DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 21, The Inertia Plan

By Ray Schultz

Copywriter Robert Collier did “not have a lot of pride”–he would sell anything, an acquaintance said. And he certainly displayed some cynicism in his letter offering Bruce Barton’s book, “The Man Nobody Knows,” which posited that if Jesus Christ returned to earth he would be an advertising man:

Jesus Christ ‘the founder of modern business?

Jesus a master of efficiency in organization, a born executive?

Jesus a sociable man, a cheerful, bright companion with a pat story on His lips…?

Jesus wording the best advertisements ever written?

This letter, and others like it, were accompanied by a brochure, asking: Was Jesus a Physical Weakling?

The painters have made Him look so—but He swung an adze and pushed a saw until He was thirty years old. He walked miles every day in the open air. He drove a crowd of hard-faced men out of the Temple.

Collier’s letter sold millions of books. But an upheaval was coming: the Great Depression. At that time, people viewed Jesus in a more traditional light: as minister to the poor and fallen.

Collier was a copywriting legend, even without cellestial help. “Collier was first guy that really sold merchandise by mail,” said the agency pioneer Robert Stone in 1997. “He came up with 10-day pre-trial guarantees, all things we use today. He was a merchandising genius. For example, he had a bunch of black raincoats that they couldn’t sell worth a damn. Who absolutely has to have a black raincoat? So he had a list of undertakers. and sold out entire stock. It was a lesson I never forgot.”

Stone met Collier at a conference in 1939.  “He wasn’t aloof , he was a loner,” Stone observed. “There’s a difference. He was a shy man.”

Collier came from a renowned family. He finally joined his uncle’s business, P.F. Collier & Son Co., publishers of Colliers magazine and books like Harvard Classics, the Five-Foot Shelf of Books. His uncle “had always told me he did not want me in the business until I could bring something to it they could get nowhere else,” Collier wrote.

Whlle Collier was selling books about Jesus, two hustlers were sitting in a cold-water flat in Greenwich Village, also thinking of ways to peddle books: Maxwell Sackheim and Harry Scherman. “We were young, poor, ambitious. — I think we began to plan, scheme and invent from the day we met,” Sackheim said.

Scheme was the right word. Their best ideas weren’t even theirs. The Boni Brothers, who owned a bookstore in the neighbodhood, came to Sackheim with the idea of publishing classics in leather. “Scherman and I each put up $100 or $150 and we were in the publishing business with copies of Romeo and Juliet,” Sackheim continued.

The Leather Library was nothing of the sort. The duo realized they’d go broke binding books in real leather, so they found a cheap substitute: imitation leather with ground cork backing, the kind used as a sweatband in men’s hats. They sold these editions in Woolworths, then by direct mail. But this turned out to be “absolutely impossible for the simple reason that the selling cost had to be charged against the sale of a single book,” Scherman said.

“The logic of it was that if the selling cost could be spread over a number of books that problem would be solved, just as in the case of The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde , or Joseph Conrad, or any of the other sets being offered at that time — O. Henry, Zane Grey, Mark Twain, etc.,” he explained.

In other words, “you couldn’t sell a single volume profitably, but you could sell the set because the selling cost could be applied against the total number of volumes. Therefore our prospective customer had to buy over a period of time — something like a subscription.”

These boys, who also had a mail order agency called Sackheim & Scherman, sold their interest in the Library to Robert Haas, and with his help launched their next project in 1926: The Book of the Month Club. The scheme was that the editorial board would select a book, and the Club would arrange for suppliers with the publisher. Then the selection would be “sent to each subscriber without pre-notification…but with a review of book by one of the board members. The Subscriber could return it, and the charge would be cancelled.”

The first ad for the new enterprise ran in the April 25, 1926 issue of the New York Times, featuring pictures of the editorial committee, and this copy:

You Can Now Subscribe to the best new books—just as you do to a magazine

Please send me without cost, your Prospectus outlining the details of the Book-of-the-Month Plan of Reading. This request involves me in no obligation to subscribe to your service.

The best new book each month is selected by this committee and sent you regularly on approval.

There was only one problem: Not everyone liked the given selection every month.

“The first book of 1927 was the one I pick as the one with which we had the worst experience of all,” Scherman said. “It was probably as a result of that book we changed the system radically. That book was The Heart of Emerson’s Journals, edited by Bliss Perry. By that time, we must have had about 40,000 subscribers — and that book just came back by the carload. The country didn’t want The Heart of Emerson’s Journals; they did want any part of Emerson’s Journals…”

It soon became apparent that “no book could please everybody,” no matter who selected it, and that any fixed period subscription would be a mistake. Few subscribers accepted twelve books consecutively and earned the three extra books free.”

Scherman added: “We had plenty of trouble with returned books in those days ….it was probably around that time that we decided we’d have to be ever so much more liberal with the subscribers and allow them NOT to get books if they didn’t want them, and also for our own protection. There was nothing to be done with the books when they came back — they had to be scrapped. It was a great expense, and in that respect it was not a good system at all in the beginning.”

Sackheim came up with an idea: “Why can’t we notify subscribers of the book selected before shipping it to them, giving them an honest review of it and telling them the book would be sent to them unless within two weeks they returned a certain form notifying us NOT to send it, or to send some substitute selection which we would also describe in this advance form?”

Sackheim called it the “prenotification plan,” but it was also known as the “automatic shipment plan”and the “negative option” plan.

“The negative option plan was started with one thought in mind; that of removing resistance on the part of the prospect to order merchandise which he wanted but which through normal delay, inertia or whatever you want to call it, was put off until eventually the purchase was missed entirely,” Scherman wrote.

Sackheim added: “Originally, I called it the ‘inertia plan’ because it was thought at the time to be a sales incentive that relieved the subscriber of the job of ordering something he wanted but knew in his heart he would never order if left to his own devices. There was no feeling on our part whatever that inertia meant the dumping of books on unsuspecting people who were just too lazy or too preoccupied to return a card refusing the book offer.

“My dictionary gives this description of inertia — the tendency of a body to resist acceleration; the tendency of a body at rest to remain at rest or of a body in motion to stay in motion in a straight line unless acted on by an outside force. “

This eventually drew the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. “Mainly the complaint declared that the “of-the-month” sales technique relied substantially on exploiting such human traits as procrastination and forgetfulness.”

The summer of 1928 was a hot one. Franklin Roosevelt, barely able to stand on crutches after being afflicted by polio, nominated Al Smith, the Happy Warrior as the Democratic candidate for President. Young Sherman Sackheim came home to New York from summer camp, but his parents had moved to Cleveland, Sackheim having sold  his interest in the Club to Scherman in 1928.

Sherman Sackheim had very mixed feelings about his father.

