Cover image for A grand guy : the art and life of Terry Southern
A grand guy : the art and life of Terry Southern
Hill, Lee.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, [2001]

Physical Description:
343 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3569.O8 Z69 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



"When they're no longer surprised or astonished or engaged by what you say, the ball game is over. If they find it repulsive, or outlandish, or disgusting, that's all right, or if they love it, that's all right, but if they just shrug it off, it's time to retire."

-- Terry Southern

A Grand Guy

He was the hipster's hipster, the perfect icon of cool. A small-town Texan who disdained his "good ol' boy" roots, he bopped with the Beats, hobnobbed with Sartre and Camus, and called William Faulkner friend. He was considered one of the most creative and original players in the Paris Review Quality Lit Game, yet his greatest literary success was a semi pornographic pulp novel. For decades, the crowd he ran with was composed of the most famous creative artists of the day. He wrote Dr. Strangelove with Stanley Kubrick, Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and worked on Saturday Night Live with a younger, louder breed of sacred cow torpedoers. He's a face in the crowd on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (the guy in the sunglasses). Wherever the cultural action was, he was there, the life of every party -- Paris in the '50s, London in the swinging '60s, Greenwich Village, and Big Bad Hollywood. Brilliant, dynamic, irrepressible, he enjoyed remarkable success and then squandered it with almost superhuman excess. There was, and ever will be, only one Terry Southern.

In a biography as vibrant and colorful as the life it celebrates, Lee Hill masterfully explores the high and low times of the unique, incomparable Terry Southern, one of the most genuine talents of this or any other age. Illuminating, exhilarating, and sobering, it is an intimate portrait of an unequaled satirist and satyrist whose appetite for life was enormous -- and whose aim was sure and true as he took shots at consumerism, America's repressive political culture, upper-class amorality, and middle-class banality.

But more than simply the story of one man, here is a wide-screen, Technicolor view of a century in the throes of profound cultural change -- frorn the first chilly blasts of the Cold War and McCarthyism to the Vietnam era and the Reagan years; from Miles and Kerouac to the Beatles, the Stones, and beyond. And always at the center of the whirlwind was Terry Southern -- outrageous, unpredictable, charming, erudite, and eternally cool; a brazen innovator and unappreciated genius; and most of all, A Grand Guy.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1964, Southern was on the crest of celebrity. Not only had his underground 1959 novel, Candy (published by Olympia Press in Paris), been launched in the U.S., landing high on the bestseller list, but his screenplay for Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove was critically and commercially celebrated as a comic masterpiece. Today, Candy is a cult book and Dr. Strangelove is a classic. This well-researched and thoughtful biography is the first full life of the writer, whose novels never achieved the fame of his screenplays. Born in 1924 to an impoverished professional family in Texas, Southern left college and joined the army in 1943; later, on the G.I. bill, he studied in Paris, where he became a minor, if central, player in the literary expatriate scene there. Back in the U.S. in 1953, Southern moved to Greenwich Village and "embraced the emerging idea of Hip." Hanging out with artists like Robert Frank and Larry Rivers, he began shaping his public persona and a writing career that embodied that concept. His novels Flash and Filigree (1958) and The Magic Christian (1959) earned him a small, faithful literary following. But after 1964, Southern's career stalled. Despite work on high-profile film projects like Easy Rider and Casino Royale, Southern's essentialist hipster sensibility did not readily translate to screen or novel. Hill's unpacking of Southern's complicated history should please those who remember his work fondly, but the level of detail will probably keep other readers away. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Southern's heyday was in the 1960s, when his screenplays for the films Dr. Stranglove, Barbarella, and Easy Rider were the height of cool. Born in Texas in 1924, Southern had a common rural childhood. After a stint in the army, he studied at Northwestern and then the Sorbonne. He explored the drugs, cheap cafes, music, and eroticism of Paris, where Candy was published in 1958 and quickly became a cult hit. Though initially banned in the United States, copies trickled in, and it was finally published here in 1964. It is his screenwriting credits in the 1960s that launched him into the pantheon of celebrity and found him hobnobbing with the Beatles and Stanley Kubrick. But, though his satirical edge influenced such programs as Saturday Night Live and The Larry Sanders Show, Southern's star waned. This biography falls curiously flat, given that its subject wrote some of the zaniest, most influential avant-garde pieces of his day. Journalist Hill, who interviewed Southern, offers no real analysis of how this seemingly ordinary Texan became the epitome of 1960s cool. For larger public and academic libraries. Rosellen Brewer, Monterey Cty. Free Libs., Salinas, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.