple-agent and an Iranian double agent, who grows up harboring one obsession: to find his mother, who went into hiding when the father's house of cards collapsed in 1969. To that end, young Owney starts greedily hoarding a sizable financial nut, which he gathers first as a novelty salesman, then as a frankfurter salesman working for his wife's father. Owney is certainly an idiot—at one point he says to a much wiser character who is fleeing drug lords, "You don't really think, in this day and age, that anyone would think of killing anyone for four billion six hundred and twenty million dollars?" But he at least is capable of tying his shoes and "growing." His ambition is to become a network anchorman—the hope being that his mother will see him, rich and famous, and return at last to his side. Before it's over he lands something much, much bigger, in an ending that takes all the novel's themes way beyond their logical extreme.

As matters turn out—this is revealed very early, so I'm not giving anything away—Oona Noon is Owney's mother. She has her own agenda. She was a fanatic follower of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and her mission is to undermine the United States by flooding it with cocaine, which she smuggles in using a fleet of 79 supertankers inherited from her second husband, Nicky Nepenthe. Oona covets the presidency for her husband and herself. ("A five-day vacation for two people costin' five million dollars" is how she shrewdly appraises a recent official presidential visit to Barbados.) She's also determined to mother Owney along life's path without his knowing her true identity. Initially she pays for his anchorman lessons, but he proves hopeless; among other shortcomings, he can't get the knack of saying "I'll see you tomorrow" to the camera with the right degree of fake sincerity. Then she paves the way for a congressional seat, but that's scuttled when Owney, temporarily estranged from his wife, is taped by the CIA in a carnal engagement with a notorious IRA terrorist.

You're probably beginning to get the idea. The Final Addiction, like many a Washington lampoon before it, attaches a bicycle pump to current and recent events, and works it until they reach parade-float proportions. Normally I find this approach boring, especially since it has evolved into the ironclad formula for satirists aiming to "blast" contemporary public life. Even so, Condon is better at it than most. He relentlessly hits you with a denser (and dumber) supply of gags, leaving you with a sort of dizzy satisfaction—think of it as authoritative slapstick. He's strongest with the description of his very large cast of shameless characters. Here's our first sight of Oona:

A long robin's-egg blue car with a two-seater body by Figoni e Filaschi … drove up slowly … The Figoni vision was driven by a striking woman of an interesting age, Owney decided. She had a golden tan and wore a V neck yellow sweater over a scarlet blouse. Her eyes were like Delft dinner plates on a snowfield … She had cheekbones as high and flat as an Inuit medicine man's and short yellow hair which fit her like an Aztec feather helmet. He made a vivid note to stay out of her way … She wore clothes as if van Dongen had painted them on her, and she had a mouth that looked like a meal in itself.

Novels that "romp" through modern politics are usually driven by kooky plots. (Make no mistake, The Final Addiction is too.) But they survive from moment to moment on the basis of sharp, funny writing. Except for the final pages, when he flies too far into the wackysphere, Condon keeps things running nicely.

Herbert Mitgang (review date 18 September 1991)

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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 offended?"

The Final Addiction, Mr. Condon's 24th novel and may he go on forever, could be categorizedas a Reagan-Bush-Quayleera thriller. It's not so deliberately plotted as The Manchurian Candidate or Prizzi's Honor, but it's nearly as imaginative and even more outrageous. The remarkable achievement of Mr. Condon's recent novels, including his new one, is that they are insulting without being libelous. A neat trick.

American Presidents often provide the background music for Mr. Condon's novels. Winter Kills featured a libidinous young President who is assassinated. The Star-Spangled Crunch included a big-time operator who is forced to leave office because of a scandal. In The Final Addiction, there are references to Calvin Coolidge, Jimmy Carter and, coming up to the 1980's and 1990's, a dimwitted President who loves sending arms to the Nicaraguan rebels and another who is best remembered for hating broccoli.

The real and the unreal all flow together in Mr. Condon's mad, mad, mad Presidential whirlpool. A future White House hopeful's wife, Mrs Goodie Noon (sounding like Finley Peter Dunne's humorous political observer, Mr. Dooley), says:

"Oh, it's nice bein' a President, I can tell you. Look at the time the Reagans went down to Barbados for a little five-day visit. Three hundred and eighteen people had to go along with him an that ain't countin the crews on the hospital ship and the light cruiser filled with marines ready to swarm ashore in case they had to rescue him from the tourists, and the 700 members of the international press media." After saying that the Reagans knew how to do it "better'n bein' a king and queen," she goes on: "Sure, the five days on Barbados for two people in love cost the taxpayers $5 million, but think what Truman or Kennedy or Johnson or Ford or Carter woulda given the people. Jes' the same old thang—gettin' on an off Air Force One. Lemme tell you no other ruler in the world comes even close to the Reagans when they travel on the taxpayer."