“To outsiders, he was personable—very short, 5 feet 2, knowledgeable, accommodating, generous,” he said. “He had a sense of humor, and an ego: He could look someone in eye who was 6 feet tall and simply dismiss him. He was a tyrant in his own way. Even in my childhood, he could be a tyrant, a dictator, the old school, and it wasn’t until I started my own agency in 1962 that he finally came around to recognize me not only as his son but as a person who had ability.”

Chapter 22: Air Mail Special

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 28: Inside The Johnson Box

By Ray Schultz

On May 2, 1941, Frank Johnson submitted six direct mail letters and a cover memo to Francis DeWitt Pratt, the circulation manager of Time Inc. Although he later called Pratt “a very bad judge of good copy,” the young copywriter wanted something from him.

“Here is a try at getting everything in one letter, the whole approached from the Rich, Beautiful Prose–or Archibald Mac Leish–angle, and ending on a note of Auchincloss,” Johnson wrote, describing his first letter:

 Dear Subscriber:

A Panzer Division raising dust clouds along the north coast of Africa…a brawny riveter earning overtime in the Newport News shipyards…a half-scared, half-thrilled youth on his first solo flight over Pensacola…the members of a Congressional Committee in Washington scrawling endless figures on foolscap as they struggle with the stiffest tax bill in U.S. history–

He went on to Number 2. “Probably a reaction from Number 1, and pretty frivolous for a sales talk. However, you’re supposed to gather that I can do these, too.”

Dear Subscriber:

Want to add two or three years to your LIFE?

Here are the years:

1941 1942 1943

He moved onto to Number 3, which he described as “The middle way. I like it.” It started by saying, simply, LIFE takes no bets…

The next one he described as “same idea, cut down to a page.” Johnson added that with one exception, these letters are purposely not serious in tone. This is because it’s 1941: and headlines, radio, and corner store talk are all pretty damn gloomy.

What did he want? “I shall burn joss sticks and paper prayers the week-end long, because I really want that job,” Johnson wrote. “More important, I’m now pretty sure I can handle it.” Pratt must have agreed, for Johnson was named circulation promotion manager of Life for a salary of $75 a week.

Born in 1912 in Cambridge, Ohio, Johnson graduated from Ohio State with a degree in economics in 1934, then headed for New York. His first job there was as a claims adjuster for Liberty Mutual, but he quit when a woman whose claim he was investigating threw a poker at his head. Then he got himself hired by Time Inc as a CBOB (college boy-office boy) for $20 a week. “I remember walking in the door of Time and thinking, ‘Hey, I’m home,'” he said.

The CBOBs— liberal arts graduates from good schools–earned the business by sneaking a look at the internal mail they delivered, including that of founder Henry Luce, whose red pencils Johnson picked up as part of his job.

Expected as a CBOB to “get up or out,” Johnson moved up into the circulation department in 1938. Time Inc., built on direct mail, had several great writers and circulation experts on staff, like Bill Baring-Gould and Nick Samstag. Johnson, who was passionate about Kipling, Thurber and Twain, was soon accepted as one of them.

“Everybody there talked my language,” Johnson said. “We were all the same types. Super literate. We talked too much, and we drank too much. I could drink two martinis and come back to work and not go to sleep.”

Johnson wrote his first direct mail letter for Life in 1940, describing a contraption that sounded just like the Internet, provided by his daughter Judy Thoms:

Dear Subscriber:

Here is an artist’s approximation of a multiperimicrotelicona-rayoscope.

The one pictured is the only machine of its kind extant.

It was designed and built by a Prof. Dr. Zanathope Johnson, whom you can see.

For thirty years he secluded himself in a great hilltop-laboratory, planning, experimenting, building–for he was making a machine which would see everything of interest, all over the World!

In 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and Time proclaimed in a direct mail letter that now the news is happening to us. Draftable despite his poor eyesight, Johnson entered the Army Air Force, and was sent to Wright Field in Ohio, where he put out the Air Surgeon’s Bulletin. Johnson would ruefully say, “I’m the guy who lost the war. I never got out of the country.”

After the war, Johnson returned to Time Inc., which had kept him on partial salary during his service hitch. Given postwar inflation, “It was a good time to write direct mail because you just kept saying ‘Buy now, or the price is going to double pretty soon,” he said.

In an interview in 1999, Johnson examined several letters from that period to determine authorship. One was the Cold War piece known simply as “The Crumple Letter,” from the fall of 1949. It was crumpled, as if someone had rolled it up in a ball.

Dear American:

This is the way this letter might look (after it had been fished out of the wastebasket and somewhat smoothed) if I had sent it to Andrei Vishinsky or Maurice Thorez or Ana Pauker.

For this is an invitation to subscribe to TIME–and Communists have as little respect for honest journalism as they have opportunity to read it.”

 “I think I had something to do with that,” Johnson said. “We had one that was burnt on the edges, too. And we had a hell of a time with that. In the first place, we had a hard time setting it on fire. Finally, it took blowtorches. And the blowtorches tended to set the whole damned file on fire. People complained when they opened it because soot would fall out [of the envelope]. But boy, it was fun to do.”

Then there was the 1951 letter for Life addressed to all the Johnsons in the United States (an amazing feat given that Time could not yet deduplicate its subscriber lists). Johnson wrote:

Dear Reader Johnson:

You’re one in a million. And you and 999,000 other Johnsons in the U.S. can proudly boast a flourishing family tree.

“Time Inc. was making money like crazy, so we never asked what anything would cost,” Johnson said. “We used to look back at what we had done and say, ‘My God, we were damned fools.'”

Johnson wrote in hand on a yellow legal pad, using a soft-lead Eberhard wingtip pencil. “I was the world’s slowest,” he said. “I’ve been known to stare at blank paper for days before I wrote a word. I’d write ‘Dear Subscriber,’ then scratch that out and write “Dear Reader,” then scratch that our and try ‘Subscriber’ again.”

When not writing himself, Johnson hired and trained writers. One of his finds was Bill Jayme, a war veteran and Princeton graduate who was “terribly articulate and very insulting to practically everybody,” as Johnson put it.

Jayme quickly made an impression with one of his first letters, “Cool Friday,” celebrating the 15th anniversary of Life magazine:

It was a cool Friday in November.

Plymouth offered their newest model for $510—in an ad that also reminded you that you could tune in on Major Bowes’ Original Amateur Hour any Thursday from 9 to 10.

Loyalists and Rebels were fighting in the outskirts of Madrid—while many U.S. citizens were preparing to celebrate two Thanksgivings. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were at the Shubert, ambling through “Idiot’s Delight”—and a few doors down the street, a pillow-padded Helen Hayes was appearing as “Victoria Regina.”

