Underground Newspapers of the 1960s: The Decline of the East Village Other

Between 1965 and 1969, The East Village Other changed drastically, the high point coming between winter and summer of 1968.1 Among the reasons for EVO's decline: FBI and police harassment made it difficult for the paper to function and distribute; it relied on advertisements too heavily; the East Village changed and EVO lost its audience; the paper split up its readership by splitting itself up when it begin publishing offshoots like The Gothic Blimp, Kiss (porno), and Gay Power; the market was flooded by numerous "underground" newspapers; and the term "underground" guaranteed an ephemeral period of existence. Two of EVO's features, The Slum Goddess and their classified advertisements section, "Wheel and Deal," epitomized the kind of change EVO went through and help explain the reasons for EVO's decline.

The Slum Goddess was one of EVO's most popular and intriguing features. A Slum Goddess was EVO's answer to the beauty queen. Early issues of EVO displayed their Slum Goddess fully clothed, in a two to three picture layout in various natural poses, with little make-up. Each Goddess was also accompanied by some writing from her own hand.

My name is Simi, my friends used to call me Fred... I don't smoke... I don't like cats... I like healthy food. I like food that makes noise like celery and has good colors, like tomatoes. I eat a lot. Sometimes I think I've lost a lot of mystery I had when I was known as Fred, now it's just memememememe, simi. I'm very friendly to people on the subway. I figure if they're on the subway they need some friendliness, such glooooooom!!!!!2

Slum Goddess was "a satirical representation of Playboy."3 Where Playboy's models were slick and glossy, the Slum Goddess was natural and open. Where Playboy playmates lay naked on beds or bent over washing their favorite sports car, a clothed Slum Goddess was pictured with a spontaneous smile or walking down the avenue. Playboy's models represented some kind of utopian vision of sex while EVO's represented reality. "Slum Goddesses are even replacing Playmates as pin ups in college lockers, according to Eve, Slum Goddess April 1-15, who says she is being hung as far north as Providence, R.I."4

The transformation of the Slum Goddess feature came when the women began appearing nude and the accompanying prose disappeared, signalling an increase in the fascination in nudity and sexually oriented material which would gradually clutter EVO. Eventually EVO resorted to displaying various women nude from week to week, and any originality that had started with the feature was lost. The Slum Goddess went from being a satirization of Playboy to an imitation of it.

Similarly, EVO's classified ad section, "Wheel and Deal," changed from a simple ads section to page after page of sexually explicit personal advertisements, beginning on May 1, 1966, when the first personal ads appeared. "Justified by the editorial staff in the name of freedom, and purportedly ignored by the hip community, the ads became absolutely necessary to the well-being of the paper."5

DELICIOUS Kosher salami attached to 32-year-old handsome married me. If you're female, young, lovely, and "hungry," let's meet for "something to eat." 685-1541 weekdays.

The pages of EVO, which had been covered with wild poetry, original, intellectual news stories and editorials, began more and more to resemble an advertising newspaper. The ads built up after 1967, through 1968, and into early 1969, raising EVO's circulation up to a high of 65,000. "Ten issues of EVO devoted 46 percent t advertising, 16 percent to comix, 28 percent to feature articles, 4 percent to editorials, 2 percent to calendars, and 4 percent to news. 12 percent of the advertising space was used for classifieds..."6 indicating that EVO's readership had shifted dramatically from East Village intellectual adults, to a sex-starved younger generation out in the real world for the first time.

The classifieds were not the only advertisements to sustain the paper. Record advertising, after August 1966, began to flood not only EVO's pages, but those of nearly every other underground newspaper in the country. For the record companies this was an extremely effective way to advertise as it was cheap and the advertisements reached a huge readership of music-oriented people. "Their ads sustained many papers that would otherwise have certainly folded...."7 Where, in 1965, EVO had little competition in the underground, easy availability of advertisements, and the absurdly low investment of two hundred dollars8 required to begin a newspaper began to aid in splitting up EVO's readership.