The character named Goodie Noon does succeed President Reagan. Instead of going to Camp David, the Marine helicopter takes Mr. and Mrs. Noon to the family pad on "Bland Island." In case the reader is in doubt about who the author means, Goodie has the Presidential helicopter, which he calls his Herkybird, fitted out like the interior of the ranch house to the movie Giant, with "several really good paintings by Grant Wood." Even though Goodie was born "a Connecticut man, he lived and breathed Texas" and claimed four states as his home.

Goodie, who at one point is described as the education President, has a hero: Calvin Coolidge. The author compares their speaking styles: "Goodie Noon's voice, had Calvin Coolidge ever spoken, which he had not, could have been a nasal match of his hero's speech. It was as though trained people came in every morning, before both men arose, to pack their sinuses with hot sand through which a dissonanttreble wind whistled." Goodie often uses his voice to declaim, "Promote the flag, and the flag will promote you."

Among the novelist's other targets are the National Rifle Association, Klaus Barbie, Barbara Walters, his own fictional Prizzis ("a kinder and gentler Mafia"), the C.I.A., the F.B.I., the K.G.B., the Chinese Foreign Intelligence Department, frankfurters containing monosodium glutamate and other additives and preservatives, the Concorde, the savings and loan industry, the New York City subway system, Star Wars, wigs worn by United States Senators and Walter Cronkite's mustache.

Oh, yes, there's a plot in The Final Addiction.

A young man is a successful frankfurter salesman, specializing in novelty franks, which the trade says should never be called hot dogs. His wife is beautiful and his father-in-law is wealthy. But there is something nagging at his mind as he grows up. His mother left him at an early age, leaving only a note saying that there's hamburger in the fridge. His wife has a blooming career as a pop singer. He meets a woman who is supporting her simpleton husband for President, using her billions of dollars from her cocaine empire. How is the young man going to find his long-lost mother and what has she been up to? The way to track her down is to become a television anchor, make several million a year and be seen on screens all over the world and be spotted by Mom.

Meantime … the Chinese, the Syrians, the Afghans, the Mafiosi and disguised intelligence agents from the fisheries and wildlife services of nine nations are watching the anchor's every move. And the frankfurter business begins to expand.

All more or less clear?

In the final chapter of The Final Addiction, Mr. Condon wraps it up: "That is the full (if amazing) story of the profound national mystery of how an unknown, inexperienced 32-year-old man came to be nominated as candidate for Vice President of the United States of America at the Republican Presidential nominating convention at New Orleans, the youngest and, some would say, the callowest man ever to be chosen for that high office, which, as every American child knows, is only a heartbeat away from the Presidency. The man named to be Vice President had had no experience beyond the field of frankfurters."

Kichard Condon has done it again. As they say in Hollywood, The Final Addiction is high concept.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 September 1992)

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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 bare by the book's readers, however, may well suddenly be swallowed like oyster meat by another theme. One leading theme is about polymorphous human appearances, a subject that at last gets so complicated that one loses track of which physical body the heroine is wearing—as does her lover, who also wears a series of bodies. A second theme is about immortality, or the extension of human life by way of a secret Albanian yogurt formula passed on to the hero, Joseph Reynard, by his departed 134-year-old great-grandfather (Joseph himself was sired by an 80-year-old father). Will Joseph and his beloved Leila Aluja—an Iraqi-American superspy for the Sino-Albanian spymaster Josef Shqitonja (really Joe Reynard himself)—get out of the spy business and become billionaires with this fast-food recipe? Quite possibly, since Leila owns The Venerable Bead—a huge, legendary ruby whose bearer is fated to have faultless good luck and great power. A third theme involves the corruptions of celebrityhood and the media, with Leila transformed into rock superstar Meine Edelfrau ("Ma Donna" in Albanian), and a fourth is about gun control and arms dealing. Hey, Joe wonders, won't a geriatric world population quintupled by long-life yogurt overburden the planet with ghastly survival problems? Condon smiles, nodding.

Betrayal of love and trust leads to a repeat ending of Prizzi's Honor that's even wilder than the original.

Jay Cantor (review date 29 November 1992)

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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 international security firm that runs the recently privatized FBI, CIA and KGB. In her efforts to crack the Albanian spy network that runs Hollywood talent agencies on behalf of the Communist Chinese, she becomes a movie star; and then a pop queen; and then a powerful Washington lawyer-lobbyist for the NRA and the Mafia; and then a public relations czarina who pre-sells easy-win wars to keep the Pentagonfive-sided; and then a fast-foodmogul of pre-cooked haggis, tofu pizza and other delights; and then she goes on the trail of a yogurt that will make us live nearly forever, so the planet will split its sides laughing; and then … and then … and then. All these doings are recounted with sly digs, word play, an amiably mean ragtag style and a sufficient number of brand names to make you gag on what you are already daily swallowing.

