Norman Oshtry (born 1926), Interviewed May 25, 1993

by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2021. All rights reserved.


I interviewed Norman Oshtry on 25 May 1993 at his home in Mount Airy, Philadelphia; his wife appears briefly in the transcript below. Oshtry was a successful lawyer with a practice in Center City. He is probably best known for his work on Ginzburg v. United States, a 1966 obscenity decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, but he also was the lead lawyer in Val’s, a gay bar case that reached the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1967. I was interested in interviewing him because of his work for Clark Polak, one of Philadelphia’s leading gay activists in the 1960s. Polak was the leader of the Janus Society and the Homosexual Law Reform Society; the editor of Drum magazine (the most widely circulating gay movement magazine in this era); and the owner of multiple pornography businesses, including Trojan Book Service, Beaver Book Service, and several pornographic bookstores in Philadelphia. Polak moved to southern California in the early 1970s and committed suicide in 1980. The interview below includes ambiguous language about an alternative will, apparently never executed, that would have left Polak’s sizable fortune to LGBT community organizations instead of his family. After the recorded part of our interview was completed, Oshtry let me view but not copy the alternative will, which I summarized in my book City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-72 (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 302.


Marc Stein Interview with Norman Oshtry, 25 May 1993


Transcribed by Tracy Nathan and Marc Stein.


MS: This is Marc Stein. I'm interviewing Norman Oshtry in his home on May 25, 1993, and I thought maybe we should start with some background on yourself: when you were born, where you were born, how you became a lawyer, all that sort of stuff.


NO: Born 6/16/26 in Philadelphia. Went to school in Philadelphia. Went to graduate school at Penn. Undergraduate Penn State. Law school in Temple. Spent two years in the Navy. Married, two kids. What else?


MS: Well how did you first get in touch with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] and get involved with civil liberties issues.


NO: Well I was always involved in civil liberties issues and constitutional issues. I was always interested in it and it's one of the reasons I think I went to law school. And I went to law school at night and I joined the ACLU. I got involved.


MS: Do you remember when you joined?


NO: I'll give you a little more background. When I got out of the Navy, I did electronics. I knew something about electronics. And I went to work for the government, as an electronics supply cataloger for the Signal Corps. I was going to law school, and while I was going to law school, I got jobs with the city, first in personnel, then hospital administration. Then I spent six years with the Commission on Human Relations as a human relations investigator. And during my years as a human relations investigator, I was involved in all kinds of community activity, including the ACLU, the Jewish Human Relations Council, the Fellowship House, the Fellowship Forum, the Committee on Foreign Born, Committee on Foreign Affairs, etc., etc., etc.


MS: Do you know what the six years were? Was this in the fifties?


NO: '54 to about '59 or '60. No, it must have been to '60. And I went to law school during that period of time at night. And that's a natural follow through from my work as a human relations representative. I quit, opened up a practice by myself, and I’ve been practicing ever since.


MS: And you've always practiced by yourself?


NO: By myself.


MS: What kind of practice have you had?


NO: A general practice, including almost everything that you can think of. I can probably tell you better by telling you what I don't do. I did only two bankruptcies. For the most part I've done most of it. I've covered all of it.


MS: And was it really the experience of working for the Human Relations Commission that sensitized you to...


NO: No, I was sensitized before I went there. As a matter of fact, they probably desensitized me, because I always thought it was a phony agency, did very little, was very disgusted and frustrated. And if anything, it was cynic-producing.


MS: So where do you think your civil liberties bent came from?


NO: My mother.


MS: Is that right. Why is that?


NO: I think so, ‘cause she had an intuitive sense of right and wrong. She would have no idea I would say that, 'cause she wouldn't always talk to me about it. She just had an intuitive sense of right and wrong and I think that it inculcated in me. I don't know how else to explain it, because I felt always these issues were very important. And there was no one movement or one thing.


MS: Do you remember your first gay client?


NO: I don't know if it was Clark or not. Might have been Clark Polak. I don't think so, though.


MS: Let me ask you this then. Were you at all involved in the coffeehouse raids?


NO: Yes. Yes, that's right. I had a couple of coffeehouse cases when Rizzo was the captain. I forgot about that.


MS: That was in '59.


NO: But they weren't necessarily gay. I don't remember the ones I had being gay. As a matter of fact, I got a kid off, one of the managers. I remember some of the hearings. Rizzo interrupted the hearing with a genius, the judge, Benji Schwartz, now gone. So he said, “The lawyer looks like a nice guy. Let's let him go this time.” That's how I got the kid off. Ridiculous.


