The Worm-ball Man Letter


Terry Southern Month

In the early eighties Terry Southern sent his Saturday Night Live collaborator Nelson Lyon an envelope containing three tabloid clippings and a letter written on ten sheets torn from a legal pad. Lyon calls this document “The Worm-ball Man Letter” and has shared it with many people. In the humble opinion of The Paris Review Daily, it may well be the best pitch—for anything—ever written. The original came with clear instructions from Southern: “Read after having read, and understood—repeat, understood—the news items.”

[Synopsis of articles and Terry’s editorial notes:]

  1. HUMAN HEAD TRANSPLATED ONTO PIG’S BODY: describes the testimony of a Dr. Lewis Collins, of New York, who claims to have seen the hybrid beast. “Nels, I happen to know Lou Collins (Jns Hopkins, ’62) and he’s quite an able chap, so I can vouchsafe.” In the article, Dr. Ruben Smith, surgeon from Los Angeles, is cited as having observed one of the successful “human head to animal” transplant operations in China. Terry writes: “Nels, will you please check out Dr. Smith—knowing your almost pathological cynicism, you’ll not rest until you’ve done so!!”
  2. GIANT 13-FOOT WORM STRANGLES BABY: concerns the giant “Gippsland” earthworm, and how one “crawled into the mouth of a six-month old baby…came out through her nose, and wrapped so tightly around the child’s neck, the baby strangled to death.”
  3. ALBINO FRIES 3 TIMES: contains the following exchange with a prison guard: Q: “Did you ever electrocute children?” A: “No, but we did this one fellow, Humpy Russ. Hunchbacked little fellow. His arms went way past his knees. He was 5 foot and weighed 95 pounds, but he was downright raw mean. He was an albino black…Old Humpy’s head was too small for it and he was down too low…It took us 3 times to do him.”


The real thrust of this piece, of course, will be story and character, i.e., the personality and the electrocution of Little Humpy Russ. The image of these hefty Texans not being able to get little Humpy’s head into the electrode-cap, or to bend the cap down far enough for a snug fit, is pivotal to the swelling of the progress of this extraordinary scene, I think you’ll agree.

They also try to bend the cap down to make adequate contact but are unable to do so. Nevertheless, they continue to ‘hit the juice’—and each time there is a ‘sizzling’ and a ‘bacon frying’ smell. This one guy claimed that there was (is?) a “different smell” to what he called ‘albino cracklins’ and ‘regular nigger fry’. This is the same guy who told me about the ‘worm incident’ and gave me the idea for telling the true story—you know, sort of Woodward-Bernstein style. Well, it seems that after the second time they ‘hit the juice’ and Little Humpy was still ‘alive and kicking’, these 13-foot worms started coming out of his nose and mouth, apparently up through his body, trying to escape the extreme frits-city situation, coming out, as I say, of his nose and mouth, engulfing his entire head until it (his head) was about five times its ordinary size and was what this guy described as a “huge worm ball.”

So here you have this extraordinary image, of this five-foot albino person, whose head now is a ‘huge worm-ball,’ writhing about in the chair, and these Slim Pickens types, cursing and trying to bend the electric copper-cap down far enough to encase his worm-ball head. If that doesn’t strike you as bizarre, Nels, then your tastes are just a bit too jaded for me, sir. In any case, the next thing that happens (and so far, incidentally, this is all straight fact) is that this friend (or at least acquaintance) of mine, Lou Collins (‘Dr Louis Collins’) whom I have known (casually, granted) for about 12-15 years (I would say about as well as I know Tone Goodstone, or maybe Van Dyke Parks, that sort of thing, know what I’m saying?). Anyway, Lou Collins happens to be on the scene, having just come back from China and his whole weird head-transplant experience. Well, to make a long story short, Nels, one of the Texas guys gets so pissed off at the way things are going that he takes out his bowie knife and cuts off the worm-ball head, so Lou has the ‘bright idea’ of keeping the worm-ball head alive and transplanting it on something at a later date. So he manages to persuade (‘bribes’ more like it, if you get my innuendo) one of the Texas lawmen to go out, catch an ordinary housecat and bring it back to the electric-chair room. There they cut off the cat’s head and make the transplant—nigger worm-ball head onto housecat. Now the worms (and we are talking 13-footers, Nels!) go for the cat’s body. Hey, talk about your ever-lovin’ writing spectacle! Here’s a page from Davie Lynch, maybe even H. Crews himself! Well, as you can probably imagine, this so-called ‘nigger worm-ball head cat’ was not the easiest thing in the world to handle, I mean this was not some kind of little goodie-two-shoes lap-dog that just wanted to bill and coo—this was a very disturbed critter!

Casting for Little Humpy? Hold it, Nels, I can already hear you saying: “Hey, this is a natural for Mick! I think not, Nels—with all due respect, ever since Sugar Babies, the Mick has borne the taint of ‘comedian’. How about Little Mason Reece? Remember him? Or the guy who played Cyrano—what about him, he was short enough.

I think you’ll agree that the article entitled HUMAN HEAD KEPT ALIVE FOR 6 DAYS is proof o’ pudding positive that we are on solid ground physiologically. A documented case and your basic kraut micro surgeon is no dummkopf!! In other words there is no way the integrity of our piece could be questioned by any of the so-called ‘gabardine brigade’! So it is quite feasible that the ‘worm-ball head’ could be kept alive until transferred to someone else—OR do you feel it should remain on the cat, and thus more creature-like and/or ‘bestial’, which seems to be all the rage now, am I right, Nels?

Correct me if I’m wrong, Nels, but here’s one I think we’ll want to be moving on in fairly quick order.

Yrs in haste,


Best to the ultra-fab.

Letter follows.

(Reprinted from Now Dig This by permission of the Terry Southern Literary Trust)