Just the other day, after eating a few dozen oysters and taking some Ritalin, I read Lee Hill’s biography of Terry Southern called 'A Grand Guy.' And, sure enough, it acted as the satisfying climax to the intellectual stimulation Southern’s writing...
I love fucking Terry Southern. That came out wrong. I never fucked the writer, at least not proper fucked. But I have been fucking him intellectually, off and on, for a few decades now. By that I mean I’ve read his literary work: Flash and Filigree, Candy, The Magic Christian, and Blue Movie, on several occasions, going deeper each time. But no matter how deep I go, Southern’s satiric send-ups, lyrical lines, crazy characters, and demented dialogue always leave me hard. I never fully come to a satisfying climax. I’m always left with the feeling that I could go deeper. That I could explore more of the birth canal that is Terry Southern’s sardonic vision of America.
So, just the other day, after eating a few dozen oysters and taking some Ritalin, I read Lee Hill’s biography of that writer I love fucking so much called A Grand Guy. I mean that writer I fucking love so much. And, sure enough, it acted as the satisfying climax to the intellectual stimulation Southern’s writing induces. It’s the kind of stimulation that makes you hard for days, novel after novel, the kind that only a grand guy like Southern has the ability to induce.
He induces it through the TV quiz-show called What’s my Disease? In Flash and Filigree where a panel of semi-celebrities ask questions of a diseased contestant until they discover the undisclosed ailment and reveal it to an audience that then lets out “a great audible gasp of astonished horror,” before “bursting into applause." He induces it through the beautiful and innocent title character in Candy when a hunchback buries his hump between her “legs as she hunched wildly, pulling open her little labias in an absurd effort to get it in her,” because, as she tells herself, “it means so much to him." He induces it through the Dog Show scene in The Magic Christian where Guy Grand, the eccentric millionaire Southern wished he was but wasn’t because of the IRS, buys the three largest kennel clubs on the eastern seaboard so he can introduce in disguise a dog named Claw, not Claude, that wasn’t “a dog at all, but some kind of terrible black panther or dyed jaguar. . . so that before the day was out, he had not only brought chaos in to the formal proceedings, but had actually destroyed about half the ‘Best of Breed.’”
Even though Southern was indebted to the IRS for most of his life and, as a result, never got to pull off the pranks of The Magic Christian’s Guy Grand, who spends millions a year indulging in his hobby of making it ‘hot’ for the entire world, Southern did manage to make it hot for himself: his satisfying climactic biography, A Grand Guy, reads like some kind of biblical story of a literary action hero who jumps through decades and influences generations. Altering his mind with the likes of William Burroughs, he was one of the most head-bobbin’ Beats in Greenwich Village. As one of the original contributors to The Paris Review, both his writing and his crabs were alive and well in that postwar Paris literary scene of the 1950s. While at the center of London’s Swinging 60s, he hit the road with The Rolling Stones and, according to Tom Wolfe, invented what is now called New Journalism. Although Denis Hopper was too hopped-up to remember, Southern wrote the majority of Easy Rider and was responsible for the quality that came to be expected from American films in the 70s. Then, in the 80s, he wrote for Saturday Night Live when both the laughs and cocaine were still pure and powerful. Finally, just before his death at the beginning of the 90s, he lectured at several esteemed universities where I imagine he spread the last of his seeds like a fiend.
A Grand Guy, Hill’s biography of Southern, is the intellectually satisfying climax that the stimulating writing of Southern, his novels, essays, scripts, and letters, builds to. And it’s a neighbor-waking climax. Especially the chapter describing his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick: “Dark London winter mornings, I would go over to Kubrick’s place in Knightsbridge at about 5:00 AM. We would work in the backseat of his grand old Bentley, it was a magical time.” That’s what Southern had to say when asked about the satiric masterpiece of a screenplay, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, he wrote with that great director.
And, though he was a speed freak, I believe what he said. I believe what he said because he was a speed freak. Only a speed freak could start writing at five in the morning, and only a speed freak would consider the time working with that totalitarian, perfectionist, maniac of a director ‘magical.’ Every actor, whether it’s Jack Nicholson, Malcolm McDowell, or the ghost of Peter Sellers, that worked for him agrees with what Kirk Douglas said: “Stanley Kubrick is a talented shit!” But Southern disagreed.
