Chicago ‘68

by Fred Gardner, July 27, 2016

In the spring of ’68 I’d been hired as an editor at Ramparts magazine. The office was on Broadway off Sansome Street in San Francisco. One day in early summer Tom Hayden called and asked me to come to Chicago to put out an internal newsletter for the anti-war activists coming to protest at the Democratic National Convention. What Tom had in mind, as I recall, was a mimeographed map telling people where to go the next day.

I went to Warren Hinckle and asked for a week  off to do the newsletter in Chicago. Without skipping a beat he said, "Do it for Ramparts! We'll call it The Ramparts Wallposter!" [Political wallposters were going up all over China at the time, part of the "cultural revolution."]" One side would be news for the demonstrators, Warren declared, the other would be news from inside the convention hall. Ramparts would pick up the tab.

Warren Hinckle had real creative vision as a publisher and, when he had money, he was generous and willing to take chances. Ramparts was a hell of a magazine.

I spent two weeks in Chicago making arrangements for a newsroom (second floor of a YMCA near Division St.) typesetting (Shorey) and printing (Hinckle suggested Playboy's printers, but they were about to go on strike). I started doing speed, which increased my efficiency no end. David Cantor, a middle-aged businessman/peace activist from Chicago, told me where to go and what to do. A college student named Huntley Barad recruited a distribution staff. I bought an old Peugot 403 with a sunroof for $250 (through a want ad) and as I drove it through the South Side Jackie DeShannon was singing "Pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin bout half past dead..." Joe Russin, the producer of KQED's "Newsroom" show, and Elinor Langer, then with Science Magazine, came to town to edit the thing. All the movement-oriented writers found the Wallposter office and offered their services.

The Wallposter was a single full-folio sheet (36' x 24). The first issue, dated Saturday, August 24, has a page-one story entitled "Busts Begin" describing how the police shot and killed 17-year-old Dean Johnson, a full-blooded Sioux Indian from Sioux Falls, South Dakota (after he pulled a gun on them and fired first).   There is a story about Jerry Rubin, Phil Ochs and five others getting detained for disorderly conduct after they held a nominating convention for the Yippie candidate, a pig, under the Picasso statue in Civic Center Plaza. There is a map of Chicago and a key to the headquarters of various "movement" entities. On the back page is a column by Hayden entitled "The Reason Why." It clearly states his tactical thinking: "Our victory lies in progressively de-mystifying a false democracy, showing the organized violence underneath reformism and manipulation." There are other articles by Paul Krassner, Arthur Waskow (alternate delegate from the district of Columbia), an interview with Phil Ochs, and a gossip column called "The Caucus Reporter."

Wallposter Two has a huge photo of the great basketball player, Cazzie Russell, in his National Guard uniform. PFC Russell's unit had been activated and Jeff Blankfort took a great photo of him, holding a Military Policeman's helmet in his hand, looking not too happy at the whole situation. The caption said "Cazzie Russell Playing Guard." The lead story ("Special to the Wallposter" via a phone call from the GI Coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas) described how more than 160 black soldiers from Fort Hood had refused to take part in riot-control operations in Chicago. Some 43 were being held in the Fort Hood stockade.

The map had three locations keyed: The Conrad Hilton Hotel, the Palmer House and the Sherman House. "There will be demonstration in three key hotels in the Loop today to protest against the war, racism and the politics of manipulation. The demonstrations will begin at 2 p.m..." The back page had another  column by Hayden ("The Machine can be stopped"), another lively Caucus Reporter, and stories by Waskow, Krassner, Peter Weiss (a lefty lawyer from New York who was a McCarthy delegate), Chris Hobson (about a wildcat strike by Chicago bus drivers), Lee Webb, Adam Hochschild (longtime publisher of Mother Jones), Paul Cowan and the great Marvin Garson ("Troops Smoke Pot, Yippies go without").

As the protests outside the convention became the major news story of the moment (thanks to Mayor Daley's over-reaction), Warren Hinckle and Ramparts editor Bob Scheer jumped on a plane for Chicago. These young men, who had not been planning to attend, flew first-class. They rented a suite in the Ambassador Hotel, and proceeded to spend $10,000 partying over the course of the next few days. Hinckle phoned me at the  Wallposter office when we were in production with Wallposter Three.  "Stop the Presses!" he bellowed cheerfully. He had the biggest story of the year.

Lyndon Johnson had decided to run after all!

