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Condon, Richard 1915-1996 (Richard Thomas Condon)

Condon, Richard 1915-1996 (Richard Thomas Condon)

PERSONAL:

Born March 18, 1915, in New York, NY; died April 9, 1996, in Dallas, TX; son of Richard Aloysius and Martha Irene Condon; married Evelyn Rose Hunt, January 14, 1938; children: Deborah Weldon, Wendy Jackson. Education: Graduated from high school in New York, NY.

CAREER:

Writer. Publicist in New York, NY, and Hollywood, CA, for Walt Disney Productions, 1936-41, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1941-45, Richard Condon, Inc., 1945-48, and Paramount Pictures Corp., 1948-53, and in Europe and Great Britain for United Artists Corp., 1953-57; novelist. Producer, with Jose Ferrer, of Broadway shows Twentieth Century and Stalag 17, 1951-52.

MEMBER:

International Confederation of Book Actors (honorary life president), Dramatists Guild, Authors Guild, Authors League of America.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Writers Guild of America award, Bafta Award from British Academy of Film and Television Sciences, and Academy Award nomination, all 1986 for screen adaptation of Prizzi's Honor,.

WRITINGS:

And Then We Moved to Rossenarra; or, The Art of Emigrating, Dial (New York, NY), 1973.

(With daughter, Wendy Jackson) The Mexican Stove: What to Put on It and in It, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1973, reprinted, Taylor Publishing, 1988.

NOVELS

The Oldest Confession (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection), Appleton-Century-Crofts (New York, NY), 1958.

The Manchurian Candidate, McGraw (New York, NY), 1959, reprinted, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 2003.

Some Angry Angel: A Mid-Century Faerie Tale, McGraw (New York, NY), 1960.

A Talent for Loving; or, The Great Cowboy Race, McGraw (New York, NY), 1961.

An Infinity of Mirrors, Random House (New York, NY), 1964.

Any God Will Do, Random House (New York, NY), 1965.

The Ecstasy Business, Dial (New York, NY), 1967.

Mile High (Literary Guild alternate selection), Dial (New York, NY), 1968.

The Vertical Smile (Literary Guild selection), Dial (New York, NY), 1971.

Arigato, Dial (New York, NY), 1972.

Winter Kills, Dial (New York, NY), 1974.

The Star Spangled Crunch, Bantam (New York, NY), 1974.

Money Is Love, Dial (New York, NY), 1975.

The Whisper of the Axe, Dial (New York, NY), 1976.

The Abandoned Woman: A Tragedy of Manners, Dial (New York, NY), 1977.

Bandicoot, Dial (New York, NY), 1978.

Death of a Politician, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1978.

The Entwining, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1980.

Prizzi's Honor (second novel in trilogy; Book-of-the-Month Club joint main selection; also see below), Coward, McCann & Geoghegan (New York, NY), 1982.

A Trembling upon Rome, Putnam (New York, NY), 1983.

Prizzi's Family (first novel in trilogy; Literary Guild joint main selection), Putnam, 1986.

Prizzi's Glory (third novel in trilogy), Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.

The Final Addiction, Saint Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Prizzi's Money, Crown Publishing (New York, NY), 1994.

SCREENPLAYS

(With Janet Roach) Prizzi's Honor (adaptation; see above), Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1985.

Also author screenplay for A Talent for Loving, 1969, and The Summer Music; author of the play Men of Distinction, produced on Broadway, 1953. Contributor to periodicals, including Holiday, Nation, Vogue, Harper's, Gourmet, Esquire, Travel and Leisure, and Sunday Times magazine. Novels have been published in twenty-two languages and in braille.

ADAPTATIONS:

Books have been adapted for film, including The Oldest Confession released as the film The Happy Thieves, 1962; Winter Kill, 1979; and The Manchurian Candidate, 1962, and adapted remake, Paramount Pictures, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS:

Novelist Richard Condon began writing at age forty-two following a successful career as a movie publicist. Condon's reputation as a writer of political thrillers was secured with his first two novels, The Oldest Confession and The Manchurian Candidate. Condon's body of work included over twenty novels, two nonfiction books, a handful of plays and screenplays, and numerous articles on his twin passions, food and travel. This output netted him an income of about two and a half million dollars.

