Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
In the days when I lived in Hecate County, I had an uncomfortable neighbor, a man named Asa M. Stryker. He had at one time, he told me, taught chemistry in some sooty-sounding college in Pennsylvania, but he now lived on a little money which he had been “lucky enough to inherit.”
So begins Edmund Wilson’s “Memoirs of Hecate County,” an obscure volume in the cellar of Amazon.com’s sales rankings, which would be entirely forgotten had it not been banned in Los Angeles, as well as Boston and New York, as illegally obscene. (Although it apparently didn’t raise any eyebrows for a Times reviewer, who mentioned the 1946 book in passing: “Evil, in familiar symbols, runs rampant throughout the book.”)
In August 1946, Harry Wepplo of 732 W. 6th St. , the operator of the Book Market at Farmers Market, was charged with selling “obscene and indecent literature,” as was shop clerk Ann Eastman. The Pickwick bookstore at 6743 Hollywood Blvd., and clerk Herman Mann were also charged. Although the book consists of six stories, “The Princess With the Golden Hair” is the one that proved troublesome.
In September, a jury deemed the book obscene and Wepplo was fined $250 ($2,366.05 USD 2005) and given a 30-day suspended sentence in jail. Mann and Eastman were fined $50 ($473.21 USD 2005) and given 10-day suspended sentences. Pickwick was fined $250.
A new trial was granted on the grounds that although “Hecate County” was obscene, none of the defendants were aware of its contents. With charges dropped against Mann and Eastman, a new trial began and on July 14, 1947, attorney Martin McManus spent the entire day reading “Hecate County” to the jurors.
Wepplo and Pickwick were found guilty and sentencing was set for July 25, but nothing further about the case appears in The Times.
“Hecate County” was also prosecuted as obscene in New York, in a case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. On Oct. 25, 1948, the justices upheld New York’s ban on the book on a 4-4 vote.
As a result of the Los Angeles ruling, Grove Press refused to release the full version of D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” here in 1959. But by 1960 “The Princess With the Golden Hair” had been optioned for a movie.
When it was reissued in 1961, Times book critic Robert Kirsch wondered what the fuss was all about. “These stories by the man who is without question the greatest critic at work in America today are brilliantly wrought, a powerful and compelling portrait of a period, place and cross-section of society.”