Samuel Roth, “Prometheus of the Unprintable”

Samuel Roth (1893 –1974) was an American publisher and writer. Yet, he was so much more, as I discovered when I processed the Jay A. Gertzman collection on Samuel Roth, 1926-2014, Ms Coll. 1315. Jay A. Gertzman, Professor Emeritus at Mansfield University, describes Roth:

“Samuel Roth publicized himself as a literary Johnny Appleseed, bringing to ordinary Americans the modern literature of two continents, despite its sexual explicitness. He was also a master of prurient advertising of borderline mail order sex pulps and sensational human interest stories. He put himself in the direct line of fire that municipal, state and federal law enforcement officials and moral entrepreneurs reserved for pariah capitalists.”

Roth_headshot

Photo via Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Roth faced many legal battles and short periods of jail time over the course of his career. He is most well-known for his unauthorized publication of excerpts from James Joyce’s Ulysses in the periodical Two Worlds Monthly. This unauthorized release of Ulysses provoked an International Protest organized by Joyce and Joyce’s publisher, Sylvia Beach, in 1927.

The minority ruling from his 1957 Roth v. United States case provided the precedent for the 1959 case Grove v. Christenberry, which changed the definition of obscenity, making it easier to publish explicit material if it had artistic, literary, political, or scientific merit.

Samuel_Roth

Box 3, Folder 2

This collection features research that Jay A. Gertzman conducted in preparation for writing his book, Samuel Roth, Infamous Modernist, which was published by University of Florida Press in 2013. There are photocopies of Roth’s publications, prison letters, and legal documents, as well as original research notes by Gertzman. Roth’s other publications included Bumarap: The Story of a Male Virgin, published in 1947 (below left), and the periodical Good Times: A Revue of the World of Pleasure, published from 1954-1956 (below right).

Among the most entertaining correspondence in the collection is from “anthologist of erotic humor” Gershon Legman (1917-1999) to Gertzman, a sample of which is below.

Gershon_Legman.png

This collection of research on Samuel Roth– aka the “Prometheus of the Unprintable,” as writer Robert Antrim referred to him in 1973– is now open for use. Researchers may also want to check out the Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which has in its holdings the Samuel Roth papers, 1907-1994.

The Literary Censorship Files of the E. Sculley Bradley papers

Professor Back 'Lonigan' Books

Professor Sculley Bradley was the star witness for several important literary censorship trials in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

The E. Sculley Bradley papers are now processed and available for research. Sculley Bradley was a University of Pennsylvania English professor from 1926-1967 and vice provost of undergraduate education from 1956-1963. His papers include his personal and professional correspondence, 1923-1962, material from several literary censorship cases he testified for, corrected drafts of his manuscript for the Variorum edition of Leaves of Grass, ephemera and graphics associated with Walt Whitman, and a small amount of materials on other authors. His censorship files are some of the more interesting materials in the collection.

Material for Testimony

Bradley’s preparation was meticulous as shown by the first page of a nine page outline for one book defended in Youngstown, Ohio in 1953.

From 1948 through 1966 Sculley Bradley was involved in a series of literary censorship trials, acting as a witness on the side of the authors, publishers, and/or booksellers. His first case involved the seizure of over 2,000 books confiscated from 50 different bookstores, department stores, and newsstands in Philadelphia, PA in 1948. Among the books seized were James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan and A World I Never Made; Sanctuary and The Wild Palms by William Faulkner; God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell; Raintree County by Ross Lockridge, Jr.; and Harold Robbins’ Never Love a Stranger. The book raids were undertaken by the Philadelphia police vice squad upon complaints of “ministers, school authorities, and others.”

Expense Account, Sculley Bradley

Bradley’s record keeping of expenses associated with his testimony was also meticulous!

Bradley was recruited to serve as an expert witness in this case and in several subsequent ones. In the files for these censorship cases, Bradley has collected correspondence concerning his testimony, newspaper and magazine clippings, receipts for his consultative charges, and in some cases copies of legal briefs. In preparation for giving his testimony, Bradley worked diligently. If he did not already have a copy of the book in question, the publishers would send him one. He read it (usually not for the first time) and wrote up detailed notes on the characters, plot, purpose, and context of each book so that he would be prepared to discuss it, and defend it, in court.

Direct Examination of Dr. Sculley Bradley

Testimony of Bradley defending Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in a Philadelphia courtroom in 1962.

The Philadelphia seizures actually led to more than one courtroom. A Pennsylvania State suit against five of the booksellers went to the Court of Quarter Sessions, Philadelphia, while a Federal case in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was lodged by publisher Vanguard Press and author James T. Farrell against the Philadelphia police. Sculley Bradley testified in both trials. It isn’t completely clear how the Federal case turned out, but the State case was a victory for the booksellers. Judge Curtis Bok found that the books were not obscene and dismissed the charges against the booksellers. He wrote a thorough opinion on the matter, finalizing with “I hold that the books before me are not sexually impure and pornographic, and are therefore not obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent, or disgusting.” Judge Bok’s opinion was such a hit with booksellers, that the publisher Knopf had it typeset on fine paper in a clothbound limited edition of 500 copies printed by Grabhorn Press in San Francisco!

Commonwealth v. Gordon, et al.

Judge Curtis Bok’s decision striking the Pennsylvania statute under which five booksellers were charged with peddling obscene material, 1948.

In addition to the Philadelphia cases, other censorship cases arose in Fall River, MA (focusing on the book Duke, by Hal Ellison), Detroit, MI (The Devil Rides Out, by John H. Griffin), Youngstown, OH (Down All Your Streets, by Leonard Bishop), and additional cases brought in Philadelphia, PA as well as several other cities (for The Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller). Bradley also signed on to an amicus curiae brief prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in defense of Ralph Ginzburg, who published the erotic journal Eros and other works which were confiscated in the mail in 1962. Some of the cases Bradley was involved in made their way to the United States Supreme Court.