One of America's most prolific publishers, Ralph Ginzburg died recently. His contributions to journalsim and the print media are largely unknown to young folks in the U.S. today. Mr. Ginzburg's publication, 100 Years of Lynching is well-known to Blacks in this country. His arrest for obscenity kept him from reaching his goals in the publishing industry.
Publishing maverick Ginzburg dies
Ralph Ginzburg, 76, Publisher in Obscenity Case, Dies
By STEVEN HELLER
Published: July 7, 2006
Ralph Ginzburg, a taboo-busting editor and publisher who helped set off the sexual revolution in the 1960's with Eros magazine and was imprisoned for sending it through the United States mail in a case decided by the Supreme Court, died yesterday in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. He was 76.
Paul Vathis/Associated Press
Ralph Ginzburg wore handcuffs outside the federal building in Lewisburg, Pa., in 1972 as he was being taken to federal prison. Below is the Marilyn Monroe cover of his Eros magazine, published in spring 1962.
The cause was multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bones, said Shoshana Ginzburg, his wife and collaborator of 49 years.
First published in 1962, Eros was a stunningly designed hardcover "magbook" devoted to eroticism. While Playboy and other men's magazines of the time catered mostly to male fantasies, Eros (named for the Greek god of love and desire) covered a wide swath of sexuality in history, politics, art and literature. Mr. Ginzburg valued good writing, and his contributors included Nat Hentoff, Arthur Herzog and Albert Ellis.
Eros also challenged the taboo of interracial love in a photo essay by Ralph M. Hattersley Jr. and published a previously suppressed portfolio of nude photographs of Marilyn Monroe, taken by Bert Stern.
Mr. Ginzburg's eventual conviction on the obscenity charge hinged not on the content of his publications but on their promotion. The Supreme Court held that if "the purveyor's sole emphasis is on the sexually provocative aspects of his publications," that could justify a finding of obscenity for content that might otherwise be marginally acceptable.
Born in Brooklyn on Oct. 28, 1929, to immigrant parents from Russia, Mr. Ginzburg studied to be an accountant until his professor at City College encouraged him to accept an editorial job on the school newspaper, The Daily Ticker. With a passion for journalism, he took a job after graduation as advertising and promotion director at Look magazine and later became articles editor at Esquire.
Mr. Ginzburg soon found he had a talent for the mail-order business, especially writing attention-grabbing promotional advertisements. He wed his business and publishing instincts to social activism.
His first self-published book was "100 Years of Lynching," a compilation of newspaper accounts that exposed American racism. Later he published "An Unhurried View of Erotica," about the secret caches of erotic material in some of the world's most famous libraries.
Eros, which was sold only through the mail, was conceived in a hardcover rather than a softcover format as a marketing ploy to extract a hefty cover price. Mr. Ginzburg hired the leading mainstream advertising typographer/art director, Herb Lubalin, to create innovative layouts for Eros. It cost him a lot of money to produce and never rose out of the red.
When the fourth and final issue appeared (a fifth was prepared but never published), Mr. Ginzburg was indicted on charges of violating a federal statute that regulated obscene advertising. His publications (Eros; Liaison, a biweekly newsletter; and "The Housewife's Handbook on Selective Promiscuity") were deemed obscene "in the context of their production, sale and attendant publicity." After various appeals, the case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1965, and in 1966 Mr. Ginzburg's conviction was upheld.
Despite protests by First Amendment advocates, he served eight months in a federal prison in 1972 after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of his sentence.
His book "Castrated: My Eight Months in Prison" (a short version of which was published in The New York Times Magazine) was dedicated to his wife and collaborator.
As to why Eros was considered obscene, Mr. Ginzburg wrote in the book, it was a mystery to him. " 'Obscenity' or 'pornography' is a crime without definition or victim," he said. "It is a bag of smoke used to conceal one's own dislikes with regard to aspects of sex."
The Eros case was just one of Mr. Ginzburg's famous run-ins with the courts. In 1964 another of his iconoclastic magazines, Fact, a political journal with a muckracking bent (and the first to publish Ralph Nader when he was a Harvard student), published a special issue on the "Mind of Barry Goldwater" when Senator Goldwater was the Republican presidential candidate that year, claiming that he was psychologically unfit for the office. Goldwater successfully sued him for defamation all the way to the Supreme Court; Justices Hugo L. Black and William O. Douglas dissented, citing issues of free speech. For Goldwater, it was a Pyrrhic victory; he received only $1 in damages.
From 1968 to 1971 Mr. Ginzburg also published Avant Garde, an art and culture magazine designed by Mr. Lubalin, whose logo for the magazine was the basis for one of the most popular typefaces of the era. Although Avant Garde included erotic material (an entire issue was devoted to John Lennon's erotic lithographs), this time the focus was more on radical politics, including the "No More War" poster competition.
Mr. Ginzburg shut down the magazine when he started serving his sentence. Afterward, he and his wife tried to revive it as a tabloid newspaper, but it lasted only one issue.
It was a costly mistake that drove them to the brink of bankruptcy, which was averted only through the success of yet another periodical, the consumer adviser Moneysworth, which attained a circulation of 2.4 million.
At 55 Mr. Ginzburg retired from publishing to be a photojournalist, selling his very first photograph to The New York Post. He remained there as a freelance spot-news photographer until his death and specialized in New York scenes and sporting events, covering soccer as recently as three weeks ago.
In 1999 Eric Nash in The New York Times Book Review described his book of photographs, "I Shot New York," as a heartfelt portrait of the extraordinary diversity of daily life in the city, and of New Yorkers' love of bread and circuses."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Ginzburg is survived by a son, Shepherd, of Ventura, Calif.; two daughters, Bonnie Erbe Leckar of Falls Church, Va., and Lark Kuthta of Hewitt, N.J.; and three grandchildren.
Despite Mr. Ginzburg's ability to transform his life at critical periods, he saw his conviction and imprisonment as a handicap since, at the time, few establishment organizations would do business with him.
"Thus my publishing potential after release from prison was severely circumscribed," he said. "I have always felt that I might have become a major force in American publishing had it not been for my conviction. Instead, I'm just a curious footnote."
Eros Unbound by Ginzburg.
Ginzburg vs. United States, 383 US 463 (1978)
Ginzburg's interview with Bobby Fischer, January 1962.
Decision denying second-class mailing privileges for Eros
© 2006 VANESSA BYERS, Vanessa: Unplugged