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William Lawrence Hamling (June 14, 1921 – June 29, 2017) was a Chicago-based writer, science fiction fan, and publisher of both science fiction digests and adult magazines and books active from the late 1930s until 1975. Hamling was a lifelong member of First Fandom.
Hamling was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 14, 1921. His father, a railroad man who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad and who retired after forty years' service, and his mother, who was a housewife, were both native born. Hamling has one sister, two years younger than he is.
Due to a typographical error on the discharge papers of Hamling's paternal grandfather, who served in the Union Army during the American Civil War, the family name of Hemmerling was changed to Hamling.
Hamling attended the St. Hilary's grammar school, a parochial school, where he received his elementary education and graduated after completion of the eighth grade. His secondary education was also in Chicago, at Lane Technical High School, one of the largest schools in the country, with over nine thousand students at that time. Hamling went to Lane Technical for four years, receiving both a vocational and general education, and graduated in 1939. Hamling had just turned eighteen at that time and entered the University of Chicago in 1940. Hamling stayed at the university less than a year and left the school because he had already begun to write fiction and had become proficient in that area to the extent of selling a great deal of the material that he wrote. He was still living at home, and for a time, to please his father, he had gone to work for the Milwaukee Railroad as a clerk, ostensibly to learn the railroad business. However, he had begun to make writing his life's work and did not stay with the railroad for very long.
His first sale as a writer was the science fiction story, "War with Jupiter," a collaboration with fellow Lane Technical High School classmate, Mark Reinsberg. Reinsberg and another friend of Hamling's, and fellow Lane Tech classmate, Melvin Korshak, would go on to found Shasta Publishers.
In 1942, Hamling was drafted into the United States Army as a private, but was thereafter sent to a pre-officer candidate school. Later, Hamling was sent to an officer candidate school, graduated, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. The army then sent Hamling to further schooling where he became a motor maintenance officer, still with the rank of lieutenant. Hamling was scheduled to be attached to the Fourth Division, a division that was later to go into Normandy, but while he was on a combat exercise in this country, Hamling sustained an accident in the field with a land mine and was later hospitalized with a bad ear problem. Thereafter, Hamling was retired from service for medical reasons, but of course received an honorable discharge in 1944.
On his return to Chicago, Hamling resumed the writing and selling of fiction. Hamling wrote various forms of fiction, to wit, science fiction, Westerns, mysteries, detective and adventure stories, and these were published in various magazines such as Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures, Mammoth Western, South Sea Stories, and similar periodicals which were being published at the time. In January, 1946, Hamling became an assistant editor in a large publishing company in Chicago known as the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. Hamling was with that company for five years and in that period Hamling was promoted to associate editor and finally to managing editor of one of the divisions of the company. This division published the kind of works that Hamling had been writing—fiction magazines, science fiction, Westerns, mysteries, detective, and like magazines.
While Hamling was with the Ziff-Davis Publishing Company he met a man named Leroy Yerxa, from whom he purchased on behalf of the company fiction material which Yerxa wrote on assignment. Yerxa was then married, with four children, and his wife, Frances, also wrote for the company. Her writing was more in the factual areas, articles on various fields of science, which were purchased by his magazines. Leroy Yerxa died in 1946, having suffered a stroke, and Frances remained a widow until 1948, when they were married. They were married in the St. Mary's church in Evanston, Illinois. Frances was born in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, and had come to Chicago prior to her first husband's death. She acted not only as a mother to four children, but worked professionally as a free-lance writer. When they were married the oldest child, Kay, was approximately 11 or 12 years old, and the youngest was Carol Ann, who was about 4 or 5 years old. Between these two were the two boys, Richard and Edward. In 1949, their son, William Lawrence Hamling, Jr., was born, and in 1952, their daughter, Deborah was born.
Hamling began as an author. His Shadow of the Sphinx is a horror novel about an ancient Egyptian sorceress. First published during the 1940s in Fantastic Adventures, it was described by Lin Carter as "the best story of its kind I read in many a moon. The character of Zaleikka was done to perfection. This is the type of yarn we have all too few of nowadays."
In 1950 Ziff-Davis decided to move their corporate headquarters, both editorial and business offices, to New York City. Hamling was asked by the president of the company to go with the company to New York, but declined due to family ties. The president of the company asked Hamling to stay with Ziff-Davis until the company moved, and in the interim gave Hamling permission to form a publishing company of his own. Therefore, at the time Ziff-Davis moved, Hamling had already organized the Greenleaf Publishing Company in Chicago.
After work as an editor at Ziff-Davis, Hamling started his company, Greenleaf Publishing (which was at different times known as Greenleaf Classics, Reed Enterprises, Corinth Publications, Regency Publications, Blake Pharmaceuticals, Phenix Publishing and Freedom Publishing) in the early 1950s with Imagination. His wife, science fiction author Frances Deegan Yerxa Hamling, worked closely with him in the early years of his publishing company.
