Ralph Ginzburg, notorious publisher of Eros

Tucked away on an obscure shelf in my office library are the four
initial copies of a magazine which created quite a sensation when they
first came out. I haven't looked at them for years. The name of the
magazine: Eros. The name of the publisher: Ralph Ginzburg, one of
America's best-known — some might even say most notorious publishers –
who died last week.

He was a journalist who won't be easily
forgotten. Although not pornographic, Eros (named after the Greek
goddess of love and desire) was regarded in the sixties as highly
erotic. And it did result in Ginzburg going to jail for eight months.
Not so much because of the magazine's content (the sexiest piece was a
collection of nude pictures of Marilyn Monroe, taken by the famous Bert
Stern), but because the publisher tried to promote the magazine by
sending out mailers to would-be subscribers from two little towns in
Pennsylvania, one called Blue Ball, the other Intercourse.

That,
it was claimed at the time, offended the US Postal Service, which
refused to handle his flyers. Also because the first issue of Eros
included a photo feature about inter-racial sex which supposedly
offended the Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother of President
Kennedy. Eros was denounced from pulpits and political platforms.
Ginsburg was ultimately charged under a law that in those days
prohibited obscene advertising.

His case was take up by several
civil liberties organizations, but the Supreme Court ruled, by a vote
of five to four, that the magazine was marked by "the leer of the
sensualist" and upheld a $42,000 fine and a five year prison sentence –
of which he served eight months. That was virtually the end of Eros,
only four issues of which – the ones in my bookcase – were ever
published. Ginsburg, who had started in journalism as a cub reporter on
the long-defunct New York Daily Compass, then worked on the rewrite
desk of the Washington Times Herald and for a time in the circulation
department of Look magazine and for Esquire magazine.

Undeterred
by his prison term, he went on to launch a political magazine called
Fact (the first magazine to publish anything by Ralph Nader) then an
art magazine called Avante Garde, devoted to arts and politics. Neither
of them did well. He also started a magazine called Moneysworth, which
did achieve a circulation of over 2 million but wasn't successful
enough to stave off bankruptcy.

When he was 55 Ginsburg gave up
publishing altogether and signed up as a photographer for the New York
Post, covering mostly sporting events, a job he held until his death
last week at the age of 76. He was still covering soccer games as
recently as three weeks ago. In a final tribute the Post described him
as "one of kind", a journalist who at one time was perhaps the most
notorious publisher in America. "We know we will miss him," said The
Post.

 

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