Tuesday, June 20, 1995
Tales of Booksellers' Row - Jack Brussel 6/20/1995
Jack Brussel, my friend at United Book Guild, 100 Fourth Avenue (in the shadow of Grace Cathedral, as a British bookdealer would advertize), was a great guide for starting collections. He vaguely suggested to me that there were many forgeries and piracies of D.H.Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (Florence, 1928), and I should look into it. The book had then been considered indecent, forbidden to be published in England and the US, and Jack's sometime associate, the great James Joyce pirate Samuel Roth had alone been responsible for several pirated forgeries. The theory was simple. Roth would clean up the text, and sell the piracy to the gullible, capitalizing on the notoriety. D.H.Lawrence could not sue him for pirating an illegal book.
That was enough for me. Roth was well known for printing and binding books in whatever cloth the binder had on hand, as money came in, and variants abounded, Fourth Avenue was fertile grounds for finding copies of the book that were not even listed in Warren Roberts' then brand new bibliography of Lawrence (London 1963). While Roberts knew three alternate copies of the Lady, plus three different roth/William Faro editions and two Roth/esor Publishing editions, I mustered up 20 varieties, over a period of time.
Jack Brussel, my friend , had gone to jail in 1940 as a pornographer, for publishing an uncut version of Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer." Jack was a friend of Henry Miller's who came back to the US from Paris in 193x, after the success of the notorious Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
"Tropic of Cancer" was published in Paris by Jack Kahane's Olympia Press. A son of a Manchester shipschandler (1887-1941), Kahane was gassed in WWI, recovered and stayed in France, where he started supplying the English-speaking tourists with risque books, a time -honored ploy. Around the turn of the century it was gainfully employed by Charles Carrington, who varied pornography witha little forgery and piracy, particularly by creating spurious Oscar Wilde books. When Kahane ran short of authors, he wrote his own as Cecil Barr and xxx Carr
Kahane took the risk of publishing the first Cancer book, in 1934, with a cover showing a crab drawn by his then 16 year old son Maurice Girodias. (Maurice in turn continued the family tradition,printing scads of trash, but making literary history with Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" in Travellers Library, in 1960.) The $600 Kahane needed to produce the book were procured by the sex-obsessed Cuban-American poetess and novelist Anais Nin, then Arthur Miller's (and her psychiatrist Otto Rank's, and Antonin Artaud's, and other people's) lover, from her long-suffering banker husband Hugo Guiler. At first the book was issued with the crab and title on the cover, then in blank covers, with the crab legend on the jacket. The idea was for the tourists to discard the jacket so as to be able to smuggle the titleless binding into the USA, or UK, without the Customs questioning it.
In the US there was a pent-up demand for the "Tropic of Cancer." Jack Brussel got together with the great Joycean defender Frances Steloff of the Gotham Book Mart on 47th Street, and Ben Abraham of the Argus Book Shop in Chicago, arranging that Jack would publish 500 copies of the book for each sponsor. But money was short, and Samuel Roth, the well-established pirate of James Joyce and D.H.Lawrence books, was willing to advance some funds, provided some signatures would be made available for him too, to be bound as seen fit, for his faithfuls, on the mailing list. Miller was in, to get 10 percent of the retail, to be $7.50. This is per Gershon Legman, the great folklorist of limericks and dirty jokes, who whel last heard from was in Provence, and has told the story to xx, Miler's bibliographers. Robert Ferguson, author of "Henry Miller, A Life," (NY 1991), tells substantially the same story, except that the printing was 1000 for each sponsor, and Miller was supposed to get $1000 from each of them. Ferguson notes that there are no references to such windfall in Miller's letters, and deems the story apocryphal. However, Legman quotes a Miller letter .....
In 1961, Barney Rossett of Grove Press acquired American rights to the "Tropic of Cancer," and printed 68,000 copies at $7.50, followed by a 1m paperback edition at 95c. He was sued, and defended by Charles Rembar and trial attorney Elmer Gertz. Judge Samuel B. Epstein of the Cook County Superior Court (Chicago) rendered a n 18-page decision on Feb 21, 1962 that declared Cancer not obscene. Later. in 1964 the US Supreme Court reversed an adverse Florida decision and Miller was home free. He never gave Jack credit, and early biographers spoke in disparaging terms of the NYC printing. He may have been somewhat right, the Roth printings never paid any royalties, but the others did , according to Jack, as remembered by this family members.
Roth knew how to get around the smut laws, and in 1957 won a case in the Supreme Court of the USA, for distributing indevent advertising, publ xxx, and offering for sale a salacious hardcower magazine, the American Aphrodite.From there on in, Roth could have made it to the top of publishing heaven, but the real beneficiaries were Heffner, Guccione and the various crotch magazine publishers, who earned megabucks. Roth just puckered out