Monday, July 18, 2005

'Hecate' Seller Found Guilty

July 18, 1947

Are dirty books being sold in Hollywood? According to an 8 woman/ 4 man jury in Municipal Judge Mildred L. Lillie’s court, yes. Although the conviction of bookseller Harry Wepplo and the Pickwick Book Shop Corp. was previously dismissed following a reversal in the State Supreme Court, the City of L.A. made a fresh charge. The offense was selling Edmund Wilson’s racy “The Memoirs of Hecate County,” and Judge Lillie insisted that every word of its six short stories be read aloud in her courtroom. It was no defense for Wepplo to claim ignorance of the content: if the jury found the book dirty, it was their civic duty to convict.

And so they did. Harry Wepplo was released on his OR, and attorney Raymond Stanbury stated he would ask for dismissal when court reconvened on Friday.

And from the uppity New York literary critic who wrote the filthy tome, or Doubleday, the fly-by-night smut merchants who published it, not a peep was heard.

1 comment:

8763 Wonderland said...

Well, interestingly enough it was the aggressive marketing techniques of one L.A. smut merchant, Marvin Miller, that led to a landmark Supreme Court decision.

In 1972, Miller, operator of one of the largest mail-order businesses on the west coast dealing in adult materials, blithely embarked upon a mass mailing campaign of brochures promoting his line of XXX films and books.

Five of Miller’s unsolicited brochures were mailed to a restaurant in Newport Beach. One of the envelopes was opened by the restaurant owner and his mother. They were startled by the contents of the brochure, material that “primarily … consist(ed) of pictures and drawings explicitly depicting men and women in groups of two or more engaging in a variety of sexual activities, with genitals often prominently displayed.”

Miller’s junk mail marketing approach backfired. He was convicted on a misdemeanor count by a California court for violating a state law that prohibited the distribution of obscene materials. Miller’s appeal made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1973, which ruled 5 to 4 that the conviction was constitutional under the First Amendment.

The landmark ruling that ensued in the case of Miller v. California is called the Miller Test.

In considering Miller’s appeal, the Supreme Court indicated that “obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment” but the Justices fretted over “the inherent dangers of undertaking to regulate any form of expression.” They balked at the notion of establishing a firm definition of obscenity and instead lobbed the ball back into the territory of state law with the caveat that “state statutes designed to regulate obscene materials must be carefully limited.”

The Supreme Court Justices attempted to help individual states set such limits by devising a three-pronged set of criteria which must be met in order for a state to legitimately proceed with an obscenity conviction: (1) the “average person” applying “community standards” would agree that the work as a whole “appeals to prurient interest”; (2) the work depicts or describes “in a patently offensive way” sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law, and; (3) the work “as a whole” lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

The Miller Test is still in use and it's the yardstick that the DOJ uses to measure the possibility of an obscenity prosecution.