Manchurian Candy

An astonishing 6’4″ in stockinged feet, with legs from here to ya-ya, Candy Jones was — in every sense — one of the biggest American models of the 1940s. Born Jessica Arline Wilcox, she pursued beauty competitions and shot to fame as a pin-up during the Second World War.

Towards the end of the war, Jones went on a morale-boosting tour in Asia, and it is there that her story reaches a fork in the road — each way leading somewhere dark.

If you believe Jones’ second husband, radio personality Long John Nebel, who conducted amateur experiments in hypnotism on his wife, she was part of a CIA mind-control program in which unsuspecting subjects were trained to carry out tasks of which they would later have no memory. Like The Manchurian Candidate, The Men Who Stare at Goats or — for the cinephiles among us — The Naked Gun, this story speaks to the fascinating idea that a person, through the malevolent application of behavioural psychology, can be made to do things against their will.

Nebel, who had a radio programme focussing on paranormal activity, claims he noticed his wife acting strangely shortly after their marriage in 1972, and through hypnosis discovered that she had been part of the MKULTRA project starting in 1945 and had carried out covert operations since then. These claims were detailed in Donald Bain’s 1974 book, The Control of Candy Jones.

Follow the other route, however, and it leads away from the twilit world of conspiracy theorists and toward the private hell of multiple personality disorder, most likely rooted in childhood abuse. While the existence of MKULTRA is no longer disputed, there is no credible evidence that Jones was part of it, and her “induction” pre-dates the earliest known use of such psychological methods by the CIA. In all likelihood Jones’s “mind control” was in fact evidence of a psychological disorder which she had suffered from all her life.

Jones died 20 years ago today; her NY Times obituary made no mention of Nebel’s claims.

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