George Bernard Shaw wrote, “All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.” Eugene O'Neill put it more bluntly: “Censorship of anything, at any time, in any place, on whatever pretense, has always been and always will be the last cowardly resort of the boob and the bigot.” On June 4, we were arrested in our home by four intrepid officers of the law, on order of Chicago Corporation Counsel John Melaniphy, for “publishing and distributing an obscene publication.” The “obscene publication” turned out to be the June issue of Playboy and what the Corporation Counsel objected to, he said, was the picture story on film star Jayne Mansfield nude in bed and bubble bath in scenes for her latest contribution to cinematic art, Promises, Promises! We discussed the obscenity charge and arrest at length in the last installment of The Playboy Philosophy, because we believe this single example of censorship can add considerable insight into the real dangers of such police action in a free America. We hope to prove beyond any reasonable doubt, in this second installment on the subject, that a good deal more is involved here than nude photographs of Jayne Mansfield and that what we are faced with is a frightening example of church-state suppression of freedom of the press that strikes at the very heart of our democracy.
Irv Kupcinet expressed the feelings of many when he wrote, in his Chicago Sun-Times column: “The obvious question about the arrest of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner on obscenity charges based on the Jayne Mansfield nudes in the June issue is: Why now? Playboy has been publishing nudes of voluptuous dishes for years.” Why now? It is a very good question and in attempting to find the answer—in attempting to establish the real motivations behind the arrest—an insidious, twisted labyrinth of pious prejudice and prudery may be brought to light. It is virtually impossible to look deep within the human mind and find the sometimes complex motives that lie hidden behind a single act, unless your subject reclines willingly upon a psychoanalyst’s couch. We have no analytical couch, and if we had, our adversaries in this little melodrama would surely decline to lie there. So instead of supplying suspected motives, we’ll offer up not one, but a chain of events, and let the reader draw his own conclusions. First it must be mentioned that Playboy has never been adjudged obscene by any court in the land. In last month’s editorial, we entered into an extensive examination of the recent Supreme Court and other high-court decisions on, and definitions of, obscenity. We successfully established, we think, that not by the wildest extensions of these definitions and decisions could be the June issue—or any issue—of Playboy be considered legally obscene. We went further, pointing out the extent to which Playboy meets contemporary community standards, as defined by the Supreme Court, and how the text and illustrations in this magazine are considerably more respectable than much of the material now available in a great many books, magazines and movies in our present-day society –and far less objectionable, by any objective standard, than material already declared not obscene by our courts. We went further still, pointing out that Chicago censors had approved scenes in a French film for exhibition that very month that were far bolder than the still photographs in Playboy. And pointing out, too, that similar (if less revealing) nude bed scenes (it was the photographs of Jayne in bed to which the Corporation Counsel took particular exception) were published at the same time in two other major magazines (Esquire and The Saturday Evening Post) with nary a Counsel criticism. And after all else was said and done, since similar photographs had appeared many times before in the pages of Playboy during our nearly ten years of publishing, with never so much as a discouraging word from the custodians of this fair city’s morality—why now? What special, possibly pre-established perspective or prejudice set Playboy apart from the rest? And what prompted the action at this particular time?
Religious Freedom in Chicago
If the June pictorial on Jayne Mansfield is not so different from many that Playboy has printed before, what is different about the June issue—or perhaps one or more of the issues that immediately preceded it? Well, nothing really—except…! Except The Playboy Philosophy, this continuing editorial statement of our personal convictions and publishing credo, begun last December and carried in each issue since. These first installments have been primarily devoted to our concern over the separation of church and state in a free society and critical of organized religion’s undue influence over portions of our government and law, thus emphasizing that true religious freedom means not only freedom of, but freedom from religion.
Chicago remains one of the few major cities in America that is dominated by a single religious denomination—that is, where a majority of the officials in power belong to one church and where their administrative decisions sometimes appear to be predicated more on religious dogma than civil law. We state this fact sadly, for it is also true that the present city administration is far and away the best that Chicago has had in many, many years.
In earlier installments of the Philosophy, we cited, and criticized, a number of specific instances in which, it seemed to us, Chicago officialdom had been less concerned with the importance of maintaining a separate church and state than they should have been. The Chicago Censor Board, made up of the wives of policemen, denied a license to the Italian film, The Miracle, on the grounds that it was “sacrilegious.” (New York, another city that has a history of similar religious prejudice, did the same.) The Supreme Court declared this an unconstitutional basis for censorship, as it infringed upon religious freedom. In his decision in the Times Film Corp. vs. Chicago, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, “Recently, Chicago refused to issue a permit for the exhibition of the motion picture Anatomy of a Murder…because it found the use of the words ‘rape’ and ‘contraceptive’ to be objectionable…. The New York censors forbade the discussion in films of pregnancy, venereal disease, eugenics, birth control, abortion, illegitimacy, prostitution, miscegenation and divorce. A member of the Chicago Censor Board explained that she rejected a film because ‘it was immoral, corrupt, indecent, against my…religious principles.’”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Chicago censors promptly rebanned The Miracle on the basis that it was “obscene.” (Which supports our earlier observation that the charge of obscenity is often used to censor material that offends a particular group for reasons that have nothing to do with sex, from religion to racial equality.)
And it should be noted that the word “contraceptive,” which Chicago censors wished to expunge from Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, can be considered offensive to only that specific religious minority that opposes birth control.
Birth control became a major issue in Chicago earlier this year, after millionaire philanthropist Arnold H. Maremont had accepted a position as chairman of the Illinois Public Aid Commission. Maremont announced that the IPAC had adopted a resolution to make birth control information and devices available to public-assistance recipients upon request and provided that the contraceptives were prescribed by a physician.
Maremont stated that the new IPAC program would accomplish the following worthwhile ends: (1.) “It will give the needy the same option of determining the sizing and spacing of their families that others in our society have.” (2.) “It will curb the soaring numbers of illegitimate children we currently are closing our eyes to.” (3.) “It will produce a multi-million-dollar annual savings for the taxpayers of this state.”
Then the public furor began—with sides chosen along disturbingly, if predictably, religious lines. Prominent Catholics, including Chicago’s Mayor Daley, denounced the plan as “immoral,” because it would make the assistance available to the public-aid recipients who were not married and not living with their husbands. The day before the mayoral election, which Daley won handily, Republican candidate Benjamin S. Adamowski made a bid for the city’s Catholic vote by filing an anti-birth-control suit against the IPAC in Superior Court. The IPAC would have customarily been defended by Illinois Attorney General William G. Clark, but Clark, a Catholic, announced that he, too, was opposed to the program. Clark stated that he considered the plan illegal and he advised the State Auditor not to sign and the State Treasurer not to honor warrants drawn to cover the costs of the birth-control program.
Maremont hired private legal counsel and vowed to carry the fight for approval of the Commission’s program to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. “This issue and all its ramifications will be aired before the highest tribunals of the land, if that is what it takes to permit us to move ahead with the program,” he said.
“This Commission has every right to establish its policy, a policy which countless individuals and organizations support…. I have stated many times that this policy has been established with all the built-in safeguards that our conscientious and deeply concerned commissioners can provide.”
Attorney Thomas C. McConnell, hired by the IPAC to defend it after Attorney General Clark sided with opponents of its program, charged in the court that Clark had “sold his client [the IPAC] down the river” by joining Adamowski in his suit. McConnell accused Clark of following “the dogmas of his own religion” and he requested a change of venue on the ground that Superior Court Judge John J. Lupe was prejudiced.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported, “Outside the court, Clark, a Roman Catholic, said: ‘This is not a Catholic question, a Protestant question, or a Jewish question. All religions say that couples should marry before engaging in this type of conduct.’ Clark repeated that he opposes the IPAC’s program on grounds that it encourages illicit and immoral behavior….”