He found his collaboration with Kubrick magical. Magical as in wizards, wands, and my pissing little ponies. Magical like your first joint or your first vagina. Southern did lose his cinematic virginity on Dr. Strangelove, so that could have influenced his word choice when describing the collaboration. It’s more likely, though, that he described it as a magical time because they wrote Dr. Strangelove in the back of that ‘grand old Bentley’ as the 50s were turning into the 60s, when despite those dark winter mornings, London was just beginning to swing.
And Southern, despite, or possibly because of, those dark winter mornings, was just beginning to throw back pills. He threw back pills like a clown throws back pies. A presidential clown, played by the hilarious Peter Sellers, that throws back pies at the officers of the Army, Navy, and Air Force who accidentally throw pies at him before the bomb, which Captain Mandrake, also played by the hilarious Peter Sellers, is unable to stop.
But Kubrick cut that pie throwing scene of Southern’s from the film, and Dr. Strangelove instead ends with Slim Pickens riding the bomb, while ‘heehawing,’ as it descends to the soon-to-be inhabitable Earth. Southern could have held a grudge. He could have used the written word and a few of the rumors surrounding Kubrick (I think a Hollywood tabloid claimed that he lived in an underground fortress, talked only to his cats, and drank rattlesnake venom) to satirically dismantle the great director. But, because he was a grand guy, Southern instead tried to set up another ‘magical’ collaboration.
He went to Kubrick with the idea of making a big budget porn flick for mainstream audiences. I imagine him asking the director, in his Texan-hipster drawl, “You ever watch a porno, like Lesbians in the Produce Section, or Cheerleader Tryouts with Coach Lester, and find yourself critiquing the plot, the acting, and even the lighting? Why don’t you, Stan my man, make a real porno? A smut flick, an all-out fuckfest, with trained thespians and a script from a literary talent. A grand guy of a literary talent?”
However Southern pitched the idea, it didn’t work. Kubrick wasn’t down because his wife said, “If you do this, I’ll never speak to you again.” But Southern had a vision, a vision of cinema’s biggest stars fucking like animals for the masses on the big screen. And if Kubrick wouldn’t make it, he’d write a novel about Kubrick making it. That novel became a reality in 1970: Blue Movie, dedicated to “the great Stanley K.”
King B is Kubrick’s doppelganger in Blue Movie, and the mainstream smut film he attempts to make is called The Faces of Love. Tony Sanders, the film’s screenwriter and Southern’s own hot-shot, speed-freak doppelganger describes it as episodic with stories about the different kinds of love: Idyllic, Profane, Lesbian, Incestuous, Sadist, Masochistic, and Nymphomaniacal.
“We’ve got an opportunity here, and a responsibility, to lay it all down,” says King B. “And I just don’t think we should blow it.” And Southern, like his fictionalization of Kubrick does with The Faces of Love, uses Blue Movie as an opportunity to ‘lay it all down.’ He uses it to get revenge against the Hollywood system that screwed him harder than all the screwing in King B’s film combined.
Equally outrageous and hilarious, Blue Movie portrays the Hollywood system as a farce run by corpse-fuckers. It’s both entertaining and enlightening, and it also has some great scenes with Teeny Marie, a limbless midget who hops around yelling, “Put the wood to me!” and asking, “Who wants a taste of my lamb-pit?!?”
I don’t know who’d want a taste of Teeny Marie’s lamb-pit, but I do know that Kubrick wanted a taste, a second taste, of Southern’s lamb-pit, that lamb-pit of a birth canal that is his sardonic vision of America. And eventually all the speed, cocaine, and pies Southern threw back killed him, by way of heart attack, in 1995. Mrs. Kubrick didn't die shortly after, but she could have, probably from being exposed to too much of the rattlesnake venom she prepared for her husband’s morning coffee, and ‘The great Stanley K’ could finally, because his wife’s threat, "If you make this movie I’ll never talk to you again,” had already been realized, make the big budget porn flick for the masses that inspired Southern’s last and best novel, Blue Movie. Starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, it was Kubrick’s last completed film and its title, Eyes Wide Shut, is how I assume the director felt when looking back on the time he spent working with that grand guy named Terry Southern.
Illustration for thumbnail image by Cameron Forsley.
- Vice Blog