Richard Condon | Critical Essay by Michael Neill

This literature criticism consists of approximately 1 page of analysis & critique of Richard Condon.
This section contains 852 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Charles Champlin

Critical Essay by Michael Neill

SOURCE: "His Years of Self-Imposed Exile Over, Richard Condon Is Back in America, Sitting Prizzi," in People Weekly, Vol. 26, No. 23, December 8, 1986, pp. 129, 131, 133.

In the essay below, Neill reviews Condon's life and literary accomplishments.

Like Don Corrado Prizzi, Richard Condon believes in family. For the Don—venomous and ancient, the spider at the center of Condon's Prizzi novels—family has to be protected; family is reason to kill. For Condon, affable but getting on in years himself, family is a reason finally to settle down in America after 19 years living in various spots around the world. And family is the reason he keeps writing at 71, despite the estimated $2 million he has made from his books and despite the two recent abdominal operations.

"A friend asked, 'Why does one still do it?'" Condon says with a laugh in the art-filled living room of the Dallas home he has lived in since 1980. "I said, 'One does it for one's estate.'" Condon's latest estate-fattening effort is Prizzi's Family, a prequel to his best-selling Prizzi's Honor and the 21st in a line of novels stretching back to 1958. The sixth of Condon's novels to be brought to the screen, Prizzi's Honor earned eight Academy Award nominations. Condon co-authored the screenplay and says, "I loved the movie. John Huston [the director] is the best cinematic storyteller we have."

Condon has written his novels while living in Mexico, France, Spain, Switzerland and, for 10 years, Ireland. Now Condon and Evelyn, his wife of 48 years, live in Texas to be near their younger daughter, Wendy Jackson, and her two children. Their other daughter, Deborah, lives in England. In Dallas, Condon combines his dual roles of family man and grand old man, producing a book every 11 months or so.

Condon has a theory about why writing comes so easily to him. "I'm a stutterer," he says. "Words fascinate me. I've had to have six synonyms ready at all times while talking, because if I know I'm going to stutter, I can make those interchangeable shifts." However much the critics praise his work, though, he has his own ideas about what he's doing. "I have never written for any other reason than to earn a living. This is most 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."

The family warmth Condon now enjoys was missing when he was a child in New York City, the eldest son of a successful lawyer who had high ambitions for him. "My father was a shouter," remembers Condon. "I became a stutterer, and I was stuck with it the rest of my life. I think, unconsciously, knowing how his shouting hurt me, I wanted to wound him [by stuttering]—and it worked out that way."

Condon found another way to rebel, too. At DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he says, "I finished so far down in my class that no university in the country would accept me." Much to his father's dismay, Condon worked as an elevator operator, a bellboy and a waiter on a cruise line.

Condon eventually got a job writing package inserts, which he describes as "those little scraps of paper tucked inside product boxes that nobody ever reads." That led to writing copy for an advertising agency, and that in turn led him to marriage. As Condon tells it, the agency needed to fill a hotel dining room with elegant-looking people for a photographic shoot. Five professional models sat up front, close to the cameras. The rest of the diners were agency employees, including a tuxedoed Condon. One of the models was Evelyn Hunt, then with the Powers Agency. They met that night; they were married a year later.

From advertising, Condon made the leap into public relations, working for the Disney studio and handling the publicity for such movies as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo. He also wrote a play called Men of Distinction that had a four-performance run on Broadway in 1953. Four years later Condon decided the publicity business wasn't fun anymore. As he told Evelyn at the time, "The only thing I know how to do besides publicity is spell," so he started writing. His first novel, The Oldest Confession, was published when Condon was 42. He immediately sold both paperback and film rights and says, "I've never had to look back."

Condon already is planning a third Prizzi novel—to be called Prizzi's Glory—which will be set a few years in the future. "I believe that in about 30 years, the survivors of what we know as the Mafia will be our leaders," he says. "Money demands respectability. Go back to the 1860s, with the robber barons—the Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Vanderbilts, the Astors. They were vilified, yet today they are the social, political and business leaders of the nation."

That sort of transition is not so different from that of a New York City kid with a bad stutter who couldn't get into college and became one of America's best-selling authors.

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This section contains 852 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Charles Champlin
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