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Ralph Ginzburg: The Publisher

by Renae Rapp on 2023-12-04T00:00:00-05:00 in Archives, History | 0 Comments

Ralph Ginzburg

This blog post was written by RAC-CCNY Summer 2023 intern, Damien Avery. During the internship, Damien researched two publications, EROS and Avante Garde in teh CCNY Archives & Special Collection.

The notoriously self-described “brandied fruitcake of a publisher” Ralph Ginzburg is one of the many accomplished activists numbering CCNY’s Alumni.

Early Life/Education 

A Brooklyn Native, Ralph Ginzburg was born October 28, 1929, to Russian-Jewish immigrants. Pushed by his parents — his father especially — who aspired for him to be more than a painter, he was made president of his class at New Utrecht High School, before attending CCNY to pursue accounting. It wasn’t until attending a journalism course, when his professor Irving Rosenthal urged him to accept an editorial position at the school newspaper The Ticker, that he realized his affinity for journalism, later becoming editor in chief, and deciding to further pursue media.

Early Career

Following graduation in 1949, Ginzburg began his career at The New York Daily Compass as a copyboy and junior reporter. He was drafted for the Korean War in 1951, and assigned to the Fort Meyer Public Information Office where he once again took the position of Editor, as well as wedding photographer for the base. In addition to his army position, Ginzburg acquired a full-time job at the Times-Herald as a copy editor.

Post-discharge, Ginzburg worked briefly at NBC, then joined Look Magazine as a circulation promotion manager. It was over this period that he built on his skills in media, working for Reader’s Digest, and Colliers, and writing a biography on the moral reformer Anthony Comstock in his spare time. The research spent on the biography led him to delve further into historical “obscenity” and write the article:  "An Unhurried View of Erotica", gaining him a position at Esquire, and serving as the outline for his first major book, later published under the same name.

In 1961, he interviewed American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, selling the article to Harper’s Magazine under the title: "Portrait of a Genius As a Young Chess Master." Due to the reclusive tendencies of Fischer, as well as his vehement denial of how he was depicted within the article, it became a smashing success. Rocketing Ginzburg’s career, though due to his disposal of research materials and evidence of the interview, the validity of Fischer’s claims is unknown, a fitting start to Ginzburg’s golden years, marked by audacity, contest, and questionable sourcing. Adding to its impact, the article fed a distrust of reporters in Fischer and thus became his last formal interview.

In 1962, Ginzburg was able to rent his first Manhattan office. It was there that he completed his first self-published book: 100 Years of Lynchings, a composition of articles exposing racism in American history in detail, it’s served as a key material in African-American studies. It was also in this office that he began his first newsletter: Liason, which was released on a biweekly basis and fortified his career in mailing. Ginzburg is best known for his three major magazines: Eros, fact: and Avante Garde, published in partnership with graphic designer Herb Lubalin.

EROS

His first major work, as well as his shortest-running periodical, Ginzburg began publication of EROS with his colleague Lubalin in 1962. EROS was a high-end magazine, hardbound and meant for the coffee table, it served to elevate the erotic conversations around love and relationships outside of Western societal norms. 

Quickly gaining backlash, it was the fourth issue that marked the end of the publication, with many attributing the article “Black and White, in Color,” depicting sexually suggestive interracial imagery, to its demise. However, it bears mentioning that the following lawsuit was not an isolated incident, with courts coming down on other suggestive materials and publishers of the time under the conflation of “obscenity” with the Red Scare of the 1960s. With politicians stirring fears of communism in their campaigns, any “attack” on the American family was pushed as part of a greater plot.

In addition to “letters to the editor” those in opposition to Ginzburg’s works began a mail campaign directed at the postmaster general, eventually leading Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to act.

While the content of his works was protected by the First Amendment, promotional materials sent through the mail were the subject of Ginzburg’s obscenity charges, with his 1963 conviction centered on the emphasis on promiscuity over substantial content within them. Many came out in support of Ginzburg, though in 1966 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction, citing: "the purveyor's sole emphasis is on the sexually provocative aspects of his publications."