MS: So he wasn't gay, the kid.


NO: No, it was not a gay case.


MS: Did you know Mel Heifetz then?


NO: No.


MS: He was the owner of the Humoresque.


NO: No. This was probably one of the less successful ones, I guess. I don't remember. All I remember is he didn't pay me and I was very angry.


MS: So you don't necessarily remember that as a crackdown…


NO: Oh, I remember very well.


MS: …on gays specifically.


NO: No I don't. I remember it was a crackdown on long-hairs and so-called beatniks and people who were other than mainstream. And I don't remember it being an attack on gays. It was an attack on values that Rizzo, who was then a captain, didn't like. He was captain, I think, at 12th and Pine, or maybe earlier. When I worked for Human Relations, brutality cases came out galore. It was known as a brutality center.


MS: And I've seen reference to some kind of obscenity crackdown in Philadelphia in '60, '61. Does that ring a bell?


NO: Well remember crackdowns were constant. There were constant arrests and series of arrests. And then we'd go through the whole caseload and then they would stop for a while and come again. But the dates I can't recall.


MS: O.K. So why don't you tell me, then, how you first got in contact with Polak?


NO: I think Spencer Coxe [executive director of the Greater Philadelphia ACLU] referred him to me because he knew I was involved with civil rights. It was Spencer, I think, who referred him. I'm fairly certain that's how it happened, because I had previously--I'm trying to get my time sequence. The Eros magazine case, you may recall. And that was an obscenity case involving a fella' named Ralph Ginzburg. And I was local counsel in it. And I forgot which came first, Clark or…


MS: I think that case came first.


NO: I think that case came first and I was involved with it. And I went through the whole trial and of course he got convicted.


MS: Why was that case heard in Philadelphia district court?


NO: Because they felt they could get a conviction here.


MS: Is that right?


NO: There was nothing special about Philadelphia, except they thought they could get a conviction and they were right. They figured it would be conservative. That's what they told us. Shane Creamer was the prosecuting attorney. Then he became attorney general under [Pennsylvania Governor Milton] Shapp. So you want me to just talk?


MS: Yeah, yeah. I'm interested in this.


NO: The firm out of Washington. Two New York Jewish boys, Dick Stein and Shapiro. Very talented, but they weren't talented enough. And we had a non-jury trial before a judge named Body. And I knew the case was lost the first day when he started talking about mother and I, referring to his wife. I knew we were in trouble. And he gave him five years.


MS: So they thought the Philadelphia district court was conservative or the prosecuting attorney?


NO: They felt the area was conservative. And they felt they could win here. They could have indicted him any place because he had a national mailing and they could have taken him anyplace. There were advertisements through the mails and they picked here.


MS: Who was they?


NO: Attorney General at the time.


MS: Of the United States?


NO: Yeah. Who was it? I don't remember who it was at the time.


MS: Well if it was under Kennedy, it was his brother.


NO: No. I don't remember. It may have been.


MS: The case maybe started earlier?


NO: It may have been Kennedy. I just don't remember. I just don't remember.


MS: Maybe the case started earlier.


NO: I don't remember. I'd have to check back. We're talking a long time. Am I going through on this machine, you think?


MS: Yeah. Oh yeah. So you think that pre-dated Clark.


NO: I think so. I think that's what happened.


MS: And then Coxe.


NO: I think Coxe referred him to me. I think that's what it was.


MS: And did you become Clark's personal lawyer, as well as the lawyer for Janus?


NO: Yes, yes.


MS: And you were Clark's only lawyer?


NO: For most things, almost everything. He went to a fellow named Gil Cantor once in a while for estate planning, but he also came to me. And that's another story. Gil Cantor's now dead. He had a will and we thought it was destroyed. And after Clark died, it wasn't destroyed, 'cause I called up. I remember I called up Gil, or Clark said he called up Gil and said it was destroyed. Well it turns out it wasn't. It didn't matter, I suppose. His family got the thing.


MS: Who's will? This was Clark's will.


NO: Clark's will, yeah. But other than Gil Cantor, I don't think he went to anybody. As far as I know, I'm the only other lawyer he went to.


MS: Let me just ask you, though, about what you just said. Clark had a will that was not...


NO: He had a will and he was talking to me about a new will. And we never got it finished. Because then he asked me what would happen if he died intestate. And I think it's what he wanted anyhow. His father was living at the time and his mother. He had a sister and a brother. I have the hand-written will of his. He was in California at the time. He was coming in back and forth. And there were hand-written notes and a hand-written will, all typical of Clark, all over the place. And it wasn't a valid will because we never really put it down to writing. He had made one, but he told me he thought it was destroyed, but it wasn't.


