I Know It When I See It…

I Know It When I See It Headline

November 12, 1927

City prosecutors raided Bookmart, 5602 Hollywood Blvd, and busted 70 year old Charles F. Lewis for possessing, selling and distributing obscene literature. Police had received complaints that Lewis was selling suggestive literature and art to high school students. The Jungle

The Sun Also Rises", “Elmer Gantry”, “The Jungle” or even the Bible could have been among the twenty pounds of so-called vile literature seized by police, because over the years each of them had been banned. We don’t know for sure what books were confiscated – the titles weren’t given in the Los Angeles Times, but the paper reported that “one particularly nauseating volume” was allegedly rented by the day. Maybe it was “Fanny Hill” by John Cleland.

Defining obscenity is no easy feat. Just wait thirty-seven years and then ask Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. A quote from his opinion in the obscenity case of Jacobellis v. Ohio will become famous “…hard-core pornography is hard to define, but I know it when I see it…” 

By the end of the month Lewis will have decided to plead guilty, and he was given the choice of spending 100 days in City Jail or paying a $250 ($2,995.55 USD 2007) fine. Books, erotic or otherwise, are in short supply in lockup. Lewis opted to pay the fine so that he could stay at home and read.