Imagination published its first issue on October 1950. Although there is no editorial credit given for the first two issues, the editorials and letter column responses are signed "RAP", initials which Raymond A. Palmer commonly used. The first two issues were published by Clark Publishing Company which also published Palmer's Other Worlds which had a similar look. However, from its inception, Hamling was the editor and publisher, and Ray Palmer the front. Although Hamling credits Palmer as the editor in response to a letter in the February 1951 issue of Fantastic Adventures, the last issue of that magazine which Hamling edited. Hamling was to become notorious for the layers of insulation he kept between his activities, his fronts, and even between himself and co-workers and employees.
According to L. Sprague de Camp's 1953 Science-Fiction Handbook, Hamling was at that time a "slim, dark man who looks too young to be not only an independent publisher but also the father of five."
The Greenleaf Publishing Company initially published science fiction magazines and a spectrum of similar publications, and it was not until November 1955 that Greenleaf published the first issue of Rogue (although it had a cover date of December), a magazine which was competitive with Playboy, a magazine dealing with sex which had been published for about two years at this time. In 1953, as a solo and unidentified effort, Hugh Hefner's Playboy V1#1 appeared without a date late in the year [November]. It was an almost immediate success with that wonderful calendar photo of Marilyn Monroe being reused to its best advantage.
About Playboy and Hugh Hefner, Hamling states in a letter to his friend, and lawyer, Stanley Fleishman: "I remember my friend Hugh Hefner coming to me in 1953 to propose an idea for a magazine to be called Playboy. Hef was talented but poor and his passion had been fantasy. He was a struggling cartoonist and had been working in a clerical capacity at Esquire. I had been buying fantasy cartoons from him for several years (they were so bad I never published them but he needed the money and to this day we have a running routine where I threaten to issue them as a nostalgic bonanza but defer to his pleadings of personal embarrassment) and one evening he and his charming wife, Millie [Mildred "Millie" Williams], visited Fran and me and I responded to his suggestion of Playboy with the remark, 'Hef, you can't sell sex to the American public.' Today Hef is still talented but he is no longer poor. My quote has since become a standard joke in the fourth estate.
"...That night brought another turning point in my life. While I refused financial participation in Playboy (the greatest economic error in publishing history) I helped him secure authors and artists and indeed over the early years actually provided a training school for his editorial and art personnel. I trained the editors and he hired them away..."
Greenleaf, then, published Rogue and a photographic magazine in book form called Model Art, as well as different numbers of science fiction publications. Rogue began much as Imagination had before it, there in the Hamling basement on Fowler Avenue in Evanston. Hamling and his wife, Frances, sat side by side and worked on it together, business as usual.
The initial cover price on the magazine was 35 cents and it remained that way until January 1960 when it was raised to 50 cents. In just one more year, the cover price was raised to 60 cents and remained at that figure for the rest of the life of the Greenleaf magazine.
Both Playboy and Rogue were distributed by Empire News, and in 1955 attempts were made by the Post Office to ban these magazines. The services of Thurman Arnold, Abe Fortas, and Paul Porter were obtained in Washington, D.C., and Judge Thurman Arnold represented Rogue before the district court in Washington, where an injunction was granted against the government and the magazine received the right to use the mails. The adjudication took place in 1957. Second class mailing privileges were granted, and within thirty days Playboy received the same relief.
Hamling was the editor and publisher, his wife, Frances, was executive editor; and Frank M. Robinson was the associate editor. Lead fiction was by a hot science fiction author, Harlan Ellison who became associate editor with the third issue (April 1956).
In 1958 business at Rogue was so good that both Imagination and Imaginative Tales were no longer needed in order to make Hamling money. Coupled with the recent liquidation of the major US distributor for magazines, American News Company, Hamling ceased publication of his science fiction digests, and began to concentrate solely on Rogue. Business was so good the offices were moved from the Hamling basement to the Graphics Arts Building at Sherman and Dempster in Evanston.
In 1959 Hamling started publishing paperback novels. Originally, these novels were published under the trade name of Nightstand Books, Midnight Reader, and Regency Books. Nightstand Books, was an imprint for paperback original sex novels by authors working under house names. (Later imprints included Leisure Books, Ember Library, Midnight Readers, and others). Still later, books were published under the trade name of Greenleaf Classics.
In 1959, Harlan Ellison, along with his new wife Charlotte [Stein], moved to Evanston where Harlan was employed by William Hamling at Rogue. Ellison had returned to Chicago, to setup William Hamling's black box operation for publishing pornography under the false front company of Blake Pharmaceuticals, housed in the offices next door to the headquarters for Rogue. The "black box operation" was how they received manuscripts secretly provided for by the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.