Leila isn't (but in this sort of world who could be?) a rounded character with whose loves and losses you identify. She is, rather, the floating center of a delirium of fantasies that we call ours, though they are as pre-sold to us as the wars whose heroes then stalk our pre-fab dreams. In our personal and national fantasy life—or so Condon avers—we are an amalgam of tabloid elements, and The Venerable Bead is a snappy sample of that internal film strip, until in the last judgment (and this deeply moral book provides one) we see a country, perhaps ours, that has become a serial of sinister plots, populated by personalities that are themselves made (like Leila's) of false memories and programmed desires that don't belong to us, things we've "seen on television or read as headlines in The National Enquirer or in one of those commercials with soap opera plots." And so "from the ten thousand things she had heard or imagined about other people while her past was dying, she had built a memory." Which memory is this book, or, I guess, this newspaper, which will then become a part of your and my seemingly personal memory.

That all seems about right to me on a bad day, so it is perhaps not the whole truth, or how would this novel have gotten written? Still, was it Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honor and many other novels, who also wrote the Watergate Cover-Up and Pat Buchanan's speech at the Republican Convention (which was no doubt a Demo dirty trick)? Was it Condon who, on a sour day, scripted the election that just was, in which (but could this really have happened?) the president of the United States—called Goodie Noon when he appears in this novel—appeared on a television talk show with a wide-suspendered host, and implied that his opponent, Gov. Bozo Waffle, had been programmed in Moscow to take deep cover as a good old boy, become president of the United States, and invite his old bolshy comrades (who knew that the jig would soon be up for them in the U.S.S.R.) to high U.S. government positions (like head of the National Rifle Association), where they could transfer our assets to already bulging Swiss bank accounts? Did Condon invent Skadillionaire Uncle Scrooge Perot, who accused President Goodie Noon of sneaking LSD into the punch bowl at his daughter's wedding to Sean Penn?

Which is to say that The Venerable Bead, which reports Condon's (or his allies') other doings during the Reagan-Noon years—and delivers the goodies on the movie business, the public relations firms that now schedule our wars' victory parades in advance, the NRA, our also murderous fast food, and the last opera buffo minutes of the communist conspiracy—has a hard time keeping up with the excesses of our current events. Almost forcing sentences like my last one to go on and on excessively, like Condon's delightfully excessive plots, trying to keep ahead of the curve, taking on an increasingly shrill tone as the engine of outrage goes into overdrive when (for example) the Brady Bill (named by Condon—or was it someone else?—for a man who was shot in an attempt to assassinate his best friend, conservative Ronald Reagan) is nixed by the conservative NRA, which in this outrageously outraged novel (or is it real life?) has bought the Congress, lest our constitutionally guaranteed right to commit murder ever be abridged.

This adds to history the kind of irony that at one time only novelists provided. Any engine might whine from the pressure of trying to keep up with such history. Or perhaps (as Condon himself implies) the shrill sound we dogs sometimes hear is the screams of souls in torment, in this case particularly our main character, Leila Aluja, who finds as she dies that her memory "bobbled like a cork upon a chaotic sea of deals, money, power, celebrity, sex, television, greed, and politics, the tarnished threads of the true flag. She relived what she had been trained to dream but had never seen, lifetimes flashing past in nanoseconds … She remembered her life … which was the price she had paid for her constant betrayal of love and trust. Suddenly she knew where she was. She was in hell."

Herbert Mitgang (review date 2 December 1992)

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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 114,720 outlets in 31 countries, a national evangelical television network; casinos in Nevada, Aruba, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico; a chain of ballroom dancing schools, and "7 U.S. senators and 61 congressmen."

Leila's aphrodisiac is power, which she gains and exercises ruthlessly. Her ambitions are fulfilled with the help of a good-luck talisman, the ancient ruby that inspires the novel's title. Along her crooked road to wealth and fame, Leila acquires and divorces four husbands, at least one of whom, a Chinese-Albanian spy-master, she probably loves. Before succeeding in the fast-food game, she becomes an American counterspy, a Washington lawyer and lobbyist, and a film and recording star. Her theatrical name, which becomes better known than Madonna's, is Meine Edelfrau.

Describing his heroine as a Washington spy and propagandist during the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Condon writes: "Leila had the knack of believing in whatever she was paid to do. She sold war with the same high purpose and zeal she brought to her crusades for cigarettes. If the crack industry had been better organized or had any goals beyond making money by killing people, she would have sold the meaning of its effect, slightly modulated from a chemical which produced insanity, to the stuff that dreams are made of."

