• Civil Rights Attorney Elmer Gertz Defended Jack Ruby, Henry Miller, Nathan Leopold, Experienced Difficulty With Book About George Sylvester Viereck


    Offering an archive of 21 TLSs, 26 pp, from the notable and successful civil rights attorney ELMER GERTZ to his publisher, an inscribed copy of his controversial book Odyssey of a Barbarian, to which this archive relates, along with other material about the life of this distinguished man.  Nearly 170,000 of Gertz papers reside in the Library of Congress.

    GERTZ (September 14, 1906 – April 27, 2000) successfully defended a number of high-profile clients, including thrill killer Nathan Leopold, author Henry Miller in his obscenity trial for his novel Tropic of Cancer, a book published in France but banned in the United States because of its candid sexuality. Through Gertz’s legal defense, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Miller’s book was protected by the U.S. Constitution.

    Gertz had been inspired by Clarence Darrow’s famous argument against the death penalty in the Leopold-Loeb trial. He won parole for Leopold in 1958 and walked out of the prison gates with him.  Gertz successfully argued against the death sentence handed down to Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald. Ruby, who was terminally ill, served the remaining years of his life in prison.   Gertz was also a professor at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, where he taught classes in civil rights.

    One of his most notable cases involved himself and led to the creation of a new legal standard for libel cases.  In 1969, Gertz represented the family of a young man killed by a Chicago police officer, drawing the ire of the John Birch Society, which alleged in an article that Gertz was part of a Communist conspiracy to discredit local police departments in order to pave the way for Communist control by a national police force. He sued the society for defamation and won a $500,000 judgment. In 1974, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Gertz was not a public figure, which made it easier for him to secure damages, and that states were free to set their own standards for libel when alleged by a private figure. The case went back to a six-day trial where Gertz once again prevailed and was awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages and $300,000 in punitive damages.

    Gertz believed that no aspect of history should be denied regardless of how unpleasant. In this archive of letters dated between February and September 1979, Gertz offers to assist and seeks information from his publisher, Prometheus Books, about the promotion of perhaps his most controversial work, Odyssey of a Barbarian, a biography about GEORGE SYLVESTER VIERECK, who had been jailed during World War II as a Nazi propagandist, supported Germany during World War I and, as a journalist, interviewed such people as Adolph Hitler, who he openly supported.  He also befriended Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler and Bernard Shaw.

    The biography was quite controversial, due to Viereck being the subject matter, yet Viereck was a friend of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Theodore Roosevelt, Col. Edmund M. House, Alfred Adler, Nikola Tesla and Frank Harris. Viereck, an émigré from his native Germany, wrote poetry that was acclaimed, edited several controversial magazines, including The Fatherland during the first World War. He was the first popularizer of psychoanalysis, with the blessing of its father, Freud. He was imprisoned for five years during the second World War because of technical defects in his registration as a foreign agent. He was the father of Peter Viereck, the Pulitzer Prize poet, who encouraged Gertz to write this book.  Viereck and Gertz were close friends despite their strong differences, almost violently expressed.

    In the letter archive, Gertz is likely trying to overcome the unpopularity of his subject matter by getting as many people as possible to review it or to interview him. Gertz asks his publisher to prepare a brochure, to engage with a list of columnists, reporters and television shows, book clubs and various organizations, which he provides.  “Since this is the year of the centennial of Einstein, the references to him in the book might be the subject of releases to columnists and others,” he writes in one letter.  “Have you seen the article in...Publishers Weekly about booking authors on the ‘Today’ program? It is invaluable. Paul Friedman, the executive producer, ought to be courted. A special project ought to be created for this purpose.”  In listing the shows and reporters, Gertz notes in one instance, “Sydney J. Harris...is a widely syndicated columnist and a friend of mine...Perhaps you ought to advise all of the talk shows that I am available. I have the reputation of being able to hold the attention of audiences...”

    In one chapter of the book, Gertz makes comparison’s to Einstein’s views of morality and those of Viereck’s. He writes to his publisher, “...Since this is the centennial year of Einstein attention ought to be called to the Einstein material in my book, such as the chapter entitled ‘The Sexual Relativist...Of course there is even material on Freud and other leading psychiatrists.”

    Gertz suggests that the publisher write to Peter Viereck, son of George.  He did and as part of this assemblage, we include a copy of a letter Peter wrote to Gertz complimenting him on the scholarship of his book, calling it “a tremendous achievement...I got a very favorable reaction to it...”  He offers some edits, such as profiling his father “who was intermittently and ambiguously pro-Nazi, perhaps...to invoke being ostracized as monster in repetition of Wilde’s fate...although not sexual. Otto Kiep (mentioned in Gertz’s book) was privately anti-Nazi and did something about it, namely joined in the July 1944 plot against Hitler. For this Kiep was tortured and sentenced to slow strangulation, a brave and gallant guy; I remember his saying privately that all totalitarianism must be opposed...I have the impression that he lost his job as consul for honoring Einstein as a great German scientist...So, there are small things like this where you could not be expected to know...”

    Some reviewers praised the book but denounced Viereck. Gertz wrote, “....Edward P. Schwartz tells me he is going to review our book for the Minneapolis Tribune. Originally he was hostile to the book, but as he reads it, he becomes favorable...I received a catalogue from Albrecht Knaus Verlag, who will publish the German edition of my Miller correspondence book. I have a hunch that they may be interested in the Viereck book...”

    The archive also includes news clippings of Gertz’s obituary and an advertisement for his book, a published article about Gertz and the Viereck book.  An inscribed copy of the book is also included and in excellent condition.

    The letters are in excellent condition with expecting toning.

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