Clark neglected to mention that the “morality” aspect of the program was actually a smoke screen raised by some of its opponents and that most of the prominent Protestant and Jewish individuals and organizations that had been contacted, as well as those of no religious affiliation, favored the IPAC plan. The Illinois Council of Churches, representing 11 Protestant denominations, went on record as favoring the birth-control program for the public-aid recipients; the policy statement was adopted unanimously by the Council’s legislative committee.
Ethel Parker, of the Independent Voters of Illinois, stated, in a letter to the Sun-Times: “The Independent Voters of Illinois at this time repeats its stand on using public funds to furnish birth-control information and supplies to women on relief. We are in favor of such a plan.
"Our contention is that preventing an increase of unwanted children is a policy of moral responsibility first and secondarily a prudent economic move…. So long as birth control is not forced on anyone whose religious views forbid it, IVI fails to see how religion enters into this controversy. It is also very naive for anyone to believe that the use of contraceptives promotes immorality. In our view their use merely prevents adding to social ills resulting from promiscuity.”
In another letter, in the same issue of the Sun-Times, a Catholic reader insisted that the State Senate intervene, altering the IPAC program so that the contraceptives could be “prescribed only by a doctor for married women living with their husbands and only when their lives would be endangered by pregnancy.” The reader also indicated that Governor Kerner should ask for Arnold Maremont’s resignation.
Catholic Superior Judge Lupe refused to grant a change of venue, requested on the ground that he was prejudiced, and proceeded to rule against the IPAC in the Adamowski suit to halt the birth-control program. The State Senate then passed a measure drastically curtailing the Illinois Public Aid Commission’s authority to help mothers under its care to avoid childbirth by use of contraceptives, and Senator W. Russell Arrington introduced a bill to abolish the IPAC. In a seemingly inconsistent move, the Senate confirmed Governor Kerner’s reappointment of IPAC Chairman Maremount, but then—in an unprecedented move—it revoked the reappointment, because a number of the senators took exception to some of Maremont’s public utterances regarding the Senate and IPAC aid. Financier Maremont was thus returned to the less fickle world of his private businesses and philanthropies, and Illinois lost the services of an exceptionally gifted public-spirited citizen.
The point in this controversy over birth control, as in the matter of censorship, is not the right of Catholics, or any other religious group, to hold and exercise whatever belief they choose. It is the undemocratic action of forcing their religious convictions on other citizens who do not share their views.
In commenting on the Chicago controversy in an article on religious freedom and the importance of the separation of church and state, Reverend H.B. Sissel, Secretary for National Affairs of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., wrote recently in Look: “Seventeen states prohibit the sale or distribution of contraceptives [to the general public] except through doctors or pharmacists; five states ban all public sale of such devices. Although these statutes were enacted in the 19th century under Protestant pressure, times and attitudes have changed for many Protestants. Today, they believe that Catholics have no right to keep such laws in operation. Some Catholic spokesmen have agreed that their Church is not officially interested in trying to make the private behavior of non-Catholics conform to Roman Catholic canon law. Meanwhile, the laws stay on the books, though they are being tested in the courts.”
The Reverend Sissel commented on a number of other church-state conflicts in society today and concluded his thoughtful article by stating: “The so-called ‘wall of separation’ between church and state has been breached often by both, each using the other for its own ends….
"I know it is a sign of my bias as a Christian (I hope many other Christians share the bias) that I believe, in the long run, that political and civil liberties are safest when the church is free to be the church. And by ‘free,’ I do not mean just free of external coercion. The freedom of the church lies in its recognition of its basic mission: to be deeply involved in the personal, social, political and economic life of the world—but not to be identified with the world: to encourage compassion, a desire for justice and a vision of what it means to be truly human; and to renew that vision by living to the wellspring of its faith.
"Churches and synagogues, clergymen and churchgoers, all must regain the unique sense of purpose and mission that God has given them to perform by worship within and witness without. All need to face, and deal with, the urgent problems bound up in the issue of church and state. And all need to recognize that when men of faith begin to look to the state as a pillar of religion, the edifice of faith they seek to save has already begun to collapse.”
Nowhere is this truth more evident than in the matters of free speech and press. Religious censorship reared its ugly head in Chicago in an even bigger controversy than the recent birth-control suppression when, late in 1956, the film Martin Luther was scheduled to be shown over WGN-TV and then suddenly cancelled. Prominent Protestant clergymen and private citizens charged “Roman Catholic censorship” and a Protestant Action Committee issued a statement saying: “Pending a full review of the situation, the committee decided today to authorize a formal protest with the Federal Communications Commission against WGN-TV for the banning of the film.”
Robert E.A. Lee, executive secretary of Lutheran Church Productions Inc., which made Martin Luther, wrote of the Catholic censorship of the film in Chicago, and around the world, in The Christian Century, saying: “In Chicago all the fuss is focused on just why WGN-TV got cold feet and ‘pulled the film.’ Martin Luther was scheduled for the December date at the specific request of the station after its officials had carefully previewed it…. [Then] the showing was canceled.
"Aroused Chicagoans were convinced that they knew why. A volunteer action committee of Protestant leaders of the city called a press conference and bluntly charged ‘de facto censorship,’ claiming WGN-TV had yielded to pressures ‘mobilized by the Roman Catholic Church.’ The station’s public relations department declared, in a polished euphemism, than an ‘emotional reaction’ had led them to cancel. A spokesman for the chancellery of the Chicago Roman Catholic archdiocese denied that any ‘official’ protest was made. It is conceivable that the representative of Cardinal Stritch who visited a WGN-TV official at 2 p.m. on December 14 [one week before the planned showing] had other reasons for the appointment. But, oddly enough, a responsible station executive telephoned us in advance of the representative’s visit to get information to support his own arguments as to why Martin Luther deserved to be televised.
"The Chicago case makes more urgent that question that many concerned individuals—including some Catholics—have been asking: Is one religious group really attempting to dictate what the public can see and hear through mass-communication media? Is the Roman Catholic Church becoming more aggressive in extending its censorship programs beyond its own sphere?”
Lee went on to comment on the banning of the film in Quebec: “In that part of the world the political influence of the cardinal is no secret. It is known that the censor received his instructions from higher authorities. And a person who discussed this situation frankly with the provincial premier revealed that the decision was ‘requested’ by an ecclesiastical authority. This despotism boomeranged mightily—as such despotism anywhere must sooner or later. When, in spite of the ban, a courageous group of Protestant churches in the Montreal area staged a united demonstration by showing the film simultaneously for a week on their own premises, they had seats for only half of the comers. But the government refused to rescind the ban.”
The Canadian ban was not lifted until 1962, when the censorship board of Quebec was changed and the new board permitted showing of the film. Lee mentioned that a number of Catholic leaders throughout the world had not reacted so emotionally to the movie which, while showing the Protestant side of the Reformation, was in no sense anti-Catholic. Many Catholics, here and abroad, were also openly concerned about their fellow Catholics acting as censors. A letter in Time said: “I am one of the many Catholics, I hope, who are appalled at the shallow thinking of our Chicago brethren who became a pressure group protesting the showing of the TV film Martin Luther. If, as Catholics, we possess the truth, why do they resort to such intolerance in order to prohibit what they consider to be false from the beginning. We cannot deny the historical existence of Luther and his founding of the Protestant Church. Do Chicago Catholics fear the facts of history? I wonder if they realize how much their bigotry damages the cause of Catholicism and the fellowship of man?”
Despite the controversy caused by the Chicago censorship, WGN-TV declined to reschedule the film. Sterling “Red” Quinlan, the rebel head of rival TV station WBKB, then accepted the motion picture and aired it without further incident. “Red” Quinlan is a liberal Catholic.
The banning of the June issue of Playboy caused no comparable public outcry—or the religious implications were less clearly defined. But as we shall see, the situation is disturbingly similar.
In The Playboy Philosophy, we have been outspoken in our opposition to any tyranny over the mind of man, whether invoked in the name of the state or in the name of God. We specifically criticized the part that organized religion—Protestant as well as Catholic—has played in such suppression throughout history, down to the present day. The views that we have expressed are shared by many of the more liberal clergy—of all denominations—who recognize that religious freedom requires that the church remain free from any involvement in government and any direct coercion of the citizens in a free society.
