Reggie and Me – The Kefauver Hearings, Days Two and Three

Before we get into today’s piece of reflection, I’d like to share a different kind of story with you, if you’ll indulge me.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a virtual sitting Shiva in the memory of Karl (Reggie).  It was organized by some of his oldest and dearest friends, and I was honored to be included.

I had the opportunity to meet some of those who were closest to him in “real life”, and spent several hours listening to wonderful stories and memories… and even shared a couple of my own.  I left this Shiva with a feeling of lightness and peace.  It really felt as though the gathering was less to mourn a loss and more to celebrate a life.  It was very helpful to own personal coping and acceptance process.

Over the course of the past week, several of my friends have reached out… assuring me they’d be there if I needed to talk.  I decided not to burden any of them… and that, that was a mistake.  I’ve never dealt with loss before… and so, I don’t really have a “process”.  All I knew was the concrete… nothing that anyone could say would bring him back.  I didn’t realize how (metaphorically) wrong I was to think that.

Day Two of the Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency took place on Thursday, April 22, 1954… and opened with a man taking the stand.  A man whose name we had a lot of fun with.

Gunner Dybwad (which we pronounced “dipwad”) – Executive Director, Child Study Center of America:

  • The Child Study Center of America were consultants for DC and Fawcett Comics, and were part of creating DC Comics’ “Internal Comics Code” (which was entered into the proceedings as Exhibit 21)
  • Some of that code read:
    • Sex: Inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged.  When included, they should be drawn realistically.
    • Language: No taking of the Lord’s name in vain.  Heroes cannot use slang.  Slang is only to be used by crooks/villains.
    • Bloodshed: Never show bleeding.  Never show dead bodies.
    • Torture: No chains, whips, etc.  No sexual sadism
    • Kidnapping: No kidnapping of children allowed, limited kidnapping of women… so long as there is no implication of sex.
    • Killing: Heroes never kill.  Villains can only die by their own machinations.  Only Police Officers can kill.  Women cannot use lethal weapons.
    • Crime: Justice must triumph in every case.  Crime should be depicted as sordid and unpleasant.
Sounds pretty cut and dry, doesn’t it?  At least as a list of guidelines that apparently once existed.  Outside of a few key differences, we’d eventually see many of these items included into the Comics Code.  One that stood out to us then… and still does to this writing is the just the simple inclusion of female characters being discouraged.

This “internal code” was quickly dismissed when the Subcommittee claimed that there was a vague relationship between DC Comics and some “bad” publishers.  We were unable to clarify what this meant, but we might assume they were referring to DC’s salacious (and connected) founders… and how pornography was being printed… likely on the same press as the latest issue of Superman.

William Friedman, fmr. Master Comics:
  • Friedman gave the Senators a bit of lip… and plays dumb when shown some violent comics images.
  • Not appreciating the “cherry picked” evidence, he interrupted the Counselor with:
    • “A whipping boy is being made out of one particular facet of the means of information…”
      • Council and Friedman would continue to interrupt one another with just about every breath, until the latter was allowed to leave.
Dr. Laura Bender, Psychiatrist retained by DC Comics:
  • Her “day job” was working with children at Bellevue Hospital
  • She received $150/mo (around $1,500 in 2020 money) as a Board Member for DC Comics
    • She, unsurprisingly, defends DC Comics… and, even calls out the court for the “overwhelming broad statements” being made regarding juvenile delinquency.
    • She continues to call out the court for the way they treated Mr. Dybwad during his testimony.
    • Claims that Superman is a good influence for children… and if there was, in fact, any horrifying imagery included in DC Comics, she herself would have called the company out for it.
      • The way she’s handling herself during this circus, we tend to believe her!
Monroe Froehlich, Jr. – Business Manager, Magazine Management Company (Atlas/Marvel).

We get a bit of the “lay of the land” for Atlas/Marvel of the day:
  • 15 “teen-age” books
  • 9 war books
  • 9 westerns
  • 2 “anti-crime” books
  • 8 “weird” or sci-fi books

Froehlich seems to be on the stand to discuss disparity between the subject matter in the comics and advertisements aimed at children.  He claims there isn’t any disparity… and that the advertisements are changed in accordance to demand for whichever book they appear in.  He maintains throughout his questioning that nothing that can be put into a comic book could/would be detrimental to a child’s development.