Jayme later said the piece originated “out of my brain. Life was having a birthday, and we needed a letter to use as a hook to get people to subscribe. I went down to the public library and sat there with a lot of bums in the reading room, with my head sunk in this viewer, and rolled these scrolls about what was going on, like the price of the car, taking notes on the ads—sort of setting the scene.”

“It was leisurely, something you can read aloud after dinner,” he said. “It conveyed warmth and it conveyed charm. We tried to reward the reader for his reading time.”

In 1954, Johnson himself  started moonlighting for American Heritage, a start-up run by former LIFE editors Joe Parton, Oliver Jensen and Joe Thorndyke, and soon was involved in all aspects of their direct  mail operation. For instance, he wrote to his bosses that “I am still as skeptical as a virgin on a troop ship” about a plan to use the Changing Times list.”

In a 1956 letter, Johnson observed that The ability to read intelligently is not a common attribute. It is a delicate subject, for with it go a lot of implications about education and culture and background–things we traditionally soft-pedal in this country, especially if we suspect we’ve acquired ’em.

It was during this period that Johnson invented what is called the Johnson Box, although he later denied ownership. But friends said he did deserve credit. The purpose of the box, Jayme said, was to summarize the letter, “just as 19th century English writers like Dickens would say at the top, ‘Chapter 10, in which Mr. McGruder discovers Emily in a Compromising Position with the Director’s Son.'”

In one letter, Johnson stuffed these headlines into the famous box:





In an interview in 1999, Johnson offered his secrets of direct mail success.

“All you’re trying to do with any letter is to keep somebody from throwing it out,” he said. “You tell funny stories, you put in funny pictures, you do any goddamned thing you can to keep them reading. One of my rules is never end a sentence at the bottom of a page, so you had to turn the page. I’m teaching you a lot of tricks.”

Johnson added that he always put in “a couple of indented paragraphs on pages two and three that told a funny story or said something outrageous, so that if you were beginning to skim through the letter, they would catch your attention.” He admonished, “I don’t believe exclamation marks.”

Follow-up letters were another challenge. “You send a four-page letter and you don’t get anything, then you follow it up with something quite different–shorter, different pictures. ‘As you recall, we wrote you two weeks ago,’ or words to that effect. What’s exciting, of course, is when you a write a piece of direct mail and mail it and it works.”

As for graphics, he advised, “Get a cute little girl and a cute puppy, and figure out how to run them both, and you’ve got a winner there.”

Chapter 29: Gifts From Foreign Lands

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 20: Peace!

By Ray Schultz

Americans awoke on the morning of Nov. 11, 1918 to the sound of church bells and gunfire. Germany had surrendered and people ran into the streets, drunk on “100 percent-proof, government-bonded patriotism.” And where were our junk mail pioneers? Buckley was in Chicago, as pleased as he could be. Peace meant the paper quotas would be lifted.

Edward Proctor was at his home in Teaneck, New Jersey. But he had little time to celebrate. His client, the John C. Winston Co., had summoned him to Philadelphia, and now he had to get to the train station past mobs in the streets.

But he was happy to go, for Winston, the country’s largest Bible publisher, was the kind of client he wanted. Of course, Winston also sold a book titled, “Sexual Knowledge: What every young man and every young woman should know,” that it sent in a plain brown wrapper. But now it had hired an historian and a military analyst to write a book titled, “History of the World War.” Proctor had to help sell—by mail—a book that was not yet written. He went home that night with an order for several million names.

Meanwhile, the balance in the Guild office had shifted. Mr. Guild was spending more time at his home in Maine. He hunted and enjoyed his breakfasts of steak and fried potatoes. Proctor ran the place, although Guild’s wife Addie was listed as president.

Louis Victor Eytinge heard about the war’s end in his prison cell, where he was quietly hoping that outsiders would spring him. Private detective William J. Pinkerton argued that Eytinge was innocent of murder (“his criminal bent was not in that direction”). And a former warden said he had reformed.

“To my personal knowledge Eytinge’s money has paid for milk and eggs for men who were too sick to eat prison fare. Eytinge’s money has paid for sending paroled prisoners home to die. He has given men going out of prison money to start life on. He has paid transportation to employment, even across a Continent. In doing for others Eytinge has found himself.”

Eytinge wrote that “I am reasonably certain of coming east some time during the winter.” But he didn’t make it out that winter, nor the following summer. Instead, he ended up back in the “lunger’s yard” at the Arizona Penitentiary at Florence.

“YES—I’ve been sick,” he wrote. “That’s one of the reasons I gave up the editorial end of the old POSTAGE..I want and need WORK to keep me upspirited, to keep me grinning and growing. I’ve time schedules that will permit me to take THREE MORE CLIENTS—And no more.”

It was harder to stay upspirited as the years dragged on. But Gov. T.E. Campbell finally heeded the call of the advertising industry, and on the morning of Dec. 30, 1922, Eytinge, age 43, walked through the gate of Florence. He wasn’t exonerated—he apparently was paroled. But he was free. And he had a $6,000-a-year job waiting for him with John Service Inc., a producer of personalized mail campaigns, in New York.

“There’s a moral in the tale of Louis Victor Eytinge,” a man wrote to Postage. “It’s this: if a man in jail, suffering with a supposedly incurable disease and existing amidst surroundings that sap all initiative and inspiration, can win his freedom, win his health and win a place in the sun—what heights are not possible to you and me and the other man, out here in the open?” He concluded with an even more pertinent comment: “It vindicates your claim that ‘Anything that can be sold, can be sold by mail.’”

Chapter 21: The Inertia Plan

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 33: Rub The Buddha For Money

By Ray Schultz

The real threat in the list business was a device that took up an entire room, with wires and tubes sticking out of it, that needed to be constantly cooled. In his novel, The End Of The Battle, Evelyn Waugh, satirically described an early version of this machine being used in World War II. “It’s been flown in from America,” Mr. Oates, a bureaucrat explains to Captain Guy Crouchback, an officer desperately seeking a war assignment. “It took 560 man-hours to install. The mechanics came from America, too. There isn’t another like in the country.”

“But what is it?”
 “An Electronic Personnel Selector.”
Mr. Oates demonstrated it. “Now here—“ he picked up a chit from his tray—“is a genuine enquiry. I’ve been asked to find an officer for special employment; under forty, with a university degree, who has lived in Italy and has Commando training—one, two, three, four, five—“ Whirr, click, click, click, click, click. “’Here we are. Now that is a remarkable coincidence.’”

“The card he held bore the name A/TY. Captain Crouchback, G, R.C.H., att H.O.O. HQ.”

This wasn’t as much of a joke as it seemed. In 1945, the New York Times revealed one of “the war’s top secrets,” a system that applied “electronic speeds for the first time to mathematical tasks hitherto too difficult and cumbersome for solution.”