We were especially critical, in the April and May issues, of the Chicago “justice” meted out to comedian Lenny Bruce. In June the administrators of that “justice” turned their ire on Playboy.
Bruce was arrested on charges of giving an obscene performance. He had been previously arrested on the same charge in San Francisco and Los Angeles. There were differences in the Chicago and California incidents, however: In San Francisco, he was acquitted and in Los Angeles, all charges were subsequently dropped; in Chicago, he was found guilty and given the maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $1000 fine (the decision is now being appealed). In Chicago, also, the license of the nightclub in which he appeared was revoked for two weeks, in an administrative proceeding that preceded the trial. In other words, before the actual charge of obscenity was ever heard in a court of law, the city suspended the nightclub’s license for having permitted an obscene performance on its premises. And by this action, Chicago officials succeeded in banning Bruce from any future appearances at nightclubs in this city, since—no matter what the final outcome of the trial—it will take a very brave club owner indeed to book Bruce knowing he is thereby placing his liquor license in jeopardy.
Why did California and Chicago trials end so differently? There were religious implications in the Chicago arrest and trial that did not exist in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. Variety reported, after the first day of the hearings on the liquor-license revocation: “After nearly a full day of hearing prosecution witnesses, it is evident that, in essence, Bruce is being tried in absentia. Another impression is that the city is going to a great deal of trouble to prosecute Alan Ribback, the owner of the club, although there have been no previous allegations against the café and the charge involves no violence or drunken behavior…. Testimony so far indicates that the prosecutor is at least equally as concerned with Bruce’s indictment of organized religion as he is with the more obvious sexual content of the comic’s act. It’s possible that Bruce’s comments on the Catholic Church have hit sensitive nerves in Chicago’s Catholic-oriented administration and police department.”
The religious considerations in the case arose again during the trial, as Variety reported in a second news story: A number of people “have been puzzled by the arrest, since it is the general opinion of many café observers that performances with similar sexual content have been overlooked at other Chi clubs. It’s thought that Bruce’s attacks on organized religion may have been the deciding factor in making the arrest, or so the line of prosecution questions would indicate to date.”
Chicago’s daily newspapers made no mention of the religious implications in the arrest and trial, but on the basis of sworn affidavits from two witnesses, The Realist reported the following conversation between the Captain of the Vice Squad and the then owner of The Gate of Horn (he has since been forced to sell his interest in the club) following Bruce’s arrest.
Captain McDermott: I’d like to speak to the manager. Alan Ribback: I’m the manager. McDermott: I’m Captain McDermott. I want to tell you that if this man ever uses a four-letter word in this club again, I’m going to pinch you and everyone in here. If he ever speaks against religion, I’m going to pinch you and everyone in here. Do you understand? Ribback: I don’t have anything against any religion. McDermott: Maybe I’m not talking to the right person. Are you the man who hired Lenny Bruce? Ribback: Yes, I am. I’m Alan Ribback. McDermott: Well, I don’t know why you ever hired him. You’ve had people here. But he mocks the pope—and I’m speaking as a Catholic. I’m here to tell you your license is in danger. We’re going to have someone here watching every show. Do you understand? Ribback: Yes.
Anyone who has ever heard Lenny Bruce knows that his act is not an attack against any specific religious group, but against all of society’s intolerance and hypocrisies. His technique is vitriolic and his manner often so free-form that it becomes a verbal stream of consciousness. But his basic message is not one of hate, but of charity, love and understanding.
“Lenny Bruce is here to talk about the phony, frightened, lying world,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Will Leonard less than a week before Lenny’s arrest. And Richard Christiansen, in the Chicago Daily News, termed Bruce “the healthiest comic spirit of any comedian working in the United States today.” His act, said Christiansen, “is right smack at the center of a true comedy that strips all prejudices and reveals man’s inhumanity to man.”
Nor do all Catholics fail to understand. Writing on the subject of Bruce and his vocabulary, Professor John Logan of the University of Notre Dame stated: “I find him a brilliant and inventive moralist in the great tradition of comic satire—Aristophanes, Chaucer, Joyce. If his use of four-letter words constitutes obscenity, then those satirists were also obscene.”
The point, as we have previously stated, is not whether any one of us agrees with all, or any part, of what Bruce has to say, but whether a free society can long remain free if we suppress the expression of all ideas that are objectionable to a few or to many.
The charge against Lenny Bruce was obscenity, but his actual “crime” seems to have been speaking out too openly on certain negative aspects of organized religion. The charge against Playboy is obscenity, also.
In the February issue, we commented on the National Organization for Decent Literature, which headquarters in Chicago. The NODL prepares a monthly list of “disapproved” books and magazines that is supposed to be a guide for Catholic youth, but is often used as a weapon for adult censorship. Local organizations—sometimes openly Catholic and sometimes seeming to represent a cross section of the community, while actually under Catholic control—use the NODL black list to suppress reading matter in their community through the action of sympathetic officials or through the intimidation of local book and magazine dealers through threat of boycott or other coercion.
Exactly this sort of extralegal coercive action was suggested by Illinois' Assistant State’s Attorney James R. Thompson, in a newspaper story reporting on the Playboy arrest. He suggested: “(1) Citizens report to the State’s Attorney’s office books and magazines suspected of being obscene. (2) Formation of community or neighborhood organizations to meet with merchants who sell objectionable material. (3) Boycotting of stores which sell obscene literature.”
The effect of such action is to set up citizen-censorship groups for the specific purpose of suppressing the reading matter of their fellow citizens, rather than allowing each individual to make up his or her own mind about what to read.
In an editorial titled “The Harm Good People Do,” in the October 1956 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Editor John Fischer wrote: “A little band of Catholics is now conducting a shocking attack on the rights of their fellow citizens. They are engaged in an un-American activity which is as flagrant as anything the Communist party ever attempted—and which is, in fact, very similar to Communist tactics. They are harming their country, their Church, and the cause of freedom.
"Their campaign is particularly dangerous because few people realize what they are up to. It can hurt you—indeed, it already has—without your knowing it. It is spreading rapidly but quietly; and so far no effective steps have been taken to halt it.
"Even the members of this organization probably do not recognize the damage they are doing. They are well-meaning people, acting from deeply moral impulses. They are trying, in a misguided way, to cope with a real national problem, and presumably they think of themselves as patriots and servants of the Lord. Perhaps a majority of Americans, of all faiths, would sympathize with their motives—though not with their methods.
"They do not, of course, speak for all Catholics. On the contrary, they are defying the warnings of some of their Church’s most respected teachers and theologians. The Catholic Church as a whole certainly cannot be blamed for their actions, any more than it could be held responsible a generation ago for the political operations of Father Coughlin.
"This group calls itself the National Organization for Decent Literature. Its headquarters are in Chicago; its director is the Very Reverend Monsignor Thomas Fitzgerald. Its main purpose is to make it impossible for anyone to buy books and other publications which it does not like. Among them are the works of some of the most distinguished authors now alive—for example, winners of the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
"Its chief method is to put pressure on news dealers, drugstores and booksellers, to force them to remove from their stocks every item on the NODL black list. Included on the list are reprint editions of books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, George Orwell, John O'Hara, Paul Hyde Bonner, Emile Zola, Arthur Koestler and Joyce Cary. [The current list also includes Serenade by James M. Cain, Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen, From Here to Eternity by James Jones, What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg, The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw, Native Son by Richard Wright and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.] In some places—notably Detroit, Peoria and the suburbs of Boston—the organization has enlisted the local police to threaten booksellers who are slow to ‘cooperate.’
"This campaign of intimidation has no legal basis. The books so listed have not been banned by the mail, and in the overwhelming majority of the cases no legal charges have ever been [sustained] against them…. Its chosen weapons are boycott and literary lynching.
