shadow logo


PAUL KRASSNER: 1932-2019

By Chris Flash

Irreverence is our only sacred cow”--Paul Krassner

On the morning of July 21, I woke with a vision of Paul Krassner, master satirist and anarchist publisher. I was asking him if he had something we could use for this issue of The SHADOW and he said “Well, there’s this.” Later that day, I heard that Paul had passed that morning. (Sadly, I don’t remember what he offered me in the vision.)

There is sooo much to say about Paul too much to be said here. Simply put, Paul was THERE when things were HAPPENING, from the late 1950s through the present. Paul wasn’t just an observer, he was a participant, interacting and working and playing with important and influential counter cultural heroes and revolutionaries (some famous and others infamous), writing, publishing, performing, plotting, engaging in activities (some legal and others not so legal) and, most importantly, having a ball the entire time.

From Paul’s description in his 1993 autobiography, CONFESSIONS OF A RAVING, UNCONFINED NUT: MISADVENTURES IN THE COUNTERCULTURE [re-published by Paul in 2012 when the rights reverted back to him], the course of his life seems to have been set in motion by a series of happy accidents, or maybe not so accidental.

As Paul tells it, while still in college in the mid-1950s, his encounter with the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism [AAAA] leads him to the ISM Forum, which introduces him to the New York Rationalist Society, where he is referred to a tabloid called Exposé, where he meets editor and maverick publisher Lyle Stuart, who later changes the name to The Independent. Paul begins writing for Stuart and then quits school. When The Independent moves its offices next to MAD Magazine, Paul meets and works for MAD publisher William Gaines as well. By that time, Paul begins a short-lived standup comedy career under the name Paul Maul and he sells sketches to the Steve Allen show.

In another happy not-so-accident, in 1958, with encouragement from Lyle Stuart and a mailing list acquired from Progressive World magazine, Paul starts his own magazine, which comes to be called THE REALIST. Inspired by an article in Esquire Magazine written by English journalist and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge, titled “America Needs A Punch,” Paul says: “My goal was to communicate without compromise. My vision was a magazine of ‘freethought criticism and satire.’” The Realist was the right thing at the right time in America, as the limits of free speech and expression, as well as legal definitions of “obscenity” in books, magazines, films and public performances were being tested in the courts.

Through The Realist, Paul connects with comedy show host Steve Allen, his first subscriber. Allen sends in several gift subscriptions, including one for controversial stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce, who, in turn, sends in gift subscriptions for others. Paul and Lenny become good friends when Paul interviews Lenny for The Realist and for Playboy Magazine. Playboy later hires Paul to edit Lenny’s autobiography “How To Talk Dirty and Influence People.”

In “Confessions....” Paul says that The Realist “developed a reputation as a haven for cartoons which could be published nowhere else.” One of the controversial and outrageous cartoons that Paul ran, in memory of Walt Disney’s death, was MAD Magazine artist Wally Wood’s “Disneyland Memorial Orgy” as a center spread, which featured Disney cartoon characters having sex with each other and taking drugs. The Disney company, fearing negative publicity, never sued.

Aside from satire and irreverence, including the occasional “put-on,” The Realist was very REAL when it came to important issues, especially government conspiracies. Paul was the first publisher of legendary assassination and conspiracy researcher Mae Brussell’s exposés, which included the 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy. The Realist also published interviews with writers, including Norman Mailer, Ken Kesey and Joseph Heller, and with people as diverse as philosopher Alan Watts, comedians Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, former Harvard professor Timothy Leary and even american nazi party leader George Lincoln Rockwell.

Traveling to Cuba shortly after the successful revolution by Fidel Castro and his comrades in December 1960, Paul hooked up with a prostitute, bitter over her loss of business since the overthrow of the corrupt Batista regime. As she performed fellatio on him, she stopped and asked Paul “You sure you’re not a communist?” Paul told her: “Even if I was, I wouldn’t tell you now. You’d bite it off.” Later that night, Paul met Castro at a reception at the presidential palace, where he gave Castro a copy of The Realist and requested an interview. Just then, a palace guard handed Castro a cablegram from departing US president Dwight Eisenhower, calling off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Paul never got his interview.