That was the computer. At first, it was mostly used by the military. Only a few companies owned one—others had to rent timeshares, and work through the night at the mercy of unbathed technicians. But when used with a printer and mailing lists stored on tapes, the computer could spit out junk mail letters by the thousands.

John Stevenson bought one for $700,000 in 1958. “The computer didn’t create great growth or even save us a lot of money,” he said. “You had to go from low-paid help to more expensive help.” He admitted, though, that “If it wasn’t for the computer, I would have run the risk of being in jail. There were so many mistakes.”

But many hard-headed people didn’t get it. The DMMA, the brainchild of the convicted killer Victor Louis Eytinge, held a seminar on the computer in 1965, but “It wasn’t very well attended,” admitted Robert Delay, the wavy-haired Midwesterner who led the association from 1959 to 1984. “We ran it about three times, then we couldn’t afford to run it any longer, we didn’t have enough participants. The cost began to be picked up by computer manufacturers.”

Around this time, the Post Office introduced the Zip Code, the postal coding system that helped postmen sort mail and would allow businesses to hone their geographic targeting to a very fine level. It was a gift. But once again, junk mailers opposed it.

“The ZIP code was terribly important. we wouldn’t have had mail delivered otherwise,” DeLay said. “We had a series of meetings around the country to explain it. We lost a lot of members. Pete Hoke (son of the Nazi fighter Henry Hoke)) used to editorialize against it every week. It would kill all the vendors, it was too costly. And it meant that lettershops had to change to computerization. A few said they would never change, and of course they aren’t in business.”

Fueled by constant media coverage, the public was growing ever-more tired of junk mail. So in 1971, Delay and his part-time Washington person James Daly, formulated a brilliant PR stunt called the Mail Preference Service. Consumers could send their name in to opt out of receiving all direct mail. DMMA members had to subscribe to the service, which provided them with frequent updates. Later, this was extended to telemarketing with the Telephone Preference Service.

It took awhile to take off. DeLay was called to testify before Congress. Then-Congressman Ed Koch said, ‘Mr. DeLay, I understand that the biggest member of your association doesn’t use the Mail Preference Service.’ DeLay recalled, “I was gonna have to admit that was true, then a guy by the name of Gertz from Donnelley stood up and said, ‘Sir, if you don’t mind, I can answer that question. We decided at a board meeting last week that we were going to adhere to the Mail Preference Service.’


Ed Proctor, the veteran list broker whose father had started in 1899, labored on into his 90s, serving a few loyal clients from his office in Haworth, New Jersey, and enjoying lunches at his nearby club. But he was ousted shortly before he died in 2000, and by this time, new players had taken over, like Robert Castle, a man who wrote software and could discuss De Kooning as easily as he could lists. In 1974, Castle used the Freedom of Information Act to buy bought a list of 1.9 million people who had purchased Carson City silver dollars. It cost him only $515. Even better, “a truck pulled up with boxes that contained the magic words: ‘master tape,’” Castle said. “I had the only copy.”

Castle scored another coup in landing the list brokerage account of National Liberty, a mail order insurance company run by Arthur De Moss and staffed largely by religious missionaries. Castle helped sell many programs, including veteran’s insurance to policies for non-drinkers.

How would you verify that they didn’t drink?

“It was phony,” Castle laughed. “You couldn’t prove it.

Another upstart was Marty Lerner, an aeronautical engineer who had run a school called the Institute of Computer Technology. He found that colleges were desperate for names of high school students to whom they could send junk mail. So he started a company called American Student List, and made some money renting lists to them. He also did some commendable, pro bono work, using his database to locate missing children.

But a certain hubris crept in. The Educational Testing Service Inc., which tested college hopefuls, and the Student Union refused to rent him their own lists of names. Lerner sued in 1979, claiming anti-trust issues, and probably regretted it, for his deposition shed light on the tactics he used to create lists.”When you started your company, did you have any training at that time in computers?” the opposing lawyer asked in a deposition.


“Or the direct mail business?”


“Or marketing of any sort?”


Lerner’s credentials having been established, the lawyer moved on to the delicate subject of where he got the names of college-bound high school seniors.

“The largest source is the motor vehicle bureaus throughout the country,” Lerner said..

“Are there any other sources?”

“Schools,   school   directories   and   lists   that   guidance counselors may have.”

He refused to be more specific, and the lawyer said, “Let the record show that he is refusing to give the names of sources.”

Lerner then conceded that he also obtained names from school ring companies, and from students themselves.

The conversation turned to the fact that Motor Vehicle files have little real information on them.

“There is nothing you can get from a motor vehicle department other than the name and address,” Lerner said. ”That’s the only thing they supply us.”

“You don’t try to find out which of those students intend to go to college, and which do not?

“No, we don’t want to find out anything about them.”

“Did   you ever   at any   time consider   putting on   your advertising brochure a statement to the effect that these were not all the names of high school students?”

“No, I never considered doing that.”

“Or giving any indication in your circulars and brochures that many of these people were simply people of the right age?”

“No, I never considered doing that.”

“And the reason you refer to this as a list of high school seniors is that you feel you had leeway to puff, is that correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“Did you tell the Securities and Exchange commission that your list was a list of high school seniors?”


“Were you puffing them, too?”

“No, I don’t think I was puffing them.”

“Have you ever tried to ascertain whether or not   HS students have to legal capacity to consent to their use of names?

“No, I never did.”

“You never looked into that?”


The lawyer asked if it was true that some of the Student Union’s names had ended up on Lerner’s list without permission.

“I believe we were supplied with a tape,” Lerner said. “That tape was probably taken and selected with our own file, so that the names could be merged in and de-duplicated.”

“Is it a fact that if some other (fitm) were to request a list by that category, he would get those Student Union names?”

“Ultimately, that’s what did happen.”

“Did you know that these names would become part of your

general list?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Isn’t that against the rules?”

“Well, I don’t know what you’re referring to by rules right at the present time.”

Lerner qualiied his answer by saying it was a mistake.

Despite the fact that this lawsuit went nowhere, Lerner prospered as the 1980s went on, and so did a host of other list peddlers—people who took a 20% commission as broker on list rentals and 10% as manager, and prospered as the business boomed. One of them, Jack Oldstein, expressed it perfectly on a promotional button he sent to clients in 1983: “Rub the Buddha for money.”

Chapter 34: Junk Mail Babylon

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 35: The Manhattan Shuffle

By Ray Schultz

Housed in a former social services building, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn, New York lacked ornamentation and anything describable as a courtroom. Still, it served for the drama that took place three days before Christmas in 1992. Lawyers gathered in a low-ceilinged room to decided who would get an asset that was depreciating in value even as the price was going up: A mailing list of 28 million American households, including intimate details on bodily functions.