That’s not what the Senators wanted to hear… good thing they’ve got this next fella swinging in the “on-deck” circle…

William Richter, New Dealers Association of Greater New York:
  • Openly hates Bill Gaines… and seeks for there to be a law passed banning crime/horror comics nationwide
  • Really did not appreciate Panic #1, and claims that satirical comics were just as, if not more, detrimental to a child’ development as horror and crime.
  • Richter started the Long Island Stationary Owners Association, in order to combat distribution of books he did not like
    • Basically collected $2/mo (about $20 in 2020) from each partner outlet as “dues”… for whatever that was worth
Alex Segal – President, Stravon Publications:
  • He’s really only here to promote his company’s “good” books
    • Stravon also published Mademoiselle Fifi and the Sexcapades… but, Segal assures the Counsel that those books stay separate from the “kids fare”

This “testimony” adds… less than nothing to the proceedings?

Samuel Roth, Publisher:
  • Roth had been imprisoned on obscenity charges
  • He “pleads da fifth” here
Helen Meyer & Matthew Murphy – Vice-President & Editor, Dell Publications:
  • Dell Publications, claiming “Dell Comics are Good Comics” refused to join the Comic Book Association… as they feared they would wind up “lumped in” under the umbrella of publishers of horror/crime comics.  They would run “A Pledge to Parents” in their books to assure them that they’ll only find clean and wholesome stories in Dell books.

They are quick to point out that Dell doesn’t get a mention in any of Dr. Frederic Wertham’s literature.  They personally “abhor” horror and crime comics, and even go as far as to censor the advertisements that run in their books.

Thus ends Day Two… Day Three would take place on Friday, June 4, 1954.

Hon. James A. Fitzpatrick, Chairman – New York State Joint Legislative Committee to Study the Publication of Comics:

Fitzpatrick provides a panel-by-panel review of Panic #1, which, if you recall was banned in Boston.  He does so in order to point out specific things he takes issue with.
  • The book shows “repeated disdain” for its own readership
  • The Police are depicted as looking foolish
  • It contained the “complete and utter perversion” of a man dressed in women’s clothing
  • Santa Claus is depicted as being divorced

Fitzpatrick closes with a threat!  Comics have one year to “clean their own house” before the Feds step in and do it for them.

Benjamin Freedman – Chairman of the Board, Newsdealers Association of Greater New York and America:

Freedman’s testimony introduces us to the concept of “tie-in sales”.  This is a very important piece of puzzle… as it gives the impression that comics distribution is a bit of a “hustle”.  For example, a newsdealer could be withheld their copies of a big-seller, like Superman (or another magazine)… unless they also take certain other books.  Perhaps those of a horror and/or crime variety.  So, if you refuse Crime SuspenStories… you’re also not going to get Superman (or other big-selling mag).  You follow?

Freedman claims that this is very much the case, even alluding to being threatened and harassed for refusing to carry “bad” comics.  He even hints at being the victim of physical violence.  This adds a whole new element to the perception of bad comics publishers/distributors.  It’s almost like they’re just as bad as the people in the comics!  Another case of perception being reality?

Hold that thought…

Harold Chamberlain, Circulation Director – Independent News Company:

Chamberlain claims tie-in sales don’t exist!  He backs this up by discussing the reality of newsstand sales.  Newsagents don’t even have the room to display all of the publications they receive… and so, even if they did get some crime/horror comics, it would be left to their discretion whether or not they decided to display them on the racks.

He dismisses claims of harassment and/or physical violence as being isolated incidents involving “overzealous routemen”.  He also dismisses incentivization of crime/horror comics by reminding the Court that all books were fully-returnable.

We’re not done with this yet…

Charles Appel, Owner – Angus Drug Store:

Appel claims there are tie-in sales… though, does back-up Chamberlain’s claim that newsagents can choose what they display on the racks.  Appel never “stocked” crime/horror comics and always simply returned them.  He never faced any clap-back… until recently.

He claims that his last shipment arrived… without the TV GuideTV Guide, was a huge seller… one of the biggest of the day.  He took this as a personal attack… rather than a mistake.  The Senators didn’t much care or press the issue… they were hearing exactly what they wanted to.

