Candy Jones, Super Spy

One movie that totally exceeded my expectations was George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The movie, based on the “autobiography” of television personality Chuck Barris, deals in large part with Barris’ allegations of being a hit man for the CIA. Now I haven’t read the book, but the movie leads one to ask all kinds of questions. At first glance, it’s easy to think that Barris is either pulling a fast one on us or is simply crazy. But his stories are so rich in detail yet so simple in their nature that one almost stops and wonders if he was indeed hired by the CIA to carry out all kinds of nasty deeds. And then there’s the question of motive… Barris was already a household name when his book came out; as far as I know he didn’t have any projects coming out that might have benefited from the book’s publicity. Why would someone make a story like that up?

But then you have the twisted tale of Candy Jones. Born Jessica Wilcox in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on December 31, 1925, the future Miss Jones had a rough childhood. Her father left when she was three (but not before reportedly crushing her fingers in a nutmeg grater), while her mother was a cold disciplinarian that locked poor Jessica alone in her room for long stretches at a time. To combat the loneliness, Jessica invented several imaginary friends, one of whom – a cold, calculating girl named “Arlene” – would never quite go away.

Luckily for Jessica, she was quite beautiful. She became Miss Atlantic City in 1941 and was a runner-up in that year’s Miss New Jersey contest. She would parley these results into a job as a hostess at the Miss America contest, where she was spotted by a fashion photographer. She then became “Candy Jones”, one of the most famous models of the WWII era and the Cindy Crawford of the age. In an era before supermodels, Candy Jones was everywhere: in 1943 she appeared on 11 magazine covers in just one month. Candy was also the patriotic sort, and as America’s top pin-up girl she went on a USO tour of the South Pacific in 1944-1945. Whilst in the Philippines, Candy became quite sick, and was treated at an Army hospital by a doctor known only under the pseudonym “‘Gilbert Jenson”. She eventually recovered and went back to the United States.

Upon her return, Candy married Harry Conover, the first “supermodel agent” and the man that invented the “cover girl” concept. But Harry was secretly bisexual in an age when being bisexual was not accepted. At all. The marriage didn’t last: Candy and Harry divorced in 1959. Harry left the couple’s three children with Candy, which put her heavily into debt. So to make ends meet, Candy started a modeling school. Life was pretty sweet for Candy, and on New Year’s Eve in 1972 Candy married former photographer turned radio show host John “Long John” Nebel.

This is where things get weird: almost immediately, Nebel noticed that Candy suffered from huge mood swings and at times even seemed to be a different person altogether. Candy told John that she occasionally worked for the FBI and that she might disappear for days at a time with no notice or contact from her. To make matters worse, Candy also suffered from insomnia, and it was to cure this that John offered to hypnotize her. But he had no idea of what he was getting into.

Although John had no experience with hypnotism, he was nevertheless successful at getting Candy to get her first good night’s sleep in ages. But then he probed her mind some more. He found that she would sometimes regress into a child-like state. She would also sometimes regress into a grown-up alter-ego by the name of Arlene Grant. And the sessions with Arlene scared John so much that he went out and bought a tape recorder to document the amazing (and scary) things that Arlene said.

It was apparently whilst Candy was in the hospital in the Philippines that she was initially approached by men working for the government. After she returned to the States, the FBI asked her if they could use her modeling school as a mail drop. Being the patriotic sort, Candy agreed. A few months after that she was approached by the FBI and asked to deliver a letter to Oakland, California. Since Candy had already planned to go to the area on business anyway, she accepted.

However, it wasn’t until she actually delivered the letter that she realized that the person she was delivering the letter to was none other than the same “Gilbert Jensen” that had treated her in the Philippines. After she’d handed over the envelope to “Jensen”, he offered Candy a fair amount of money to undergo hypnosis; since she was strapped for cash at the time, she accepted… but Candy also told “Dr. Jensen” that she didn’t think she’d be able to be hypnotized. At the time, “Jensen” told her that that the hypnosis had indeed failed; however “Arlene” told John that it had actually worked and that “Jensen” had asked Candy to be a messenger for the CIA. “Jensen” told her that she’d need to be in perfect shape for the missions, so he injected her with “vitamins” – which might have been a chemical designed to bring out the “Arlene” personality in Candy. In fact, as “Arlene” Candy would walk, talk and dress differently, and even wear a dark brown wig. “Arlene” was trained in secret CIA camps at all the niceties of spycraft, like how to use dead drops, how to kill in close quarters silently using common objects and how to hide information under her fingernail polish. And if Candy did all of this under her the guise of her “Arlene” personality, so much the better as far as the government was concerned. As far as Candy knew, she was being sent to all corners of the globe to deliver messages for the government, while in reality once there she’d turn into “Arlene” and carry out some kick-ass mission that would make James Bond proud.

All of this sounded plumb crazy when Candy first told John about it in the early 1970s. But in 1974, the Rockefeller Commission exposed CIA’s now-infamous MKULTRA Project – a mind-control program that began in the 50s and continued through most of the 60s. Suddenly, Candy’s case didn’t seem so crazy after all. And unlike Chuck Barris’ wild stories, Cindy had something to back up her claims: physical proof.

Once John made parts of Candy’s story known within their social circles, the couple was approached by Donald Bain, who was interested in writing a book about Candy. Candy let Donald see a passport in the name of “Arlene Grant” that featured a picture of Candy in a dark wig. Candy had found the passport in her home and had no memory of how she got it, or even of taking the picture of “Arlene” featured on it. Candy’s friends and business partners recall her taking secretive “business trips” where she had no apparent business going on. In the 1960s, Candy worked for Harper and Row, and it was there that she told her boss, Joe Vergara, that she sometimes worked for the FBI and sometimes went to Asia for them. Also in the 60s, Candy wrote a letter to her attorney saying that if she were to die or vanish that he absolutely was not to reveal the details of her disappearance to anyone – not friends, family members, her children… anyone. And on July 3rd 1973, Candy’s answering machine received a message that said: “This is Japan Airlines calling on oh-three July at 4.10 p.m. … Please have Miss Grant call 759-9100 … she is holding a reservation on Japan Airlines Flight 5, for the sixth of July, Kennedy to Tokyo, with an option on to Taipai. This is per Cynthia that we are calling.” Of course, “Miss Grant” would be “Arlene Grant”, Candy’s alter-ego. And when Candy called the number from the message she was told that no one named Cynthia was at that number.

Was Candy Jones crazy? Perhaps. Were her “memories” as Arlene implanted in her mind – consciously or not – by her well-meaning husband? Perhaps. But that doesn’t explain how Candy almost died in a mysterious explosion in July 1980, nor the passport, her absences, nor the answering machine message. The plot thickens.

Links to: Wikipedia entry on Candy Jones; article on Candy Jones

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