Mr. Condon stops the action now and again to ridicule real people and imaginary organizations. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy is described as a man "who had given up his life mostly to booze" while hunting Reds. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, is nailed for maintaining that "there is no such thing as the Mafia," one of the author's favorite targets. President Ronald Reagan is reviled for stating that the burden of decreased charitable works would be taken up happily by the private sector. Among the lobbying groups attacked are the "National Gun Carriers' Association" and the "Center for American National Cigarette Education and Research (C.A.N.C.E.R.)."

Happily, we are back in familiar Condon country, a fictional land where political lions dwell, scoundrels thrive and greed trickles upward. With outrageous humor, the author mocks the power brokers behind the Manchurian candidates who dominate everything from Hollywood to Washington. Should we laugh at his puns and inside jokes, or shudder at the people who rule his American rookery? In The Venerable Bead, Mr. Condon has the singular ability to make readers do both.

Donald E. Westlake (review date 13 December 1992)

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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. But from time to time his irritation boils over, and out of him comes whirling a fictional doomsday machine, mowing down everything in its wake, from our most pious political platitudes to the entire best-seller list. Now, in the twilight of spydom, with sovereign nations everywhere cracking like the glassware in a coloratura's hotel suite, comes the spy novel not to end all spy novels but to bury them, and then do something raucous on their graves.

The Venerable Bede was an English monk and historian, born in 673. He wrote Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, among other works, introduced the concept of dating backward into antiquity from the birth of Christ, and died in 735 without ever knowing about Richard Condon's latest novel. The Venerable Bead in The Venerable Bead is the Ahmadabad Ruby, a stone that—but let Mr. Condon tell you:

"It was so old and so priceless that its name had been changed to the Venerable Bead. It had been a gift to Leila on her wedding night from her second husband, the most powerful man in the history of Hollywood, who had inherited it from his father, a close comrade of Joseph Stalin. It weighed 97.643 carats…. It was valued at $1,483,700." The juxtaposition of Hollywood and Stalin, and the combination of utter absurdity with finicky numerical exactitude, are what this book is all about, if it's all about anything. It isn't about the Venerable Bede, of course, but then again it isn't about the Venerable Bead, either.

In the novel, the ruby is not stolen, not lost, not pawned, not traded, not a plot point, not a Maguffin, not an issue, not even referred to except at the beginning and the end. It's merely the red thing Leila carries on a thin gold chain around her neck.

Ah, Leila. If this novel had a heroine, which it hasn't, Leila would be it. Her history is so complex that we are given an entire chapter just to list her careers. The daughter of a Mafia-connected Congressman, she has been at one time or another a counterspy for the United States Government, a movie star, a rock singer who earned an average of $63 million a year—"Her second record album on the Cacophony label, I Stand Alone, from her hit film Nobody Stands Alone, sold 7,450,000 copies"—and also a dominant Washington lawyer for the weapons industry, the cigarette industry and the mob. In addition, she is the sometime head of her own powerful New York public relations firm, the closest adviser to the President and a sexual athlete who hip-flips men into the air when she's in the mood.

When we first meet Leila, aboard a Florida-bound passenger liner called Eros, she's in her early 40's and is president of the largest fast-food company in the world. She's also beautiful—wouldn't you know it?—and she had "big hair"; hair apparently so big it could be (but isn't) rented to the underclass as living space. If the heroine of a Jackie Collins novel were to meet Leila, Leila would merely laugh, but the other girl would be so envious her eyelashes would catch fire.

Leila has had four husbands, the first of whom nobody can remember. The second was a Hollywood agent and a spy, the third the cocaine-snorting head of the National Gun Carriers' Association, and the fourth a professor of Gaelic studies at Columbia University. His propensity to speak only in Gaelic, particularly in bed, is what drives the poor woman into the arms of a sports dentist; trust me.

I'm not going to give a plot summary here. If Mr. Condon could get along without one, so can you. I'll just say that manic scenes come flying out of nowhere, divert us and self-destruct. There's the hilarious conversation between Leila and her third husband about legalizing flamethrowers for civilian use: "Sure, it's possible that some kids loitering in schoolyards could get a little charred—but the greater good is the safety and protection that flamethrowers can give us by allowing each citizen, armed and ready, to defend his rights under the Constitution." Again, when the Chinese disguise their spies with four-inch elevator shoes; American know-how beats them with "Manhole Shoes," to make our spies four inches shorter.

It is one of this book's conceits that virtually all Hollywood agents are actually in deep cover, that they are, in fact, Albanian spies working for China. When the F.B.I. swoops up more than 300 of them, we get this: "Only three people were left throughout the entire craft of film making who knew how to make deals, get the right tables in restaurants, actually read a script, or to help an actor write a letter home to mother—in sum, how to make movies. This accounted for such films as Ishtar, Hudson Hawk and Howard the Duck."

