Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Josette Frank: Alone Against the Storm, Part 5

     On April 27, 1953, the U.S. Senate established the Senate Special Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. Partly in response to public concern and partly as a political stage in an approaching election year, the committee was created in an attempt to determine the causes of youthful criminal activity. The investigation eventually got around to looking at the effect comic books had on this behavior, if any.
    The subcommitte met in room 110 of the Foley Square on April 21, 1954. On the first day of the hearing,  the damning, anecdotal-filled testimony of Dr. Fredric Wertham and William Gaines disastrous appearance before the committee garnered all the headlines. The first witness the next day was a representative of the Child Study Association. But it wasn't Josette Frank, the person who had written more and spoken more in defense of comics who was invited to testify. It was the executive director, Gunnar Dybwad.
       Dybwad was a well-respected sociologist and child-welfare expert who had taken over as director of the CSAA in 1951, several years after most of their comics research had been completed and published. Upon being sworn in, Dybwad reads a prepared statement to the committee outlining his organization's viewpoint on the subject of comic books, emphasizing that their concern had been aimed at providing guidance to parents regarding comic book reading, rather than how comics related to juvenile delinquency specifically.
     Frank's name comes up almost immediately when Dybwad mentions that she first wrote about comic strips in a book back in 1937. This experience was one of the reasons why she was invited by,"one of the large publishers of comics magazines," to be a consultant for them in 1941.

     "I would like to say parenthetically, Miss Frank is only part time on our staff," Dybwad was quick to add.

     While under questioning by Herbert Wilson Beaser, associate chief counsel for the committee, Dybwad offers into evidence the several studies conducted by the CSAA over the years. He is careful to state that the current opinion of the CSAA regarding "crime comics" was different than it was back when these studies were conducted.
     Dybwad takes pains to point out that the CSAA was of the opinion,"that the problems of comics had called for both sociological and physicological [sic] research and for concerted community action."
     "As I pointed out to you, neither one was our function, and it is regrettable that no effective action has been forthcoming from other quarters."
     This call for "community action" seemed to carry a more ominous connotation than the gentler community "influence" Frank had suggested in 1949. If it wasn't apparent at the beginning, it was now. Dybwad was trying to put as much distance between the CSAA and its past comics research as possible.
     Frank and Sidonie Gruenberg are brought up again in regards to several "favorable" articles they had written about comics.
     "If you want to really be fair about the matter," asked Senator Estes Kefauver,"and follow up your testimony here today as to the kind of comics that we are investigating here, the playing baseball with heads, violent murder, cutting off people's heads with an ax, why not get out a report about these instead of just the favorable ones?
     Dybwad replies that Frank had written some criticisms in her 1949 report, which then led Kefauver to dig deeper into Frank's relationship with the CSAA.
    "Miss Frank is no longer on the staff?", asks Kefauver.
    "Oh yes; she is a part-time employee of our organization," replies Dybwad.

     Kefauver wants more. "Who heads up your staff? Who writes the reports?
     "In this particular field this would be Miss Frank," says Dybwad,"because she is the educational associate of our children's book committee."
     "Let us stay with this for a minute," Kefauver presses on,"In other words, this supervising, reading comics and giving the position of the Child Study Association of America as to what effect they have upon children,that is in charge of Miss Frank; is that correct?"
      Dybwad's answers that while Frank does indeed head the staff, the reports are based upon the work of the entire book committee and not her alone. Kefauver doesn't seem satisfied with this answer and he tries to tie the reports to Frank herself. Dybwad reiterates that the reports were the work of the whole book committee. Kefauver is having none of this and gets to the point of his questioning.
     "Anyway, Miss Frank is the head of the staff that handles the comics and places evaluation on them?"
     "That is right," Dybwad agrees.