Computerized Marketing Technologies had been the work of Barry Wolf, an affable man with a gravely voice. The son of an ex-prizefighter, himself the veteran of several club fights, Wolf never went higher than eighth grade in school. But he rose from a job as trucker in his home town of Los Angeles to an assistantship in the back room of an advertising agency, and finally to an executive position with Nielson, the surveying company. Then Wolf went into business for himself, building a nationwide network of penny saver newspapers and a private system that not only distributed the papers but also took on side jobs like delivering product samples for manufacturers.

Doing so,  he realized something that had eluded the geniuses on Madison Avenue: That non-smokers resent having cigarettes dropped on their doorsteps. Wolf devised the idea of putting little signs on houses the day before a big sample drop, asking them if they wanted the cigarettes.

By the early 80s, R.J. Reynolds was paying 50 cents for the name of each smoker. To find them—and dog owners—Barry relied on a home truth: that to find out the most personal details on people, you only have to ask.

In the fall of 1982, several hundred thousand housewives opened their Sunday newspapers to find a new insert packet called Select ‘N Save, filled with discount coupons. Wolf financed this with the proceeds from a real estate deal and the sale of his newspaper company. Those who rifled through the insert found a questionnaire, advising them that they could get free samples by answering a few simple questions. Roughly 20 percent of the people who got it filled out the form, and it apparently didn’t bother them that they had put on a stamp to pay for the return postage.

Soon, Wolf  had enough names to start regular direct mailings. The mailings fed the surveys that fed the list that fed the mailings.

“Not only did we know who had a dog, we had it down to who had a Rottweiler,” bragged the late Bart Loring, the mailing list manager of CMT.

The mailing list, which soon included 20-million families, was too valuable to be wasted on Select ‘N Save mailings. Wolf decided to see if they could make a buck through the traditional list rental channels, at first assigning management to Bob Castle, then bringing it in-house, under the trade name Behaviorbank.

The pharmaceutical houses wanted to reach these consumers, too, but they needed to know more about them, so CMT started loading up the survey forms with medical questions. Soon, they had “suffer from” data on 15-million households, as in “suffer from heart disease, suffer from diabetes.” Some of the numbers were:

  • Bladder control and incontinence—1.8-million
  • Diabetes—980,000
  • High blood pressure—1.2-million…
  • High cholesterol—2.7-million
  • Heart disease—870,000
  • Alzheimer’s—165,000
  • Bronchitis—165,000

Unfortunately, the company started having cash-flow problems–lots of them. To secure a berth in a Select ‘N Save package, even the biggest clients had to pay postage in advance, but CMT apparently was not a good manager of such monies. Quaker Oats filed a lawsuit, alleging that “Quaker funds may have been converted to CMT’s own use and comingled with CMT’s own funds.”

CMT had to settle that suit for $844,000, and to give Quaker a security interest in 18-million of “the most recently added consumer names, with mailing addresses and appended demographic, psychographic and product usage data”–in essence, its mailing list.  Then CMT decided it might as well do the same thing with its printer, Webcraft, to which it owed $1.4-million: it gave the printer a copy of the database. Webcraft filed suit, seeking to turn its physical possession of the database into full legal possession. Why not? It was paying storage charges on 97 tractor-trailers filled with tons of CMT circulars.

CMT could well argue that the people on the list had volunteered their family information. But those parties couldn’t have known that their data would also be handed to Quaker and Webcraft.

But things got even worse. At one point, CMT also owed $434,000 to Campbell’s Soup; $229,360 to Coca Cola; $491,800 to General Mills; $505,079 to General Foods; $321,950 to Philip Morris; $489,266 to Pillsbury; and $558,233 to Miles Inc.

Despite having a copy of the list, Quaker sued, claiming it had never gotten the survey responses it deserved. “The loss of data (totals) at least $1.50 per each respondent,” it said. “Quaker believes one-million respondents returned surveys, therefore Quaker is damaged to the extent of at least $1.5-million plus interest.”

The only option for CMT was bankruptcy. Albert Togut, the lawyer assigned by the creditor’s committee, had to unravel it all, and there was little precedent to go on because the courts were not used to evaluating the value of “data assets.” Fortunately, the CMT leaders were willing to assist in the setting of a price. They presented as an impartial expert, Donald W. Binns, who sent a resume to the court saying that “I possess the necessary skills and expertise which have developed over the last 15 years.”

There is no question that the charming, smooth-talking Arkansan was an expert on CMT’s assets: He had, through his company Infomedia, placed millions of inserts in the Select ‘N Save packages on behalf of the mail order insurance company Colonial Penn. Binns was one the great hidden movers of Data Land. His resume stated he was responsible for “Development and construction and ownership of one of the first multi-source national consumer databases which totaled over 100-million consumers..” He worked for the Jimmy Carter campaign in 1976, and through his company DataTron did direct mail work for the Democratic National Committee and gubernatorial races in Louisiana and Florida.

In addition, Binns helped the National Rifle Association build its database. And he and a partner put together the JC Penney Age File, with exact dates of birth on 45-million people. JC Penney itself made crude use of this asset, sending a birthday mailing saying, “It’s your 41st birthday.”

Thus credentialed before the court, Binns came up with a price for the CMT database $3.5-million. That price was tendered to the most likely buyer: Metromail, formerly known as O.E. McIntyre Co.

That firm had been founded in 1947 by O..E. McIntyre. And it was known for legendary direct mail feats. In one campaign, for Reader’s Digest (“If thou hast two pennies, spend one for bread, and with the other buy hyacinths for the soul”), McIntyre had to acquire 100 million pennies and insert two each into each of the mailing pieces. The sheer weight almost collapsed the floor of its Long Island plant.

In 1966, McIntyre’s sons, who were now running the company, were approached by John Kluge, the German-born founder of the Medtromeia TV network, who was trying to create a multi-media empire. They sold it to him, and he renamed it. Later, Metromail was spun off and became one of the Big Three data compilers, the others being Donnelley Marketing and R.L. Polk.  It was now eager to buy the remains of CMT at a good price. The $3.5 million deal had lucrative employment contracts thrown in for Wolf and Andrew Goldstein.

Togut objected, saying the offer was ” ridiculously low”—the creditors would take a “bath while the debtors’ principals had found the pot of gold,” he argued. By December, the Metromail offer was up to $5.6-million, and the company put up $600,000 as a down payment. It looked like a sale, and there was a holiday atmosphere in the court.

“What happened to you?” Togut asked Kelly Cornish, an attorney for Metromail.

“I lost my voice.”

“Oh, I hate that.”

But there was one party who wanted to disrupt this joyous set piece: Leslie A. Plaskon, a lawyer for Metromail’s competitor Donnelley Marketing. Hilton sensed the minute she stood up that there was a problem.

