In post-WWII France, an unlikely friendship developed between two American students studying at the Sorbonne on the G.I. Bill — one a sad-eyed Texan with a taste for the darkly absurd, the other a voluble New York dilettante who fancied himself a poet. The Sorbonne had no set schedule of classes, just the requirement to defend your thesis, and attendance-optional lectures from the likes of Sartre, Camus, and Cocteau. That left the two young men plenty of free time to linger in Parisian coffee shops, cinemas, and jazz clubs.
Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg were the original platonic ideal of the insufferably pretentious hipster — shamelessly appropriating jazz lingo (“dig this, man”), and passing sneering judgment on the bourgeois and “square” while actually doing or producing very little themselves. Southern finally broke free of this mold and became a writer of some repute (and became self-aware enough to satirize his own hipsterism in several of his stories). Hoffenberg, however, went on to do next to nothing, except a shitload of heroin. He managed to latch on the entourages of various rock stars in the ‘60s and ‘70s as a kind of amusing junkie mascot. I challenge you to find anyone with a Wikipedia entry who has done less to earn it.
By the mid-1950s, Southern was scratching out a living in Geneva, Switzerland as a writer of increasingly surreal short stories, while Hoffenberg remained in Paris, writing erotic fiction under a pseudonym for the notorious Olympia Press. Some of Southern’s writing also skirted the boundaries of what was then considered acceptable, such as his unpublished (and pretty much unpublishable) story about a beautiful, naive college student named Candy Christian who, according to Southern, is “compassion incarnate…so filled with universal love that she gave herself fully and joyfully…to a demented hunchback.” Southern circulated the grotesque sex tale among his associates. He fleshed it out a bit at Hoffenberg’s suggestion, and it eventually captured the attention of Maurice Girodias, head of Olympia Press, who thought it might be a suitable product for what was then still called the “dirty book” market. It became a collaboration between Southern and Hoffenberg, who would exchange character details and plot points via mail. Even those generously disposed towards Hoffenberg have to admit that the original correspondence (which has been preserved) shows that he contributed very little that made its way into the finished work, and that it was mostly Southern’s prose that ended up being published by Olympia Press. (In the final version, it seems Hoffenberg contributed one character arc and the novel’s ludicrous last few pages — a “climax” not used in the film version.)
Candy was published in 1958 under the name “Maxwell Kenton,” and was promptly banned in both the U.S. and France. The flimsy plot is a series of encounters between the titular (heh heh) Candy, who is encouraged by her respected philosophy professor go out and “give her love” freely, and a collection of degenerate authority figures bent on exploiting her attempts to do just that, including (but not limited to) that same professor (of course), her own uncle (who happens to be her father’s identical twin for an extra layer of perversity), and several doctors and therapists, including masturbation proponent Dr. Krankeit (Hoffenberg’s contribution.) The self-contained hunchback story that started the whole thing is now Chapter 10, and it’s the stand-out sequence of a tiresomely repetitive series of seductions/rapes, in both the extremity of its twistedness, and in that the psychotic hunchback does not desire Candy physically (at first), but merely wants to rob her.
Candy was finally published legitimately in the U.S. under Southern’s and Hoffenberg’s real names by Putnam in 1964. Southern had long since moved on with his life and career by then, and by his own admission, Candy was a one-joke premise that went on too long. Having read the thing myself (it’s a $3.99 Kindle if you look for it under the Kenton name), I couldn’t agree more. Candy is an incredibly tedious read. (As for it being a send-up of Volatire’s Candide? Probably hogwash. It seems someone decided on that interpretation after the fact, and Southern and Hoffenberg simply went along with it to give their project a whiff of intellectualism. “Yes, of course, it’s a send-up of Candide.”)
Then someone decided to turn it into a movie.
Maverick United Artists director/producer Frank Perry (David and Lisa) thought the book’s notoriety and popularity (it somehow reached number one on the bestseller list in America without anyone admitting to having bought a copy) gave it great potential as a film, even as it was making its way through lawsuit hell over various copyright and intellectual property issues between the authors, Olympia, and Putnam. (You can read about all that legal stuff in excruciating detail in Nile Southern’s The Candy Men.) How would the blatantly pornographic novel be translated into something that was showable on a pre-ratings, mid-’60s cinema screen? Well, that was a problem for the screenwriter.
Perry thought the logical solution was to hire Terry Southern himself (by then hot off co-scripting Dr. Strangelove) to write the screenplay, and he got through three drafts fueled by Scotch and amphetamines before the U.A. deal fell through. The copyright nightmare was unresolved, and Southern’s script was still far too outrageous.
Enter Christian Marquand. A French actor (And God Created Woman, The Flight of the Phoenix) and close friend of Marlon Brando (Brando named his ill-fated son after him), Marquand came sniffing around the property as a vehicle for him to fulfill his directorial ambitions. As soon as the legal situation was resolved in early 1967, Marquand pounced. His celebrity contacts would attract the necessary financial backing. Brando would certainly be in it, and Marquand said he had both Richard Burton and Peter Sellers on board. On that basis, a Libyan-born financier and studio owner named Robert Haggiag agreed to produce.