MS: And what was the hand-written one? Where did he leave his money in that one? Do you recall?


NO: He left some to me, as a matter of fact. I think he left $10,000 to a homophile society. I forgot, one of the societies. I may have it around here. I may have it.


MS: Because one of the things that some people have talked about it is that he earned a lot of money through the gay community and then left it all to his family.


NO: Well that's true, but he did intend, and he did have that reduced to writing, and we never got around to it. I may be able to find it in the estate file, which I have here.


MS: O.K. Well maybe we should go back then. And I'm curious to know whatever you know about Clark's background, where he grew up, what his family was like.


NO: Well I knew his father and I knew his sister and I got to know his brother after he died. They're all dead now, including his step-mother. His mother apparently committed suicide, as he did.


MS: Do you know anything about the mother's suicide?


NO: I never met her.


MS: Do you know anything about when it took place? Was Clark a child?


NO: I don't remember. I have some vague recollection but I really don't remember.


MS: O.K. And where was the family located? In what part of Philadelphia?


NO: He went to Central High School.


MS: He did?


NO: As I recall.


MS: What part of the city did he grow up in? Do you have any idea?


NO: I think it was Oak Lane, but I'm not sure. He's much younger than I was, so I really don't know. I think it was Oak Lane. I know he went to Central. I know he went to Central with a fellow named Stuart Weiss, who's still around, by the way.


MS: Is that right?


NO: 'Cause Stuart told me, I think erroneously, that Clark was known as gay in high school. He told me a couple of unflattering things. I never believed them particularly. Stuart's still around. He's still in the area.


MS: I might be interested in talking to him.


NO: I remember. He may not remember it, but I do.


MS: Did Clark go to college?


NO: He went but did not finish. I think he went to Penn State and he did not finish, as I recall. And he was actually at Penn State later on, giving lectures on gay life and shocking the audience and running around saying I'm gay. And no one could believe anyone would dare open their mouth and say that.


MS: Did you have a sense that he had a troubled childhood?


NO: Yes, I did. I had a sense of it, but I don't know.


MS: And what was your sense of his father and his sister?


NO: His father was a tough guy. Clark always referred to him as tough.


MS: Jewish?


NO: They're all, yeah. His step-mother was not Jewish. His father remarried a very nice woman who, by the way, Clark made certain was well taken care of after his father died. Absolutely. We set up trust funds for her. He was very, very solicitous and cared for her, worried about her wasting her money. And I did it. I took care of it for years.


MS: And what did the father do for work?


NO: When I met him, he was working with Clark, for Clark. He was up in that warehouse.


MS: Is that right?


NO: I think he had to retire and then he helped Clark. And Roberta was there, too. Roberta Weber, her name was, his sister. She was up there doing secretarial work.


MS: And so it sounds like the family must have been somewhat supportive of his business and his political work if they were working there.


NO: I never saw any dissent.


MS: Do you know what his father did before he retired?


NO: I think he was in sales of some kind, but I don't remember. I don't remember.


MS: Did you have a sense that it was a middle-class family?


NO: Yeah, yeah. His father--I think Clark may have taken after him, ‘cause I remember he stood up. He was aggressive, as I recall. Not a weak man, as I recall.


MS: So what do you remember about your first meetings with Clark?


NO: He used a different name.


MS: What name was he using?


NO: Was it Charles Phillips? Or there was another name, too: Carl Clark or Clark Carl. He had some kind of advertising agency over in Kensington or a public relations agency, which I didn't know about. And at that time his accountant was Mike Blecher, who's still around, by the way. Mike Blecher, he's still in West Philadelphia.


MS: Is that right?


NO: Yeah.


MS: Is he gay?


NO: No. No, he's not.


MS: That was his accountant, you say.


NO: Yeah.


MS: Did you know a man named Lou Coopersmith?


NO: The name's vaguely familiar, but I can't remember meeting him. Is he an accountant?


MS: No, he worked with Clark in one agency before Clark went to work full time at Janus.


NO: It was called Trojan or something?


MS: It was called Lark Enterprises. The L was for Lewis and the ark was for Clark.


NO: That's right, yeah. Well I didn't know. I may have, but I don't remember. He wasn't very involved later on. But Mike did all his taxes for years and years and years.


MS: Is that right?


NO: Yeah. Yeah. He's a nice fellow, Mike.


MS: So I guess maybe then we should move on to talk about some of the things you did for Clark during the years that he was head of Janus and editing Drum and working at Trojan.