“Do we have a buyer willing to buy and a seller willing to sell?” the judge demanded.

“We sure as hell did,” Togut said.

“What more do I have to hear?”

Plaskon tried to state her case. And yet even she could not say what was on her mind.

“I would rather not go into the details of the claim,” she said. “I think the debtor would rather I did not.”

“No, no, no, I have nothing before me regard to that claim. I have no pleadings,” the judge countered. “Nobody has witnesses.”

It would not have been easy for the judge to understand. Despite competing, Metromail and Donnelley cooperated with each other and there was a steady flow of data back and forth. For example, there was the Age Consortium, an arrangement through which the companies shared the costs of gathering age data from driver’s records–each firm took certain states, and all received the data. And they were forming a Children’s Consortium.

Donnelley had been around in some firm since 1917. It 1946, it published a demographic map of Philadelphia, in which the “colored” area was shown in brown.

Donnelley, aware that the sale CMT was going to give its arch-rival Metromail a database with a dimension it now lacked, started pondering a counter-offer for an asset it didn’t want. But it now had a more serious problem, and Plaskon finally got it out.

Donnelley had found, through an employee who had worked for Don Binns, that part of its own Share Force database had ended up in CMT’s database, and it now claimed an ownership stake in the asset being sold. The deal was coming apart at the seams.

The alarmed Metromail people countered that this claim could “cost this estate a substantial amount of money from a competitor who we believe would like nothing better than to, in my best French, screw up the sale.”

“That is not a resolution,” said the judge of the Donnelley claim. “That gives Donnelley a $6.2-million stick. I am not going to give anybody that size stick.”

He added that unless it could be resolved, the matter would have to be litigated. And the earliest possible date would be the following March.

“I am planning on being in hits courthouse about another hour and a half,” the judge added. “If you have a proposed order for me within that time I will be happy to consider it; if not I am simply going to adjourn this hearing.”

With millions riding on it, the parties recessed briefly to work it out. Donnelley, still convinced that its data was misused, was aware, of course, that some of angry creditors were clients or potential clients.

For his part, Togut had said, “We want their money, you bet.” He knew that the value of the CMT database was declining by the day—it had not been updated in two years. Cornish, too, hoarsely stated that she wanted to resolve it. So they brought Andrew Goldstein to the stand when court was resumed, and he was ready with answers.

“Did you obtain a file from Infomedia?” he was asked.

“We obtained  a file containing   names and addresses of consumers of about 40 to 50 million and we were told by the president of Infomedia, Don Binns, that this was a list that was compiled from many sources, including names from Share Force by Donnelley Marketing.

“Share Force was a database?”


“That database was owned by Donnelley Marketing?”


“Mr. Binns was in court this morning?”


“And Mr. Binns made these   representations to you this morning; correct?”


“At the time you got   the 40 or 50-million names   from Infomedia it was over a period of time, wasn’t it?”

“No, we got the list basically all at one time.”

“Were there other so-called databases besides the Share Force database in those 40- to 50-million names?

“On tape.”

“Have you returned all those  copies of those computer tapes?”


“What did you use the information on the computer tapes for, and make the assumption that encompassed in the information as part of the Share Force database?”

“We took that database along with several other databases and used them for verification of names and addresses. The purpose being that if a name and address appeared on more than one list it was more likely to be a correct name and address.”

“Did Mr. Binns (or Infomedia) represent to the debtor that you had the right to use the tape — i.e., the database, the 40 or 50-million names, to do a verification of the names and addresses?”


“Did you use it for anything else?”


That one word settled it. Donnelley realized it had allowed its own data out the door—and it soon stopped doing so.

“Your honor,  in consideration  of the   receipt of   this testimony Donnelley Marketing Inc. hereby on behalf of Donnelley Marketing hereby relinquishes any and all claims against the assets being sold and withdraws its objections to the sale of assets so the assets maybe be sold free and clear of any and all claims,” the Donnelley lawyer stated.

That nailed it. Everyone thanked the court.

A data business insider referred to such shenanigans as “the Manhattan shufle,” although none of this took place in Manhattan. Binns continued in the trade: A few years later during a trade convention, an acquaintance commented, “He’s not down here on the floor, but I bet he’s in a room somewhere in this hotel, doing business.”

Metromail ran into trouble when a client named Aristotle Industries sued it for illegally using the voter registration lists Aristotle had hired Metromail to enhance.. As exposed by the Wall Street Journal, the company had incorporated voter information into its database from states that prohibited commercial use. And it lied to consumers during telephone calls, saying it was conducting a survey on ice cream preferences. There was no survey—this was strictly a way of confirming names and addresses. John Aristotle Phillips, the owner of Aristotle Industries, owned a few shares in Metromail and started showing up at shareholder meetings and hectoring the firm about its privacy violations. For instance, he teamed up with the father of the murdered child Polly Klass, and Mr. Klass  claimed that lists such as Metromail’s helped fiends like his daughter’s killer find their victims. And Metromail utilized prison workers to call people at home, one of whom allegedly made suggestive comments to a female consumer. Metromail, its dirty underbelly exposed, was gobbled up by another company. But all that was a few years in the future.

As for CMT, the formal closing of the bankruptcy sale took place on Dec. 30, 1992 at Metromail’s offices outside of Chicago. Some $5.6-mllion was wire-transferred into a special interest-bearing account. On Jan. 26, 1993, several hundred magnetic tapes—the entire CMT database—were shipped to Metromail’s data facility in Lincoln, Nebraska. Later, they threw in CMT’s office furniture for $26,000.

Chapter 35:  The Godfather Of Spam

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail Chapter 2: Of Honesty And Virtue

By Ray Schultz

J. Holbrook was an “ear biter,” a name given to postal law agents after one bit off another man’s ear. He spent the early years of his career catching postmasters who pilfered envelopes, and there was plenty of this work to do. “So keen was the scent of the robber, that, like an animated ‘divining rod,’ he could indicate unerringly the existence of gold, or its equivalent beneath the paper surface soil,” he wrote of one such thief.

But Holbrook’s mandate broadened in the 1840s, as the “ear biter” name faded away: He now investigated the growing number of con men who used the post office as their message service. One was a young legal clerk who had stopped not only studying but also obeying the law.

Referred to by Holbrook as “George,” this party needed money. So he turned to The Law Register, a directory of every attorney in the United States. Then he checked off the names of rural lawyers, and those who had no business with his firm, and copied these names. To this list he sent neatly written copies of the following letter:

“Sir: I have received a package of papers for you from Liverpool, England, with six shillings charges thereon — on receipt of which amount the parcel will be sent to you by such conveyance as you may direct. Yours, respectfully, William H. Jolliet.”

