Gershon Legman

American journalist
Gershon Legman
Gershon Legman.jpg
Born November 2, 1917
Scranton, Pennsylvania
Died February 23, 1999(1999-02-23) (aged 81)
Opio, Canton du Bar-sur-Loup, Alpes-Maritimes
Occupation Writer, folklorist

Gershon Legman (November 2, 1917 – February 23, 1999) was an American cultural critic and folklorist.


Life and workEdit

Legman was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Emil and Julia Friedman Legman, both of Hungarian/Romanian Jewish descent; his father was a railroad clerk and butcher. According to an obituary by his friend Jay Landesman in The Independent of London, in a childhood incident, classmates "wrote the word 'kosher' in horse-shit juice across his forehead." He regarded the event as formative, and he would insist throughout his life that the violence and sadism so prominent in American culture resulted directly from the suppression of sex.[1]

Legman was an independent scholar without institutional affiliation, except during 1964–1965 when he was a writer in residence at the University of California, San Diego, in the first year of the new campus' undergraduate programs. He pioneered the serious academic study of erotic and taboo materials in folklore. He also was a talented raconteur and could spin out tales non-stop for hours.

As a young man he acquired a number of interests including sexuality, erotic folklore, also origami—for which he was a pivotal figure in founding the modern international movement.[2] In 1940, at age 23, he wrote Oragenitalism, Part I: Cunnilinctus under the pen-name Roger-Maxe de la Glannege (an anagram of his real name).[3] Nearly all copies were seized by the police and destroyed. For a period of time he was a bibliographic researcher with the Kinsey Institute.

In 1949, he published Love and Death, an attack on sexual censorship, arguing that American culture was permissive of graphic violence in proportion to, and as a consequence of, its repression of the erotic. Legman published and shipped the treatise himself, although he ran afoul of the United States Post Office Department authorities, who stopped his deliveries due to the supposed "indecent, vulgar and obscene" content.[4] The book also included a chapter that attacked contemporary comic books as harmful to children; because his critique drew about his view that it was a consequence of the aforementioned cultural permissive views toward violence he wasn't a leading voice during the subsequent debate about the impact of comics that instead was dominated by Fredric Wertham.[5]

Love and Death was an outgrowth of the little magazine Neurotica, edited by Jay Landesman and published in nine issues between 1948 and 1952. Legman was a regular contributor and eventually took over from Landesman as the editor.[6] Other contributors included John Clellon Holmes, Larry Rivers, Carl Solomon, Judith Malina, Allen Ginsberg, Marshall McLuhan, and Kenneth Patchen, which gave it influence disproportionate to its small circulation of a few thousand. The magazine had a few clashes with the authorities, and closed after the censors objected to an article on castration written by Legman.[7]

The full set of Neurotica was reprinted in one volume by Hacker Art Books, New York, in 1963. The Horn Book : Studies in Erotic Folklore and Bibliography was a collection of assorted writings from the 1950s and 1960s. Legman was a prolific writer of essays, reviews and scholarly introductions, including those for the anonymous Victorian erotic memoir My Secret Life (1966), Aleksandr Afanasyev's Russian Secret Tales (1966), and Mark Twain's The Mammoth Cod (1976). He supplemented his income at times through the sale of rare erotica.

On account of his trial[8] for violating United States Post Office regulations in his distributing his book Love & Death, Legman found it prudent to depart the United States.

In 1953 Legman left his native United States for a farm, La Clé des Champs, in the village of Valbonne in the South of France, where he was able to pursue his intellectual interests with greater freedom. In 1955 he organized an exhibition of Akira Yoshizawa's origami work at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Legman spent several decades compiling specimens of bawdy humor including limericks. In 1970 his first volume of over 1700 limericks (published in 1953 by Les Hautes Etudes, Paris) was released in the United States as The Limerick. He followed this with a second volume, The New Limerick in 1977, which was reprinted as More Limericks in 1980. His magnum opus was Rationale of the Dirty Joke: (An Analysis of Sexual Humor), a tour de force of erotic folklore, succeeded by No Laughing Matter : Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor, 2nd Series, for which a subscription had to be paid to support publishing, as no publisher would touch it after Grove did volume one in 1968. Near the end of his life, he edited Roll Me in Your Arms and Blow the Candle Out, two volumes of bawdy songs and lore collected by Vance Randolph (both 1992). Other achievements include his edition of Robert Burns' The Merry Muses of Caledonia (1965).


The title Peregrine Penis of Gershon Legman's yet-unpublished autobiography was a sobriquet bestowed on him by his girlfriend Louise "Beka" Doherty, on account of the fact that he "used to travel to meet her in strange places."[9] The writing of Peregrine Penis, over "six hundred pages"[10] in length, was continually subsidized by[11] Larry McMurtry.

On September 5, 2016, the First Part of Gershon Legman autobiography became available as a print-on-demand, two-volume set, carefully edited by Judith Legman (G. Legman's widow).