In 1962, after publishing an interview with an anonymous doctor who performed illegal abortions in Ashland, Pennsylvania for women (Black and White) coming to him from all over the country, Paul found himself referring desperate women seeking safe and affordable abortions to the doctor. After the doctor was arrested by state police and forced to retire, Paul continued to refer women to doctors referred to him by the doctor he interviewed.

In “Confessions....,” Paul reveals that The Realist “began to serve as an organizing tool” for a “domestic Peace Corps” called “People.” Using his Playboy salary, Paul supported a free birth-control clinic, a remedial reading program called “Neighborhood Pilot Project,” the “Lower East Side Action Project” and a judo center. In 1964, after running an article in The Realist by Robert Anton Wilson about Timothy Leary, who had become notorious for advocating the use of psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, mescaline and LSD for mind expansion, Paul was invited to Leary’s place in Millbrook, New York. Paul returned to Millbrook in April 1965 for his first acid experience. In “Confessions....,” Paul says: “The CIA had originally envisioned using LSD as a means of control, but millions of young people became explorers of their own inner space. Acid was serving as a vehicle to help de-program themselves from a civilization of sadomasochistic priorities....The CIA’s scenario had backfired.”

Leary told Paul about “prominent people whose lives had been changed by taking LSD,” among them actor Cary Grant, Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, Time magazine publishers Henry Luce and his wife Claire, and film director Otto Preminger. Paul first met Preminger in 1960 when he interviewed him for Playboy and again in 1967, as he was making a pro-LSD film called Skidoo. Famed comedian Groucho Marx, then almost 77 years old, was set to play a gangster in the film named GOD. At dinner with Paul, Groucho asked if he would get him some LSD and accompany him on a trip. In “Confessions....,” Paul says: “I did not play hard to get.” Paul dropped acid with Groucho and wrote about his experience. [You can read it at: acid/].

On the last day of 1967, Paul, hanging out with fellow anti-war activists, including Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, created the name Youth International Party, which he called YIPPIE! As Krassner explained it: “We needed a name to signify the radicalization of hippies, and I came up with YIPPIE! as a label for a phenomenon that already existed, an organic coalition of psychedelic hippies and political activists. In the process of cross fertilization at anti-war demonstrations, we had come to share an awareness that there was a linear connection between putting kids in prison for smoking pot in this country and burning them to death with napalm on the other side of the planet.”

Yippies became famous and infamous for their sense of humor and media stunts, using pranks, put-ons and guerilla theater to get coverage that reached millions of people. Yippies also organized anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in New York, California and at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where they ran a pig called Pigasus as the YIPPIE! presidential candidate. Peaceful demonstrations degenerated into police riots after city officials refused to issue permits. The Windy City’s “finest” were seen on live television beating demonstrators, bystanders and even reporters, as people chanted “The Whole World Is Watching!” Eight activists, including Hoffman and Rubin, David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, John Froines, Lee Weiner and Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale, were later charged by the federal government with conspiracy and inciting to riot -- Paul was named as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

During the resulting “Chicago Eight” political trial, in which defendants refused to behave as directed, half-senile judge Julius Hoffman had Seale bound and gagged in court and jailed defense attorneys for “contempt” when they repeatedly objected to his violations of rules and law. Paul, tripping on acid, testified for the defense. All convictions were subsequently overturned on appeal.

Years later, Paul said he made the decision to spend his life provoking action because he “couldn’t help but notice the difference between what I experienced in the streets and the way it was reported in the mainstream media, which acted as cheerleaders for the suppression of dissent.”

When we started publishing The SHADOW in 1989, Paul generously shared his wit and wisdom with us, for which we will always be grateful. One day, I called Paul to ask his permission to C use something he had written. Because I was asking him and not just stealing it, he sarcastically asked me: “What kind of Anarchist are you?” I told him: “The kind of Anarchist who respects people like YOU!”

In 2013, The SHADOW [Issue #55] commemorated the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. We wanted to counter mainstream media reports pushing the same old government and media LIES about the assassination to a new generation. Paul kindly contributed a piece he had written about Mae Brussell, whom he had interviewed in 1972.