Beginning in 1959, Scott Meredith Literary Agency, and Scott Meredith personally, became the single largest supplier of pornography in the U.S., and chief supplier for Hamling's and Earl Kemp’s adult book Greenleaf operations, part of which involved a "Black Box" (anonymous) delivery system. During his career, Scott Meredith innovated many of the basic practices of his field. Such innovations included attention to foreign rights, tie-ins with movies, and auctioning rights to publishers.
Writing and editing for William Hamling's Rogue magazine was the "story" to cover Ellison's real activities. Ellison started Blake, did six titles in 1959, and then walked away from the job cold without notice. Hamling followed him to New York City and bribed him to come back, continue with Blake, and he was given the bonus of editing books for Hamling's Regency Books, again "a clean thing to cover his ass with."
Under the Regency imprint Hamling published novels and anthologies by writers such as B. Traven, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bloch, Philip José Farmer, and Clarence Cooper, Jr. In 1959, along with Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison wrote pornography for Hamling's Nightstand Books. His best known work was Sex Gang (Nightstand Book, NB1503, November 1959), as by Paul Merchant. Sex Gang would become the only porn novel he would write for publisher Hamling. Ellison arranged for Algis Budrys to be his assistant but in reality was setting Ajay up to take over and had plans to again walk away cold without notice. However, "Ajay" Budrys blew his plans away by telling Hamling what Harlan was about to do. Hamling fired Ellison, and replaced him with Budrys (who hired Earl Kemp as his assistant in ’61). After this internal reorganization Hamling paid Ellison to write back cover blurbs for Nightstand Books at $50 a pop for a year or so, and then cut him off cold. With Ellison out of the way Hamling had the blurbs written by the Blake staff, then numbering about four (Earl Kemp among them), not counting his totally inept, continuously doped up stepson...Eddie Yerxa, now dead.
Beginning in 1960 Hamling began to visit friends and family in Palm Springs and Beverly Hills, and decided to move his home and business to that state. In 1964 Hamling moved his family to Palm Springs. When Hamling first moved to California, Greenleaf continued to publish the magazines. A subsequently formed corporation, Corinth, published paperback books, and Reed Enterprises was organized to do the distribution. Later, in 1966 and 1967 the book and magazine publishing were consolidated under the Greenleaf banner and Corinth was liquidated, so there remained Greenleaf and Reed Enterprises, only.
From 1961 on his primary editor was Earl Kemp. Pseudonymous writers for Kemp/Hamling included Lawrence Block, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Harlan Ellison, Evan Hunter, Robert Silverberg, and Donald E. Westlake.
Other than the Rogue litigation, the only other litigation which Hamling became involved in prior to his 1971 indictment was in 1966, when there was an indictment returned in the district court in Houston, Texas, charging violations of the obscenity law with respect to seven novels Hamling had published. There was a hung jury in that case and after a mistrial was declared, the case was transferred to San Diego. Finally, in 1971, when the indictment in the Illustrated Report was returned, the government moved to dismiss the Houston case and it was dismissed with prejudice. The dismissal followed rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States that books virtually identical to those involved in the Houston case were not obscene. See, Redrup v. New York, 386 U.S. 767; Corinth Publications, Inc. v. Wesberry, 388 U.S. 448; A Quantity of Copies of Books v. Kansas, 388 U.S. 452; Books, Inc. v. United States, 388 U.S. 449.
Hamling helped finance the defense of bookstore clerk Robert Redrup. His appeal of his conviction on obscenity charges for selling two Greenleaf Books (Lust Pool and Shame Agent) in 1965 went to the Supreme Court of the United States, where it was overturned in Redrup v. New York in 1967.
During the Nixon Administration, Hamling published an illustrated edition of the Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The book was "replete with the sort of photographs the commission examined." Hamling and editor Earl Kemp were hit with lengthy prison sentences for distributing the book (it has been suggested that this prosecution was in part retaliation for Hamling and Kemp's part in Redrup v. New York), but served only the federal minimum. The story of their arrest and prison time was covered in Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor's Wife.
On September 18, 1970, Charles Keating, the head and founder of the Citizens for Decent Literature, and President Richard Nixon’s only appointee to the eighteen-member panel commissioned by former President Lyndon Johnson to produce the report, disputed the findings and petitioned a federal court in Washington, D.C., to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the publication of the final report, which called for the legalization of all pornography in the United States. He failed.
The 1969 President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography issued its un-illustrated 656-page report on September 30, 1970. One month later, the report went on sale at the Government Printing Office. On November 11, 1970, copies of Greenleaf Classics’ 352-page The Illustrated Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography were published, and two weeks later, on Monday, December 13, 1970, went on sale throughout the U.S. for $12.50.