Legman was in many senses a radical, but never identified with the movements of his time, decrying the sexual revolution, for example, in The Fake Revolt (1967), and leaving countless irascible obiter dicta on such topics as women's liberation, rock and roll and the psychedelic movement's use of mind-altering substances. However, he claimed to have been the inventor of the famous phrase "Make love, not war," in a lecture given at the University of Ohio in 1963.[12] He remained essentially an individualist and an idealist: "I consider sexual love the central mystery and central reality of life," he wrote. And "I believe in a personal and intense style, and in making value judgements [sic]. This is unfashionable now, but is the only responsible position".[13] Mikita Brottman offers the consensus view of Legman as, in many ways, his own worst enemy, exacerbating his rejection by the academic community with vitriolic attacks upon it.[14]

In Bruce Jackson's view "Legman is the person, more than any other, who made research into erotic folklore and erotic verbal behavior academically respectable" and who made accessible to other scholars material that scholarly journals had long been afraid to publish.[15]

Gershon Legman died February 23, 1999 in his adopted home country, France, after several years of debility, and a week after suffering a massive stroke.

Legman's sexualityEdit

According to George Chauncey's book Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, Legman was a homosexual and is credited with having invented the vibrating dildo when he was only twenty.[16] However, Mikita Brottman holds that he was exclusively heterosexual, accounting for both the abandonment of his proposed volume on fellatio as well as, possibly and in some measure, for his contempt for Alfred Kinsey. He was married for many years to Beverley Keith (died of lung cancer, 1966), married briefly to Christine Conrad, a possibly bigamous relationship, ended either by annulment or divorce, then to Judith Evans.[17] Autobiographical asides in his works note multiple heterosexual relationships, including at least two engagements. In Rationale of the Dirty Joke, he consistently speaks of homosexuality as a "perversion,"[citation needed] and Frank Rector[who?] claims that homosexuality was in Legman's mind connected not with a democratic gay liberation movement, but with the Nazi Ernst Röhm.[18] His obituary in the London Independent lists three marriages, two sons and two daughters.[1] Brottman lists a daughter, Ariëla Legman (b. 1957), by an unidentified Dutch woman, as well as Legman's children by Judith: David Guy Legman (1968), Rafael (1971) and Sara Felicity (1973), and identifies Louise "Beka" Doherty as the great love of Legman's life.[citation needed]

Beginning at the age of 65, Gershon Legman would sometimes "faint at orgasm."[9] He experienced a heart attack after "excessive sexual effort".[19]


  • 1940. (Pseud). 'Roger-Maxe de la Glannège'.Oragenitalism. An encyclopedic outline of oral excitation. Part I. Cunnilinctus. N.p., N.e., (New York,Jacob Brussel),1940.63pp. New revised and augmented edition : Oragenitalism. Oral techniques in genital excitation. New York, Julian Press, 1969.319pp. Contains five sections. I-Cunnilinctus. II-Fellation.IIa-A paractical treatise. III-Irrumation.IV-The Sixty-Nine.
  • 1949. (With Burt Franklin). David Ricardo and Ricardian Theory. A bibliographical checklist. New York,Burt Franklin,,88pp.
  • 1949. Love and Death. A study in censorship. New York, Breaking Point, 1949. 95pp. New Edition:New York, Hacker Art Books, 1963.
  • 1950. (With G.V. Hamilton). On the Cause of Homosexuality. Two essays the second in reply to the first. New York,Breaking Point,1950. 31pp.
  • 1952. Bibliography of Paper-Folding. N.p.,Journal of Occasional Bibliography,1952.8pp.
  • 1953. (Jarry) Alfred Jarry. King Turd. Trans. G.Legman & Beverley Keith. Translator's Note by G. Legman. New York,Boar's Head Books,1953. 189pp.
  • 1953. The Limerick.1700 examples with notes variants and index.Paris,Les Hautes Etudes,1953. 517pp.
  • 1964. The Horn Book. Studies in erotic folklore and bibliography. New York,University Books,1964. 565pp. (U.K. edition : Jonathan Cape. 1970). Spanish translation:Mexico City,Ediciones Roca,1974.
  • 1965. (Burns) The Merry Muses of Caledonia. Collected and in part written by Robert Burns. Edited by G. Legman. New York,University Books,1965.lxv,326pp.
  • 1966. (Farmer & Henley) John S. Farmer & W.E. Henley. Dictionary of Slang & Its Analogues. Volume I. Revised Edition. Introductions by Lee Revens & G. Legman. New York, University Books, 1966. xcvii,461pp.
  • 1966. (Afanasyev) Aleksander N. Afanasyev. Russian Secret Tales. Folklore annotations by Giuseppe Pitré. Illus. Leon Kotkofsky. Introduction by G. Legman. New York, Brussel & Brussel, 1966. xxix;xix;306pp. New Edition : Baltimore, Clearfield, 1988. Contains new foreword by Alan Dundes.
  • 1966. (With others). The Guilt of the Templars. By G. Legman, Henry Charles Lea, Thomas Wright, George Witt, Sir James Tennent, Sir William Dugdale. Prefatory note by Jacques Barzun. New York,Basic Books,1966. xi,308pp.,illus.
  • 1967. The Fake Revolt. The naked truth about the hippy revolt. New York,Breaking Point.1967. New Edition. New York,Breaking Point,1969.
  • 1968. Rationale of the Dirty Joke. An analysis of sexual humor. First series.New York,Grove Press,1968. 811pp.
  • 1975. No Laughing Matter. Rationale of the Dirty Joke. Second Series. New York, Breaking Point, 1975. 992pp.
  • 1976. (Twain).The Mammoth Cod. And address to The Stomach Club with an introdution by G. Legman. Milwaukee,Maledicta,1976. 25pp.
  • The New Limerick: 2750 Unpublished Examples, American and British (New York, 1977, ISBN 0-517-53091-0)
  • 1979. (McCosh) Sandra McCosh. Children's Humour. Introduction G. Legman. London,Panther,1979.335pp.
  • 1982. The Art of Mahlon Blaine. A Reminiscence by G. Legman. With a Mahlon Blaine bibliography compiled by Roland Trenary. East Lansing,Peregrine Books,1982. 26pp.+82pp. illus.
  • 2009. A Word on Caxton's 'Dictes'. Introduction Karl Orend. Paris,Alyscamps Press(St.Yon Pamphleteers Series:Volume 1,2009. xi,31pp. New Edition:St.Yon & Paris, Alyscamps Press & Michael Neal,2011.
  • 2016. "I Love You, I Really Do". CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. First Part, first volume. 498 pp. ISBN 978-1530187720
  • 2016. "I Love You, I Really Do". CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. First, Part, second volume. 528 pp. ISBN 978-1535486743