NO: Well I can't remember specifically, to tell you the truth. We talked all the time. He would call me all the time there was something going on. One time he put me on retainer--I forgot what it was--to be the Janus Society lawyer. And I don't know what was happening, but I was getting calls from everybody under the sun who were having these lovers' quarrels. They were fighting and screaming. I don't know what they wanted me to do about it. And I kept on getting these calls and he was getting all embarrassed by it all, I think. I think he stopped it, but it was crazy.


MS: He had published your number or something?


NO: Yeah. And I was supposed to solve all these lovers' quarrels. And I couldn't solve any of them. Yeah, I remember those.


MS: Were you involved at all in the Customs battles that he had?


NO: No.


MS: Do you know who handled those?


NO: No.


MS: And were you involved with any of the problems with the Post Office that he had delivering Drum. There was a problem with the Buffalo Post Office once.


NO: I don't remember that, but I know he discussed almost everything with me. I just don't remember that. I remember one time he took frontal male nudes before it was accepted, if it ever is accepted. He mailed those off to the Post Office. Tell them this is what he wants to publish. Are they gonna’ give him a hard time? A whole bunch of male nudes through the mail. And I remember one of the postal authorities; it may have been that same guy who he had trouble with. He didn't tell me what it was. He said well we got some mail and he’s probably gonna’ try to do something and there's gonna’ be trouble. But I remember that.


MS: Was that Drum or something from Trojan Book Service?


NO: It was just photographs--a series, a lot of photographs. And I really don't recall when he did it, but I know he did it. He had a lot of guts, he did.


MS: Did Polak have a lot of encounters with the city police?


NO: Well, yeah. He got arrested and other people got arrested. Yeah, sure.


MS: Do you remember much about the arrests? Or any specific instances?


NO: Yeah. Sure I remember. I remember arrests. I remember we had trials. One of them was very funny, because he had hired somebody who did the photographic work and printed it and published it, as his employee--and it was a cop. And he said some of the best work that was ever done was processed through a police lab. And we went to trial on that issue. We won the case ultimately. I get my cases mixed up. There's one case, I forget which case was which now, but I think that it was an involved case. Well one case went to Superior Court. And we got the seizure, we got everything, reversed, the seizure thrown out. Gosh it's years.


MS: Did you ever lose a case? With Clark?


NO: Yes.


MS: Did he ever do time?


NO: No.


MS: Did he ever pay fines?


NO: I don't know if there was a fine or not. I remember he got probation. What happened was this. This was the last case. I won all the cases except this one, because this was the federal case. And I have a file that might refresh my memory. But I know that there was a tremendous amount of seizure and we were prepared to fight it. He was tired. He was worn out at that point. I remember. And he would never plead guilty to anything. And I didn't push him to plead guilty. So I told him there was a plea called nolo contendere. He said, “Well I'll do that,” with the understanding that he wanted to get out of the business at that point.


MS: So what was the agreement? That he would stop?


NO: No, just between Clark and I, Clark and me. He agreed he would plead nolo contendere to the charge, which means no defense, I'm not gonna' contest it. And he got some probation at that point in time and he was gonna' get out of the business. He did.


MS: Why didn't they go after him more seriously?


NO: Well they did. It was a criminal case.


MS: But I mean why did he get off on just probation?


NO: Well, we made a plea bargain arrangement. I can get that file out, maybe refresh my memory on it.


MS: Do you think part of the plea bargain was that he would stop the business?


NO: Yes it was. Yes, but he wanted to. He wanted to. He wanted to get out and move to California, which he did. He opened up the art gallery.


MS: Right.


NO: He was just tired. And he had enough money, I guess, and he wanted to get out.


MS: Did you hear anything about the struggle about the closing of Janus and Drum? I heard one report that he had offered it to a group of lesbians to take over.


NO: I don't know that. I don't remember. I don't know. I don't remember it. Let me put it like that. I have no recollection of that.


MS: Right.


NO: I think he just got tired. And he was really out there alone an awful lot. He really had more guts than anybody at the time and probably since.


MS: Did you do the work to set up the tax-exempt status for Janus and the Homosexual Law Reform Society?


NO: No, I didn't. I don't know who did. I didn't know they ever got it. Did they get it?


MS: It's reported in Drum. I don't know if that means...


NO: Gil Cantor may have done that. I don't know. I didn't.


MS: But you took care of it when Drum and Janus closed down? You took care of what happened to the funds.


NO: No, I don't remember. I just don't remember. See as time went on, I got more and more involved with Clark in different things, personal matters, things I wouldn't discuss. They were private to him and they should remain that way. And I became personal with him, as much as business, as much as professional. And he came down to my house. I have a house in Margate. Before he died, he came down there. He appeared distressed.


