Strange Love: The FBI’s obsession with Terry Southern’s mythical porn stash

The DOJ’s finest legal minds grappled with the question of whether Southern’s satirical pornographic novel “Candy” was pornography or satire

Written by JPat Brown
Edited by Michael Morisy

Terry Southern’s career is the stuff of Hollywood legend, but the celebrated satirist is perhaps best known for his work as the principle screenwriter for Dr. Strangelove. While that film appeared to have raised a few eyebrows at the Bureau, it was a different kind of strange love that finally earned Southern the FBI’s attention - files released to Shawn Musgrave show the DOJ’s finest legal minds grappling with the question of whether his satirical pornographic novel Candy was pornography or satire.

Originally written in 1958 as a combination literary exercise and naked cash grab, Candy was republished in the ’60s in an attempt to capitalize on Southern’s growing notoriety.

That in itself was the source of some legal conflict, as Southern and his co-author had written the book under pseudonyms, and were none too pleased to see it on the newsstands bearing their legal names.

The FBI, known for always having their priorities in order, ignored the contract dispute to focus on the real issue at hand - was Candy obscene?

The ensuing investigation looked into rumors of Southern’s apparently massive collection of “high quality” pornography, some of which was to be have belonged to some rather notorious royalty

and his consorting with undesirables (with bonus establishment commentary).

While the investigation did indeed confirm “beatnicks,” sadly, Southern’s smut stash appeared to have only existed in their confidential source’s fevered imagination.

Getting nowhere fast, the FBI lab (rather adorably) requested a copy so that they might rigorously apply the scientific method towards the question of its eroticism.

Hoover, in a hand-written note, quickly shot that down.

After months of judging the book by its cover to no effect, the FBI finally turned to its weapon of last resort - they actually read the damn thing.

Well, the back cover at least.

Regardless, it was determined that Candy had met the bare minimum for the standards of literature - that is, you know it when you see it - and was not obscene.

Hoover quietly informed all branches to drop the investigation, and Candy became on the biggest-selling novels of the ’60s.

The full file is embedded below, and you can read the rest on the request page.


Image via Cinearchive