Some lawyers saw through the ruse (“let me know if you remain jolly yet”) , but others probably paid without thinking about it, believing that a rich relative in England had died and left them money (a common fantasy at that time).

Complaints about this came to Holbrook’s attention. And he was waiting at the Brooklyn post office one night when George came to pick up his mail. The clerk gave George the letters addressed to “Jolliet;” Then Holbrook put the arm on him.

The young man was prepared. George claimed he was working for “Jolliet,” a man he said he met only on horse cars, and he gave Holbrook a copy of the mailing list. But he was too clever by half. Holbrook visited George’s law firm the next day, and compared the names on George’s list against those checked off in the Law Register. They were identical. The youth confessed, and Holbrook hoped that “the rare talents which he possesses, will be yet be found arry’d on the side of honesty and virtue.” He could have said the same thing of the medium used by George.

Chapter 3: ‘We Accidentally Met With Your Address…’

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 18: Selling in America

By Ray Schultz

By day, Eytinge ran the gang that cleaned the prison yard. At night, he wrote articles and edited copy. His editor’s photo in Postage showed him in a suit with tie and vest, seated next to a desk. And trapped inside, he imagined scenes that he could not have seen.

“Secretary W.H. Loomis Jr., of the Southwestern Blau-Gas Company, Kansas City, shook his head. He felt the pressure of the rising tide of electric lighting systems designed for farm use, although he had nothing to fear from the natural gas, acetylene or gasoline systems.”

And there was no way Eytinge had witnessed this (at least not recently):

“He was standing on the platform of a trolley, with some half dozen other smokers, when he noticed a newcomer step forward and deliver a sounding whack on the back of one of the men in the group. Accompanying the slap went a hearty ‘Bill, you old rascal, how’s things?’”

Eytinge also imagined women’s clothing, comparing it to direct mail design: “She dresses with variety because the changes make her more attractive, more alluring, more certain of ‘landing her prospect’—the winning of a mate,” he wrote. “And she dresses according to program and purpose, never wearing a décolleté gown riding after hounds.”

As often happened with Eytinge, this success didn’t last.

“For several months the issues of this magazine have been mailed from two weeks to a month behind schedule,” Publisher Lewis Hovey wrote when the September issue of Postage failed to appear. “Every month these ‘intentions’ to get it out ‘on time’ were the best, but one thing and another has interfered and it has been impossible to ‘catch up.’

In December, Hovey announced that Eytinge was stepping down. “It is needless for me to say that Postage has not been a success financially,” he wrote.

But people then took up Eytinge’s other idea: To “unite in hearty harmony and for paramount permanency.” Homer J. Buckley, who owned a direct mail print house, founded the Direct Mail Advertising Association (now the Direct Marketing Association). Those who joined automatically got a subscription to Postage.


Eytinge wasn’t the only tortured wordsmith to enter the junk mail business. Another was Sherwood Anderson, Ohio’s Roof-Fix Man. A one-time Chicago copywriter who turned to selling paint and fix-it items by mail, Anderson thought that “most people who buy house paint are, like the people who are sold anything else, at bottom probably yaps,” and he showed it in its copy, which was filled with stock advertising phrases like “guaranteed,” “We will send you absolutely free” and “Write for it today,” according to “Sherwood Anderson: An American Career,” by John E. Bassett. “Let me tell you, Free, how to cure your roof troubles for keeps,” he wrote in one direct mail circular, Bassett reports.

Anderson’s own printer accused him of cynicism. “The truth is, that, as you wrote, you were thinking of someone else,” he said one night as they walked around Elyria, Ohio, Anderson recalled. “I know how it was. You imagined some man getting the paint circular in the mail. He is a man you never saw and never will see. Now you tell me this. At bottom you are not so proud of this business you are in.”

Anderson agreed that his writing talent could be put to better use. “Already for several years I had been doing what I was doing when I wrote the circular,” he remembered. “I had been using the words of our human speech, really to deceive men.

“It was quite true that in writing anything…for example a paint circular…the object sought was some sort of entrance into the confidence of the other man and so, even in such a crude approach to the art of writing, you thought, not of the thing about which you were presumed to be talking, but of the man addressed. ‘Now how can I win his confidence’ you thought and this led inevitably to the secret of watching men.”

Facing an existential crisis, Anderson disappeared in 1912, turning up days later in a Cleveland drug store, his “clothes bedraggled and his appearance unkempt.” He left his family and returned to a job as an ad copywriter in Chicago. And when he returned to his “shabby little hole” every night, he did what he had started doing in Ohio: He wrote fiction.

His first novel, Windy McPherson’s Son, about “a sort of minor captain of industry,” was published in 1916 with the help of Theodore Dreiser. His second, Marching Men, appeared a year later. But neither was a success.

One night, desperate, Anderson wrote a story titled Hands. “Upon the half decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down,” it started. He finished it in one sitting, then wept. It was the first of several stories about “the defeated figures of an old American individualistic small town life.”

In April 1919, four years after starting this sequence, Anderson entered his room with the result: a yellow-cloth book titled, “Winesburg, Ohio”–an American classic, and an instant sensation. He soon was friends with Gertrude Stein and his book was said to influence Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos.

But he needed money, so he asked his publisher: “Do I have to go back to advertising? I’ll have go back there, begin again to write of tooth paste, of kidney pills, of how to keep your hair from falling out.”

He didn’t, and that’s just as well, for he had a sour view of his old trade. “In America no one buys anything,” he concluded. “In America everything, even art, is sold to people.”

Chapter 19: The Great War

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 17: The Hard-Luck Writer

By Ray Schultz

Slightly hung over from drinking their way to Chicago, ad men filed into the hall for the opening of the first Direct Mail Advertising Conference in 1915. The keynote speech snapped them out of their torpor.

“We must emit and vomit out the nauseous masses that have been swallowed in our swift growth,” said the copywriter Louis Victor Eytinge. “There are too many specious shysters amongst us, who while they may be within the law are yet foul with filth in the morality of their business methods and we must remove this reek ourselves!”

Well said, but Eytinge didn’t deliver the remarks himself. He was serving a life sentence for murder, and had to speak from “behind the walls that encompass my body.”

It was a sad comentary that the beleaguered direct mail business. had to rely on a felon to speak for it.

Eytinge was a “wastrel” from a family of actors and musicians. Convicted twice of forgery, he drew a five-year sentence in the second case and emerged from that term in 1907 with tuberculosis. Hoping to cure him (and get him out of their sight), his family sent him to Arizona with an allowance of $100 per month.

But he got into trouble there, too. The body of his roommate, a tubercular barber named John Leicht, was found near a ranch after the pair had gone for a buggy ride one Sunday. There was no proof that Leicht was murdered, let alone that Eytinge had done it, but Eytinge fled after passing several bad checks, and that was enough to convince a jury that he had poisoned the barber. Convicted of first degree murder, Eytinge was sentenced to life imprisonment, the court deciding that there was no need to hang a man who was about to die of TB.