MS: And was that, would you say, in the '70s or was it already happening when he was still in Philadelphia?


NO: He was getting tired, I think. Then he went off to California. He opened up the art gallery. He seemed fine out there. But I think he missed the--this is just my guess--he missed some kind of relationships, real meaningful relationships. I think. He had had Jimmy at one point. We talked about that before you recorded me.


MS: Right. What did you know about that relationship?


NO: I think it was very important to him, when I knew him. I don't know why it didn't continue. I have no idea, except Jimmy was at his funeral. I remember that.


MS: So you went to his funeral.


NO: Oh sure, of course.


MS: And his sister was there?


NO: Sure.


MS: Anyone else from the family?


NO: Brother was there. I think his father had already died, as I recall. His step-mother was there, who said, “I lost a friend.” I remember that.


MS: And you said that Clark left his money to his sister, to his family in general.


NO: To his brother and sister. It ended up there. That's the way it ended up.


MS: Would you want to say how much money this was?


NO: I don't remember. It was quite a bit.


MS: On the order of several hundred thousand dollars?


NO: Oh yeah.


MS: More than that?


NO: I think so, sure, I think so. Yeah, I don't remember exactly. See what happened is I had referred it to a lawyer in California, ‘cause that's where his residence was.


MS: Right.


NO: And then I got out of it. And a fellow named Gil Cantor took over. And he hired someone else out in California. There was a certain involvement there, ‘cause Gil Cantor had the will. And I think he named Gil Cantor at that point in time. I don't remember. I think he was named as the executor.


MS: Executor?


NO: Yeah, but until he got involved with it, I was doing everything.


MS: Right, right. So you think that Clark intended some of the money to go to the gay community.


NO: I know he did. I know he did. I may be able to find some of it for you.


MS: Right. I haven't asked you about the Val's case in New Jersey.


NO: Well that's another one. Clark was involved with it. He financed it.


MS: How much would a case like that have cost? A thousand dollars?


NO: Depends who you're talking about. I was never expensive enough. I don't know what I charged, but I know I under-charged. Everyone's always told me that all my life. But it went up to the Supreme Court in Jersey and we won. After losing all the way, we finally won.


MS: Was that a surprise?


NO: Well, we should have won. Most of the time you should win, but you don't because of the hostile climate.


MS: Well I think Drum or it may have been in some private correspondence that reported expecting to lose at the New Jersey Supreme Court but expecting to win at the U.S. Supreme Court.


NO: I don't remember anything like that, because to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was an iffy question. They don't take many cases. I mean now they take even less. I forgot what it was then.


MS: And you don't know anything about the Supreme Court not taking that Florida case that was a similar case to Val's?


NO: I don't remember it. No. I know we won.


MS: Did you ever work for any other gay bars, gay bar cases in Philly?


NO: Well I represented a gay bar, but I mean in terms of business transactions and as far as arrests are concerned. There were no license revocation cases for gay bars that I was involved with in Philadelphia.


MS: But you were the lawyer for a bar.


NO: Yeah, the Allegro bar, to be very specific.


MS: Is that right?


NO: Yeah.


MS: And what sort of matters would you handle for them?


NO: Business matters. Business matters. Things that came up.


MS: But as far as you knew, there weren't license cases?


NO: I didn't have any. There may have been. There were always license cases, violation of the regulations, under-age drinking, drugs, but I didn't have any.


MS: And what about bar raids? Did you ever represent anyone who had been arrested in a bar raid?


NO: I don't think so. I had all these students at the University of Pennsylvania one year on marijuana charges.


MS: Is that right?


NO: About a dozen or so. I don't remember any bar raids.


MS: How about arrests for public sex?


NO: Oh at this stage I had a lot of sodomy cases, one after the other.


MS: You did?


NO: Oh yeah.


MS: Was that funneled through Clark and Janus? Or were those people who just individually found their way to you?


NO: You know I can't remember.


MS: It seems that somebody must have been channeling people to you, 'cause otherwise...


NO: I don't remember. Maybe that's the way it came. There were a lot of them. No, not necessarily. Well it may have been, yeah, it may have been. I tell you, I don't remember.


MS: Do you know if there were other lawyers in town who handled these cases regularly?


NO: Which kind of cases? I got involved with obscenity cases an awful lot. But solicitation to commit sodomy cases?


MS: Yeah.


NO: Sure, there were many lawyers who handled them. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know who they were. I didn't have every case in the city. I know I had some that had nothing to do with Clark, nothing to do with Janus. A couple, I remember, I could tell you, were people I knew. Nothing to do with Clark.