The free-floating rage behind such commentary is not always under control, nor is it always used to fuel a comic intent. For instance, the fourth (but not the last) time Mr. Condon informed me that "PAC's, or political action committees, had been invented by the U.S. Congress so that it could be bribed legally," without then putting any comic spin on the idea, I gave up hoping he'd find the satire inside the concept. (He never did.) This is merely reportage, realistic pastel inappropriately amid the pyrotechnicolorics.

Still, despite the author's occasional confusion as to which side of the looking glass he's on, The Venerable Bead is a lot of fun, loose-jointed, manic, over the top from first word to last. Pending the arrival of a rational world, Richard Condon is among the most accomplished and witty ranters in the bedlam we've got. Just don't ask him to make sense until the rest of us do.

Joe Queenan (review date 6 February 1994)

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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 ice the truculent whackee, the Prizzis have discovered that Mrs. Asbury is actually Julia Melvini, the daughter of another top Prizzi hit man, known as the Plumber "because of his signature threat to flush recalcitrants down the toilet." In fact, the Plumber's most recent victim was his son-in-law, Henry, husband of Julia, who hired the Prizzis to stage his own kidnapping so he could keep the $75 million ransom—but who now must die because his wife has become so annoying.

Since industry ethics deem it dishonorable to hit the daughter of a hit man while the hit man is still doing hits for the family that authorized the hit, Don Corrado Prizzi, capo di tutti capi, orders one of Charley's aides, Pino Tasca, first to whack the Plumber—taking care of any problems on the offense-to-omerta front—and then to whack the Plumber's daughter. But Pino complicates everything by falling in love with the hit man's daughter, then bungling the hit on her hit man dad and then getting hit himself.

In the end, the only way the don has any hope of getting his money back is by arranging for his son Eduardo, a financial genius with blue hair "by Albert of Warsaw," to marry Julia and then trick her into running for the United States Senate, which will require her to relinquish control of the 137 companies her whacked husband used to own and fork them over to the Prizzis. Which seems like a wonderful solution to everyone but Julia, who couldn't care less about the Senate, and Charley Partanna, who despite being engaged to Maerose Prizzi, the granddaughter of the capo di tutti capi who authorized the contract on Julia in the first place, has now fallen madly in love with the woman he would have iced 120 pages earlier if he hadn't come down with the measles. Mr. Condon writes:

They were in love, as much as Charley detested the transience of that phrase. They loved in the way the great ones had loved, Charley insisted, the way Bogie and Ingrid had loved, and Ingrid and Bogie. With all his heart he knew that he and Mrs. Asbury were one being. They made cosmic music together. Why else, Charley asked himself, did he always wear a jacket and a necktie when he saw her?

Why ask why?

Prizzi's Money is the latest riotously funny installment in a series of novels that includes Prizzi's Glory, Prizzi's Family and Prizzi's Honor, the last of which was the basis for a fine movie starring Jack Nicholson as the likable hit man Charley Partanna. As was the case in Prizzi's Honor, the infamous don, his vile sons and their assorted vindicatori, intimidatori and even what Mr. Condon refers to as "assistant intimidatori" and "apprentice vindicatori" now find themselves confronted by a force of nature that they are culturally unequipped to deal with: a perfidious woman 10 times more cunning and determined than they are. As the long-suffering don gloomily laments: "Sixteen months ago this Asbury woman was a simple housewife, now she runs 137 companies and wants to take over the biggest conglomerate in America. It's that … woman's movement that puts these crazy ideas into their heads."

The delicious notion that the Cosa Nostra could somehow be subverted by Naomi Wolf-style power feminism is only one of the gloriously crackpot ideas that appear in Prizzi's Money. There is also a memorable scene in which the Prizzis pay a shady butler $50,000 to murder Mrs. Asbury, but insist on getting a receipt. In another set piece, Don Corrado's son Vincent, whose daughter Maerose is engaged to marry Charley Partanna, is seen at his desk fuming at how hard it is to fill out his I.R.S. forms. And the book is also liberally supplied with such shadowy organizations as the Little Sisters of Pain and Pity and churches with names like St. Philip of the Wounds.

Of course, what really makes the novel work is Mr. Condon's acid prose. "If taxis wore clothes they would resemble Charley," he writes. Of Julia, he says, "She had a passionate Siciliannose and—God!—whata mouth—an army could feed on that mouth and be able to march for 10 days." Finally, summing up the unconventional love affair between the attractive psychopaths, he writes:

Charley went head over heels about Mrs. Asbury. At her insistence he shaved off the mustache and went back to wearing an ordinary felt fedora. No matter how busy he got with his work and, what with subverting the labor movement, going through all the intricate moves of bribing politicians and police officials, assigning contracts for hits, keeping up with the public's relentless demand for cocaine and adding to the American cost of living by his chains of tributes that took effect as soon as the goods were moved into the cities, tributes that were then added to the cost of almost everything to be passed on to the consumer, Charley was always thinking about Julia Asbury and how, despite his engagement to Maerose Prizzi, he could ask a classy woman like that to marry him.

