One of the first cover stories I wrote for the Dallas Observer was a profile of writer Terry Southern -- same guy who wrote Dr. Strangelove, The Magic Christian, Easy Rider, Barbarella, Candy. Same guy who shows up amongst the immortals splashed upon the Sgt. Pepper's album cover. Same guy who influenced Hunter S. Thompson. And so on and so on.
Terry was born in Alvarado, the son of a druggist. But while he was attending elementary school, the family moved to Dallas -- Oak Cliff, specifically. Terry went to Winnetka Elementary and Sunset High School, from which he graduated in 1941. And up until our talk in March 1992, Terry had never said much publicly about growing up in Dallas. But late one night till early the next morning, he spilled all the beans -- including how he and schoolmate Louis Gillmour would "relieve [their] hormones" in the downtown whorehouses near the old Central Tracks and along Akard. Terry left SMU in '43 to join the Army and wouldn't return for 35 years -- and, then, his final trip to Dallas was a brief stopover during a tour with the Rolling Stones.
Quite a few of Terry's Sunset Class o' 41 chums are dead now, like A.B. Ord. E.R. "Ruck" Hinson, who came from a long line of liquor store owners, died exactly two years ago. Nevertheless, Terry's son Nile is coming to town April 27 through May 2 in search of a few memories for a documentary he's been making about his father.
"It's pretty painful on the ol' pocketbook," Nile says, "but it's a really rich project."
But he needs help: If anyone out there in Unfair Park land knew Terry, or had a family member who might have grown up with the Southern boy in Oak Cliff way back when, feel free to e-mail Nile with a heads-up. He'd love to talk to you for the doc.
"My film is a sprawling, crazy assemblage of memories, recreations and actualities, because my dad recorded a lot of things," says Nile, who's got a few leads -- including Class o' 56 Ron Harris, who's working on a project about Sunset grads killed in action during WWII. He's got the Sunset Alumni Association putting out the word he'll be in town; also helping with the round-up is Webster Feild, who puts out the Sunset newsletter. And there's an old friend of Terry's who recalls him "lighting the creek on fire." And Nile's tracked down the name of the Sunset English teacher (Sarah Dinsmore) immortalized in the essay "King Weirdo" (found in Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995, which Nile edited and assembled with Josh Alan Friedman.)
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But Nile needs more, more, more.
"I don't even know where he lived in Alvarado," Nile says. "And Terry's mom sold furs in Dallas. She was a dressmaker. But I don't know where the shop was."
He's got his work cut out for him.
"I've never really been to Dallas," Nile says. "Josh took me around 10 years ago, but I haven't really been there. I hope to learn more about Terry's Texas roots. I got to know the Texas side of him when he taught me to shoot and hunt and fish and tan hides on the farm in Connecticut. He gave me a shotgun when I was 8; a .22 when I was just a little older. But I became more aware of how much Texas meant to my dad as I got older. I want to play up the Texas side, the early writing side -- all the things before he got sidetracked, as it were."