MS: Can you tell me the circumstances around some of them?


NO: Yeah, they solicited a police officer, allegedly solicited a police officer. They all were involved with soliciting police officers.


MS: This was in the '60s?


NO: Yeah, that would be in the '60s. It's horrible. I mean I thought we were gonna' have a couple of heart attacks. Oh I was involved with the baths, the gay baths, at one time. I forgot.


MS: Which baths? On Camac?


NO: Not Camac. Camac's not a gay bath, is it? It never was.


MS: There was a bathhouse on Camac Street.


NO: No, it was a fella' downtown named Levandoski. I remember his name.


MS: Levandoski? That's his last name?


NO: Yeah, his last name. But I forgot where he came from. I think he's still there. Is it on 13th Street? Is there one on 13th Street?


MS: I think it's not now.


NO: There was a gay bathhouse, who I represented.


MS: Club Baths.


NO: Club, maybe that was it. I have a file some place. It wasn't a long time, because for reasons I don't know, one of the new managers came in and seemed to be hostile. I don't know why. I don't remember what it was. And I didn't represent them after a while.


MS: But what was the case there? People got arrested?


NO: Well they came in. Yeah, there were some arrests made, and when they came, I did the business, lease arrangements, and the organizational concept. Yeah it was, what'd you say, Club...


MS: Club Baths.


NO: I can't remember. I'm getting old. It was on 13th Street, I think. I may have had two of them.


MS: I should know this. I should know this myself.


NO: I know Sam Rappaport, who I do know, was the owner of the building, and I had to negotiate with him. He was one of the tough negotiators. I'm giving him my life history. I'm remembering things I had forgotten.


Eve: It’s all going down.


NO: Remember I represented the baths a long time--do you remember that?


Eve: Yeah.


NO: I remember walking in there and I said there's nobody here. It's awfully dark. And the guy says, “Oh yeah, there are a lot of people in there.” I said, “What are you talking about. I can't see anything.” He said, “They're there.”


Eve: Norman the innocent.


NO: Yeah, I was innocent. I wasn't so innocent. I just didn't see anybody.


MS: Let me go back again for a second to Janus. It seems like there were a bunch of cases with hotel owners. Hotel owners threatened to cancel public lectures, one at the Penn Center Inn with Samuel Hadden.


NO: I didn't handle any of that.


MS: Or the Drake, the ECHO [East Coast Homophile Organizations] conference at the Drake.


NO: I didn't have any of that.


MS: O.K. But you were involved with the Dewey's sit-in?


NO: Yes. Well I met with Dewey. I think it was Dewey Eisenberg, I think his name was. And we met. Clark and I met with Dewey. And Clark said, "This must stop."


MS: And what is it that had to stop?


NO: They were harassing gays, weren't serving them, as I recall.


MS: Was it the 13th and the 17th Street one? Do you remember? Do you recall?


NO: I don't recall. I don't recall. I think we met at the 17th Street one. We sat down at the booth. He wasn't a bad guy. He described the behavior patterns that were going on. And he was very upset by it. And I remember thinking it wasn't so terrible if what he said was accurate. He said he can't have his customers--I don't remember what he said. I remember he was not—and it worked itself out. I don't remember any…


MS: Do you remember the sit-in?


NO: Yeah. But I think it all ended peacefully, as I recall. He was not, as I recall, an unreasonable person. I don't remember feeling that he was some kind of a gay hater or baiter. He just wanted some order or something. Maybe there was some rally. I don't remember.


MS: Do you think Clark was someone who liked to make trouble?


NO: No, but he didn't walk away from it. He was a militant about his gay leanings and preferences. And he, I mean I remember [laughter].


MS: I would really be interested in some of the funny stories, 'cause you keep laughing to yourself.


NO: Well I remember a couple times people would call him a cocksucker. He would say “the best in the business.” That was his standard answer. And people would be saying it casually. They weren't even thinking about it in the gay sense. And he was a character.


MS: Do you remember any of his confrontations?


NO: I remember the fellow, Tom McBride, Jr. Not the Tom McBride who was the Supreme Court justice. Must have been the U.S. attorney. Yeah, it was a federal case. And the marshal was there. And the marshal was someone Clark told me he thought was Jewish and a victim of the persecution. I don't remember why he thought that because I don't remember it. But he was cursing him out and carrying on. And he was about to be arrested and have handcuffs on for obstructing justice, and I interfered and I stopped it. And he always felt secure when I was there. He said, “I wasn't worried. You were there.” But he was crazy, 'cause I couldn't stop those things. I also remember there was some alleged--I don't remember what the arguments were--there was an alleged dispute with some people from New York City, who came down allegedly looking for him, allegedly Mafia people, allegedly going to shoot him. And he told them to go screw themselves.