"For example, early last year committees of laymen from Catholic churches in the four northern counties of New Jersey—Union, Hudson, Essex and Bergen—began to call on local merchants. These teams were armed with the NODL lists. They offered ‘certificates,’ to be renewed each month, to those storekeepers who would agree to remove from sale all of the listed publications. To enforce their demands, they warned the merchants that their parishioners would be advised to patronize only those stores displaying a certificate.
"Contact, a bulletin published by the Sacred Heart Parish Societies of Orange, New Jersey, listed 14 merchants in its March 1955 issue. ‘The following stores,’ it said, ‘have agreed to cooperate with the Parish Decency Committee in not displaying or selling literature disapproved by the National Organization for Decent Literature…. Please patronize these stores only. They may be identified by the certificate which is for one month only.’
"Such tactics are highly effective…. The Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Men in St. Louis [reported] that it had ‘obtained the consent of about one third of the store owners approached in the campaign to ask merchants to submit to voluntary screening….’
"The Detroit NODL states that its list is ‘not intended as a restrictive list for adults'—though it does not explain how adults could purchase the books if merchants have been persuaded not to stock them.
"But the movies of these zealous people are not the issue. The real issue is whether any private group—however well-meaning—has a right to dictate what other people may read.
"Clearly any church, or any subgroup within a church, has a right to advise its own members about their reading matter. Clearly, too, anybody has a right to try to persuade other people to read or to refrain from reading anything he sees fit. The National Organization for Decent Literature, however, goes much further. Its campaign is not aimed at Catholics alone, and it is not attempting to persuade readers to follow its views. It is compelling readers, of all faiths, to bow to its dislikes, by denying them a free choice in what they buy.
"This principle is of course unacceptable to Catholics—as it is to all Americans—if they take the trouble to think about it for a moment. How would Catholics react if, say, a group of Jewish laymen were to threaten merchants with boycott unless they banned from their shops all publications which referred to the divinity of Christ? Some religious denominations believe that gambling is immoral; most Catholics do not, and many of their parishes raise considerable sums by means of bingo games and raffles. What if some Protestant sect were to try to clean out of the stores all publications which spoke tolerantly of gambling, and to boycott every merchant who bought a raffle ticket?”
Catholic censorship is implemented at the local community level by an organization called Citizens for Decent Literature. It is a Catholic lay organization though it gains its acceptance in some communities by appearing to be a civic group with no specific religious affiliation.
The Californian reported recently on CDL censorship activity in its state: “In California, where the campaign against 'obscene’ literature has taken on the aura of a respectable community project, the tide has been swung by a group called Citizens for Decent Literature, whose national chairman admitted publicly that his organization is conducting ‘a religious crusade.’ Nevertheless, CDL was able to induce the San Francisco News-Call Bulletin to carry on a week-long campaign against ‘smut,’ in which quotes from CDL were featured prominently. For example, CDL’s chairman, Charles H. Keating Jr., billed as a former All-American swimming champion, was quoted at the beginning of the series in a statement that San Francisco is the ‘smut capital’ of the nation. What readers of the News-Call could not have known was that Keating has made this statement in every city in which his organization has carried on its ‘religious crusade.’
"Actually, the CDL is only a front group for a larger organization called the National Organization for Decent Literature. The NODL uses groups like CDL and the Legion for Decency to infiltrate communities under the guise of nonsectarian activity and independence from a list of banned books published by the NODL. The reason is that NODL has been stamped as a Catholic organization that has tried to have books called unfit for Catholics to read banned for persons of all other religious denominations, too. This has resulted in widespread opposition to NODL, which has therefore been forced to use groups in communities that go by different names. These groups will deny they are connected with NODL, but they use NODL’s banned-books list as they parrot NODL’s philosophy.
"For example, listen to CDL’s Charles Keating testifying before the House Subcommittee on Postal Operations: ‘…The rot they peddle…causes premarital intercourse, perversion, masturbation in boys, wantonness in girls, and weakens the morality of all it contacts…. Attention is given to sensationalists such as Kinsey, who draw sweeping conclusions from a handful of selected subjects and defraud the public by calling their meanderings a scientific study—and Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen who, finding fellow travellers in erstwhile respectable media, manage to disseminate, directly and indirectly, their absurd and dirty bleatings and pagan ideas…. It seems strange to me that we credit—I should say that our mass media credit—the unestablished generalities of a few so-called experts, but ignore the overwhelming testimony of the true experts like so many of your previously testifying witnesses, of men like Pitirim Sorokin, J. Edgar Hoover…. One might say, even the laws, the words of God himself are ignored.
”'So now you see that I claim to speak for most of our American citizens. I come by this claim as a member of Citizens for Decent Literature, having in the past four years traveled extensively giving hundreds of speeches. Through our CDL office, we receive and answer about 300 letters a month, all from indignant citizens…who want, as I do, this demoralizing traffic in filth stopped now.
“'Citizens for Decent Literature has been successful in all areas where it has been militant in the first phase of its program. There has been the usual opposition by extremists such as the persistent, illogical, comical and theatrical—but legalistically skilled—activities of certain "civil liberties” groups…. They constantly—particularly the California collections—impose censorship by threats, bullying, intimidations and smears…these elements and those foul producers and salesmen of this depravity…take these slick magazines with their emphasis on seductively posed nude females. To those who say: “But whom do they effect and how?"—I reply: Why disbelieve the countless clergymen, who, from their flocks, know these magazines cause masturbation and other immoral behavior among boys.
”'The Kronhausens and their ilk I think deliberately appeal to the mass audience by inclusions in their works of the most rank obscenities imaginable…. It seems to me that the basic contention of these people is that guilt feelings are the result of moral restrictions, and that the remedy lies in abandoning the restrictions. For example, a boy who is in the habit of masturbation would undoubtedly suffer a depression and moodiness and guilt feelings which the Kronhausens would remove, not by stopping his habit or eliminating his habit of masturbation, which is a difficult process perhaps, but by convincing the boy that if masturbate he must, then go to it, but get rid of the puritanical and inbred fanatical religious attitudes which cause him to think of this as being something sinful.
“'We get a lot of mail indicating people who have picked these (nudist) magazines up and find them filled with semen when boys masturbate on the pictures, and so forth. Nothing else could be expected.
”'In these days, speaking of masturbation, when you run into that problem, I just mention it casually and take for granted that most people think that it is a very bad thing and very dangerous to the health and moral welfare, physical and mental, of the people who have the habit. But we had a psychiatrist on the stand in Cincinnati recently for the defense, who said, sure, these magazines stimulate the average person to sexual activity, but it would be sexual activity which would have a legitimate outlet. The prosecutor said to him, “Doctor, what is a legitimate or socially acceptable outlet for an 18-year-old unmarried boy?” The doctor answered, “Masturbation.” When you are met with that kind of situation, you begin to wonder.’“
When you are met with that kind of wild-eyed sexual fanaticism, on the part of the chairmen of CDL and the chief proponent of censorship in the U.S. today, you do, indeed, begin to wonder.
The Californian felt obliged to observe: "Keating’s testimony is full of typical revelations of this type of mind. Premarital sexual intercourse is evil. Kinsey and other scientists are ‘fellow travelers,’ and purveyors of filth in disguise. Scientists like Kinsey and the Kronhausens are not the true authorities; the true authorities on sex are men like J. Edgar Hoover. Anyone who sells or reads sexy literature is a ‘pagan’ defying the law of God. They have the support of ‘civil liberties’ groups [placed in quotations to indicate contempt], and California ‘collections’ [as if to say, the groups of wild-living people in that state]. Masturbation is so obviously immoral that it is to be taken for granted that most people think it is immoral.”
Keating’s statements remind us of the observations made by Dr. Benjamin Karpmen, Chief Psychotherapist of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., on the neurosis know as pornophilia—the obssessive and excessive interest in pornographic materials:
“This interest in obscenity—pornophelia—may take another direction. It may be covered up by a reaction formation. The interest may be denied by bitter opposition to all forms of obscenity, the same as a condemnation and attack against homosexuals can cover up latent homosexuality. Crusading against obscenity has an unconscious interest in it; that is, it may cover up latent homosexuality. Crusading against obscenity has an unconscious interest at its base. The interest is negatively displaced in consciousness.”