George B. Davis, President – Kable News Company:

Check it out… no such thing as tie-in sales!  We’re just going to keep volleying that talking point, it seems.  As Davis was nothing more than a Distributor, he claims no responsibility for the content within the books he distributes.  Upon being shown some gory art, he tends to agree with the Committee… stating that the comics industry has “gone too far”.  With that said, he does not see government intervention as being the answer.

Hon. E.D. Fulton, House Commons Canada:

Fulton passed a law which banned crime comics in Canada… and his offering to the Court is labeled not a “testimony”, but a “statement”.  The Senate Subcommittee love this guy… just check out how they introduce him:
  • “I am going to depart from our usual procedure here.  We have been swearing in witnesses, but we are not going to swear in a member of Canadian Parliament.  You are one of us.  We are grateful to you and grateful to Canada.”
Fulton claims that there is currently a big problem with “comics bootlegging”, and illegal transport of the salacious material into his country.  He suggests this is coming from Plattsburgh, New York.

He expresses that Canadian Indecency Laws were amended to include crime comics:
  • Subsection 1 of Section 207 of Criminal Code chapter 36
    • “… prints, publishes, sells or distributes any magazine, periodical, or book which exclusively or substantially comprises matter depicting pictorially the commission of crimes, real or fictitious, thereby tending or likely to induce or influence, youthful persons to violate the law or to corrupt the morals of such persons.”
Which is to say, it was now a criminal violation to print, sell, or distribute a crime comic.  Three Canadian publishers and one distributor were convicted to this point.  This law couldn’t be enforced on any United States-based publishers… which rendered it pretty toothless overall.  Worth noting, as crime comics vanished from the racks of Canadian newsagents, they were often replaced with “love, sex, and girlie mags”.

Samuel Black – Vice-President, American Coast Independent Distributors Association:

Black more or less refrains from taking a solid position.  He claims to dislike horror/crime comics… but isn’t seeking any sort of law to ban them.  He gives us some distribution/business stats:
  • 16 National Distributors
  • 950 Wholesale Distributors
  • 270 Independent Distributors
  • 100,000+ Retailers
I know what you’re thinking… what does Mr. Black think about tie-in sales?  He claims they don’t exist… and shares some realities of his industry to back that up:
  • “Distributors don’t have the time, manpower, or interest to read every mag they ship to appraise its moral value.  Returns are all handled the same… as unsold books.  Nobody cares about the content at the distribution level… that’s best left for editorial.”
He expresses disappointment in the Hon. Fulton’s “statement” that a Canadian distributor was convicted… as, he feels the distributors should be completely left out of this mess.

William A. Eichhorn – Vice-President, American News Company

This is kind of an odd testimony, in which Eichhorn claims he doesn’t bother looking at content unless someone complains… and that he doesn’t hold himself up as a “censor”.  He does mention that ANC does, in fact, distribute books into Canada… at which time, he’s immediately booted from the stand.

And, Finally…

J. Jerome Kaplan – Chairman, Juvenile Delinquency Committee, Union County Bar Association:

Kaplan is a “moral crusader” who has a problem with anything he finds to be “indecent”.  He is trying to ban crime and horror comics in the state of New Jersey… even attempting to amend a state statute.
  • Assembly #401, state of New Jersey (dated: 04/12/1954)
    • Supplement to Chapter 170 of Title 2A of New Jersey Statutes:
      • A $25 fine to anyone selling, or giving a crime or horror comic to anyone under the age of 16.
That wraps up the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency… but, that isn’t the end of the story.  Tomorrow, we will look at the Senate Interim Report – 1955 (penned by Estes Kefauver), and the findings of this absolute circus.

2 thoughts on “Reggie and Me – The Kefauver Hearings, Days Two and Three

  • Back in 1993 I was a senior in college and had do do this big paper for a mass communications class. My topic was comic books and society. I really wanted to include the Kefauver hearings in that paper, but this was before the internet was a major thing and finding the hard copies of the transcripts was next to impossible at my school. 21 year old me is so jealous of everything that you found for this podcast.

    • I feel your pain! Even *with* the Internet, the transcripts were very "piecy"… and took forever to assemble in a linear way (heck, I'm still not 100% that we have the order correct!)


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