MS: Were these distributors?


NO: I don't remember what the circumstances were. I met with one of them and I remember he wasn't afraid of them.


MS: Did they seem like Mafia to you?


NO: He hinted at it. He said, “I know the people who can do damage.” I said “well.” I forgot how I responded, but we did not back off. And they walked away.


MS: It seems that you have a lot more fond memories of Clark than a lot of people I've spoken to.


NO: Well a lot of people didn't like him, I know, because he could be harsh. He could be autocratic. He could lose his temper. But I admired him in certain respects. He had a generosity of spirit with people he really liked. He also had a suspicion of humanity and I think he generally would be aggressive and hostile in situations without waiting, because of his background suspicion. But he was always generous and considerate. And he was bright, by the way. But I'm sure he made a lot of enemies. A lot of people didn't like him. I remember one time we negotiated and he was cursing and carrying on. Some of it was for effect. And he was gonna' get batted in the nose by someone who, if he hit him--who happened to be a nice person, by the way, who I still know--would have murdered him. And he always went to the point where he knew he should stop.


MS: So he would vent his anger not only at straight people who were violating his gay pride, but also at other gay people?


NO: Yeah he would. Well this person wasn't gay. I mean it was in a business negotiation.


MS: I see.


NO: He could be very, very difficult and insulting. I mean I saw it, so I know.


MS: What kind of business negotiations was he involved with?


NO: Well buying, selling, leasing a new store, or buying a new business, or selling something.


MS: What kind of businesses did he have?


NO: He had adult book centers, bookstores.


MS: Do you remember how many?


NO: Four or five, I think. Three or four, one of them. I remember. I forgot them. Yeah, it was four or five of them.


MS: Were they all on Market Street?


NO: Well one was at 16th and Market. A couple were on a street that no longer. I can't think of the name of it. Two or three were right there, near City Hall. My brains are going. What's that street north of Market?


MS: Arch or Vine?


NO: No, small street.


MS: Do you remember the names of the bookstores?


NO: I don't know if they had names. I don't remember.


MS: Did the bookstores get a lot of trouble from the police?


NO: Yeah. That's where some of the arrests came and so forth.


MS: Were they just gay porn bookstores or were they primarily straight porn?


NO: He had everything, as I recall. He had everything.


MS: I found a reference to a court case on Janus films.


NO: I don't know. At least I don't remember it.


MS: Did he have peep shows, movie theaters, that you know of?


NO: Yeah, we must have had them there. I mean they've been there so long and he must have had them, too. They came in later, you see, the peep shows. And I forgot whether they were his era. They must have been.


MS: One of the people I've interviewed said that he actually had the first one.


NO: Yeah, he must have started it. He must have had them, the movies. I just don't recall. He sold the business when he left to certain people who I represent now.


MS: Who you continue to represent?


NO: Yeah.


MS: Were they other gay businesses?


NO: No. Nothing to do with gay life or anything of that nature.


MS: If you had to guess, how many people in all of Clark's businesses would you say worked for him by the time he left Philadelphia?


NO: How many people? That's a hard one. I mean all the stores, all the people? He had a lot of people.


MS: 100? 200?


NO: In and out, you mean? People hired, fired, discharged, and everything?


MS: Yeah. I'm interested.


NO: I forgot how many years he was there. I mean he had stores and he had a lot of young gay boys working for him. He was very upset ‘cause there was a lot of thievery. He trusted people and he found out they stole and he got so upset.


MS: Did you ever have a sense that they were underage?


NO: No, but I had a sense they were young.


MS: You thought they were over eighteen but not much over eighteen?


NO: They were in their early 20s, I remember, something like that, some of them. Yeah, they were young. There were a lot. Not all of them. 'Course he had Dennis, Dennis Klinger, who's name you never heard before, I guess.


MS: No.


NO: Well Dennis worked for him and did art work for him and worked for him. And he also got arrested. And I got him out of it, too.


MS: Which business did he work for?


NO: He did art work, I guess. What the hell did Dennis do for him? Dennis did everything. He had a mail-order business, too. Do you remember that? Did you know that?


MS: Trojan?


NO: Yeah.


MS: Trojan?


NO: Yeah. I think Dennis worked mostly in the mail-order stuff.


MS: Was there a guy named Collins?


NO: Collins?


