ginzburg ralphRalph Ginzburg

Class of 1949

Inducted 2007

Ralph Ginzburg was a provocative publisher who did not hesitate to confront the accepted order of things and paid for it by spending eight months in a federal prison in 1972. A passionate defender of the First Amendment, Ginzburg contributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when he produced Eros, a quarterly magazine that focused on eroticism in history, politics, art and literature. It also challenged taboos on such matters as interracial love, with photos of a nude black man and white woman in suggestive poses. In a case that reached the United States Supreme Court, Ginzburg was sentenced to jail not because of the publication’s content, but because it was distributed through the U.S. mail. And, in another case that reached the High Court, he lost a libel suit filed by Barry Goldwater because of an article in Fact, another of Ginzburg’s magazines. That was in 1964, when the Arizona senator was the Republican candidate for president, and Ginzburg published a special issue claiming he was psychologically unfit to be in the White House. Goldwater was awarded $75,000 in punitive damages and $1 in compensatory damages.

Through all the drama in Ginzburg’s career as a publisher and editor, it should not escape notice that his publications — and there were many — were filled with good writing by authors ranging from Mark Twain and Guy de Maupassant to Nat Hentoff and Ray Bradbury, and they were beautifully designed. Ginzburg’s four best-known magazines — Eros, Fact, Avant Garde and Moneysworth — were all art-directed by Herb Lubalin, perhaps the period’s leading post-modern designer.

Ginzburg was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 28, 1929 to Russian immigrant parents and became president of his class at New Utrecht High School. He enrolled at the College’s downtown business school, planning for life as an accountant, but after meeting with Professor Irving Rosenthal, who told him he had a future in journalism, Ginzburg became editor of The Ticker. After graduating magna cum laude in 1949, he joined The New York Daily Compass as a copy boy and cub reporter. He was drafted during the war in Korea and edited the post newspaper at Fort Myer, Va. While still in the Army, he worked nights as a copy editor at The Washington Times-Herald.

Following his discharge, Ginzburg worked briefly at NBC, then joined Look magazine as circulation promotion manager. After a stint as articles editor at Esquire (during which he wrote “An Unhurried View of Erotica,” a scholarly book on secret collections in leading libraries that was published in 1958), Ginzburg began compiling “One Hundred Years of Lynching,” a history of racism in America. His activism extended to opposing circumcision. He was the founder of Outlaw Unnecessary Circumcision in Hospitals (OUCH).

ginzburg ralph protesting at pen convention
Protesting at a PEN convention, 1986.

Eros, published in 1962, lasted only four issues before Ginzburg’s indictment. His next publication was Fact (1964-1967), a muckraking journal in which the Goldwater material appeared. That was followed by Avant Garde (1968-1971), noted as much for its unusual typography as for its focus on radical politics, and Moneysworth, a consumer adviser newsletter. In a 1975 interview, Ginzburg told Newsweek he had gone “from satisfying lust to satisfying greed.” He also published Liaison, a biweekly newsletter, and “The Housewife’s Handbook on Selective Promiscuity,” a book by Rey Anthony, both of which were part of the case that sent him to prison. After his release, he wrote “Castrated: My Eight Months in a Federal Prison.”

When Ginzburg turned 55, he launched a career as a photojournalist and became a freelance photographer for The New York Post. His last book, “I Shot New York,” consisted of images he took of life in New York City on 365 consecutive days.

Several years after his release from jail, he and his wife, Shoshana, attended one of the first annual gatherings of the Communications Alumni. Professor Rosenthal was presiding. The number of attendees was small enough for everyone to be seated around a very large U-shaped table. Rosenthal asked all present to stand and say who they were and what they’d been up to. Most of those present had never met Ginzburg, but were familiar with his story. They wondered whether he would mention his time in prison. Ginzburg didn’t leave them guessing for long.

When it was his turn, he stood up, seriously intoned, “Ralph Ginzburg. Ex-con,” and took his seat to a round of uneasy giggles.

His wife was next. Without missing a beat, she rose and said, “Shoshana Ginzburg. Moll.” The room exploded in laughter.

On July 6, 2006, Ginzburg died of multiple myeloma. He was 76.