Krassner, Paul (1932—)

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Krassner, Paul (1932—)

Paul Krassner was the Alexander Pope, the Dorothy Parker, and the F. Scott Fitzgerald of the 1960s. In his satirical magazine The Realist, which began publication in 1958, he revealed himself as a creature very much of his time but somehow separate from it. He was the voice of sardonic, pomposity-deflating laughter, his barbs aimed at the culture and counter-culture alike. Here's Krassner describing LSD: "Last week I took my third acid trip. This time I saw God. Otherwise, it was nothing."

Krassner was a fellow traveler in drug exploration with Timothy Leary, in political agitation with Abbie Hoffman, in comic innovation with Lenny Bruce. The Realist was the dark, warped conscience of the 1960s. With a staff of basically two people, Krassner and a great editor, Bob Abel, it attracted writers like Bruce, Woody Allen, Terry Southern (author of Dr. Strangelove), and Avery Corman (Kramer vs. Kramer). But its most important writing was done by Krassner himself, in such satirical pieces as "The Parts Left Out of the Manchester Book," in which Krassner purported to have discovered a missing chapter, censored from William Manchester's exhaustive study of the John F. Kennedy assassination, Death of a President (1967). In the most striking and scandalous part of Krassner's version, Lyndon Johnson is discovered by a secret service agent performing an unnatural sex act on JFK's neck wound, in an attempt to confuse investigators by changing the angle of the neck wound. Incredibly, this satire achieved a sort of underground echo of the Orson Welles/Howard Koch "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. Nobody quite stormed the White House demanding that Johnson be impeached for sex crimes, but a surprising number of people believed that this story really had been censored from Manchester's book.

Krassner created one of the most amorphous political movements of the 1960s, perhaps of all time: the Youth International Party. It was amorphous in that it didn't exist; it was a political movement in that it became a huge media creation, and by the end of the 1960s, nearly everyone had heard of it. In 1968, when the Democratic national convention in Chicago turned into a free-flowing riot, the police, the media, and many others blamed the uprising on "the Yippies," Krassner's Youth International Party. Krassner, however, was passed over when the group of "Yippie instigators" who became the Chicago Seven were arrested, although if anyone deserved the publicity that Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and the rest gained from that media circus, it was Krassner. The cops probably overlooked him because they couldn't figure him out; the FBI, in one report, referred to him as "a raving, unconfined nut." Krassner later titled his memoirs Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut (1993).

The Realist ceased publication in 1974. Krassner started it up again in 1985, but it no longer had the centrality to the countercultural nervous system that it once had. In addition to his role as a countercultural gadfly, Krassner had his fingers in a number of unlikely pies. One of his most curious jobs was a short-lived stint as editor of Hustler in 1978, during that period when Hustler publisher Larry Flynt sought to portray himself as a First Amendment defender and counterculture hero. In an unusual foray into the mainstream, Krassner was a writer for the Ron Reagan, Jr., TV series in the 1980s. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Krassner's primary vehicle for his satiric thrusts was standup comedy, which led to his releasing several comedy albums, including We Have Ways of Making You Laugh (1996) and Brain Damage Control (1997).

—Tad Richards

Further Reading:

Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 1999.

Krassner, Paul. Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

——. The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race. New York, St.Martin's Press, 1984.