POTOMAC, MD—Edward de Grazia, a tireless fighter for free speech and author of several books about censorship and the law, has died at his home in Potomac at the age of 86, reportedly due to complications of Alzheimer's disease.
De Grazia was the only author to score two slots on AVN's "The Reading List: 30 books every adult industry supporter should know—and read," published in our February issue, but even those only scratched the surface of the good work this staunch civil libertarian did.
De Grazia was a great believer in education, and taught for 30 years at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, named after the former Supreme Court justice who along with Justices Louis Brandeis and Harlan Fiske Stone were considered "The Three Musketeers" of liberalism on the high court in the mid-1930s. Following their lead, de Grazia described his work as defending "morally defiant artists" against "reactionary politicians and judges."
De Grazia had several run-ins with then-Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, who attempted to prevent the mailing of such books as Voltaire's Candide, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, and even Greek philosopher Aristophanes' play Lysistrata, claiming that those and many other works were "obscene" under the 1873 Comstock Act.
Later in his career, he spent many months getting such now-recognized classics as Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer and William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch freed from judicial orders banning the titles, and in the Tropic of Cancer case, arguing for its artistic worth (and the worthiness of its publisher, Grove Press) all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. De Grazia later represented Grove when it attempted to distribute the erotic Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) in the U.S., again representing the film and its distributor in the Supreme Court.
But surely one of de Grazia's most important achievements was the publication, in 1991, of his wide-ranging history of censorship, Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius. The book takes its title from the testimony of Jane Heap, who with her partner/lover Margaret Anderson, were put on trial for having published excerpts from James Joyce's Ulysses in their literary magazine The Little Review.
Prosecutors had attempted to prove that one section of Ulysses, where the protagonist Leopold Bloom observes some young women lying back on the grass, exposing their undies and bare skin while watching fireworks overhead, was obscene. When questioned about the passage, Heap replied, "Mr. Joyce was not teaching early Egyptian perversions nor inventing new ones. Girls lean back everywhere, showing lace and silk stockings; wear low-cut sleeveless blouses, breathles bathing suits; men think thoughts and have emotions about these things everywhere—seldom as delicately and imaginatively as Mr. Bloom—and no one is corrupted."
Sadly, the pair were convicted—and fined $100 and forced to cease serializing Joyce's novel, which is now considered a modern masterpiece—a widely-held opinion that de Grazia explores in depth in his book, which after the Little Review case proceeds to cover censorship prosecutions and defenses all the way up to Karen Finley's erotic stage performances in the late 1980s, describing and analyzing each in a way that showed that de Grazia clearly loved his subject matter.
Almost as important—and possibly moreso for legal scholars—was his publication in 1969 if Censorship Landmarks, which reprints legal decisions in censorship cases beginning in 1663 with Le Roi ("The King") v. Sidley, an early French profanity case, through 1968's United States v. A Motion Picture Film Entitled "I Am Curious—Yellow," and covering approximately 200 cases in-between.
De Grazia is one of the unsung heroes of freedom of sexual speech, and deserves his place in the adult entertainment hall of fame.
An obituary of de Grazia printed in The New York Times can be found here.