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Cultural Figures Back Comedian Lenny Bruce

June 13, 1964 - Nearly 100 persons prominent in the arts charged today that the arrest in New York City of comedian Lenny Bruce (pictured) for indecency violated Constitutional guarantees of free speech.

The text of the statement and the list of signers was released today by the Committee on Poetry, an organization established to protest legal repression of creative activities. It is headed by Allen Ginsberg, the poet.

Bruce was arrested in April while performing at a Greenwich Village café. A grand jury had handed up an obscenity charge after hearing a tape recording made by plainclothes men.

Bruce is now at his home in Los Angeles, where a similar charge against him was dismissed last week. He has also been arrested for obscenity in Chicago, and in other cities for the alleged possession of drugs.

The statement said: “It is up to the audience to determine what is offensive to them; it is not a function of the police department of New York or any other city to decide what adult private citizens may or may not hear. Whether we regard Bruce as a moral spokesman or simply as an entertainer, we believe he should be allowed to perform free from censorship or harassment.”

Among the signers were Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, Norman Mailer, James Jones, William Styron, Terry Southern, John Updike, Gore Vidal, Joseph Heller, Henry Miller, James Baldwin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Robert Lowell.

Speaking for himself at his Lower East Side apartment, Mr. Ginsberg, who returned to New York in February after spending a year and a half in India, said that the arrest of Mr. Bruce was part of a pattern of harassment of the avant-garde.

He cited the closing of coffeehouses at which poets gathered to read their works and the conviction on Friday of Jonas Mekas, the cinema theorist and filmmaker, on charges of exhibiting an obscene movie, “Flaming Creatures.”

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