Al Goldstein, R.I.P.


Al Goldstein, notorious publisher of the newsprint porn mag Screw, designed to be a gleefully and proudly crude "Consumer Report of sex" from its 1968 founding, is dead.

While considered the most vile of pornographers by most, he was well regarded by many independent cartoonists to whom he gave early work (including Reason's own Peter Bagge) and briefly dallied with the Libertarian Party as well–quite understandable for an American who faced federal prosecution and arrest just for publishing a magazine.

William F. Buckley found Goldstein's presence as a delegate to the L.P.'s 1992 presidential nominating convention a sign of the Party's downfall. He got press in 1991 for announcing a run against Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Nick Navarro, famous for prosecuting porn rappers Two-Live Crew; he hoped to run under the L.P. banner but as near as I can tell that didn't actually happen

The NY Times obituary. Details from it about his legal troubles:

With renown came obscenity arrests and lawsuits, which Mr. Goldstein in turn milked for maximum publicity. (He also wrote countless scathing editorials accusing his accusers of hypocrisy, often accompanied by crude photo collages showing them engaged in humiliating sex acts.) Mr. Goldstein, claiming First Amendment protection, beat most of the charges, occasionally paying nominal fines.

In 1973, though, a United States Supreme Court decision made it easier to prosecute pornographers. Before then, one legal test for obscenity was whether a publication was "utterly without redeeming social value." The 1973 decision broadened the definition to include material that lacked "serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value," and it empowered communities to set local standards for whether such material was obscene.

This led federal prosecutors to direct some postmasters in Kansas to order copies of Screw. Upon delivery, Mr. Goldstein was charged with 12 obscenity and conspiracy counts and faced up to 60 years in prison.

His lawyers argued that the anticensorship diatribes in Screw made the magazine sufficiently political, though Mr. Goldstein himself ridiculed this defense, insisting that a reader's erection "is its own redeeming value." After three years and two trials his conviction in the first was overturned, and the second ended in a hung jury. Mr. Goldstein's company, Milky Way Productions, paid a $30,000 fine in return for the dropping of personal charges against him and Mr. [Jim] Buckley [his co-publisher].

I find that line about an erection being its own redeeming value admirably to the point.

My pal Ken Kurson at NY Observer eulogizes him nicely:

Al Goldstein was a much more complicated man than the "crude, obese pornographer" character he himself helped create. He was a passionate defender of the First Amendment, and not just out of self-interest—he deeply understood how important it was to America's greatness and viewed its defense as the height of patriotism.

Al Goldstein was generous, both with his money and time. When I was new to New York City, he took me under his prodigious wing and introduced me to a crazy cast of first-rate cartoonists like Danny Hellman and Sam Henderson, classic NYC has-been celebs like Al Lewis, and a bunch of over-the-hill porn starlets who were still something to behold. He was an extremely proud Jew and that made an impression on me. I also was touched by how proud he was of his son, and how he wrangled a mention that the boy went to Harvard into every conversation….

New York City has lost a true character and a good guy.