Issue 138, Spring 1996
Making It Hot for Them will be my first wholly autobiographical book. It is organized by era; presented not so much as a narrative, as a sequence of scenes.
Part 1: Texas. Born in the small cotton-farming town of Alvarado, 1924. My dad, a pharmacist and descendant of the notorious “Indian lover” and first prez of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston. Around high-school age moved to Fort Worth and Dallas. Attended Sunset High School, learned how to get girls drunk on the original Grayhound — grapefruit juice masking the taste of yod — followed by the adroit and surreptitious use of sharpened rounded-point kindergarten scissors to snip away that last bastion of defense, the panty crotch panel. At an early age began reading some of the more freaky short stories of E.A. Poe, then rewriting them using classmates and teachers in outlandish roles.
My last novel, Texas Summer, explored the racial situation, Dallas was divided by railroad tracks, and we would venture into “Nigger Town” for the great chicken and ribs, and the extraordinary music. Dynamic and eventful pilgrimages. At- tended SMU until drafted for W.W. II, trained, dodged torpedoes all the way to Dover, and buzz bombs all over London.
The war gave me a taste for Europe.
Part II: Europe. With the liberation of France came my introduction to French culture. I began writing stories while living in Paris on the GI Bill, and attending lectures given by Sartre and Camus at the Sorbonne. The historic cafes, Flore and Deux Maggots, were the meeting places for young writers, and we contributed to publications like New Story, Zero, Merlin and The Paris Review. During this time I met Maurice Girodias, and would later, after reading Burroughs’s manuscript of Naked Lunch, persuade him to publish it.
During this period I also knew Charlie Parker, Andre Malraux, Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, Peggy Guggenheim, Kenneth Tynan, Ionesco, Mordecai Richler and the Arab, Hadj, who ran a hash bar in Les Halles called Soleil du Maroc.
George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen and Doc Humes founded The Paris Review, and the premier issue published my first short story, “The Accident.” I began to be published in other magazines, and completed my first novel Flash and Filigree, which, after being rejected by twenty-six U.S. publishers, was published in England, glowingly reviewed by Henry Green and voted Best Novel Of The Year by The Ob- server.
Part III: explores New York Beat life. The literary and jazz scene, the dope scene and the underground writing scene, Off Broadway plays like Ubu roi and Jack Gelber’s The Con- nection, the loft scene, the painting scene, where I knew Jack- son Pollock, Jean Tinguely, Larry Rivers, Franz Kline, Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. I also knew David Amram, Neil Welliver and George Avakian who produced the first jazz LP and was the brother of my best friend Aram Avakian.
George got us work writing liner notes for the records of many great jazz musicians of the era, including Diz, Bird, Thelonious and Bud Powell. I wrote a short story about an impressionable young girl in Greenwich Village who gives herself to a hunchback, later to become the heroine, Candy Christian. I met my first wife, Carol, at a party at Robert Frank’s studi- loft. Alex Trocchi arrived on the New York scene about this time and got me a job on the barges. We were towed up and down the Hudson for almost a year. After that we went to Geneva where Carol taught at the UN School for Children, and we lived in rooms above the school a la Kafka’s Joseph K. During a visit to Paris, I started expanding the story of Candy, in collaboration with an American poet, Mason Hoffenberg. Candy was first published in Paris by Olympia Press, was banned in the U.S. and Britain, but was smuggled into each country for several years, until it was finally published in the U.S. Eventually it would sell over 5 million copies, appearing on the best-seller list for over a year. We received the equivalent of about $500 for the book, for reasons which might be amusing to explain. It was about this time I became great friends with the English novelist Henry Green, who had reviewed Flash and Filigree, and through him met T.S. Eliot and Bertrand Russell.
Part IV: Working in films. I wrote the novel The Magic Christian, which was also first published in England. Peter Sellers, a voracious reader, liked the book so much that he bought a hundred copies of it to give to his friends; one such person he gave it to was Stanley Kubrick. The filming of Dr. Strangelove had already begun, the script at this point a melodrama based on an RAF officer’s book Red Alert. Esquire sent me to write a story on the making of the film. Kubrick soon realized, however, that the destruction of the world could not be “treated in a conventional manner,” and because he liked the humor of Magic Christian, he hired me to work with him in transforming the film from melodrama to black comedy. The financing of the picture had been based on Peter Sellers playing multiple roles, including the pilot, Major Kong, but he sprained his ankle and was unable to perform the rather strenuous physical moves required in the role. His replacement was Slim Pickens, a genuine cowboy and professional rodeo rider who had never before been outside the Southwest rodeo circuit. It became my task to translate his heavy drawl for the others. Stanley and I were driven two hours from London to the studio (Shepperton) each morning in the predawn darkness. The vehicle was a large Rolls or Bentley, its rear compartment quite luxurious with foldout writing desks, lights, etc., and we would rewrite the scenes to be filmed that day. They proved to be some of the best things in the film. Working on Dr. Strange love was, of course, an extraordinary introduction to screenwriting for any author.
Soon after Strangelove, Tony Richardson, riding high on his smash-hit Tom Jones hired me to work on The Loved One. Tom Jones had been nominated for ten Academy Awards and had made millions for the studio. Tony, who was under contract to make a second film for the same studio was locked into a ridiculously low salary, and vowed to take his revenge by eccentric (and expensive) behavior—casting an American (Robert Morse) to play an English poet, shooting the film in sequence and screening all rushes at the plush private screening room of the Beverly Hills Hotel, with hors d’oeuvres and drinks for all.
The Cincinnati Kid, directed by Norman Jewison, presented me with another all-star cast, and a challenging rewrite (of a script by Ring Lardner, Jr.). The original director, Sam Peckinpah was fired after a horrendous falling out over a black/white love scene.