Not every censor is neurotically obsessed with sex—some good people become involved in censorship campaigns because of religious or moral convictions and a lack of understanding of what censorship really involves, and some public officials become outspoken advocates of censorship because they believe it will be to their political advantage. But Keating’s rantings are almost classic as he projects his own sick view of sex and obscenity onto the rest of society.
The Californian continued: “It would appear that because this mind reveals such deep fanaticism, a throwback to Cotton Mather and the reign of the Puritans in America, that there would be widespread community opposition to him and groups like the CDL. Instead, headline-seeking newspapers play up Keating’s distorted presentations without adequate quotations revealing his fanaticism, and thus he is able to gain tremendous support and little opposition. It worked precisely that way in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
"Perhaps there would be opposition if information were made available to show that Keating and CDL, like other such groups, are only fronts for the NODL, even among Catholics themselves. But with groups like CDL posing as nonsectarian organizations, religious fanaticism is too often left out of the picture and communities receive the impression that the crusade is civic, rather than religious. Even when Keating admits publicly, as he did in San Francisco, that his is a ‘religious crusade,’ the newspapers—hence the community—ignore it. Yet, Keating, CDL and other such groups are Catholics working [in conjunction with] NODL and using NODL’s banned-books list…. They are all part of the same organization—the NODL, which was established in 1938 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States as a watchdog committee for the Roman Catholic Church. In some communities, its branches are admittedly Catholic, and in others they operate on an inter-religious basis. They all use the banned-books list of NODL, however—a list which is drawn up…in conformance with Catholic religious beliefs and Catholic moral codes. The purpose of this list and of the NODL, according to a statement of the Bishop’s Episcopal Committee, is ‘to organize and set in motion the moral forces of an entire country…against the lascivious type of literature which threatens moral, social and national life’…to evaluate [this] literature…the NODL uses a reading committee of mothers of the Roman Catholic faith in the Chicago area….
"Despite the obvious fanaticism of those who would draw up such a list, the NODL has been amazingly successful in putting its banned-books list into effect on a vast scale. Local NODL-organized groups have been able to boycott newsstand dealers and bookstores into carrying only titles not banned on the list. In some communities they have things so well-organized that no dealer will carry anything on the list and has even agreed to do this without examining the books or the list in advance. In many cases, police, prosecuting attorneys and military commanders on Army posts have issued instructions or orders that no books or magazines on the NODL list will be sold without their jurisdiction.
"An example of how the NODL works may be taken from the town of Springfield, Vermont. There, a civic leader named Mrs. Henry Ferguson, president of Springfield Catholic Women, organized an ‘Inter-Denominational Church Group’ to rid local newsstands and bookstores of vulgar comic books. Since she was able to convince other civic leaders that the group would be composed of 12 church denominations, there was widespread support for her campaign. Everyone was in favor of getting vulgar comic books out of the hands of children. The newsstand dealers offered little opposition. With this backing, then, Mrs. Ferguson’s group began policing newsstands, asking the dealers to remove objectionable comic books; and the dealers complied.
"Soon the dealers discovered, however, that Mrs. Ferguson’s group was not going to stop with comic books. Women from the group began asking the dealers to remove certain paperback books which they said were getting into the hands of children. Again the cry, ‘Protect our children,’ was the magic wand in Springfield. Community backing was won and the dealers were forced to begin removing the more lurid paperback books. Again there was no objection, because this kind of book did not sell well in Springfield anyway. But then came the finale. "Having experienced no opposition up to this point, Mrs. Ferguson introduced to her ‘Inter-Denominational Church Group’ a list of banned books and magazines published by the NODL in Chicago. She supplied all of her members with the list and asked them to call on the merchants, check their shelves by the list, and ask them to remove any books and magazines on it. At this, the merchants balked. Some of their best-selling paperback books were on the list: James Jones' From Here to Eternity, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre. Some of their best-selling magazines—Playboy, for example—were on the list. So the merchants balked.
"But by this time, Mrs. Ferguson had community sentiment behind her. She was able to get a town ordinance enacted against ‘obscene’ literature. This ordinance was the last wedge she had been waiting for. Now, she was able to threaten the merchants with prosecution. Therefore, they begin to yield to Mrs. Ferguson and her group, first removing the books which might possibly subject them to prosecution under the town ordinance. Finally, when all these were gone and the merchants were down to nothing but books and magazines which could not be prosecuted under any ordinance or law enacted anywhere in the United States, a showdown came. Some of the more stouthearted merchants refused to yield any further.
"Mrs. Ferguson met this opposition with the final tactic: boycott. She and her women spread the word through the community that any merchant not cooperating with her group should be boycotted by the community. Friends should be advised not to deal with that merchant. Faced with this loss of business, the merchants yielded to the last indignity. They permitted Mrs. Ferguson and her women to design a plaque stating that a given store had been inspected by the Springfield Church Group and was found not to have any objectionable literature in it, and to hang this plaque in a prominent place in all stores in Springfield selling literature.
"Today, in the town of Springfield, you will find one of these plaques displayed by every newsstand and bookstore. You will not find Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, or Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre, or Playboy magazine. They are all banned from Springfield—banned according to a list published by one segment of the Catholic Church.”
The CDL in Chicago
In Chicago, home of the NODL, the CDL functions in the guise of an interdenominational organization. The Chicago Citizens for Decent Literature is headed by a Catholic priest, Father Lawler, and its book-burning activities over the past year have been, if anything, even more flagrant and oppressive than those of the CDL in California. And that is easily understood, for here in Chicago Catholic censors have a sympathetic administration to implement their publishing purges.
The Catholic CDL censorship campaign enjoys the cooperation of the Catholic-dominated Corporation Counsel’s office, which is responsible to a Catholic mayor, abetted by a predominantly Catholic police force, with cases usually tried before Catholic judges. Under such circumstances, it is a tremendous tribute to Chicago officialdom that democratic justice triumphs as often as it does—evidence that a significant number of this community’s Catholic administrators, legislators, judges and police officers truly understand the importance of keeping separate their governmental and religious obligations.
On several occasions over the past few months, however, incidents involving freedom of administrative action (IPAC’s birth-control program), freedom of speech (Lenny Bruce), and the freedom of press (Playboy), have suggested that sometime the appropriate concerns of church and state become confused in the City of Chicago.
The CDL seems to have been particularly successful in overriding whatever scruples Chicago officials have against permitting religious influences to interfere with the lawful rights of men in a free society. With the aid of Chicago’s Corporation Counsel, they have ridden roughshod over book and magazine dealers throughout the city. But, thank heaven, the Constitutional freedom of expression is reasserted when these cases are brought to court. As a result, the Citizens for Decent Literature has had the frustrating experience of achieving a great many arrests and very few convictions – even in the lower courts. So much so that, immediately prior to the Playboy arrest, the CDL struck out viciously at it own staunchest ally, the Chicago Corporation Counsel office, vilifying one of its top prosecutors for not being more successful in obtaining convictions.
The story in the June 1 issue of the weekly Negro newspaper, The New Crusader, offers significant background on the Chicago CDL just one week before the Playboy arrest on June 4: “The powerful wrath of a vicious book-burning organization, masquerading under the title of Citizens League for Decent Literature, was felt last week when the ax fell on Leonard Kaplan, attorney for the Fifth Ward Regular Democratic Organization. Kaplan, a ten-year veteran prosecutor in the city’s Corporation Counsel office, announced his retirement and decision to enter private practice when the Citizen’s League began bombarding key city officials with letters critical of his handling of prosecutions in certain obscenity cases.
"The League, largely composed of Victorian housewives, sends out teams of women to investigate newsstands, counters and bookstores to ferret out reading matter it deems in poor taste for Chicagoans. Led by a Catholic priest, Father Lawler, the group is meeting with growing resistance to its censorship efforts. Two judges of the Municipal Court, who declined to be named, pointed to the attack on Kaplan as a key factor in the group’s loss of support.