Chris Petrakos (review date 20 February 1994)

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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 Asbury, a man who has "been seriously involved with every mirror he ever met." But the kidnapping is simply a money-making scheme hatched by Asbury and his very cunning wife, Julia, who also happens to be the daughter of a Mafia hitman, the Plumber.

Henry has made a big mistake, however; he's double-crossed his wife and cut the Prizzi family into the deal. Julia's subsequent fury, her icy resolve and her absolute skill as a financial and sexual manipulator sets the plot running in several directions and threatens to pull down the Prizzi empire.

As usual, Condon spins a bunch of insane variations off of this already manic scheme, introducing old characters like Charley Partanna and Maerose Prizzi, as well as new ones like Pino Tasco, the killer with the beautiful teeth. His manic plotting is as entertaining as always, as are his lightning like guerrilla attacks on politicians and the Catholic church. And I'm always astonished by how much Condon can pack into a descriptive statement: "Vincent had a totally closed face, like a bank vault shut impenetrably by a system of time locks."

Lorrie K. Inagaki (review date Summer 1994)

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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 ransom money and the $1.4 billion illegally siphoned from his failing companies. What she doesn't know is that her husband had secretly made a deal with the Prizzi crime family. When Julia discovers that the Prizzi family is after her for the money, she devises a bold and elaborate scheme to pull the wool over their eyes and escape with a new identity. This takes a bit of doing, however, especially when hit man extraordinaire Charley Partanna is ordered to do away with her. Julia also doesn't expect to fall in love with Charley.

Fourth in the continuing saga of the Prizzi crime family (following Prizzi's Glory, Prizzi's Family and Prizzi's Honor), Prizzi's Money brings back the now familiar members of the family including Charley Partanna, Don Corrado Prizzi, Maerose Prizzi and Edward Price. The main character, however, in this one is Julia Asbury, nee Julia Melvini, the daughter of another Prizzi hit man. Julia is brainy and brash, and clearly more than a match for anyone in the Prizzi family. Supporting characters include Julia's twin brother, a tenacious newspaper reporter, and Julia's father. Every character is entertaining, although none of them could be considered admirable. The plot is outrageous and moves at breakneck pace. The writing is witty, smooth and replete with offbeat and black humor. All these elements work together to make this book enjoyable reading.

Mel Gussow (obituary date 10 April 1996)

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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 Candidate. That novel, published in 1959, subsequently became a cult film classic, directed by John Frankenheimer. In this spellbinding story, Raymond Shaw, an American prisoner of war (played in the film by Laurence Harvey), is brainwashed and becomes a Communist agent and assassin.

When the 1962 film was re-released in 1988, Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times that it was "arguably the most chilling piece of cold war paranoia ever committed to film, yet by now it has developed a kind of innocence."

Mr. Condon was a popular novelist who earned serious critical attention, although he did not always win favorable reviews. His response "I'm a man of the marketplace as well as an artist." And he added. "I'm a pawnbroker of myth." Though others made claims that his novels were prophetic he admitted only that they were "sometimes about five and a half minutes ahead of their time."

In Winter Kills, a President, evidently modeled on John F. Kennedy, is assassinated in a conspiracy involving the Central Intelligence Agency and the underworld. Obsessed by politics, Mr. Condon once said, "Every book I've ever written has been about the abuse of power. I feel very strongly about that. I'd like people to know how deeply their politicians are wronging them." That abuse could be in contemporary life or as long ago as the 15th century, as in his novel A Trembling Upon Rome.

Politicians like Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and President Richard M. Nixon appeared in various guises in his work, Nixon as Walter Slurrie in Death of a Politician. Speaking about politics and political thrillers, Mr. Condon once said, "It's the villains that make good literature, because they're the only ones in the story who know what they want."

He did not write his first novel until he was 42, but, once started, he never stopped. The first, The Oldest Confession (1958), was filmed as The Happy Thieves, starring Rex Harrison and Rita Hayworth. The novel was a success, but the film was a failure, whereas the second, The Manchurian Candidate, was popular in both forms. Eventually he wrote 26 novels and two works of nonfiction, And Then We Moved to Rossenarra, a memoir of the years he lived in Ireland, and The Mexican Stove, a cook book he wrote with his daughter Wendy Jackson.

