With 'stripes' and a Tv Series, Underdog John Candy Surfaces in the Big Pond

updated 07/13/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/13/1981 01:00AM

Candy cottons to Canada and comedy, not critics

Along with uproarious bank accounts, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, David Steinberg and Robert Klein have something else in common: All are veterans of Second City, the improvisational revue whose Chicago and Toronto branches have become American comedy's fertile farm teams. Now, it seems, the next player to reach the big leagues may well be John Candy, 30, a 6'3", 290-pound out-of-left-fielder who co-stars in pal Bill Murray's new movie, Stripes, and with a squadron of Second City alumni in NBC's fledgling late-night comedy entry, SCTV Network 90. "Sure, there's rivalry," says Candy, citing the problems of working in a seven-member troupe, "but the stitches heal quickly."

NBC obviously reacted to another kind of competition—from SCTV, the troupe's five-year-old weekly syndicated parody of television. Its targets included station owners (with the inimitably crass "Guy Caballero") and Dick Cavett ("It has always been my wish to interview the person who encompasses the wit of Woody Allen, the charm of Sir Laurence Olivier and the looks of Cary Grant—me"). This past season the 30-minute SCTVs brightness often made NBC's own Saturday Night Live seem even dimmer than it was. The network purchased SCTV and expanded it to 90 minutes last May. "I think NBC bought SCTV because it was developing a nice cult feel," Candy accurately assesses.

Detractors, however, like the Hollywood Stripes critic who dismissed him as "the elephant," can sting. "Jerks like that are so obvious—they can't even be clever," grumbles Candy. "Sure, I'm sensitive about my weight. I don't do fat jokes." On the other hand, "I realize I stand out, especially on TV. But I'm the one who has to look in the mirror, and after a while it begins to eat at you." Belushi just lost 40 pounds, reports Candy, who has hired an exercise coach to help him do the same.

Born in Toronto on Halloween, Candy was raised by his mother, aunt and grandparents after his car salesman father died in 1955 of heart disease that began during WW II combat. His mother took a job at a local department store while John attended parochial schools. As a senior, he booked dance bands ("In 1967, you could get the Left Banke, who sang Walk Away Renee, for $1,200") for his high school.

At the local community college he studied theater because it "was easier than typing," but he soon dropped out to act professionally. Buddy Dan Aykroyd convinced him to audition for Second City. "The next thing I knew I was in Chicago, where I learned how to drink, stay up real late, and spell 'd-r-u-g-s,' " Candy jokes. A year later he left for the Toronto company where, after Radner and Aykroyd departed for SNL, SCTV was born.

The jump from syndication to network has brought a parallel economic leap from "macaroni and cheese to macaroni and lobster," says John, though much of his income has literally sunk into the four-bedroom house he and his wife of two years, Rose, 31, purchased "on what turned out to be swampland." During his scant free hours from writing and taping Network 90, Candy reads, jogs and keeps a weather eye out for even bigger opportunity. "I don't dream about the perfect script, though I check my mailbox every morning," says Candy, before remembering an earlier job. "But it's a hell of a lot better than selling paper napkins."

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