"Attorney Kaplan, who had prosecuted several of the obscenity cases successfully, had the recent misfortune of losing a jury trial involving one of the League’s cases. Although he enjoys a splendid reputation as a lawyer, and although impartial court observers attested to his good showing, the League’s members began writing poison-pen letters to Mayor Daley and Corporation Counsel John Melaniphy in which Kaplan was accused of ‘selling out’ and not putting forth his best efforts. "When the well-liked lawyer was shown the letters, he expressed great shock, inasmuch as the League had been hailing him as their hero up till then.
"He observed that when a group elects to deny one the right of citizens, they care little about denying anyone’s right. One example cited concerned a cigar store owned by an aged widow. Finding a paperback book on their banned list, they secured the arrest of the old lady and shortly thereafter prevailed upon the City Clerk’s office to revoke her cigarette license. Happily, Mayor Daley heard of the vicious incident and restored the license.
"Father Lawler, a one-man terror, is a veteran of campaigns to adjust folks' morals to suit his own. Other Catholic priests disagree with his tactics, but dare not publicly oppose him. One of Lawler’s recent blitzes brought tears to the eyes of many of the area’s young ladies, when he inspected the dresses of all the girls attending proms of Catholic high schools and colleges. If the gown was not to the priest’s liking, the guest was ejected. He advocated high collars and long, Victorian-style formals.
"The campaign to purify dresses also included a drive to require coed’s daily attire to be four inches below their knees. After resistance to Lawler’s drive grew, he switched to his present literature cleanup.”
Whether CDL’s accusation to the Mayor, the Corporation Counsel, and others, just prior to the Playboy arrest, charging that a member of the Corporation Counsel’s legal staff was guilty of “selling out” and not putting forth his best effort in a previous obscenity case, was responsible for the move against us as a concession to Lawler, we do not know. We do know, however, that Lawler and his Citizens for Decent Literature had been attempting to get Melaniphy to take action against Playboy for many months, personally bringing each new issue to his attention with a request for prosecution.
This substantiates – finally and conclusively – that it was not the Jayne Mansfield pictorial feature in the June issue that initiated the attempt at censorship, but the continuing editorial content of the magazine. It makes clear that the question here involved is not simply the right to publish “all the nudes that’s fit to print,” as one punster once claimed of Playboy, but the right to express personal editorial opinion, as we have been doing over the past dozen months in The Playboy Philosophy, even though some of the ideas put forth may not receive popular acceptance in all quarters of our society.
The CDL and Playboy
We have met Father Lawler on a couple of occasions in the ten years since we began publishing Playboy. The first time was at our request; the second was at his. He’s a relatively young man – about our own age, we would judge – handsome, bright and disarmingly personable.
Our first meeting came in the early years of Playboy’s young life. We had just begun to go after advertising in a serious way and were running a series of full-page ads in Advertising Age, illustrated by LeRoy Neiman and telling the story, through statistics, of Playboy’s quality readership. We received word from an Ad Age exec that a complaint had been lodged with them by a priest, who objected to their accepting advertising from us. The Ad Age exec was polite, but firm, in his position that they must accept all legitimate advertising from responsible companies. That resolved the immediate problem, but we decided a personal meeting with Father Lawler might serve some useful purpose, since, at best, we might convince him that we were sincerely dedicated in our attempt to make Playboy the best men’s magazine in the nation (even then our dreams were lofty); and, at the very least, a personal meeting should convince him that we were not, as we thought he might suspect, the Devil incarnate.
We called him and arranged to meet for dinner. It was the most warm and cordial meeting, though we were somewhat distressed to learn that he was presently involved in a poison-pen campaign in which Catholic grade-school children were writing letters to a local radio station, as a class assignment, attacking the then most popular disc jockey in Chicago because as Lawler explained it, the radio personality had a large juvenile following and much of his repartee was sexually oriented and too “blue” for the innocent ears of children. Lawler swore that he would be successful in driving the disc jockey off the air, which he never accomplished, although he did give the performer a rather bad time of it for a while.We left that dinner-meeting feeling rather sorry for the disc jockey, but convinced that we had made a friend – if not a convert – who respected our right to a point of view that differed from his own.
It was several years before we heard from Father Lawler again. He asked us to come and see him at his office and we complied. We observed, with some pride, that our promises and predictions regarding the future of Playboy had, in the intervening years, come to pass. He conceded that they had and seemed to feel we were publishing quite a good magazine, though he expressed the wish that we would get a bit more clothing on our Playmate of the Month. What he really wanted to see us about, he explained, was a number of shoddy paperback books that were currently being produced by fly-by-night publishers in and around Chicago. We told him what little we knew about them – which was precious little – and he carried on a bit about the growing “smut market” and its effect upon children, emphasizing his point by pulling from the briefcase he carried with him some decks of playing cards that offered 52 varieties of photographic hard-core pornography to the set. We thought he went through these with just a bit too much enthusiasm, while emphasizing the point of “smut’s” evil influence on our youth, but we kept that thought to ourselves and departed as cordially as before.
We remembered these two meetings with Father Lawler when we read about his more recent activities as guardian of the public morals and head of the Chicago CDL, and we couldn’t help remembering, as we had after the Keating testimony, what Dr. Benjamin Karpman had had to say about a negatively displaced obsession with obscenity – that crusading against sex is often an unconscious cover-up for an interest in the subject.
Our arrest – on the charge of “publishing and distributing obscene material” – was a surprise, to say the least. It was a surprise, because we knew that Playboy wasn’t obscene, and we had enough respect for Corporation Counsel John Melaniphy’s legal acumen to be convinced that he knew it, too. Nevertheless, we were arrested – in our home – by not one, but four armed officers of the law. And the television cameras, having previously been cued by the cops, were there to record the event, with the press and radio waiting for us at the police station when we were booked.
During our brief visit to headquarters to post bail, we engaged in friendly conversation with some of the local constabulary and one of the officers offered the information that the man behind the arrest was Father Lawler. Lawler had been there often during the past few months, he said, and always with copies of Playboy. We found ourself wondering what had happened to those decks of pornographic playing cards.
Censorship and the Press
The day after the arrest we received an anonymous tip that, before the warrant was issued, the CDL had sought and received promises of cooperation from the Catholic head of a local radio station and a Catholic editor of one of Chicago’s daily newspapers: The station was to begin an immediate, daily antismut campaign, in conjunction with CDL, and if the Corporation Counsel arranged our arrest, the newspaper editor allegedly promised to give the story maximum coverage with a strong anti-Playboy slant.
Thus, a conspiracy of censorship was apparently entered into between a phony nonsectarian “citizens” league, the city prosecutor, the manager of a local radio station and the editor of a Chicago newspaper – all representing the viewpoint of a single religious denomination.
We know the editor personally and consider him to be one of the best newspapermen in the city; we frankly doubted, therefore, that the rumor was true. But we remembered that in San Francisco, one of the CDL’s preliminary tactical maneuvers was to obtain, in advance, a local newspaper’s commitment to actively cooperate in the censorship drive. The newspaper proved so “cooperative” that more liberal forces in the city called it “hysterical,” “irresponsible,” and a good deal worse.
Morris Lowenthal, a prominent San Francisco attorney and chairman of the Freedom-to-Read Citizen’s Committee stated, at a hearing to consider a new anti-smut bill promoted there by the CDL: “Besides the efforts of certain well-known newspapers to increase their circulation by cheap journalism, leading the bandwagon in maintaining that the state laws on obscenity are obsolete and that more stringent measures are required is the largely sectarian League for Decent Literature – a private group whose national office elsewhere in the country has been accused of illegal boycotts and coercion against booksellers and newsstands. Charles H. Keating, the national chairman of this organization, recently asserted that his group is engaged in a ‘religious crusade’ to enact strict censorship laws and to suppress publications deemed offensive by the League. His charges, for example, that San Francisco is a ‘world center of filthy books’ and ‘the smuttiest of the nation’ gained blaring headlines, especially in the NewsCall Bulletin, which at the time was striving to increase its circulation by joining forces with Frank Coakley, the Alemada County District Attorney, in his hysterical publicity drive against ‘smut.’ The San Francisco Chronicle noted, however, that Keating made the same charges against every city that he has visited in the United States.”
