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Ralph Ginzburg, 76; Publisher Tested Limits of 1st Amendment

July 07, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Ralph Ginzburg, a magazine publisher who was at the center of two 1st Amendment battles in the 1960s, tangling with Barry Goldwater and serving eight months in federal prison for obscenity, died Thursday in New York. He was 76.

Ginzburg, who launched a later career as a photographer, died in a Bronx hospice after battling multiple myeloma for three years, said his wife of 49 years, Shoshanna, who collaborated with her husband on many projects.

Ginzburg's Avant Garde, first published in 1968, was a literary and art magazine whose fans included John Lennon and Pablo Picasso. When that magazine folded, he came up with Moneysworth, a consumer financial newsletter.

But it was two other publications, an erotic art quarterly called Eros and the magazine Fact, which called Goldwater's psychological background into question, that placed Ginzburg in the courts for years.

The Brooklyn-born Ginzburg had worked as a reporter and editor before launching Eros in 1962.

The following year, he was convicted in Philadelphia of obscenity for using "salacious" promotional methods.

Ginzburg laughed off the charges, telling Playboy magazine, "We mailed from Middlesex, N.J., simply because one of the largest mail-order facilities in the eastern United States was located there.

"Anyone who thinks otherwise is really doing my sense of humor an injustice."

He defended the magazine's content, saying "I think most cigarette ads are vulgar. I think photographs showing B-52s dropping napalm on Vietnamese civilians are vulgar.... But I wouldn't put a man in jail for publishing such pictures."

The Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1966 in a 5-4 vote, ruling that the way a publication is promoted -- if "the purveyor's sole emphasis is on the sexually provocative aspects of his publications" -- could justify a finding of obscenity for erotic material that might otherwise be deemed marginally acceptable.

He was initially sentenced to five years but wound up serving eight months at a federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., after the Supreme Court in 1971 denied him a hearing on the sentence.

"I think our descendants in future generations will look back with profound shame that publishers like myself who dealt honestly with sex had been hounded into prison like criminals in the middle of the 20th century," Ginzburg said.

In 1964, Ginzburg had started another magazine, Fact, when he sent out questionnaires to 12,000 psychiatrists asking, "Do you believe Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to be president of the United States?"

Ginzburg wrote that the 2,400 responses indicated the Arizona GOP senator, then seeking the presidency, was paranoid, had a cold relationship with his father, and played cruel practical jokes as a child.

Goldwater -- who lost to President Johnson in a landslide -- sued for libel, eventually winning $1 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages from Ginzburg and the magazine.

Once again, the case went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the damage verdicts in a one-line order in 1970.

Ginzburg was 55 when he started a second career as a photographer.

He worked on the staff of the New York Post and sold photographs to the New York Times, the New York Daily News and the Associated Press.

"I Shot New York," published in 1999, was his chronicle of one photo for each day of the year in the city. His wife provided the captions for his pictures.

Besides his wife, Ginzburg is survived by three children.

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