Condon took full advantage of his freedom as a writer. Although he resided in the United States later in life, for nineteen years Condon and his family lived in countries such as France, Spain, Switzerland, and Ireland. Condon's focus in his novels, however, usually reflected his concerns about American society, particularly the United States government. Condon's preoccupation with examining abuses of power made him into a cult figure of sorts to readers who shared his convictions. Condon's novels are entertaining, despite their underlying seriousness. This assessment is compatible with Condon's personal goals as a writer, which he discussed in a People magazine interview with Anne Maier. "I have never written for any other reason than to earn a living. This is certainly true of other writers, but some poor souls get mightily confused with art. I am a public entertainer who sees his first duty as the need to entertain himself."

Most of the material for Condon's blend of reality and bizarre invention came from "the dirty linen closets of politics and money," according to a New York Review of Books contributor Thomas R. Edwards. "His view—it might be called Condon's Law—is that when you don't know the whole truth, the worst you can imagine is bound to be close." Edwards added: "[He] isn't an analyst but an exploiter of our need to believe the worst. He does it skillfully, but his books would be less fun than they are if one didn't suspect that he believes the worst too, that his pictures of a world of fools eternally at the mercy of knaves are also pictures of what, with anger and disgust, he takes to be the case."

Condon's second novel, The Manchurian Candidate, was published in 1959 and remains Condon's most highly acclaimed novel, one that critics frequently cite as a standard of comparison for his later works. The title of the book refers to the main character, Raymond Shaw, a soldier who becomes a prisoner of war in Korea and is unknowingly brainwashed into committing crimes for his former captors after he returns to the United States. Commenting on this novel, reviewers distinguished carefully between Condon's writing and literature. Most reviewers noted the novel's many appeals. Michael Rogers, writing a Library Journal review of a 2003 reprint of the novel, commented that "any fan of political thrillers will enjoy this one."

Condon followed The Manchurian Candidate with several relatively successful novels. Nevertheless, several of Condon's subsequent novels generally fell out of favor with critics. In 1974, however, his novel Winter Kills was enthusiastically received. Winter Kills closely parallels the lives of members of the Kennedy family. The main character, Nick Thirkield, is the half-brother of John F. Kennedy analogue Tim Kegan, a young, liberal Irish president who is assassinated by a lone maniac. The assassin is caught and charged with the murder, but when Thirkield learns that another man may also have been involved, he has the case reopened.

Several reviewers found themselves pleasantly surprised by Winter Kills. New York Times Book Review contributor Leo Braudy, for example, commented that Winter Kills is "a triumph of satire and knowledge, with a delicacy of style and a command of tone that puts Condon once again into the first rank of American novelists." Braudy explained: "Winter Kills succeeds so brilliantly because the Kennedy assassination furnished Condon with a familiar mythic landscape through which his Gulliver-like hero can wander, simultaneously prey to Lilliputian politics, Brobdingnagian physicality, Laputan science, and Houyhnhnm moralism." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt expressed a like opinion in the New York Times: "By the time I reached the end of the novel's incredibly complex plot and had followed Nick Thirkield through the many blind alleys and trapdoors that eventually bring him face to face with the person behind his brother's assassination, I was a Richard Condon fan once more."

Extrapolation contributor Joe Sanders observed: "In Condon's novels, politics determines the shape of society, but politics is not a voluntary, cooperative activity, entered into for some common end; it is a device by which a few clever people manipulate many others to gain their selfish ends." Lehmann-Haupt expressed disappointment with the ending because he "caught on too early what the ultimate outcome would be," but he found the novel's conclusion satisfying. He wrote: "It may not be true that America is run by a small, conspiring oligarchy. It may not be true that things happen in the White House at the whim of movie stars and labor leaders, of courtesans and generals. But the possibilities are no longer inconceivable."

Winter Kills was made into a critically acclaimed but briefly run film of the same title. Although Condon was not directly involved in the making of Winter Kills, the film's quality drew his attention and support. After two years of filming for which most of the cast and crew were never paid, Winter Kills opened in New York in 1979 to favorable reviews. The film's three-week run in showcase theaters was followed by disappearance from theatres, raising Condon's conspiracy suspicions. Condon's paranoia was further incited by the murder of one of the producers shortly after the film's opening; two years later the second producer was sentenced to forty years in prison on a drug charge. The movie was briefly re-released in 1982 and 1983.