The Candy movie got the green light. Southern’s too-explicit script was dumped in favor of a tamer version by Buck Henry. Henry, co-creator of TV’s spy spoof Get Smart, was, like Southern, on a pretty hot screenwriting streak, having just finished writing The Graduate. Henry used the basic premise of the book and some of the characters, then tossed the rest with Marquand’s blessing. “We’re going to throw the book away, and dig in,” said Marquand proudly, eager to put his own auteur stamp on the material.
While Candy was in pre-production, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which featured none other than Terry Southern among the crowd on its iconic cover.
Peter Sellers dropped out of the project in favor of an instantly-dated hippie flick, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (if he had ever actually agreed to be in Candy to begin with), but Richard Burton dutifully made an appearance, and Brando’s presence was a given. A gaggle of other celebrities who thought it might be fun to goof around in an adaptation of one of the decade’s most notorious books eagerly signed on to play the story’s ensemble of grotesques. Everyone converged on the sound stages of Haggiag’s Dear Studios in Rome in December of 1967 for what was sure to be a wild time.
Joining them was Ringo Starr.
Ringo as Emmanuel
Ringo had fulfilled his Beatle duties for the year. Sgt. Pepper had been a triumph that summer. Their plotless, psychedelic 50-minute TV movie Magical Mystery Tour was in the can after a September/October shoot, ready for a poorly-received Boxing Day premiere. Their new single, “Hello Goodbye,” had been released on November 24 (it shot to #1 and stayed there for seven weeks), and the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack would hit British shops on December 8. Ringo’s last official band work before jetting off to Rome was to shoot a promo film for “Hello Goodbye,” featuring the Beatles performing the song in their Sgt. Pepper uniforms, on November 10, and taping their annual Christmas message for their fan club on November 28.
Released: December 17, 1968 (U.S.)
Director: Christian Marquand
Producer: Robert Haggiag
Screenwriter: Buck Henry, based on a novel by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
Studio: ABC Pictures, Corona Cinematografica, Dear Films, Selmur Productions, distributed by Cinerama Releasing Corp.
Cast: Ewa Aulin, John Astin, James Coburn, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, Charles Aznavour, Elsa Martinelli, Walter Matthau, Ringo Starr, John Huston, Anita Pallenberg, Sugar Ray Robinson, Enrico Maria Salerno, Umberto Orsini, Joey Forman, Fabian Dean, Buck Henry
No one seems to remember how a role in Candy came to Ringo in the first place. It may have been through his friendship with Peter Sellers. Ringo recalled in an on-set interview that an unnamed “they” offered him the role of Emmanuel the gardener. “They didn’t offer me a choice [of parts]. They only asked me to play the lust-mad Mexican gardener.” Ringo seems to have taken the part to have a bit of a break from the Beatles (even with no touring, ‘67 was a busy year), it fit his schedule, and because someone simply asked him to be in it. Like almost everyone else on the planet, he had read the book. “I thought, ‘You’re joking. How can they make that into a film?’ ‘Randy’ isn’t the word for it. [Making the film] was the mind-blowing experience of my life. I was filming with Marlon Brando, Richard Burton…wow!” He then added he would really preferred to have played the hunchback.
Ewa Aulin and Ringo in Rome, December 1967
Ringo arrived in Rome on December 3, 1967. His chestnut hair was given a hasty black dye job, and it was decided that the mustache and soul patch he had been sporting all year suited the character quite well. He was in front of the cameras beginning December 7. He filmed for just over a week, wrapping his part on the 16th, and returning to London on the 17th. Some of his co-stars, like James Coburn, remember the Candy shoot — nostalgically — as an undisciplined, freewheeling parade of bad behavior very suited to the era and the material. Although he already had a reputation as something of a party animal, no one recalls Ringo participating in the bacchanalia of sex and drugs that permeated the shoot. He spent most of his after-hours time hanging out with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on their yacht. Long after Ringo had finished his part, the production moved to New York and California for location shooting, and finally wrapped in April of 1968.
Amid all the celebrities on display, who would be the film’s anchor? Who would play Candy? Haggiag and Marquand chose Ewa Aulin of Sweden. A petite, wide-eyed, pouty-lipped blonde, Aulin certainly had the “sex kitten” look, but her grasp of English was tenuous at best. Southern was disappointed. He felt Candy should be an all-American apple pie Midwesterner. But he knew the film adaptation was beyond his control, and Marquand wanted Candy to have a more “universal” quality. Aulin was Miss Teen Sweden of 1965, and Miss Teen International of 1966. Naturally, she attracted the attention of a bevy of slightly shady European film producers, and had appeared in a couple of low-budget Italian films which put her on Haggiag’s radar.
According to some sources, Aulin had the same effect on her co-stars as Candy had on the characters they played. She was hit on constantly, and one actor’s groping “attention” — let’s just call him “Harlon Frando” — shocked even the other cast members, who were not exactly models of restraint. (Glad to report that Ringo by all accounts was a perfect gentleman, and Aulin spoke of him fondly later.)
The actors all seem as if they had just glanced at the script for the first time right before the cameras rolled (this may indeed have literally been the case in a few instances). Not that it was much of a script anyway. Buck Henry’s considerable gifts have deserted him here. (“I wish I had written a better script,” Henry frankly admits in one of his last interviews before his death in 2020.) The dialogue is clunky and not particularly funny. It is supposed to be a comedy, but it mistakes eccentricity for humor. Admittedly, the eccentricity can be fun to watch in a few sequences, but there’s no earthly reason for the official cut of Candy to run just over two hours.Continue reading