MS: Who worked in the warehouse?


NO: There might have been. I don't remember. See Clark was only a small part of my practice, although he was important to me for certain reasons.


MS: Right.


NO: So I don't remember everything. I was doing lots and lots of other work.


MS: I understand.


NO: I was doing divorce cases and estate work and accident cases. But I'm trying to give you what I did with Clark.


MS: Right. It does seem that you had a particular kind of relationship with him.


NO: Well I liked him and I trusted him, which I think may have been rare in his life. I don't know that. But he trusted me. I know that. He did. And he felt confidence in me. And I always did my best for him. And apparently he thought it was good enough because he kept coming back.


MS: Now how did you know Barbara Gittings?


NO: Through Clark. I didn't know her well. But I remember meeting her. We once went to a radio show. Clark, and I think it was Barbara Gittings, and me on the Frank Ford show. My wife will remember that, 'cause just as chance would have it, this is a funny story. Frank Ford, do you know who Frank Ford is?


MS: Yeah. We have tapes of the radio show. We haven't listened to them yet.


NO: Well I'm on it someplace, I guess, if you've still got it. Maybe it was other shows, I don't know.


MS: Barbara has, I think, kept them.


NO: I was on one show only. But the night I went there, my kids were little, and Frank Ford's mother was our baby sitter. It had nothing to do with Clark or Frank Ford. We knew her and she baby-sat for us. And I went down there. I said to Frank Ford, “Your mother says.” It had nothing to do with anything else. Just pure coincidence.


MS: That is funny.


NO: I forgot when it was. Yeah. That's why I think I met her. And there was some connection back and forth, a little correspondence. I mean there were some communications of a minor nature throughout the years, but I don't remember what they were or what the basis of it was.


MS: So I'm getting a sense that aside from maybe Val's, the main work that you did for Clark were the obscenity cases.


NO: Yeah, absolutely. Well I represented all the business arrangements, too.


MS: Right, right. Were there connections to organized crime, as far as you could tell, in his businesses?


NO: No, no. Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, when he sold the business, I guess it was the FBI came to interview him and asked him those questions. And I was present during the interview. And he said they did me the biggest favor in the world by buying me out. It was a lot of nonsense. There was no connection, none.


MS: Did you have a sense that the FBI was following him before that meeting?


NO: Well I know that he asked for his criminal record under the Freedom—what’s it called?


MS: Freedom of Information Act.


NO: Freedom of Information Act. And it was quite extensive. There was an awful lot of blacking out. My name was in there, too, in a sort of stupid way, I remember. Said he's also the attorney for Ralph Ginzburg under Eros magazine, which is a lot of nonsense. They connect everything. They have it all written down. But they must have had a lot of...


MS: So they had been tracking him.


NO: Well they had a dossier on him, because I saw the thing. It was blacked out all over the place.


MS: This is important for me because I just filed a Freedom of Information Act request.


NO: For yourself?


MS: For Clark. And they'll do it as long as I can provide them with an obituary. And to be able to respond if they say they don't have anything, I'm trying to accumulate evidence that there was.


NO: They definitely had. They definitely got it, 'cause I saw how thick it was. I think it was reasonably thick. I don't remember. But I know he got it, and I saw it 'cause it was all blacked out and my name was in it as attorney, as I just told you.


MS: So you remember meeting with FBI people?


NO: Yeah, in my office.


MS: Was it 1970? He was on his way out of town?


NO: He had sold his business and they wanted to know if he was forced out of business by so-called organized crime, which was absolutely untrue. It had nothing to do with anything. He just was tired.


MS: Why did he agree to talk to them?


NO: There was no reason not to. We had nothing to hide.


MS: How many FBI? Do you remember?


NO: One person.


MS: One guy?


NO: Yeah. There was no reason not to.


MS: Well he had just been through a federal case, right?


NO: Yeah, but I think he wanted to make sure. I mean I don't know, but the new owners had nothing. He didn't want any hint, I guess, or any suggestion that there was something wrong with it. There wasn't. It's always nonsense with FBI business. No, there was nothing with organized crime, 'cause he wanted to make some money and he wanted to prove a point. He wanted the homosexuals to be accepted and he wanted the world to recognize homosexuals as equal participating human beings in this world. That was what he wanted.


MS: Right. Do you think he was ahead of his time in that sense?


NO: Way ahead. Way ahead. He would shock everybody. He would shock everyone.


MS: Well unless there's anything else, maybe we'll finish up here, unless there are other stories that you want to share, whatever you can remember.


NO: Well some stories can't be told.


MS: O.K. Well thank you.