Condon's novel Prizzi's Honor dealt with a similarly sensitive milieu: organized crime. Although this setting has been exploited by several other authors, notably Mario Puzo, reviewers believed that Condon's novel offered a fresh outlook. Charles Champlin observed in the Los Angeles Times Book Review: "Condon, once again accepting the perceived reality as police leaks, newspaper exposes and Puzo have given it to us—complete with Sicilian litany of consiglieri, caporegimes, sottocapos, soldati, and a godfather with a lethal wheeze and a mind Machiavelli might envy—steps over it to present an outrageous and original love story." New York Times Book Review contributor Robert Asahina noted: "Richard Condon is not Mario Puzo; suspense, not the family saga, is his forte. And he winds the mainspring of the plot so tight that the surprise ending will knock your reading glasses off. Yet Prizzi's Honor is also a sendup of the prevailing sentimental picture of the underworld. To Mr. Condon, there is honor among these thieves—but it is precisely in the name of omerta that the fratellanza has been willing to ‘cheat, corrupt, scam, and murder anybody who stands between them and a buck.’"

The novel's love interest involves Charley Partanna, a gourmet cook, compulsive house cleaner, and hit man for the Prizzi family; and Irene Walker, a tax consultant and freelance killer for hire. "It is something of a challenge to a novelist to create a love interest in a story that pairs two ruthless murderers," observed Times Literary Supplement contributor Alan Bold. "Irene is presented as a colder fish than Charley—she has risen to the top of her profession on account of her ability to murder without remorse. She is as sound a psychopath as Charley. Condon suggests, however, that such creatures are capable of a great passion and Charley, for one, is sure that his love is the real thing." New York Times contributor Susan Bolotin likewise commented on the originality of this pairing: "If boy-meets-girl/boy-gets-girl love stories seem poisonously tiresome to you, Richard Condon's boisterous new novel may prove the perfect antidote. It's true that Prizzi's Honor starts off with a familiar melody, … but the book soon turns into a fugue with variations so intricate that the genre may never recover."

Despite opposition from Charley's father, Charley and Irene are wed. Condon takes the couple through a convoluted plot that includes "a kidnapping, international financial intrigue, a gangland war, police on the take, the power struggle within the family, contract killings, [and] lots of jolly sex," wrote Bolotin. According to several reviewers, Condon's exploration of the seamier side of organized crime is distressing. Best Sellers contributor Tony Bednarczyk wrote: "There is solid storytelling, but the subject raises disturbing questions about morals, and/or the lack thereof. It is a fast-paced, very readable story, but one feels a bit guilty for being interested in what comes next." While Time critic Michael Demarest also believed that Prizzi's Honor, "like most of [Condon's] books, comes sometimes too close to the truth for comfort," he nevertheless concluded: "Condon's stylish prose and rich comedic gift once again spice a moral sensibility that has animated sixteen novels since The Manchurian Candidate appeared in 1962. If wit and irony could somehow neutralize villainy, the novelist would make a fine FBI director." Other reviewers expressed similarly laudatory views. Champlin wrote: "Condon is once again the storytelling satirist with a sharp eye and a high velocity typewriter. Prizzi's Honor may not be his best work but it ranks well up in the canon." Concluded Asahina: "Twenty years after The Manchurian Candidate, it's nice to know that Mr. Condon is still up to his sly tricks. In his case, at least, it's a pleasure that—as he tells us an old Sicilian proverb has it—‘The less things change, the more they remain the same.’"

Prizzi's Honor was also made into a successful film of the same title, with Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner playing the roles of Charley Partanna and Irene Walker. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, and the screenplay, adapted by Condon and coauthor Janet Roach, received awards from the Writers Guild of America and the British Academy of Film and Television Sciences. The project was initiated and eventually directed by John Huston.