Three months later, on Tuesday, March 8, 1971, four officers of three San Diego companies were arraigned on charges that they used the U.S. mail to sell an unauthorized, and allegedly obscene, version of the report of the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The indictments were announced in Washington, D.C., by the current U.S. Attorney General, John N. Mitchell. He gleefully announced, "They are the result of a three-month investigation by the Postal Inspection Service and the FBI."
Named in the original anti-Illustrated Report indictments were Greenleaf Classics, Inc., Library Services, Inc., and Reed Enterprises. Twenty of the indictment charges dealt with violating postal laws by mailing obscene books and advertisements, and the final one a count of conspiracy to violate the laws. Hamling, Greenleaf, and Reed were also charged with two counts of shipping obscene matter by truck from San Diego to Dallas. The indictments were reported in the Sunday, March 6, 1971, edition of the San Diego Union newspaper (...it was also announced that 17,000 young men would be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War).
Of the twenty-one indictments that were handed down they were only convicted on those pertaining to mailing an advertising brochure (plus the one conspiracy count). Hamling, to his great good character, stood up in court and testified that he—and he alone—was the only one who knew about this brochure, that he personally created it, and he had it mailed out under his command.
However, Hamling standing up and taking the fall was not enough, and they all were still convicted. Hamling received a four-year regular adult sentence. Earl Kemp received a sentence of three years and one day. The report as published by Greenleaf was not found to be obscene. Nonetheless, on the other hand the brochure was found to be clearly obscene by the jury. Of some note, Earl Kemp was in Europe at the time Hamling created and mailed the ad brochure.
On June 21, 1973, following the Supreme Court of the United States decision in Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, Hamling immediately ceased publishing works with pictorial content and withdrew from the marketplace vast numbers of such books which had been distributed prior to that date. The pictorial books which were withdrawn from the market had a retail value of approximately $900,000.
On Monday, June 24, 1974, the Supreme Court of the United States, after Greenleaf lawyer Stanley Fleishman argued to overturn the Greenleaf conviction, in a 5-4 ruling, upheld the lower courts' verdict. "It's hell to go to jail knowing I'm an honorable man," said Hamling to Los Angeles Times newspaper reporter Gregg Kilday in an interview following the Supreme Court announcement.
"Justice Black was sitting at the time the brochure for the book was mailed...The one vote would have been different...I would not be a criminal...reasonable men may differ. But Justice Black is not now sitting, therefore I am a criminal, consigned to the limbo of convict life and brand. How does one adjust to this? A question of personal taste and legal ambiguity that swings the scales of justice 5 to 4 either way, as capricious as the changing wind at sunset. The sunset of my personal life and professional career."
On Monday, January 5, 1976, after being out on bond (William Hamling's bond was $15,000, and Earl Kemp's bond was $10,000) since their sentencing in 1972 (while they were appealing the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States) they both surrendered in the courtroom of Judge Gordon Thompson, Jr....the judge who originally tried and sentenced them. They both went to prison, the Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island, at the same time, and both were released at the same time.
Of note: On January 5, 1976, by court order, all involvement in any aspect of producing pornography by all members indicted, charged, and convicted, and now imprisoned, ceased.
By court order they were both released on May 17, 1976. Although out of custody, their sentences were still in effect and both received five years of probation. Hamling was also ordered to terminate any connection with Reed Enterprises, and Library Services, Inc., as both had been named in the original indictments. Judge Thompson also ordered him to sell all his stock in these same organizations. He was allowed to keep the real estate that housed these enterprises (primarily a fantastic building directly across the freeway from the Chargers Qualcomm Stadium, bought many years before it was built). Hamling was also ordered to pay a total of $87,000 in fines ($43,000 for Reed and $12,000 for Library Services). Hamling was personally fined $10,000 on the one conspiracy charge, and $2,000 for each of the 11 counts of mailing an obscene brochure for a total of $32,000.
The other two officers, David L. Thomas and Shirley Wright, both received five years on probation. Although, they were both given a sentence of one and a half years in prison, it was suspended when they were placed on probation. Shirley Wright was the bookkeeper and secretary for Greenleaf. David Thomas was the office manager and treasurer.
So, of the original twenty-one indictments all four Greenleaf company officers and the two corporations were convicted of the same twelve counts on Monday, February 7, 1972, following a two-month jury trial—the jury deliberated for six days and was hung on the remaining nine counts.
Hamling published gay-themed books while at Greenleaf, one of the earliest publishers to do so. Novelist Victor J. Banis, one of Hamling's authors, says that once Greenleaf proved how much of a market there was for erotic gay fiction, other publishers soon joined in.
According to Frank M. Robinson, one of the Greenleaf gay-themed books, Song of the Loon [by Richard Amory] became a million-copy-plus bestseller. "Everybody made money off Loon—except for the author, who was paid the standard price of $800, while Hamling made millions and the store owners who sold them made thousands."