When asked how he knew so much about crime families he said he first learned about the subject as a boy on the streets of Washington Heights. He was born in Manhattan and graduated from De Witt Clinton High School. Because his grades were so poor, he never went to college. He worked as an elevator operator, a hotel clerk and a waiter, then sold an article to Esquire magazine. While working as a copywriter for an advertising agency, he met a model named Evelyn Hunt, whom he married in 1938. Copywriting led him into movie publicity, with his first stop the Disney organization.

For 22 years, he was a movie publicist, working for almost every major Hollywood studio. With characteristic panache, he later described himself as "a drummer boy for the gnomes and elves of the silver screen." During this period, he saturated himself with movies, watching eight a week. They were, he said, mostly bad films, but they taught him the art of storytelling and the need for the novelist to be entertaining.

In the late 1950's, he left Hollywood and returned to New York to become a novelist. The idea for The Oldest Confession came while he was on location with The Pride and the Passion at El Escorial, outside Madrid. Fascinated by Old Master paintings, he wrote his book about art thievery. The consecutive success of The Oldest Confession and The Manchurian Candidate enabled him to devote himself to fiction.

In 1959, he began a series of migrations, first to Mexico, then to Switzerland, finally to Ireland. His travels added to his backlog of knowledge, but he continued to set most of his novels in the United States. Through the 1960's and into the 70's, his books received mixed reviews, with some of the more admiring notices going to An Infinity of Mirrors in 1964. Winter Kills, in 1974, drew favorable attention, with Christopher Lehmann-Hauptsaying in his review in The Times that it was "a grand entertainment" and "the best book Mr. Condon has written since The Manchurian Candidate."

After writing a series of novels in Ireland, Mr. Condon moved back to the United States, settling in Dallas in 1980. In Texas, he had his next comeback, with Prizzi's Honor, about the Prizzi family of mobsters in Brooklyn. John Huston turned the novel into a hit film, starring Jack Nicholson, Kathleen Turner and Anjelica Huston. The screenplay, by Mr. Condon and Janet Roach, was nominated for an Academy Award. Several years later, Mr. Condon completed the fictional cycle with Prizzi's Family, Prizzi's Glory and Prizzi's Money, published in 1994.

Among his other novels are Some Angry Angel, A Talent for Loving, Arlgato and Emperor of America.

Throughout his life, Mr. Condon displayed a wry, even diabolical streak. He often named his characters after real people. For example, the characters in Raymond Shaw's infantry squad in The Manchurian Candidate were named for people associated with the Phil Silvers television show, You'll Never Get Rich. His longest-running character, Dr. Weller, was named after A. H. Weller, a former film critic for The Times. In various Condon novels, Dr. Weller turns up as an obstetrician, a cardiologist, a psychiatrist and the royal physician.

Charles McCarry (obituary date 10 April 1996)

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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 of a made-in-China political assassin with an Electra complex. Like insanity itself, the story was deeply terrifying but also wildly funny.

What had seemed merely a good, amusing read when the book was published in 1959 became all too plausible with the violent, incomprehensible death of President Kennedy only four years later—a kind of death that only Condon had been able to imagine and, more than that, had been able to explain in terms of an airtight scenario in which certain powerful people profited from the murder of the living symbol of the nation.

America never quite regained its psychic feet after Dallas, which meant, in a sense, that it increasingly began living with Condon's reality. This reality, fictional to be sure though not for long, was based on the idea that there was a second America hidden inside the visible America, and that the hidden one was the real one. This dark inner country, in Condon's many subsequent books, was run by characters who enjoyed the purified serenity of the truly insane, men and women who pursued monstrous ends by rational means, people who were first, last and always motivated by one thing: money.

Money bought power, money bought fame, money bought love, money bought happiness. Money, in Condon's brilliantly realized world, bought everything except the totally irrelevant thing that no one in his right mind was interested in—sanity.

Wonderfully dotty characters, instantly recognizable to any '90s reader as the folks we elect and appoint and televise to the highest offices in the land, fall out of Condon's books like figures from a storybook in the titles of a Disney film.

The original, the ur-nut, is the mother of Raymond Shaw, the tortured, brainwashed assassin of The Manchurian Candidate. This is how Condon introduces her, at a White House ceremony at which Raymond is about to be awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Korea: "Raymond's mother was across the {Rose} Garden … hand[ing] out cigars to press people whether the press people wanted them or not. Raymond's mother was dressed up in about eight hundred dollars of the best taste on the market…. She would have given the press people money, Raymond knew, but she had sensed somehow that it would be misunderstood."

Immediately the reader knows how Raymond feels. And he recognizes that something funny, something awful, something beyond the usual excesses of motherhood is going on here. It is a Freudian rule of thumb that you can't trust your own mother. Soon the reader will find out that Raymond, winner of the nation's highest award for valor, is an assassin. But wait—Raymond does not know that he is an assassin, and he does not know who controls him. When Raymond realizes the whole appalling truth, 250 scintillating pages later, the reader will understand for the first time how little Freud really knew.