Fined $42,000, and sentenced to five years in prison of which he served eight months, attributed to support from colleagues in his field despite the losses of his previous appeals. The ordeal led to his later work: "Castrated: My Eight Months in Prison" (1973).

fact:

Published between January 1964 through August 1967, fact: served as a satirical journal focused on society and politics, a step away from the erotic focus of many of his works, though retaining his audacity, and costing Ginzburg a second lawsuit following the release of its fifth Issue; “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater”. The special issue claimed  Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was mentally unfit for office, an assertion he backed by canvassing psychiatrists who mailed in their takes on the politician’s behavioral history.

Avante Garde

Published between January 1968 through July 1971, Avant Garde was Ginzburg’s final, and tamest periodical in conjunction with Lubalin. While still an exploratory and societally critical series of works, the high-end appeal of the magazine bound it most closely to previous works and birthed the typeface of the same name.

Later Life

Ginzburg spent the end of his photography career with a habit of donning disguises instead of credentials, his self-directed tendencies surviving past clashes with the law allowing him to stay in the spotlight. It was over this period that he published I Shot New York; a collection chronicling life in the city at the end of the 20th century. The photographic work bears resemblance to the more modern “People of New York,” albeit through Ginzburg’s satirical lens. It was his final major work before passing in 2006 of multiple myeloma.

Ginzburg was survived by his wife of 49 years, Shoshana Brown Ginzburg, three children, notably; Bonnie Erbe Leckar, host of the public television show "To the Contrary", and three grandchildren. 

The 1960s Sexual Revolution was fueled by individuals willing to challenge societal convention to its conclusion, advancing interracial relations, queer representation, and the fair exchange of power between the sexes. Ginzburg’s legacy embodies the movement, from his promotion of polygamy and contraception to his dedication to promoting images of sex and love outside of homogeneous pinups of Western media.

Other Notable Works

  • An Unhurried View of Erotica (1959)
    • An Unhurried View caught the attention of Esquire's publisher Arnold Gingrich, who then offered Ginzburg an editorial position at the magazine. The later published book explored pornography and erotic influence in English literature through the second millennium, featuring 100 well-explored sources, and culminating in one of the most extensive manuscripts on the subject.
  • 100 Years of Lynchings (1962)
    • Available at the Cohen Library, Closed Stacks, HV6464 .G5 1988
  • The Housewife's Handbook on Selective Promiscuity (1962)
    • Written by Lillian Maxine Serett under the pseudonym Rey Anthony, Ginzburg published Serett's book which led to his 1963 obscenity convention along with the book mail advertisements
  • Castrated: My Eight Months in Prison (1973)
    • Available at the CCNY Archives & Special Collections, HV9468 .G55
  • Moneysworth
    • The biweekly consumer guide, while not as bold or influential as his other works, allowed Ginzburg to avoid the bankruptcy threatened by the end of Avant Garde and the costs of fines and damages, amassed from previous legal proceedings.
  • I Shot New York (1999)
    • Available at the Cohen Library, TR820 .G56 1999

References

  1. Bernstein, Adam. “Ralph Ginzburg.” The Washington Post, 7 July 2006, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2006/07/07/ralph-ginzburg/9986dd67-ca9b-491e-89ca-3368ee0975bd/.
  2. Ginzburg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463, 86 S. Ct. 942, 16 L. Ed. 2d 31, 1966 U.S. LEXIS 2013, 1 Media L. Rep. 1409 (Supreme Court of the United States March 21, 1966, Decided ). https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=cases&id=urn:contentItem:3S4X-G6J0-003B-S3R1-00000-00&context=1516831.
  3. Heller, Steven. “Ralph Ginzburg, 76, Publisher in Obscenity Case, Dies.” The New York Times, 7 July 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/07/07/us/07ginzburg.html.
  4. Keepers GA;Fochtmann LJ;Anzia JM;Benjamin S;Lyness JM;Mojtabai R;Servis M;Walaszek A;Buckley P;Lenzenweger MF;Young AS;Degenhardt A;Hong SH; ; “The American Psychiatric Association Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Schizophrenia.” The American Journal of Psychiatry,
  5. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32867516/. 
  6. Soltis, Andy. “Man Who Made Bobby Hate Media.” New York Post, 16 July 2006, nypost.com/2006/07/16/man-who-made-bobby-hate-media/.
  7. United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit. “Goldwater v. Ginzburg: 414 f.2d 324 (1969): 4F2D3241661.” Leagle, 2019, www.leagle.com/decision/1969738414F2d324_1661.xml/GOLDWATER%20v.%20GINZBURG.


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