Al Goldstein and Jim Buckley jumped on the popularity of the personal and sexual advertisements. On November 29, 1968, they put out the first issue of Screw, a pornographic magazine that hit upon the increased obsession with sex. "In a few weeks after Screw won general newsstand distribution, EVO's circulation plunged from a claimed high of 65,000 to disastrous depths the staff does not like to talk about."9 Seeing a chance to one-up Al Goldstein, Walter Bowart made the decision to put out EVO's own pornographic newspaper, KISS, to show Goldstein how to produce that kind of paper.10 KISS, along with the all-comix Gothic Blimp, and the evenual publication of Gay Power, took EVO and split it up into four different newspapers. With more than half its circulation outside New York City, EVO no longer represented the community it was supposed to be a part of. "Even the East Side Bookstore, right of St. Mark's place, the hub of the East Village, sells over three times as many Village Voice's as EVO's."11

By 1969, EVO had lost sight of its original goals, lost much of the original staff, and its backbone.12 Donald Katzman sold his share in the newspaper and moved to Colorado and both Walter Bowart and Peter Leggieri left that same year. Writer John Wilcock published his own newspaper, Other Scenes, but would eventually halt distribution because he had become so disgusted by the fascination with pornography. Only Allan Katzman would stay until EVO's end in 1973, but even he noted that the underground press in general, was being taken over by "non-creative second-raters... the radicals who believe in what they say, and woe to anyone who does not believe accordingly."13

The decline of the EVO can be attributed substantially to harassment and its loss of readership. As Art Kunkin, editor and found of the Los Angeles Free Press insightfully pointed out that as a newspaper

becomes a more stable organization, and more of it staff-written, it isn't as much full of surprizes as it was before. The paper becomes more made up of professional journalists. This is what happened to the one paper that was established in Paris during the May events, a paper called Action. During the events they had hundreds of people come in and contribute information. But then as the events stopped and the paper continued it became removed from the struggle and the people outside found the paper wasn't reflecting the truth of the thing anymore.14

The most important reason for EVO's decline was ideological. The word "underground" limited EVO's development as a newspaper. The EVO of the early days, when writers contributed articles with little or no remuneration, had been taken over by people more interested in getting experience, and by a staff, some from the beginning, interested in making EVO turn a profit. This is not a condemnation of those people. One cannot live without earning money and to condemn them for wanting to sustain themselves would be ludicrous. But when one thinks of "underground," visions of originality, weirdness, and utopias are conjured up. By 1969, the movement of the underground press, coupled with the student movement, was too big to be underground anymore. Inherently, the goal of an underground movement is to be recognized and once this happens, they are no longer underground. To stay underground they need to assume even more radical beliefs to keep themselves new. EVO did not, and probably could not, accomplish this.

Because EVO was "underground" it was destined to live a short life. But it is not the length of time they published that is important, but what they published, how they affected their readers, and the world. EVO was as successful as any underground newspaper. They were one of the first community underground papers in the nation. They pioneered several forms of underground journalism, among them "comix" and collages. They established the Underground Press Syndicate which formed a union among existing underground newspapers and gave both the underground press, the youth movement, the student movement, and the civil rights movement, a substantial voice in the United States. These people who knew little or nothing about journalism when they began produced one of the most important and influential underground newspapers in the United States. "...We're not based on perfection; we're based on our own reliable responses to what's going on. If at times we're extremely obscene, it's because we're feeling obscene. We're not afraid of expressing our feelings... it's journalism through your fingertips...."15

When EVO began they set out to take over the world, and in a sense they did just that. EVO had contacts all over the world; they had correspondents in Iceland and London, and they were read from New York to Vietnam to San Francisco. EVO accomplished everything it set out to, and more. The East Village Other was one of the most important voices of the Sixties underground. As Allan Katzman told Look in 1968, "Twenty years from now people will be able to look back and understand this period, get a good feel for what it must have been like, by reading the EVO."16

Footnotes

1 Jesse Kornbluth, "This Place of Entertainment Has No Fire Exit: The Underground Press and How it Went," The Antioch Review, Spring 1969, Volume XXIX, p. 94.

2The East Village Other, March 1-15, 1966, Vol. 1. #8. p. 8.

3 Interview with Donald Katzman, April 1987.

4 Unknown newspaper article (probably The Herald Tribune), Sunday, April 24, 1966.

5 Laurence Leamer, The Paper Revolutionaries: The Rise of the Underground Press. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972), p. 54.

6 Robert J. Glessing, The Underground Press in America. (Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University Press, 1970), pp. 102-103.

7 Jesse Kornbluth, p. 95.

8 Ibid.

9 Leamer, p. 176.

10 Interview with Donald Katzman, June 1988.

11 Leamer, p. 51.

12 Interview with Donald Katzman, June 1988.

13 Abe Peck, Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), p. 202.

14 John Burke, "The Underground Press: A Special Report," Rolling Stone, October 4, 1969, p. 11.

15 John Kronenberger, "What's Black and White and Pink and Green and Dirty and Read all Over?" Look, October 1, 1968, p. 21.

16 Ibid.

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