     Kefauver briefly changes direction. He asks Dybwad about Dr. Lauretta Bender. Dybwad replies with her credentials and mentions that she was one of the people consulted when putting together the studies. Kefauver loses his patience. 
     "Well, we are beating around the bush about this," says the senator, "In the child-study format here you have, and let me read a little part of this which you put out to the children."
     Kefauver then quotes a paragraph form one CSAA publication listing Frank's bona fides, naming her as an educational consultant with the CSAA, but leaving out something else.
     "Why do you not say here that Josette Frank, in addition to being with Child Study Association,is also the consultant on the children's reading, or consultant on the editorial advisory board of Superman, D.C., National Comics, and is paid by the comics-book industry?"
     Dybwad responds with some urgency.
     "Wait a minute, sir. Please don't say that she is paid by the comic-book industry. This is not so. She is paid by a particular comic-book publisher. I want to put this on the record very strenuously which is quite a difference.
     When I work for the Schlitz Brewing Co., I don't work for the beverage industry, I work for one particular company and I may have my good reasons why I work for Schlitz and not for Ballantine."
     Despite Dybwad's colorful example. Kefauver is not so easily dissuaded.
     "I know, but you are giving her credentials here," Kefauver notes, You are giving her good credentials, but you do not say to the parents that are reading this and want to be guided by her that she is also paid by a leading comic-book publisher. Why do you not give both sides of the picture?
     Dybwad had an answer for this, too. 
     "The assumption is that there are both sides to it. Miss Frank has also been a consultant to innumerable book publishers."
     This was a fact. Frank had, for example, suggested to an author the inclusion of minority characters in a story and encouraged the publication of book about the labor movement to another.
     Kefauver also tries to paint Gruenberg the same partisan brush as Frank by citing her lack of condemnation of objectionable comics. He then mentions that Gruenberg, too, had a connection to the comics industry. Dybwad points out that her association (with Fawcett) had been years before and again, she was employed by just that one publisher and not the industry as a whole.
     Kefauver isn't satisfied with Dybwad's answer.
     "Here are two principal people you are using through a find-sounding association, which undoubtedly some good people are members of, feeling they can do some good. Two people you are using in the comic-book field who evaluate comic books, crime and horror books, turn out to be paid or to have been paid by publishers of comic books themselves. Is that not true?
     When Dybwad agrees with Kefauver's statement, the senator drives his point home.
     "If you think that is fair,then that is all I want to know about your association. I think it is traveling under false colors. I think you ought to at least give the fact that these people are paid or have been paid by comic-book publishers. 
     I do not think it is a fair evaluation to leave to parents of children these rather favorable appraisals of horror and comic books written by someone who has been paid by the publishers without you even divulging the fact."
     Kefauver then reads a portion of Wertham's recent book, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, that commented on the connections of Frank, Gruenberg, Bender and others to comics publishers. Kefauver concludes that while he doesn't question the personal integrity of Dybwad,"the opinion of the Child Study Association in the comic book field will have little weight with me."
     Senator Thomas Hennings starts a line of questioning about the contributors to the CSAA. Even though Dybwad agrees to make such a list available to the committee, Hennings doesn't seem satisfied. He implies that the fact that such a list isn't already available means something more.
     "You do not feel, the, sir," asks Hennings, "that your organization is what might be called a front for the publishers of these crime magazines?
     Hennings implication touched on a very sensitive area. Everyone in the hearing room was well aware that the term "front" was frequently applied to a seemingly innocuous organization that hid its benefactors or a shadowy purpose. In the zeitgeist of the Fifties, this suggested the Communists and Dybwad was surely incensed by Hennings use of the word. Not surprisingly, Kefauver agreed with Hennings.
     "So my own observation is that in the field of comics the people you rely upon, three people," Kefauver observed, "and the only ones here I have seen that you base your study on, are Mrs. Gruenberg, who has been in the pay of comic publications; Dr. Bender on the pay of the advisory board, and being paid by one; Miss Josette Frank, who is either being paid or has been paid by the comic books.
     So far as I can see, your comic book section of your child study group is certainly colored by the fact that these people are not working primarily for you. They are working for the comic book publishers."
     Kefauver goes on to say that, "this part of your study is a fraud and a deceit to the public and the public ought to know about it."
     Dybwad's tried to respond by reminding Kefauver about his earlier statement about the findings of the CSAA coming from the work of its Comic Book Committee and not any one person.
     But Kefauver was having none of it. Since all these favorable comics studies were conducted by the CSAA in the past, he asked, "Why do you not get out a study for 1954, and talk about these books?
     My conclusion is that you are not doing this for the reason that your people, and perhaps your association, too, are being paid by the industry itself and that you do not want to criticize, very much, anyway, the crime book industry."
     Dybwad cites the relatively benign nature of the comics published by Frank's employer, National Comics (DC). In an attempt to illustrate his point, he enters the company's editorial code into evidence. He concludes by noting that Frank's name appears in every DC comic, so that the fact she is a consultant is hardly a secret arrangement.
     Hennings wants to know about the fees given to the various comics consultants and whether these fees are turned over to the CSAA. Dybwad says that they were not. Since Frank was was only a part-time CSAA employee, she performed her work for DC on her own time.
     After some back-and-forth regarding the ownership of DC, Dybwad gets to make a point about something that was obviously bothering him. Throughout his questioning, it was repeatedly mentioned that the CSAA comic book surveys were currently being distributed by the organization. As Dybwad pointed out more than once, this was untrue. And he knew the source of this misinformation.
     "I said that most carelessly Mr. Wertham in his book implied that they were being distributed," Dybwad says, while denying Dr.Wertham of his title.
     "Mr. Wertham," claimed Dybwad, "takes stuff out of context" and his book, SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, "has not one documented reference of our material". He goes on to call the book, "an entirely unscientific study which is a mockery of research". Considering the respect that Wertham and his book were given in the hearing the previous day, it can be assumed that Dybwad's comments fell on deaf ears.
     In an apparently planned move, Dybwad mentions that it just so happens that on that day, April 22, 1954, Frank's latest book, YOUR CHILDREN'S READING TODAY, was being published. He reads a section of the book wherein Frank takes"irresponsible" comic book publishers to task.  
     "There is no more excuse for licentious publishing in this field than any other," writes Frank, "and it is perhaps either more unconscionable here because it is more available than any other reading matter." But she stops short of calling for any action other than self-regulation by the industry and parental guidance.

     As his testimony is drawing to a close, Dybwad reminds the senators that, "Children today read comics, read them in tremendous numbers, millions of them who never get in trouble." Although he warns against censorship of comic books, Dybwad finishes with a statement at odds with Frank's earlier recommendations, but certain to please all of his inquisitors.
     "But we have felt that community action should be forthcoming, civic action, action through the trade associations, and so on.
     We still feel so today. We still hope that out of this committee's work some new avenues of approach will come which will put a definite stop to the publication and availability of these comics.
     I will say further that that will be a distinct contribution, not just in general to children's welfare, but I would say more specifically that this would be a contribution to the broad approach to delinquency prevention." 1

     Dybwad and the CSAA's board of directors were worried. So much so, that on May 10th, they met and approved a supplementary statement to send to the Senate subcommittee and to release to the press.
     The statement began with the assurance that the CSAA, "heartily endorses the subcommittee's objectives" and then went on to explain the relationships that Gruenberg and Frank had with comic publishers.
     Gruenberg's 10-month tenure with Fawcett establishing editorial criteria is briefly covered. Frank's employment by National (DC) gets much more detail.
     "In 1941, National Comics Publications asked the association to help them to improve their publications and keep them safe for young readers. The board of directors gave this request serious consideration. It then agreed that Miss Josette Frank should accept the major responsibility for working with this publisher. 
     As a part-time member of the association's staff, the board felt that she should be free to make her own arrangements as to fee. 
     The board also decided that the association, working through its total staff, and with the children's book committee, should assume a supervisory relationship to this project. For this service, the association has received $50 monthly.
     The results of this service have justified the board's decision. Miss Frank, in consultation with others, has helped National Comics Publications to improve the quality of their comics. She has helped also to eliminate undesirable advertising in magazines produced by this company." 2

    While the statement goes on to laud the "numerous awards" and recognition DC had received for their public service features, it is the financial information that the subcommittee took most interest in. An addendum to the CSAA statement from a subcommitte investigator revealed that Fawcett Publications had contributed $1,500 to the organization in the mid-1940s, while DC had given $2,500 in the five year period from 1947 to 1952. 3
     Reactions to Dybwad's appearance before the subcommittee were swift and generally not positive.
     One ominous attack the following week came from a source not usually concerned with children's reading as the virulently anti-Communist newsletter, COUNTERATTACK, turned their unwanted gaze upon the Child Study Association.
      "The Child Study Assn was accused of deceiving the public last week because in reports it published on comic books it did not note that some of its experts were in the pay of the comic-book publishers. Sen ESTES KEFAUVER made this accusation before the Senate subcommitte Investigating Juvenile Delinquency.
     Sen KEFAUVER pointed out that Mrs SIDONIE MATSNER GRUENBERG was formerly an adviser for Fawcett Publications and that Dr LAURETTA BENDER and Miss JOSETTE FRANK are now on the advisory editorial board of National Comics Publications. 
      JOSETTE FRANK was billed by the Jefferson School of Social Science, the Communist Party's top open school in the U S, as one of the speakers at its book fair held in Nov. 1948.
      Mrs GRUENBERG, also billed as a speaker by the Jefferson School (in 1946), has a much more impressive record." 4
      Despite the growing animosity toward Communism following WWII, the Child Study Association did indeed maintain a close relationship to the Jefferson School. Founded as a Marxist learning institution in 1944, several staff members of the CSAA taught there, including Gruenberg. For her part, Frank participated in the annual book fairs, speaking on such subjects as "Social Realism in Books for Older Children". These acts were enough for the anonymous author of the article to write that the CSAA's "minimizing" of the "crime and horror book problem" led him to conclude that, "it is apparent that some of the assn's and publishers' advisers make an interesting study in "political" delinquency for the parents they have been advising about children." 5
     The virtually concurrent publication of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT and the Senate hearings made for some convenient commentary. Book reviewer Wolcott Gibbs in the May 8th NEW YORKER magazine, took the occasion of his review of Wertham's book to lash out not only at comic books, but at groups he said opposed legislation limiting sales of comic books in the state of New York. Dybwad took exception to this statement in a private letter to Miraim Coffin dated June 9, 1954.
     "May I say unequivocally that it is an absolute and deliberate falsehood to state that the Child Study Association of America took action to stop legislation in the New York State Assembly designed to curb the sale of the new type of vicious horror and crime comics. While I have been the executive director of the Child Study Association only recently, I have searched our files; I have searched the minutes of our Board; I have interrogated the members of our Board, as well as our staff, and there is nothing on record here at the Association to the effect that we took action as described in Mr. Gibb's article, nor can anyone remember that such action even was contemplated by us."
     Dybwad was frustrated that his protest to the editorial staff of the NEW YORKER went nowhere. He was angered as well by the reception he received when he appeared before the Senate subcommittee.
     "Senator Kefauver, for reasons best known to him, chose to ignore the statement I read in his presence, and suddenly attacked us in the most vicious and slanderous form (including, for instance, specifically an attack on the integrity of our Board of Directors, describing them as a "front"), refusing to let me answer his attacks, and then leaving the hearing room "to go to another appointment"."
     Not mentioned and likely of less concern to Dybwad, was the constant scrutiny and attack upon the character of Josette Frank.
     Frank, however, continued to appear in forums and discussions of "the comics problem".
     In a September 22th memo to Dybwad, Frank gives her impressions of a juvenile delinquency meeting she attended. It also gives some insight into her personal views.
     "I found most of the material at this meeting very stereotyped. The three religious presentations were what one would have had expected--a plea for more spiritual education in the home. There was considerable applause whenever  anyone spoke of the money-earning aspect of the mass media. It seems to be very reprehensible to make money! Yet I am sure all of the speakers would have been horrified at any suggestion that the state take over the entertainment field on a non-profit basis.
     For me, the only bright note in the session was Dr. Charles Glock's presentation of the findings or rather the lack of findings of social research in this field. He quoted the Wolfe-Fiske study with which we are familiar and mentioned several attempts to study the affects of the mass media on children, none of which were conclusive. While conceding that each of us must use his own judgment in relation to his own children, Glock pleaded that no legislation could be based on current prejudices without more knowledge at hand. The audience practically tore him limb from limb. They were not interested in information but in action, no matter what kind."
     Contrary to Dybwad's statements to the subcommittee and to the public at large, Frank still seemed to favor parental guidance of comic book reading over a governmental crackdown on them.

     With the handwriting on the wall, the collective attention of the comic book industry took notice and formed a self-regulating organization to assuage their critics and hopefully stave off any governmental actions.
   On September 16, 1954, the newly-formed Comics Magazine Association of America announced retiring magistrate Charles F. Murphy would take over as the administrator of their Comics Code Authority and its code of ethics at the beginning of October. Beginning later that month, Murphy and his staff of five reviewers began blue-penciling out anything they deemed objectionable based upon the Comics Code standards and the personal opinion of Murphy himself. By December, they boasted they had removed, "5,500 lurid drawings and 126 "unsuitable" stories" from the comics they had reviewed.6
     Such quick implementation of the Comics Code, however, didn't immediately result in a cease fire. Dr. Wertham penned one more scathing article a year after the Senate subcommittee hearings. Dramatically titled, "It's Still Murder", the piece goes after the, "parents, educators, doctors, child psychologists, moral teachers, and religious leaders," who, in Wertham's belief, "permitted good children to be exposed to this kind of reading,".  Including, apparently, the U.S. Senate itself.
     "The Kefauver Senate Committee to investigate organized crime whitewashed the crime comic book industry," Wertham charged, "The Hendrickson Senate Subcommittee on juvenile delinquency, although admitting that many comic books "stress sadistic degeneracy," also specifically rejects legislation." 7

     And most emphatically, he goes after the Comics Code Authority.
     "Seven months ago--more than half a year--it [the comic book industry] proclaimed that it was appointing a commissioner with full authority to apply a code of ethics," Wertham then asks, "Has anything resembling  the vaunted clean-up actually taken place?" 8
     Despite his continuing outrage, more and more people began seeing cracks in Wertham's crusade against comics.
     In a review of Wertham's latest book, THE CIRCLE OF GUILT, social historian Albert Deutsch points out how the psychiatrist can't leave the topic of, "the menace of crime comic books", alone.
     "Some of us have criticized Wertham's tendency to exaggerate the comic-book evil out of all proportion, to the point of presenting it as the one great cause of delinquency," writes Deutsch.
     "This is, of course, arrant nonsense. To say that delinquency may result from multiple factors by no means implies frustration or inaction; it means that the problem must be tackled on many fronts...". 9
     The enactment of the Comics Code also rendered unnecessary the need for National's Editorial Advisory Board. Frank still spoke before parent-teacher groups and the topic of comics was usually discussed, but the controversy was waning. The editorial oversight of the Comics Code Authority had had its desired effect.
     "So successful has the [Comic Code] Authority's work been that the Fall 1960 edition of the NODL newsletter, official publication of the National Organization for Decent Literature, declared it could find no comics which were "objectionable for youth"."
     By the end of the Fifties, with the furor largely subsided, the Comic Book Committee of the CSAA quietly went away.

     Both Dr. Wertham and Josette Frank were appalled by the worst in comic books. Wertham could see nothing else, Frank saw that they could be much more. In the end, Wertham squandered all his credibility on an unswerving vendetta he tried to validate with skewed and faked research. He is remembered for his excesses and ultimately, damned by them.
     Josette Frank left the comics behind, and turned her attention to a newer medium accused of many of the same sins--television. And she always had her children's books. That was her interest and where her legacy lay. She passed away on September 9, 1989 at the age of 96.
     In 1997, Bankstreet College of Education re-named its Children's Book Award as the Josette Frank Award, given annually to the outstanding achievement in literature in which children are shown to grow emotionally and morally as they deal with difficulties in a positive and realistic way.

All quotations to this point: U. S. Senate, Hearings Before the Subcommitte to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, pp. 119-145, (1954).

"Study Body  Tells of Help to Comics", NEW YORK TIMES, May 19, 1954.

U. S. Senate, op. cit., pg. 136.

American Business Consultants, "Comic Adviser has a Not so Comical Background", COUNTERATTACK, (1954).
5  Ibid.

6   "Lurid Drawings Ruled Out in Crackdown on Comics", SCHENECTADY GAZETTE, Dec. 29, 1954.

7   Wertham, Fredric, "It's Still Murder", THE SATURDAY REVIEW, pg. 11, (April 9, 1955).


9   Deutsch, Albert, "What Makes a Boy Bad?", THE SATURDAY REVIEW, pg. 25, (Oct. 20,1956).

10  Tebbel, John, "Who Says the Comics are Dead?", THE SATURDAY REVIEW,  pg. 44, (Dec. 10, 1960).


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