“Rollicking” is the perfect adjective to describe the odyssey of “Candy,” a novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg that appears to have been tossed off when its authors could spare time from drug-taking, lovemaking, and all-night gab fests in Parisian cafes and Greenwich Village bars. In “Candy Men,” Nile Southern, Terry’s son, makes wonderful use of his father’s and Hoffenberg’s letters, as well as the mountains of legal documents generated by their war with Girodias over who held the “Candy” copyright, to vividly recreate those freewheeling times.
Southern and Hoffenberg were members of the Beat generation that emerged from World War II determined to smash all the old pieties, and their satiric tale of a sweet Midwestern girl who tries to make everyone happy by having sex with anyone who asks was initially just a way to make a quick buck and outrage the squares.
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It was written for a flat fee of $300 as part of the semi-pornographic Traveler’s Companion series, Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias’ maneuver to outwit French censors by printing erotic books in English. (In “Candy Men’s” funniest scene Southern and Hoffenberg convince Girodias to publish William Burroughs’ junkie classic “Naked Lunch” by assuring him the title is “American slang for sex in the afternoon.”)
“Candy” hit the streets in Paris in 1958, the same year that Putnam decided to take a chance on “Lolita” in the United States, and both books rode a tidal wave of cultural change to become emblems of the battle for sexual and artistic freedom–and case studies in how not to conduct your business affairs.
In contrast to Hoffenberg, a heroin addict who could seldom be found and never pinned down, and Girodias, a shifty operator always looking to cut a better deal, Terry Southern appears almost sane as they finally hammer out an agreement that enables all three to collect royalties on the American edition of “Candy” (published in 1964) and clears the way for a movie version. Alas, as Nile Southern notes, “the classically told send-up of romance and pornography had become a careless indulgence of ’60s narcissism” in the bloated 1968 film.
The “Candy” men didn’t fare well either. In the 1970s, Hoffenberg sunk deeper into drugs, Girodias went bankrupt, and Southern’s initially successful screenwriting career (“Dr. Strangelove,” “Barbarella,” etc.) foundered. Terry was the last to die, in 1995. But his son’s affectionate retelling of the wild ride they took with “Candy” to become counterculture celebrities makes it clear that they had an awfully good time before it all went sour.