The obscenity bill was defeated in committee, but the newspaper tirade continued, and a rehearing was scheduled. At the rehearing, Lowenthal was joined by Lawrence Goldberg, attorney representing the American Jewish Conference, and both vigorously opposed the new obscenity statute. They were aided by Democratic Assemblyman Nick Petris of Alameda, whose subjected those testifying for the bill to strict questioning. He got Mrs. Margaret Berry, president of the California Congress of Parent and Teachers, which had lent its support to the passage of the bill, to admit that she was not even familiar with the contents of the proposed statutes.
“I don’t have to know all the technicalities,” she said.
Petris explained that some measures in the bill could have drastic effects on anyone possessing material which someone else considered obscene, if they cared to turn in the possessor. Petris asked Mrs. Berry if she felt she would have the right to act as a censor if the new bill was enacted.
“If I see a book the law says is obscene, I have a right to be a censor,” she said.
Finally, the assistant district attorney of Alameda County testified on behalf of D.A. Frank Coakley, who had been leading the anti-obscenity campaign in California. Under questioning, the assistant district attorney gave his definition of what is obscene: “Anything that is obscene is obscene.”
The nationally respected San Francisco Chronicle published a long and thoughtful editorial evaluation of the so-called “anti-smut bills” and stated that they “should be decisively rejected as offensive to fundamental American ideals of freedom and to ordinary common sense.
"The measures resulted from a climate of hysteria engendered by outrageously exaggerated reports that California had become the smut capital of the nation….
"The first widely extravagant attempts at legislation to discourage this imaginary assault upon the youth of the state were patently outrageous even to the authors. The bills have been subsequently amended or re-amended, but they remain vague, contradictory, excessive, in some provisions ridiculous, and in others probably unconstitutional….
"The current attempts at censorship,” concluded the Chronicle, “are ridiculous in conception, inept in design, and if permitted to prosper must inevitably work far more harm than they could possibly cure.”
The News-Call Bulletin had taken a stand favoring the CDL “anti-smut” campaign at the outset and despite all logic to the contrary, it stayed with that position to the bitter end, countering the Chronicle editorial with a lengthy editorial feature of its own, with the headline: “HOW NEW LAW WOULD FIGHT SMUT.”
The Californian branded the article “one of the most warped, distorted, inaccurate pieces of journalism ever to come out of that newspaper.” In order to make the new California obscenity law seem reasonable, claimed the editor of The Californian, “the News-Call omitted all the damaging sections from discussion and twisted all those mentioned beyond recognition.”’
If it happened in San Francisco, it could happen in Chicago. The pattern seemed the same in both cities. If Keating and the CDL could convince the News-Call of the rightness of a pro-censorship stand, Lawler and the CDL might do the same here – especially with an appeal to an editor with whom there was a religious empathy.
We have always considered this editor a man of considerable professional integrity and something of a Playboy fan to boot. He had offered us valuable advice when we were having problems with Show Business Illustrated and had complimented us on the overall operation on more than one occasion. How, then, could he possibly be involved in this abortive attempt to suppress the magazine?
It was possible, we realized, that he might not see this action in the same light we did – as an attempt, on the part of one minority group, to project its personal point of view onto the rest of the community. He might sincerely believe that the actions of both Lawler and Melaniphy were justified, for he certainly couldn’t know all the unsavory details that had come to our attention regarding CDL, and might not recognize any of the church-state implications in the arrest. For this editor, and for a great many others, our arrest might truly seem to be just a matter of those Jayne Mansfield nudes in the June issue – and nothing else. And without any special insight into either the psychological or legal implications, the idea of "obscenity” might be just as repugnant to him as the idea of censorship is to us.
We arranged a meeting with the editor to learn what we could about his part in the arrest; he was cordial, but he refused to discuss the matter. The answer came soon enough, however, in the pages of his newspaper, Chicago’s American. The original reporting of the arrest was about the same in all four Chicago dailies, except that it received a little more space in the American. But two days after the arrest, when the other papers had dropped the story, except for an occasional humorous quip in the columns, the American was just getting warmed up.
Under the headline, “U.S. STUDIES PLAYBOY CASE, MAY PROSECUTE,” the paper announced that we faced “possible federal action in connection with the magazine’s June issue.” The story went on to say that the Chicago postmaster had mailed a copy of the magazine to the Post Office department in Washington for an opinion on whether or not it was “obscene.” We were too busy reading the list of dire penalties that would befall the publisher if it was, to speculate long on who might have pulled the local postmaster up to this stunt. But no one had to hold his breath very long waiting for the word from Washington, because – though the newspaper story made it seem all very serious – anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of current obscenity law in America knew that the June issue of Playboy did not even begin to approach the obscene.
The American also quoted the Chicago postmaster as saying, “The next issue is going to get a much closer look before it is sent through the mails. If it appears that there is any obscenity, the magazine will be held from the mails until I can obtain an opinion from Washington.” No one bothered to point out in this “news” story that any such action on the part of the local postmaster would be illegal, or to consider what a frightening power would be placed in the hands of an appointed civil servant if he could, indeed, withhold from the mails any periodical he considered objectionable, until he was able to “obtain an opinion from Washington.”
What if all the copies of Chicago’s American that are delivered by Uncle Sam were unexpectedly “held from the mails,” while awaiting word from another government official in Washington? Even if the word that came back was favorable, the newspaper would be, by then, as worthless as – well, as yesterday’s newspaper.
The U.S. courts have made it abundantly clear that the Post Office’s duty is the efficient delivery of the mails, not the censoring of them. And if a postal official were ever to find truly obscene material being sent through the mail – a rare occurrence – it would then become a matter for the courts, not arbitrary censorship by an administrative assistant. Do Chicago’s American and the Chicago postmaster both need to be reminded that our democracy is based upon the protections of due process of law?
The story ended with the statement: “Meanwhile, religious leaders urged community action in taking smut literature off newsstands and out of bookstores, where it is often purchased by juveniles.” And with quotes from Msgr. John M. Kelly, editor of the Catholic newspaper, New World, who said, “Literature or pictures that adversely affect the minds of adults or children are immoral, and can be presumed to hurt many. It’s a far worse thing to threaten human minds and souls than to threaten human bodies,” and a Protestant and a Jewish clergyman expressed related sentiments.
There were no comments from educators, sociologists, psychologists, pathologists, or psychiatrists – i.e., no scientific evaluation of the significance and effect of obscenity on society; no comments from experts and constitutional law on the legal implications of such censorship or juridical opinion on whether or not the material in question actually fell within the Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity; no comments from writers, editors or publishers on the importance of a censor-free society as a necessary environment for the survival of independent newspapers, magazines and books; no comments from the Civil Liberties Union or others concerned with the protection of free speech and press in America. Presumably none of these sources of far more pertinent comment were solicited; certainly none were published.
That same week, radio station WLS began a concentrated, daily anti-obscenity campaign.
The next Chicago’s American story was headlined, “COPS SEEK TO BAN ‘PLAYBOY,’ ” which stated, “The Police Department, at the request of the Corporation Counsel’s office, today began a drive to halt further sale of the June issue of Playboy magazine. Brian Kilgallon, Assistant Corporation Counsel in charge of enforcing the city’s obscenity ordinances, said police throughout the city will attempt to purchase the magazine at newsstands, drug and bookstores, and other distribution points. Warrants charging the sale of obscene matter will be sought against dealers who sell the June issue with knowledge that the city has declared it objectionable, he said.”