Huston and movie critics alike believed that Prizzi's Honor was faithful to the novel, a feat they attribute to Condon and Roach's skillfully adapted screenplay. Chi-cago Tribune contributor Gene Siskel described Prizzi's Honor as "a classic piece of moviemaking," and Los Angeles Times film critic Sheila Benson noted: "To say the film is the treasure of the year would be to badmouth it in this disastrous season. Prizzi's Honor would be the vastly original centerpiece of a great year." Benson also wrote: "In its dangerous mix of love and murder, Huston is traversing terrain that he (and certainly The Manchurian Candidate author Condon) blazed decades ago. This '80s-version denouement may distress the squeamish, but it's right in keeping with Prizzi honor."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Bestsellers 90, Issue 3, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.

Condon, Richard, Death of a Politician, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1978.

Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume I, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume IV, 1975, Volume VI, 1976, Volume VIII, 1978, Volume X, 1979, Volume XLIV, 1987.

Newquist, Roy, Conversations, Volume I, Rand McNally (Chicago, IL), 1967.

PERIODICALS

Best Sellers, June, 1982, Tony Bednarczyk, review of Prizzi's Honor; December, 1986.

Chicago Tribune, June 14, 1985, Gene Siskel, review of Prizzi's Honor (film adaptation).

Daily Variety, March 8, 2002, Dana Harris and Sharon Swart, "‘Candidate’ for Redo: Paramount Plans Remake of 1962 Classic," p. 1.

Extrapolation, summer, 1984, Joe Sanders, article about author.

Library Journal, November 1, 2003, Michael Rogers, review of The Manchurian Candidate, p. 129.

Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1985, Sheila Benson, review of Prizzi's Honor (film adaptation).

Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 25, 1982, Charles Champlin, review of Prizzi's Honor.

Modern Language Quarterly, September, 2006, Micahel Szalay, review of The Manchurian Candidate, p. 363.

New Statesman, September 5, 1975, review of Money is Love, p. 285; August 13, 1976, review of The Whisper of the Axe, p. 216.

Newsweek, September 14, 1964, review of Manchurian Candidate; June 9, 1975, review of Money Is Love, p. 81.

New Yorker August 25, 1975, review of Money Is Love, p. 87; December 11, 1978, review of Death of a Politician, p. 206; October 28, 1991, review of The Final Addiction, p. 119.

New York Review of Books, February 8, 1979, Thomas R. Edwards, review of Death of a Politician, p. 35.

New York Times, May 24, 1974, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Winter Kills; May 21, 1976; April 20, 1982, Susan Bolotin, review of Prizzi's Honor, p. 25.

New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1974, Leo Braudy, review of Winter Kills; May 25, 1975, review of Money Is Love, p. 12; May 23, 1976, review of The Whisper of the Axe, p. 4; April 18, 1982, Robert Asahina, review of Prizzi's Honor, p. 12; September 4, 1983, John Jay Osborn, Jr., review of A Trembling upon Rome, p. 4; September 28, 1986, Jimmy Breslin, review of Prizzi's Family, p. 13; October 9, 1988, Vincent Patrick, review of Prizzi's Glory, p. 24; February 11, 1990, Roy Blount, Jr., review of Emperor of America, p. 14; November 17, 1991, Bill Kent, review of The Final Addiction, p. 20; December 13, 1992, Donald E. Westlake, review of The Venerable Bead, p. 9; February 6, 1994, Joe Queenan, review of Prizzi's Money, p. 9.

People, December 8, 1986, Anne Maier, interview with author.

Spectator, September 21, 1974, review of Winter Kills, p. 372.

Texas Monthly, August, 1994, William Cobb, "The Don of Dallas," interview with author, p. 42.

Time, June 2, 1975, review of Money Is Love, p. 72; May 17, 1982, Michael Demarest, review of Prizzi's Honor, p. 82; September 22, 1986, John Skow, review of Prizzi's Family, p. 95; September 19, 1988, review of Prizzi's Glory, p. 95.

Times Literary Supplement, June 11, 1982, Alan Bold, review of Prizzi's Honor.

ONLINE

Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (December 4, 2006), information on author's film work.

OBITUARIES

PERIODICALS

New York Times, April 10, 1996, Mel Gussow.

Time, April 22, 1996, p. 33.

U.S. News & World Report, April 22, 1996, p. 26.

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