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Condon, Sinatra, JFK: A Hollywood Power Play

By Chris Tucker |

In 1959, Dallas author Richard Condon wrote The Manchurian Candidate, a disturbing tale of
political espionage and mind manipulation. It was the second novel for Condon, now seventy-two, who went on to write
Winter Kills, Prizzi’s Honor, and more than twenty other books. But it was the film version of The
churian Candidate, recently rereleased around the country, that set off a Hollywood power struggle as
strange as any scene in a Condon novel.

Condon’s story focused on Raymond Shaw, a soldier in Korea who is brainwashed by Communists bent on striking at the
heart of the American system. Normal enough on the surface, he is a puppet ready to murder on command.

Sinatra was offered the role of Captain Marco, Shaw’s sidekick from Korea who is haunted by dim memories that clash
with Shaw’s “heroic” record. The singer loved the book and wanted the role, but the snag came in 1961 when producer
John Frankenheimer sought financing to begin shooting. He approached Arthur Krim, then president of United Artists
and, as it happened, finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Krim did not want to finance the film;
moreover, he informed Frankenheimer that he would see to it that no film company ever made the movie. The
Manchurian Candidate
also featured an insidious U.S. senator modeled after Sen. Joe McCarthy, the supreme
Commie-hunter of the Fifties. Krim, as a leading Democrat, was worried that the film would embarrass President John
F. Kennedy, who as a senator had supported McCarthy. Krim wanted no part of the operation.

But Sinatra was never the sort of guy to take no for an answer. He called President Kennedy at home and explained
the impasse, only to be told that Kennedy had read the novel and had no objection to the film. At Sinatra’s request,
JFK called United Artists and relayed the message.

Condon was to receive 10 percent of the film’s profits, but he never saw a nickel. Later, a friend at UA told him
that Krim, angry over Sinatra’s power play, told his comptroller that he would be pleased if the film never showed a
profit. It never did.

Condon’s wicked cynicism about American politics and his prescience about the power of image makers put Candidate
well ahead of its time. Now “the audiences are catching up,” says Condon, who ranks the film along with Dr.
as the best of the dark political satires. The novelist, who recently finished his Mafia trilogy
with Prizzi’s Glory, admits he lacks proof of all the skulduggery he suspects happened with the movie. But
such machinations would be right in line with his motto, known as Condon’s Law: “When you don’t know the whole
truth, the worst you can imagine is probably close.” As for that 10 percent of the profits. Condon isn’t holding his
breath this time around.

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