In 1964, Mae Brussell was a single mom with five children, curious about the findings of the Warren Commission, created by JFK successor Lyndon Johnson in order to thwart investigations by other governmental bodies into the JFK assassination. Brussell observed that the un-indexed 26 volume Warren Commission report had ignored physical evidence in order to pin the rap on Lee Harvey Oswald, who was killed by low-level mobster Jack Ruby on live television two days after JFK. Her research and investigations expanded over the years to include murders of those connected with the JFK assassination, nazi war criminals smuggled into the US by way of Operation Paperclip [read The Nazi Connection to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy at: http://ce399fascism.files.wordpress. com/2012/01/rebel_112283.pdf -- Ed.], the assassinations of Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the attempted assassination of Alabama governor George Wallace as he campaigned against president Richard Nixon in 1972. Brussell even hosted a weekly radio show, called “Dialogue Assassination.” [For more on Mae Brussell (websites, books and articles), see: brussell.html]

As Paul tells it in “Confessions....,” when the Watergate scandal erupted in 1972, “No wonder Mae Brussell was so excited. She could trace linear connections leading inevitably from the assassination of JFK to the Watergate break-in, and all the killings in between.” Brussell completed a lengthy article for The Realist, “documenting the conspiracy and listing the players, from the burglars all the way up to FBI Director [L. Patrick] Gray, Attorney General John Mitchell, and President Nixon.” When Paul’s printer demanded an unusual $5,000 payment in advance before running that issue of The Realist, John Lennon, who was fighting an attempt by Nixon to have him deported from the US, went to his bank with his wife Yoko Ono and gave Paul the money. Paul says that a few months later, John told him: “Listen, if anything happens to Yoko and me, it was not an accident.” Lennon was assassinated in 1980.

In 2016, Paul gave The SHADOW [Issue #59] an article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Lenny Bruce that Paul had written for the LA Times, which heavily trimmed and censored it – we at The SHADOW were happy to run the full, unexpurgated version, as we have done countless times for other writers.

Lenny Bruce was a Realist subscriber when he and Paul met in 1959. As Paul tells it: “We developed a friendship integrated with stand-up comedy.” Over time, Bruce evolved from telling standard jokes to weaving “taboo-breaking targets: teachers’ low salaries vs show-business celebs, religious leaders’ hypocrisy, cruel abortion laws, racial injustice and the double-standard between illegal and prescription drugs into stream-of-consciousness vignettes.” As he progressed, testing the boundaries of free speech, Bruce was arrested several times in different cities. In some cases, police claimed to be looking for drugs, but in others, cops made it clear that they and their superiors objected to the content of his monologs, one of which included the word “cock sucker.” They also disliked Bruce talking about the catholic church and organized religion. In less than two years, he was busted 15 times in a co-ordinated campaign of harassment by authorities across the country. Unable to get work because club owners were afraid to book him, Bruce sought injunctive relief from the Court of Appeals. The three judge panel was headed by former NAACP chief counsel Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first Black person appointed to the Supreme Court. Marshall denied his motion. On August 3, 1966, with his New York obscenity conviction still on appeal, Bruce received a foreclosure notice on his home. He died later that day from an overdose of morphine. Eighteen months later, Bruce’s obscenity conviction was overturned.

Two years earlier, Paul wrote a fake obituary on Lenny Bruce in The Realist. This was one of many put-ons that Paul engaged in from time to time. In “Confessions....,” Paul says: “The point was that he couldn’t get work and his work was his life, so he might as well be dead. And if people regretted that they hadn’t helped him, well, now they could have a second chance because he was still alive.”

In addition to public appearances that included conventions and stand-up comedy gigs, Paul continued to write prolifically for magazines, newspapers, and websites, right up to the end. With his fertile mind, Paul always had something fresh to say and, with his huge archive, he had plenty to share with new generations of readers.

There is still much more to say about Paul. If you want to know more about him and hear him speak, do a YouTube search. Read his auto-biography, ‘Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut,” in which Paul lets it all hang out, sharing his life with anecdotes and personal experiences, some of which are embarrassing, dangerous, amusing and hilarious.

For his 1968 Life Magazine profile, Paul offered a personal philosophy: “If I had one thing to tell everybody, it would be: Do it now. Take up music, read a book, proposition a girl — but do it now. We know we are all sentenced to death. People cannot become prisoners of guilts or ears. They should cling to each moment and take what enjoyment they can from it.” Those are great words to live by.

Recommended reading:

Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut, by Paul Krassner (Soft Skull Press)

Recommended websites: