the column of lasting insignificance...
—for May 25, 2016 by John Wilcock


The cover image of “John Wilcock: New York Years, 1954-1971,” an ongoing online biography by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall in graphic novel / comic book style. Page four, about Wilcock’s dream of starting a new paper, has a dig at The Villager, whose contents back then he describes as “mostly bridge club party reports.” The comic book can be read at http://www.ep.tc/john-wilcock . Image © Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

(This column originally ran in the Village Voice in 2015)

BY JERRY TALLMER | The birthplace of The Village Voice, and its cradle for the next couple of years — until we moved to larger quarters (two floors) next door to the Lion’s Head, a journalistic hangout on Christopher Street at Sheridan Square — was that little old floor-through one flight up at 22 Greenwich Avenue, not much larger than my beloved apartment on Perry Street.

There was a main space, looking out on Greenwich Avenue and not much else; a tiny rear room containing a desk — Dan Wolf’s desk — and an ancient daybed; a bathroom of sorts; two or three desks upfront, a couple of battered Royal typewriters, an ink-splattering mimeograph machine, a broom, a wastebasket, and — not an odor exactly but a mustiness. A newspaper mustiness, even though there’d never before been a newspaper on the premises. I knew at once, as I stepped through the door, that this was it, for me.

Even before I got there, there was somebody — a human presence — ensconced at a desk by the windows. This was John Wilcock, a chirpy little 28-year-old British refugee from Fleet Street and its Daily Mail, who’d made his Great Circle route to Greenwich Village by way of Toronto, Canada, and — quite separately from Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf or Norman Mailer — had wanted to start a newspaper more reflective of the onrushing Beatnik counterculture than was the neighborhood’s long-established doddery weekly The Villager.

John Wilcock, the first News Editor of The Village Voice — until Dan took back that job for himself — had seized the desk by the windows with a double purpose. One was to look out at what was going on in life all up and down Greenwich Avenue, the other was — these were windows you could open — to use the window as a mailbox. He dashed off typewritten letters of varying length to this one and that one all day long, folded them, stuck them in envelopes, sealed and addressed those envelopes, and then blithely tossed them — stamp-less — out through the open window onto the sidewalk below.

In the firm belief — I kid you not — that some good Samaritan would sooner or later come along, pick up the envelope, see that it wasn’t stamped, put a stamp on it, stick it in a mailbox.

And it worked. It must have worked. I never heard John complain that one of his missives hadn’t reached its addressee.

Wilcock lived only a short distance from the newspaper. He was always dashing out of the office and running home to see the latest event or program on that still relatively new phenomenon called Television. In fact John was the only person I can remember — Greenwich Village person — who in those days watched television. I certainly never did until I married Louise and we had our twins. Then I discovered baseball on television. …

So: John Wilcock was, at the start, News Editor of The Village Voice, and his idea of news was little 3-inch human-interest (or human curiosity) stories, each of which began, Fleet Street style, “A man who…” or “A woman who…” (“A woman who went roller skating with a Polar Bear in Central Park is a sadder and wiser woman today…”), even though John hated Fleet Street — O.K., hated England — well before anyone this side of the water (any water) had ever heard of Rupert Murdoch.

He must have had something, though. He and Flo Ettenberg, one of The Voice’s two do-it-all secretaries, became an item, giggling and dashing here and there night and day.

“You don’t understand him,” Florence ruefully said to me, and I guess I didn’t. When the News Editor job was taken away from him, John came back with a weekly column of chitchat and profiles, “The Village Square,” which was copyedited every week by yours truly through gritted teeth and — I have to say it — drew a wide and appreciative readership week after week.

There is always room in this world for anomaly. Imagine my shock, one icy wintry morning in a car returning from the printer’s in Washington, Pennsylvania, when John Wilcock suddenly begins reciting his way through the poetry of T.S. Eliot, beginning with the one poem that has spoken most to me all my life: “Let us go then, you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table…”

That may have been the same day on which, earlier, en route the printer, I went into a skid on an icy overpass and was drifting uphill into the left lane when a car coming headlong at us was occupying the same lane at full speed. Luckily, I had practiced skids one icy morning back in college 15 years and a whole World War before, and now, turning into the skid, I wrestled us slowly back onto the proper side of the road, and thus saved the entire Village Voice staff — Ed, Dan, John, Flo, Laura, Sue Ryan, myself — from being wiped out at one fell swoop.

John Wilcock also believed in reading a lot of letters. Our letters. Letters or memos or whatever to or from Ed, Dan, me. Anyone’s letters. Everyone’s letters, in the pre-electronic era. If you were foolish enough to leave your mail lying around on desktops — in or out of envelopes — why, then, it was his to read. It was part of his moral code.

It drove Ed, Dan and me crazy — especially Ed. By then he and Dan were established in the tiny rear room — the one with the daybed — and they made sure to stuff any mail, etc. in drawers and to lock that room whenever everybody went home for the night.

John got in anyway. He came in through the transom over the door. Ed nailed the transom shut. John got in anyway. The Voice was immediately adjacent to the low one-story building of Sutter’s bakery. John somehow got onto the roof of Sutter’s and climbed through a small window into the tiny back room of The Village Voice.

Oh well. Ho hum. I used to bump into John at wide intervals through the years, and he always bitterly felt he never got proper credit as one of the founders of The Village Voice. He was right. He didn’t. He was a pain in the ass, but an integral piece in this long-ago jigsaw puzzle. I Googled him just now. The most recent entry has him out in Ojai, California, publishing a weekly political and chitchat column “of lasting insignificance.” I wish him well. Florence has been married forever to somebody else, and I certainly wish her well too.

P.S. anent that battered daybed. Years earlier, as a kid, I had read Jack London’s “The Sea Wolf.” In it, the hero was constantly throwing himself down on the deck for 10 minutes of flat-out restorative sleep. During the whole first six or eight months of The Voice, when I (and sometimes Dan) had to go straight through 16 or 18 or 24 hours of work on it without sleep, I took Jack London’s suggestion to heart, and would hurl myself down on that daybed for what my father would have called “40 winks” of rebirth. It amazed everybody who saw me do it.

One other memory of that back room. It was the day Norman brought his ex-wife No. 1, Beatrice Silverman, and their then-8-or-9-year-old daughter Susan — the first of Norman’s nine children — to the office. He planted the child on top of Dan’s desk. Sitting there, she looked around, searchingly, at Dan, at Ed, at me, at Norman, and then in loud, clear tones demanded: “What I want to know is, who is the boss here?”

Tallmer, who died in November at 93, was a founding editor of The Village Voice. He was the paper’s associate editor and its first film and drama critic. For the past two decades, he was a prolific contributor to The Villager.



National Weed (1974, issue #3)

it's here...
Marijuana--The Weed That Changed the World


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Over the past year, my combined medical and support costs from a stroke I had in April 2014 have been more than $100,000. If you'd like to help, use the Paypal donate button, or better yet, buy one of my books, and thank you. —JW


comments? send an email to John Wilcock

recent columns

- Complete column archives: 2006 - present

John Wilcock ... From the Archives: Cuba Diary—Havana, April 2011
Week of April 20, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen (continued)--Travels
Week of April 16, 2016

John Wilcock ... From the Archives: When you vote, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
Week of April 13, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen--Travels: Tokyo-Rick Kennedy recalls; Japan on $5 a Day; About Chapbooks; Magic in South America
Week of April 9, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen (continued)--Theory & Practice of Travel Writing; Remoteness of Callanish; Jim's Paris dinners
Week of April 2, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus; Regarding armchair travelers; Pisa's Leaning Tower; The magical Alhambra
Week of March 26, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen (continued)--London's Magical library; In the Cannes
Week of March 19, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen--The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Week of March 12, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary (continued)
Week of March 5, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary
Week of February 27, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen (Part Two--Manhattan phone book, JW'S Secret Diary
Week of February 20, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen--Party Circuit
Week of February 13, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part two, Soho Saturday
Week of February 6, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part one, Soho Saturday
Week of January 30, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
Week of January 23, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve--Andy Gets Shot: Max's Kansas City; Jane Fonda's gesture; Christo & Jeanne-Claude
Week of January 16, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eleven (continued)-- We go to Rutgers, Ann Arbor ... What people say about Andy
Week of January 9, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eleven -- Andy Warhol First encounter....People talk about him....His movies...
Week of January 2, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Ten (continued)--The 'Movement' splits: Eldridge Cleaver Year of the Great Hoax…The OZ trial
Week of December 26, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Ten--Tom Forcade's smuggling funds High Times; Rolling Stone's underground sabotage
Week of December 19, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine (continued)--Rip Torn on stardom… Robert Mitchum's gift; London: Julian Beck’s critique; Emmett Grogan and the Diggers; Greece: The Junta, Charlotte Rampling, and art hero Daniel Spoerri
Week of December 12, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine--Bob Dylan in the Village, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Richard Neville and OZ, What Does London Need Most?, The International Times
Week of December 5, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight (continued)--Japan: a working honeymoon; The Shinjuku Sutra
Week of November 28, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight--Art Kunkin's LA Free Press; In LA with Hunter Thompson, Lenny Bruce; Visit by Warhol; Hakim Jamal plays god; The San Francisco 'Be-In'; Underground papers meet
Week of November 21, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seven (continued)--The Underground Press; Army revolt:  fragging officers; Bowart goes to Millbrook
Week of November 14, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seven--The singing Tit-o-Gram; The East Village Other; Art & Forgery; Birth of Black Power; The Underground Press
Week of November 7, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
Week of October 31, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six—The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
Week of October 24, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Five—Reefer Madness (continued)--Jan and Stan change my life; The man who turned on the world
Week of October 17, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Five—Reefer Madness--The man who turned on the world; Tested by Harvard professors; Jan and Stan change my life
Week of October 10, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--London's underground press; Jean-Jacques Lebel burns US flag; Everybody's friend: Jim Haynes; Lenny Bruce and the kitchen tapes
Week of October 3, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--More Working at The New York Times; Mexico On $5 a Day; What Richard Condon taught me; Henry Miller's wise words
Week of September 26, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--The Village Voice (continued) --Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column, ECHO  and Larry Adler, Woody Allen plays classic nerd, A sample Village Square column
Week of September 19, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--More trouble with our star novelist; Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column; Jean Shepherd’s phantom novel
Week of September 12, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Steve Allen derides TV columnist; Marlene Dietrich--glamorous grandmother
Week of September 5, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Gilbert Seldes' The Lively Arts; Norman Mailer’s Voice column; Giving parties to meet strangers
Week of August 29, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
Week of August 22, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Jack Kent Cooke tells me to stay in Canada; Becoming a New Yorker ;A new Village newspaper; The casual wisdom of Steve Allen
Week of August 15, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
Week of August 8, 2015