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Landesman, Jay (March 26, 1999). "Gershon Legman (d.1999)". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2009-04-04. 
  2. ^ Ever enthusiastic, Legman was in close communication with Argentine folder Ligia Montoya, served as an active link among international paper-folders, and introduced Akira Yoshizawa to Europe. See David Lister's account in "External Links" below, and for a short version, Lister's section, "The beginnings of modern origami" in his online short history.[1]
  3. ^ Martha Cornog; Timothy Perper (August 1999). "Make Love, Not War: The Legacy of Gershon Legman, 1917-1999". Journal of Sex Research. 36 (3): 316–317. doi:10.1080/00224499909552002. 
  4. ^ Susan Davis, "Eros Meets Civilization: Gershon Legman Confronts the Post Office"; Jim Holt. Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. W. W. Norton & Company. 2008. p. 32
  5. ^ Bradford Wright. Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, pp.91-92
  6. ^ William Griomes "Jay Landesman, Beat Writer and Editor, Dies at 91", New York Times, 28 February 2011
  7. ^ James Campbell "Behind the Beat: Remembering Neurotica, the short-lived journal of the Beats", Boston Review, October–November 1999
  8. ^ as detailed by Susan Davis in "Eros Meets Civilization:Gershon Legman Confronts the Post Office" in Cockburn & St. Clair 2004, pp. 260-269
  9. ^ a b Brottman 2004, p. 38
  10. ^ McMurtry 2008, p. 175
  11. ^ McMurtry 2008, p. 176
  12. ^ Dudar, H., "Love and death (and schmutz): G. Legman's second thoughts," Village Voice, May 1, 1984, pp. 41-43.
  13. ^ Nasso, C., G(ershon) Legman. In C. Nasso (Ed.), Contemporary authors (Rev. ed.), vol. 21/24, Gale, 1977, pp. 525-526.
  14. ^ Brottman, Mikita. Funny Peculiar: Gershon Legman and the Psychopathology of Humor, Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, Inc. 2004, p. 23-24.
  15. ^ Scott, J., "Gershon Legman, anthologist of erotic humor, is dead at 81," New York Times, 1999, March 14, p. 49.
  16. ^ Chauncey, George, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, 1995, p. 52; Susan Orlean, "The Origami Lab", New Yorker Magazine, February 19, 2007, p. 118.
  17. ^ Brottman, p. 7-10 et passim, 29
  18. ^ Frank Rector, The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals. New York: Stein and Day, 1981
  19. ^ Brottman 2004, p. 37


  • 1977. Reinhold Aman. (Ed.& Intro.) Maledicta. The International Journal of Verbal Aggression.Waukesha, Winter 1977. Vol.1 N°2 Special issue 'In Honorem G. Legman. Festschrift'.
  • 2004. Mikitta Brottman. Funny Peculiar. Gershon Legman and the psychopathology of Humor. New Jersey,Analytic Press,2004.
  • Susan G. Davis, "Eros Meets Civilization: Gershon Legman Confronts the Post Office," in Alexander Cockburn & Jeffrey St. Clair : Serpents in the Garden : Liaisons with Culture and Sex. Counterpunch & AK Press, Edinburgh, 2004.
  • Larry McMurtry : Books : a Memoir. Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008.

External linksEdit