Apart from his spellbinding gift as a storyteller and his infallible instinct for character—he never met a maniac he could not in his own heart love and render lovable—what the writer admires in Condon is his mastery of the English sentence. No one since Gertrude Stein has done it better, and Condon has the edge on Stein in that his sentences hang together to form paragraphs, pages, chapters and whole novels in which there is rarely a cuttable word or punctuation mark.

Every Condon sentence in every one of his books is a quintessential Condon sentence. No one else could possibly have written this one, from his last novel, Prizzi's Money, which I am opening at random. "Nuela had a long farewell dinner with Lieutenant Zendt, her longtime companion from NYPD Homicide, who armed her with a note to a Superintendent of Police at Scotland Yard because he knew all the good restaurants."

Thirty-six words, two commas, one period … and a color snapshot of a character's whole world.

Condon, who was 81, will be remembered in his obituaries for The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honor, partly because both were made into memorable movies and mostly because they were such good books.

My own favorites among his more than two dozen novels are two that stand somewhat apart from the main body of his work. First, Some Angry Angel, in which a heartless gossip columnist is redeemed by the love of the wife to whom he has just been reconciled, only to lose her to blind fate in one of the most wrenching scenes every written.

Most of all, An Infinity of Mirrors, a story about a French girl, a Jew, and a German officer who fall in love in Paris in the days just before the outbreak of World War II. Here is a passage:

How could there be time for him to find the truth that she represented, or her magic, which glimmered and then concealed itself? How could she find him? How could he show himself? How could he know what his life meant until he had lived it and then could say, I am a particle of the love that I felt for you.' He felt that he and Paule were figures facing and reflecting each other endlessly in an infinity of mirrors, which were the past and the future.

Condon wrote just like that in the dozens of letters he and I exchanged over half a lifetime. Particle of genius that he was, standing between past and future, understanding monstrosity, understanding love, understanding the partnership between the two.

He just couldn't help it.

Myrna Oliver (obituary date 10 April 1996)

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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 Korea who is brainwashed by communists to kill a powerful Joseph McCarthyesque presidential candidate in the United States. The film, starring Laurence Harvey as the prisoner and Frank Sinatra as a fellow soldier who tries to stop him, was seen as a liberal sendup of political paranoia when it was released in 1962.

But it was still playing when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963, and its similarities to real life prompted its quick withdrawal from circulation. Some people suggested that the slaying was inspired by the film—an astounding idea to Condon.

Originally, the acclaimed motion picture did not fare well at the box office, especially outside urban areas. It had greater success when it was re-released by Sinatra and its co-owners 25 years later.

"The audience did not know if it was coming from the left or the right," Condon said in 1988 of the original release. "In the first week, it was picketed by communists in Paris and the American Legion in Orange County."

Condon also wrote a series of novels about the Prizzi organized crime family, but only the first, Prizzi's Honor, was filmed. Condon, with Janet Roach, adapted his 1982 novel into the screenplay for the 1985 film starring Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston. Their script was nominated for an Academy Award, and Huston won the Oscar for best supporting actress. The screenplay also won awards from the Writers Guild of America and the British Motion Picture Academy.

Former Times entertainment editor Charles Champlin wrote in praise of the novel: "Richard Condon stands among the American popular novelists of his generation like a borzoi among retrievers. He may not (but may) be better or more efficient at what he does, but he is indubitably and refreshingly different."

The novelist's sense of humor, Champlin said, included "an eccentric vision of the real world as requiring only the slightest push to expose all that is preposterous and bizarre in it."

"He begins with observable reality—brainwashing, an Asian war, geopolitics, the Kennedy family, the Mafia—moves up one floor and starts imagining."

Condon's first novel, The Oldest Confession in 1958, was about bullfighting and thievery in Spain. It was made into the 1962 film The Happy Thieves starring Rex Harrison and Rita Hayworth.

Another novel, Winter Kills, was made into a film in 1979 starring Jeff Bridges as the younger brother of an assassinated president investigating the murder.

Condon said that all his books, usually seen as black comedies, focused on the abuse of power.

Other novels included A Talent for Loving, Any God Will Do, Money Is Love, Death of a Politician, Prizzi's Family, Prizzi's Glory and Prizzi's Money.

Condon began writing novels when he was in his 40s. A native New Yorker, he spent 22 years as a New York-based film publicist for Walt Disney Productions and other major studios.

He joked that he became a novelist after the motion picture business gave him an ulcer and he realized that "all I could do was spell."

Hollywood moguls were surprised when the publicist began publishing successful novels. "You mean," exclaimed one producer, "this is that fat guy who used to meet our plane in Paris?"


Condon, Richard (Vol. 10)


Condon, Richard (Vol. 4)