Warren had it from somebody he'd met at the bar in the Pump Room, the fancy restaurant at the Ambassador. He was writing it up and wanted to run it as our lead story. I said I'd come get it, thinking it sounded very far-fetched and that I could talk him out of it when the time came. I parked outside the hotel and was on my way in when a brown Rolls Royce pulled up and from it, wearing a chocolate-colored suit, with brown pumps and white spats on his feet, emerged Colonel Harlan Sanders.  I didn't know that there really was such a person, I thought it was a corporate logo. I stopped and stared. I wondered if I was having my first-ever "bad trip." Maybe the so-called speed people had gvien me contained some really strong hallucinogens.

On his way into the hotel, Colonel Sanders handed out dimes to the shoe-shine boys, just like they say John D. Rockefeller used to do.

That evening Hinckle got wind of the fact that we weren't planning to run his LBJ-to-run story. He came over to the Wallposter Office with a friend named Herb Williamson. "You're drunk, Warren. You'd be embarrassed if this thing ran. Go back to the hotel and get some sleep."

“I'm the boss!" he reminded me. There were lots of people around.  It turned into a shoving match between me and Herb Williamson at the head of the stairs. I remember the glint of excitement in the eye of a young woman who was soon to become a Weatherman as she watched. I knew that violence in and of itself turned her on. I knew I was engaged in an absurd struggle in every respect.

The lead story of Wallposter Three was a toned-down version of the rumor Hinckle had heard, headlined "What's Marvin Watson doing for LBJ?" There was also an essay by Carl Oglesby evaluating Eugene McCarthy's candidacy, and some good Jeff Blankflort photos. The map had been put on page 2. My Ramparts career was history.

Add Memories

"Isn't it fantastic?" Hayden asked rhetorically Tuesday morning "Kids fighting for a park they hadn't even heard of two days ago. It means we can stage confrontations anytime, anywhere, just by challenging them for a piece of land."  This strategic insight led to the creation of People's Park in Berkeley. For which people are still paying in blood.

In the Wallposter office Wednesday evening Tom made a tape urging people to cross the police line and confront the delegates in the Hilton. (He himself would not have been in the Hilton; the whole thing was "theater," to put it politely.) A young McCarthy worker was going to broadcast Tom's misleading battle cry from a room in the Hilton to the demonstrators massed in the park across Michigan Avenue. At the last minute he decided not to do it. It’s possible that people would have been killed.

Tom Hayden yelling "Remember Brother Rennie! Remember Brother Rennie!" to the crowd in Grant Park, as the police moved in. (Rennie, who had been clubbed in the head, was perfectly okay.)

After Chicago Hinckle went to New York, according to an editor named Sol Stern, where he visited Roy Cohn's yacht. His introduction to the sleazy right-wing lawyer had been made by Sidney Zion, who thought Cohn could devise a superior tax dodge for Ramparts, and might also help with fund-raising. Hinckle told Cohn how the magazine went after liberals and CPers. I don't think Cohn came through, however. By late '68 circulation had flattened out and Ramparts was losing money (due mainly to lavish editorial and production costs). Hinckle had even given up the title of publisher to a nice guy from Kansas named Fred Mitchell, in exchange for an infusion of cash.

6 Responses to Chicago ‘68

  1. Susie de Castro Reply

    August 1, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Is Jeff Blankfort, mentioned in the story, our local KZYX&Z radio celebrity Jeff Blankfort whose show is on every other Wednesday at 9AM “Takes on the World”?

  2. Fred Gardner Reply

    August 2, 2016 at 11:17 am

    Yes. He was and probably still is a very good photographer.

    • susie de castro Reply

      August 2, 2016 at 12:49 pm

      Are you THE Fred Gardner celebrity writer who penned the extraordinary story above? WOW!

  3. Fred Gardner Reply

    August 2, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    I’ve been writing for the AVA since the mid-1980s.And I’m so tired of the paparazzi.

  4. Jim Gibbons Reply

    August 6, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    Have you ever been called a “celebrity writer” before?
    I must say you’ve got an interesting bio and I have enjoyed your articles over the years.
    Luckily, I was in Europe in ’68 and watched the riots while having tea with a nice English madam.
    I say luckily because I was living in Milwaukee and if I had been home I probably would have gone to Chicago and got in trouble.

  5. Fred Gardner Reply

    August 6, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    Never been called a celeb before. Maybe susie was being ironic. I was in the public eye in SF occasionally when I was District Attorney Hallinan’s press secretary. That was
    a decade and a half ago. I think you and I are very lucky, as writers, to have had the AVA as an outlet and reality check all these years.

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