Terry Southern Month


Terry Southern Month

Terry Southern, © Steve Schapiro.

It’s buck season, the sun is defying all forecasts, the Vanity Fair softball team is atremble at the prospect of tonight’s grudge match, and to greet the arrival of summer we at The Paris Review Daily are hereby declaring June 2010 “Terry Southern Month.” For the next twenty-nine days stay tuned for a celebration of the longtime contributor who wrote Dr. Strangelove, The Magic Christian, and the pornographic novel Candy, inter alia.

As George Plimpton explained in 1996, the year of Southern’s death:

Terry was in a a sense largely responsible for the birth of this magazine back in 1953. In the early stages of publishing a Paris-based New Yorker imitation entitled The Paris News-Post, its editors, Peter Matthiessen and Harold L. Humes, were so impressed by the strength of The Accident, a story submitted by their friend Terry (a section of his novel Flash and Filigree) that they decided to scrap The New Yorker imitation and start a literary magazine. The story was incorporated in the first number. Thus, The Paris Review.

Here, for starters, is an interview by Mike Golden from issue 138 in which Southern discusses Paris in the fifties, making Easy Rider with Dennis Hopper (RIP), and the famous “lost” pie-fight from Dr. Strangelove:


What was the scene in Paris like in the fifties?


Oh it was terrific because the cafés were such great places to hang out, they were so open, you could smoke hash at the tables, if you were fairly discreet. There was the expatriate crowd, which was more or less comprised of interesting people, creatively inclined. So we would fall out there at one of the cafés, about four in the afternoon, sip Pernod until dinner, then afterwards go to a jazz club. Bird and Diz, and Miles and Bud Powell, and Monk were all there, and if not, someone else. Lester Young and Don Byas. It was a period when the Village and St.-Germain-des-Pres were sort of interchangeable, just going back and forth. The thing to do was take a freighter—it was the cheapest way to go, a comfortable and interesting way to go because it was long, thirteen days. And the Scandinavian ones had pretty good food. There were only about eight passengers. We’d eat at the Captain’s table—and he was invariably some kind of great lush. So you’d get there—St. Germain, and the town was swinging. Once in a while you’d find yourself homesick, for one place or the other, but it was okay, because both were good places to arrive. Sometimes we would save up some money and just take off, On the Road-style. Sometimes we had a car, other times we took the train. It was always a gas.

Mason was ultrapersuasive. Boss persuasion. One he convinced me to join a kibbutz with him and go to Israel, despite my complete ignorance of anything Jewish. So we packed some books and clothes and checked into the Holland-American kibbutz freighter, into a dormitory-type situation, with about sixty other guys. The ship was still at the dock, we had a couple of days to wait until they got their full roster. So we were put to work in the hole, cleaning the boilers—an unbelievably shitty job, plunging our arms up to the shoulder into these furnace pipes and bringing out mountains of wet soot. Gross City. Anyway on the first morning when we woke up, one guy is already awake, breaking out over the fact that thirty dollars is missing from his footlocker. Someone else says, “Okay, we’ve got to trust each other. Whoever took the money needed it.” This doesn’t go over too well with the guy who lost the thirty bucks. He’s still ranting. So immediately this tight-knit and brotherly group is divided into two bickering factions. Hardly the utopian camaraderie we had expected. So we split. Went to the White Horse and had a couple of tall ones.

To be continued on Monday.