The newspaper did not point out to its readers that, in issuing this declaration, the Corporation Counsel was guilty of illegal intimidation of the city’s magazine dealers, since the issue could not be considered legally obscene until its case had been tried in court. The point was academic, since the issue was already completely sold out, but no one bothered to mention that the fact that “the city (meaning Corporation Counsel John Melaniphy) had declared it objectionable” was not a basis for banning the magazine, since only a court of law is empowered to legally determine a question of obscenity and Playboy had yet to have its day in court.
The American went on to quote Kilgallon as saying, “‘Most people are concerned over how we can prevent this type of magazine from falling into the hands of children.’ Kilgallon estimated that two out of three of the magazine’s readers are under 21 years of age.” We exposed, last month, the fallacious nature of that “estimate” and pointed out this is but one more example of using a “concern” for the children to justify the attempted censorship of adult reading matter.
This story concluded with the suggestion from Assistant State’s Attorney James R. Thompson, that citizens form community vigilante groups to illegally boycott retailers who display or sell books and magazines of which they do not approve.
Chicago’s American completed round one of its Playboy campaign with an editorial that described the Jayne Mansfield feature and then stated: “Hefner’s philosophy appears to be that the ‘modern urban male’ likes and even needs to look at pictures of naked, suggestively posed women; that this a very healthy and virile way to be, and that it’s practically a duty to encourage the habit – the law should have no right to interfere.
"Our view is that mass-produced lewdness can have a weakening, damaging effect on the moral framework of a community, and that the community should have – and use – means of restraining it.”
Bypassing the point that the American knows full well, or should know through its contact with CDL, that the photographs in the June issue of Playboy were not the actual, underlying cause of the arrest, we would point out that the expert scientific opinion, which the American did not bother to seek out, refutes the notion that sex in books and magazines – either written or pictorial – has any such "weakening, damaging effect” on society; that a significant portion of the scientific fraternity specializing in the subject, including Drs. Kronhausen, Ellis, Reik, Roch, Karpman, Caprio, and many others, believe that it has just the opposite effect – acting as a healthy release for sexual tensions, inhibitions and repressions; that it is the suppression of sex rather than its open appreciation that, as history has proven all too well, can have a “damaging effect” upon society; that if society cannot enjoy an open appreciation of positively expressed heterosexual sex, as published in Playboy, it will turn to sick or antisocial sex instead – homosexuality, sadism, masochism, fetishism and all manner of other perversions, plus the repression that produces frigidity, impotence and a variety of other neurotic ills; that these are not our opinions, but the opinions of modern science.
Moreover, the “moral framework” to which the editorial refers is not the moral framework of our entire community – a substantial portion of that community has made Playboy the most successful publishing venture of our generation; it is, instead, the moral framework of a particular segment of our society – a minority, portions of which give every evidence of wishing to project their personal moral views onto the rest of society, whether we want them or not.
“The actual issue here,” said the Chicago’s American editorial, “is how far a magazine can go in presenting this kind of display.”
We disagree. The actual issue here is whether or not any segment of society has the right to suppress the opinions of the rest; whether we truly believe in our democracy; whether we are willing to grant to those with whom we do not happen to agree the full freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
It is not Playboy that considers itself above the law – that “the law should have no right to interfere.” It is the full protection of our right to equal justice under the law that we feel is jeopardized when religious sentiment promotes governmental action against us that the law itself, as clearly established by recent high-court decisions on obscenity, does not demand. (For the Corporation Counsel confirmed, according to reports in other newspapers, that he was “fully aware of the difficulty in getting a conviction in the Playboy case, in view of recent Supreme Court decisions” and unidentified spokesmen for the CDL “admitted that there was little chance of obtaining a conviction against the Playboy photos inasmuch as the Supreme Court has already ruled that the [portrayal of the nude] male or female does not constitute obscenity. But the CDL feels that it has achieved success whenever it secures the arrest of an individual, since this causes untold harm and injury.”)
We make a plea for freedom, not for license – though the latter word is used too often to describe the freedom that someone wishes to deny to others. We do not favor editorial irresponsibility. But we do request the right to edit our magazine in our own way, without extra-legal coercion or intimidation, for that particular portion of the community with whom we have managed to establish a genuine rapport.
What saddens us is not simply the American’s campaign against Playboy – and we are certain that it is sincerely inspired, for the American has displayed no Playboy prejudice in the past, having published an extremely complementary front-page series on our success little more than a year ago – but the fact that no daily newspaper in this city saw the church-state implications in the case; bothered to determine, through outside legal opinion, that the charge of obscenity against the June issue of Playboy was without any legal merit, or saw fit to editorialize on the grave implications in censorship – a cause in which every citizen, and most especially every member of the fourth estate, has a vital stake.
It took a newspaper as faraway as California to seriously question the censorship aspect of the case. The Fremont News Register said, in a first person editorial devoted to the subject: “…What we have here is a small group of self-appointed judges and ‘protectors’ of our morals, who feel that they must protect from the inevitable disastrous effects of a few photographs. Why they thought these particular photographs were dangerous and the thousands of others almost exactly like them published every day in numerous other magazines were not, is still a mystery to me….
"It would seem that this is definite attempt to censor the magazine or dictate the content of it. This, I feel, is the most dangerous phase of the whole problem, for censorship in any shape, form or degree is definitely against the fundamental principles of our democracy.
"What is even more dangerous, of course, is the seemingly increasing number of public officials who place themselves [in the position of] censors and attempt to dictate what we, the public, should read and be allowed to see…. It would seem to me that the people of Chicago would profit much more if the police department there spent more time patrolling the streets and giving traffic citations rather than attempting to judge the value of magazines or any other type of literature.”
No such sentiment was expressed on the editorial pages of any of Chicago’s daily newspapers and not only was the question of religious prejudice never raised, Father Lawler and his Citizens for Decent Literature, who instigated the entire affair, were never ever mentioned.
It took the weekly Crusader to publicly tie the CDL in with the arrest. Under the headline, “NAKED JAYNE MANSFIELD IS OBSCENE, SAYS CDL,” the paper stated: “Hugh Hefner, who put Chicago on the international map of sophistication, this week found that like most prophets he is a hero except in his own hometown. Hefner, 37, editor and publisher of Playboy magazine and matre de of the homes for live Bunnies, the Playboy Clubs, was arrested and jailed on charges brought by the Citizens for Decent Literature concerning photographs of busty cinema actress Miss Jayne Mansfield in the altogether.
"The Citizens for Decent Literature, a group of Victorian housewives, still smarting from the effects of a recent edition of Playboy magazine’s philosophy, which hailed the Supreme Court for liberalizing obscenity tests, prevailed upon the office of John Melaniphy, city prosecutor, to secure a warrant for Hefner….
“The New Crusader has learned that more than 400 arrests of individuals have been made in the last two years, since the CDL moved into high gear in its campaign to make itself the censor of what Chicagoans can read in newspapers, [books and] magazines.
"The danger of giving in to the CDL and conforming to its edicts was expressed this week by an Indianapolis distributor. He was the only wholesaler in the community when he was visited by CDL representatives who asked that he not carry certain paperback books. He gave in and removed the books from those he distributed. Each week the list grew. Finally, it reached the point where he was told not to distribute this month’s McCall’s or a certain issue of Reader’s Digest because the contents did not conform with the views of the CDL.
"The CDL has enlisted the air lanes also in its book-burning campaign. Radio station WLS is broadcasting earnest appeals to its listening audience to give assistance to the Citizens for Decent Literature. The radio appeals state that the way to stop the sale of obscene material to minors is to cooperate with CDL. Actually, even though CDL professes to be after pornographers and dealers who sell to persons under the age of 16 certain matter it deems to be indecent, there is not a single case on record where the defendant is charged with the sale of merchandise to minors.
"The CDL is also active on the legislative front. House Bill 1072 has been introduced which, if passed, would entitle authorities to put bookstores out of business by permitting injunctions against them when they carry books not to the liking of the CDL.”
To read the rest of “The Obscenity of Lenny Bruce & Hugh Hefner,” click here.