The Trial of Lenny Bruce – The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “It’s About @#&%! Free Speech” (Arts pages, Oct. 17):

I was an expert witness at Lenny Bruce’s 1962 San Francisco trial for obscenity.

Three U.C. Berkeley professors appeared for the defense: Al Bendich and Don Geiger (speech department) and me (English department).

Geiger and I testified that Lenny’s act was creative literature, entitled to the free speech protection Bendich had earlier claimed and won for Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and for the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Judge Clayton Horn cited Judge John M. Woolsey’s 1933 opinion that James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” as a work of literature, was protected by the First Amendment.

Geiger read John Berryman’s “Dream Song 46” to the court. I read excerpts from Aristophanes, Rabelais, Chaucer and Joyce. Molly Bloom’s soliloquy included all the words Lenny had been arrested for saying in his Jazz Workshop performance. Judge Horn explained the law carefully and fully, and the jury voted for free speech and acquittal.

Lenny taught us that there are no dirty words, only dirty minds.

Robert Tracy
Berkeley, Calif.
The writer is emeritus professor of English and Celtic studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

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