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Mabley Speaks

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To the Reader:

I seem to be the villain in the Reader article titled "Naked Censorship" [September 29 and October 6]. Phrases applied to me and my 1958 column about the Chicago Review included "simpleminded," "weird, fascinating aberration," anti-intellectual Philistine, "sensationalism," "just a simp," "excited," "coy." Hot Type [September 29] joined in with "hysterical."

Writer Gerald E. Brennan interviewed countless people and he reviewed the episode with commendable detail. Inasmuch as I am extensively involved in the article, it puzzles me that he did not try to contact me to provide an additional perspective. I'm still alive, my number is in the phone book, and I work full-time at the Daily Herald.

It's possible that getting the bad guy's side might spoil a good story.

My column stated, "A magazine published by the University of Chicago is distributing one of the foulest collections of printed filth I've seen publicly circulated." This was true. William S. Burroughs and the Review editors were pioneers in liberating the English language. The words and phrases in the Review had rarely been seen outside of Jiggs and Maggie cartoon books.

It's hard for people today to visualize what were "contemporary community standards" 35 years ago. Lenny Bruce was ahead of Burroughs with his stand-up routines, but he was repeatedly arrested, especially in Chicago, and charged with obscenity. He was one of the funniest men alive, and his records (clean) which are still around, will so testify.

In a movie, The Moon Is Blue, Maggie McNamara used the word "pregnant," I believe applying to herself, and the film was banned for that reason by a Catholic agency that rated movies. A few years after Hefner started Playboy, Daley the First saw a centerfold by chance, and cops were immediately dispatched to the mansion to arrest Hefner. He was found not guilty of whatever Daley thought he was guilty of.

The publishers of Henry Miller's gentle and sensuous Tropic of Cancer were hauled into Circuit Court on obscenity charges. I was subpoenaed to testify to "contemporary community standards." The case was dismissed. I maintained cordial relations with Miller in subsequent years.

In no way, shape, or form did I ever advocate or suggest censorship at the University of Chicago or anywhere else. My question was whether the university board should subsidize a publication of this nature which was obscene by many prevailing court decisions and was offensive to the majority of people. Of course the Review wasn't intended for the majority of the people. If financial support was withdrawn, the students and writers were free to write anything they wanted. No censorship.

Mr. Brennan deals thoroughly with the events that followed the column, including the reaction of trustees, financial supporters, and the university lawyers, who wrote, "The magazine contains filthy and obscene language that is associated with the gutter rather than with a literary publication of an institution of higher learning. It would be classified as an obscene and lascivious publication under the United States postal regulations."

I was not regarded as a barbarian by some at the Midway. In 1946 when the atomic scientists organized to go public to control the monster they created, I covered their activity for the Daily News. I wrote extensively about the perils of atomic war, quoted the bulletin frequently, and when Leo Szilard went public to support the voice of sweet reason, I became cochairman of the organizing Chicago chapter of the Council for a Liveable World. Wimp? Anti-intellectual Philistine? I came from a family of intellectuals and was the only member to get a college degree, because my two brothers said education had to be pounded into me. They were right. Their interests were Mozart and Proust, and mine were the Cubs and Sox.

My only disagreement with Hutchins was his attitude toward exercise. I enthusiastically supported U. of C.'s withdrawal from the Big Ten and the corruption of big-time football.

My credibility also was helped because I was one of the first, if not the first, columnist on a major newspaper to vigorously oppose the Vietnam war, from the start.

My relationship with University of Chicago people was warm, with the exception of this episode which involved a relatively small number of students. Paul Carroll and I remained friends, and in fact he invited me to participate in a discussion or debate on literary freedom at a rather large lunch at a Loop hotel. Carroll participated, and I think Allen Ginsberg. Anyway, I was rather lonely up there, but the discussion was civilized.

Saul Bellow, who certainly was aware of the Review controversy, was inaccessible to the press after his popular acclaim for The Adventures of Augie March. I called Bellow to ask for an interview, and he not only agreed but graciously came down to my office for an interview of which I was, and am, proud.

I still write three columns a week and I'm still a bluenose. I am still offended by writers abandoning our magnificent language, with words and phrases capable of conveying any human emotion or activity, in favor of the cheap and easy shock value of vulgarity. One of the legacies of Burroughs and Lenny Bruce is the massive assault on our tastes and sensibilities by the movie and TV producers.

This is self-serving, but when you reach 80, values change. Material things have less meaning and intangibles more. I worked hard for a good reputation, and you devoted a lot of space to destroying it. And you didn't even bother to call.

Jack Mabley

Glenview

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