Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Underground Newspapers on Microfilm


In contrast to the commercial press, the underground tabloids and broadsheets of the 1960s openly addressed relevant local issues such as racial segregation, police and government repression, graft, metropolitan corruption and middle class complacency. Few were as deliberately subjective as the controversial OPEN CITY, or as non-objective as an active participant in the very news it covered in and around the streets of Los Angeles.

First published May 6, 1967, OPEN CITY was subtitled, "Weekly Review of the Los Angeles Renaissance." As conceived by the brilliant editor/publisher (and self-described loose cannon) John Bryan, who financed the paper out of his own pocket,

"OPEN CITY will not write just for an underground readership. We are very much interested in what happens within the greater community and intend to report issues which affect everyone . . . . we are especially interested in covering those areas of conflict which the sell-out daily press so nervously ignores, those areas where angry and determined minorities continue to challenge the worst contemporary madness and injustice."

John Bryan's OPEN CITY opposed the persecution and discrimination of all minority groups, including African Americans, Chicanos, homosexuals, hippies, young people, feminists, war protesters, and more. Indeed, the paper viewed diverse minorities as a constituency readership. Coverage of sexual topics was frank and graphic; the paper made extensive use of colored inks and used uninhibited language in presenting a wide range of combative topics on the order of entertainment, drugs, the draft, the police, and sex in all its forms. As the title indicated, OPEN CITY celebrated diversity as the highest expression of freedom within a paradigm pitting an oppressive mainstream against an embattled underground.

Associate editor Robert Garcia penned an outstanding series dealing with the skid row area of South Main Street in Los Angeles. A special issue (September 14-20, 1967) devoted to marijuana and drug issues was reprinted throughout the United States. Robert Igriega produced a three-part series on race, including a groundbreaking report on jailhouse rape. OPEN CITY employed John Bryan's wife Joan Barr Bryan (Philadelphia Museum School alumni) as art director (teaming with Larry Gaynor for some far-out and uninhibited graphic illustration); she also authored the Supermother's "Cooking With Grass" feature, which provided culinary recipes for marijuana. The "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" column was Charles Bukowski's prose column; he also wrote numerous other OPEN CITY feature stories.

The upbeat "Making It" feature was by Jerry Hopkins. Additional contributors included James Anderson, Harry Weber, Derek Taylor, Richard Whitehall, Ralph Gleason, Antonia Lamb, and photographer Al Gillen. The bi-weekly OPEN CITY peaked with a circulation close to 35,000 copies. Contemporaneous with DISTANT DRUMMER and ROLLING STONE, OPEN CITY was noted for its coverage of rock music and psychedelic culture. The paper met a premature death following the arrest of John Bryan on obscenity charges, and the resultant $1000 fine all but finished off this bold publication venture, effectively shutting OPEN CITY down in mid-March of 1968. Ironically, Bryan and the paper found vindication in a later high court ruling. In requiem, the underground LOS ANGELES FREE PRESS noted in an editorial,

"The establishment didn't like OPEN CITY. It saw too much and said too much. It performed a very vital function while it lived. It let voices be heard which too often were smothered in the press and hurry up of everyday. Where OPEN CITY died another must spring up. There's room in this town and this society for more than one alternate voice paper."

This is the third in a series spotlighting the hip and radical specialized literature of the 1960s. Visit the Magazines and Newspapers Center on the fifth floor and the San Francisco History Center (on the sixth floor of the Main) for a look at our comprehensive Underground Newspaper Microfilm Collection.

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