Fred Jordan: “He fended off government censors to introduce avant-garde authors who inspired the counterculture”

From a New York Times obit by Sam Roberts headlined “Fred Jordan, Publisher of Taboo-Breaking Books, Dies at 95”:

Fred Jordan, the publishing partner of Barney Rosset, whose groundbreaking Grove Press and Evergreen Review fended off government censors to introduce avant-garde authors who inspired the counterculture of the 1960s, died on April 19 in Brooklyn….

Grove’s lawyers were instrumental in overturning anti-pornography court rulings against D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” in 1959, William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” in the early 1960s and the Swedish erotic film “I Am Curious (Yellow)” in the late ’60s.

“The lifting of the ban on language had far-reaching significance, not just for writers and readers,” Mr. Jordan would tell students at New York University….“Much of what later came to be known as the counterculture received its impetus from a new spirit of liberalism and freedom, which arose out of the new openness and the removal of old restraints.”

After flying with Mr. Rosset to Bolivia to obtain extracts from the diary of Che Guevara, the revolutionary ally of Fidel Castro, Mr. Jordan commissioned the illustrator Paul Davis to paint a cover portrait for a 1968 edition of Evergreen Review, a literary magazine launched by Grove, from a grainy photograph of Guevara. The illustration was transformed into a subway billboard and widely reproduced.

According to the commission on domestic spying headed by Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1975, Grove, because of articles in Evergreen that were deemed radical, was the only commercial publisher targeted by a covert government program that spied on political organizations within the United States.

His son Ken Jordan, himself a publisher and editor, described Grove…as “the communications epicenter of the counterculture.”

Under Mr. Rosset and Fred Jordan, Grove published Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, Vaclav Havel, Eugene Ionesco, Malcolm X, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Hubert Selby Jr. and Art Spiegelman, among others. Another partner, Richard Seaver, helped introduce French literature to the United States….

The Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman wrote an autobiography, “Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture” (1980), while he was a fugitive from the F.B.I. and living in Mr. Jordan’s house in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

A Holocaust survivor for whom English was a second language, Mr. Jordan detested his first job as a writer in New York: covering the stuff of which books are made, the rag market, for an industry trade magazine.

He embarked on his lifelong profession in the early 1950s by answering a newspaper advertisement for a publisher’s assistant and complying with the criteria imposed by said publisher, Charles Musès, a mathematician, philosopher and astrology enthusiast who ran a tiny, esoteric house, Falcon’s Wing Press.

By Mr. Jordan’s account, after calculating astrologically that Mr. Jordan’s birth date augured a successful career, Dr. Musès asked the eager applicant if he knew anything about books.

“Well,” Mr. Jordan replied, “I’ve read a lot of them.”

From that inauspicious start, he went on to join Mr. Rosset at Grove in 1956 as a business manager. That was the beginning of a 30-year collaboration — without a contract — in which Mr. Jordan would expand his role into editing and managing the company’s First Amendment defenses against the censorship that would threaten its financial viability and very survival.

Mr. Jordan was born Alfred Rotblatt on Nov. 9, 1925, in Vienna to Herman Rotblatt, a Jewish émigré from Poland who lent money to other working-class families, and Fanny (Steckel) Rotblatt, who was born in Vienna to Jewish immigrants from Russia.

Alfred was to have been bar mitzvahed on Nov. 9, 1938, but the ceremony was pre-empted by Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom against the Jews.

His father was arrested but later smuggled out of Austria and survived the war in the basement of a Belgian church protected by the bishop of Liège. Alfred’s older sister received a visa to the United States. His mother was interned in the Lodz ghetto in German-occupied Poland in 1940 and then transported to the Chelmno extermination camp.

Fred, as he was known, escaped Vienna as part of the prewar Kindertransport mission, which enabled thousands of children threatened by the Nazis to flee to Britain.

His formal education ended in the seventh grade. After that, he worked in a paper mill, enlisted in the British Army when he was old enough and, after the war, returned to Vienna, where he worked for a newspaper for American military personnel. He emigrated to the United States in 1949 with one suitcase and $30 in borrowed cash, only to have everything stolen on a train to Kansas City….

Mr. Jordan left Grove in 1977 to head the American division of Methuen, a British publisher. He later ran an imprint at Grosset & Dunlap before returning in the early 1980s to a financially ailing Grove Press, which would be sold in 1985; Mr. Rosset would be ousted a year later.

Evergreen Review eventually ceased publication, but it has been periodically revived and is currently being published online. Grove Press merged with Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993 — a victim, in a way, of its success, having helped eliminate the taboos that had restrained more mainstream publishers. In 1990, Mr. Jordan left Grove again to become editor in chief of Pantheon Books, a division of Random House.

But no publishing experience replicated his voyage of discovery at Grove and Evergreen Review, he said in an interview with the literary journal Delos in 1988, comparing it to a science fiction movie in which aliens of greater intelligence than Earthlings anoint agents to prevent their minds from going stale.

“We had been acting as if under some extraordinary direction,” he said.

And now the extraordinary is gone?

“The moment is gone, the phase,” Mr. Jordan said, “but it’s good to feel that somehow one has been chosen.”

Sam Roberts, an obituaries reporter, was previously The Times’s urban affairs correspondent and is the host of “The New York Times Close Up,” a weekly news and interview program on CUNY-TV.

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