- column archives: 2006 - present




in the press...

Now on Boing-Boing!

JOHN WILCOCK: Leaving the trial, I realized Kennedy had just been killed.
February 12, 2015

The New York Years - Boing-Boing

July 13, 2012

Manhattan Memories: an autobiography
By John Wilcock (Lulu.com, 2010)
excerpt from A Book Review By Marshall Brooks
Provincetown Arts Annual 2012/13

On the Ground
IF
John Wilcock had lived in the Garden of Eden he would have started the world’s first under- ground newspaper there. One can easily picture it: a paradisiacal incarnation of John’s 1960s legendary tabloid, Other Scenes, featuring a lively threesome on its cover and an interview inside with the snake, who, it turns out, really dug (in the argot of the day) cool, mellow people. An Eden on $5 a Day guide would have been sure to follow, precursor to the dozens of travel books that John Wilcock actually has methodically researched and authored over the years, beginning with Mexico on $5 a Day in 1960 for enterprising guidebook publisher Arthur Frommer. Still traveling the world at age eighty-four, no moss grows on John Wilcock, which Manhattan Memories makes clear. But there is more.

(The complete review begins on p.175)




December 1, 2011

On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S
reviewed by Steve Heller in Imprint
On the Ground
The Underground Press, as it was called, was a groundswell of media activity running the gamut from radically political to seriously satirical. A new book, On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S. (PM Press) Edited by Sean Stewart (who between 2007 and 2009 owned and operated Babylon Falling, a bookstore and gallery in San Francisco), recalls the Underground epoch. Through interlacing interviews with Emory Douglas (Black Panther), Paul Krassner (The Realist), Art Kunkin (The L.A. Free Press), Abe Peck (The Chicago Seed), John Wilcock (Other Scenes), Jeff Shero (The Rat), Trina Robbins (Gothic Blimp Works) and many more (including Al Goldstein of Screw), the remarkable journals that shaped my life (and career) are revived as oral history.

(read more)




November 28, 2011

The Book Bench - Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department
New Yorker Online
Check out the first installment of Ethan Persoff's serialized comic-book biography of the publisher and writer John Wilcock.

(read more)



October 22, 2011

The New York Years

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

This is a book length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.

(read more)



January, 2011


The Return of the World's Worst Businessman

Sneak Peak “The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
Tyler Malone
PMc Magazine

John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...

(read more)




Monday, November 15, 2010

A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
RN—Sydney, Australia

Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,

indifferent to self promotion and the hoarding of gold, it is great to see John get a dash of recognition.

(read more)




Wednesday,
October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money
nytimes.com: Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

(read more)


and in print...

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
order from lulu.com
also available at amazon.com (in paperback or for your Kindle)
and other online booksellers