Near collapse, the 120-pound Eytinge was dumped in the outdoor ward at Yuma Prison. He hemorrhaged daily, and was too weak even to swat flies. There must have been times when he wished he had been put out of his misery. But as his parents hoped when they sent him west, the desert air did him good and he eventually regained his strength.

Then, as legend has it, he wrote to two Western curio dealers to offer the horsehair souvenirs made by inmates. And he got orders from both. So he wrote more, and the prison lifted its restriction of two letters per month, the belief then being that even killers could be rehabilitated by work.

In time, businessmen noticed that this lifer could write and started giving him freelance copywriting assignments. Granted, his “letters were sophomorically fervent” as the copywriter Henry Hoke described them. In one insinuating letter, Eytinge offered raincoats to Catholic priests:

Dear Father,

Just as I glanced at next month’s calendar my eye caught the warning, ‘Rainy Season Begins,’ and I thought of you and other faithful servants of the Church.

My mind’s eye pictured you thrashing your way thru wind and rain, to administer the Holy Oils to some dying one, going about your duty despite the dirty weather. Saw you standing beside the open grave, giving your benediction not seeming to mind the bluster that bespattered your beloved Breviary. I saw you, too, hurrying to some sadly stirred soul, with the rain soaking into your black clothes. And then, I began to really understand what is meant to take Holy Orders.

But Father, there’s little need spoiling your good black overcoat…

Not many raincoats were sold. “I made the thing too personal for a printed letter and talked more about weather than weatherproofs,” Eytinge admitted.

But he learned. By 1915, the Eytinge Service was pulling in $5,000 a year, and his ideas were taken seriously. In his Chicago speech, Eytinge called for the start of a direct mail magazine. Postage appeared six months later, and the jailbird Eytinge was soon named editor of it.

Chapter 18: Selling In America

DEAR FRIEND: The Rascals, Rogues and Roues Who Made American Junk Mail, Chapter 4: Gospel Mail

By Ray Schultz

One morning in 1855 or thereabouts, in a church in upstate New York, a minister of the Gospel opened his mail and, according to Postal Inspector J. Holbrook, found the following letter:

“Brother P —

“I heard you once, while passing through your place — a sermon that has many times recurred to my memory, though its calm piety and deep perception of human nature may be weekly occurrences to your congregation.

“I have several times thought it would be well for our church to call on you for a trial here. Our house is wealthy, and ‘up town,’ though that is no matter.”

The writer mentioned that he had seen “a notice of you in the new publication of travels through the states; in which I see the writer has heard you, and was so impressed that he gives a strong description of your and your style…” And there’s the rub: The minister could have a copy of the book for $1.50. Pastors who fell for it soon learned, according Inspector Holbrook,  that “the dollar and a half went to the ‘bourne from which no traveler returns.’”

One minister wasn’t fooled, and his answer showed a clear understanding of the direct mail art, such as it was at that time. He wrote: “I am in receipt of a communication from you, of whose flattering contents I have reason to believe that I am not the only recipient; as I am not ignorant of the fact that the art of lithography can be employed to multiply confidential letters to any extent.

“If, as you state, you have at any time heard a discourse from my lips, I regret that the principles which it has inculcated have produced so little impression upon your actions, especially as it has ‘many times recurred to your memory.’

(Perhaps the minister also noticed that the word “brother” was lithographed, and that a blank space was included for his own name).

“If you ever happen to pass through this place again, and to be detained over the Sabbath, your name, mentioned to the sexton, or indeed, to any member of my congregation, will secure you as good a seat as the house will furnish: And if you will inform me of your intended presence, beforehand, I will endeavor to suit my discourse to your wants, if not to your wishes.

“‘Not what we wish, but what we want Do thou, O Lord, in mercy grant.’

“If, however, circumstances like some that I can foresee, if you continue in your present course, should prevent a visit to our place, I hope you will manage to be satisfied with the ministrations oef the chaplain at Sing Sing, who, I understand, is an excellent, talented man.”

That was once instance where the intended victim avoided harm. But it was a rarity.

Chapter 5: Show The Money

The Last Rebbes: Life among The Hasidic Jews, Part X

By Ray Schultz

The war ended with a fragile ceasefire, and the sides disengaged as Henry Kissinger barnstormed the Middle East. If the war were not enough to worry about, there was tension in the U.S. Nixon’s presidency was unraveling, the Hasidim feared instability, but were wary about saying so. I had once tried to engage Albert Friedman on the subject.

“How do you look at Watergate?” I asked.

“It’s none of our business,” he said.

“Would you support Nixon again?”

“Is he running again?”

“Did you vote for him?”

“We supported him in 1972. It was between Nixon and McGovern, and we felt the choice was clear.”

The Satmar’s Rabbi Stauber had explained their position in an article on Nixon’s most recent speech in Der Yid. It stated that while Nixon “has not answered questions, still, it’s a valid point that we should look to the future now, not the past, not let things undermine his administration,” Stauber said.

On top of Watergate, there were increasing stresses in the Hasidic neighborhoods bordering on African-American and Hispanic communities. Many of the disputes were political—over resources and influence. “They want to control the area,” charged Angel Reyes, a local activist in Williamsburg. “They try to push the Spanish out, offer them money to buy their house. Sometimes they abuse them to move out.”

That was in Williamsburg. For their part, the Lubavitchers settled in Brownsville, a rough neighborhood filled with declining housing stock. They then starting moving to the better area to the West: Crown Heights. Shrage laid out the sequence. “When Hasidic Jews move into fancy Jewish neighborhoods, the fancy Jews move out. And as the fancy Jews move out, more Hasidim move in. Then the goyim move out, then the blacks move in. That’s the way it changes. When blacks began to move into Crown Heights, to tell you that the Hasidim were delighted by that—of course, they weren’t. Not for dislike of blacks, not for that, they wanted to have a Hasidic community.

“A Hasidic Jew is at least liberal in that he feels the same way about all goyim—to him, there’s no difference. He remembers what happened in Europe, and he figures he’s got to be careful with all of them. No matter what you say, I know a lot of people who believe very strongly that it could happen all over again right here in the United States. Because they’ve been through this. They don’t want to be with goyim., they want to be with their own. I don’t care, a schwartze goy, a weisse goy, Puerto Rican, same thing. At least in that way there’s a common denominator.”

Shrage explained some of the differences that lead to mistrust, as he saw it.

“A black person comes into a Jewish, Hasidic-owned store to buy a dress, and is talking to the guy in English. In comes another lady, and she begins to talk in Yiddish. The black woman will think there’s a separate price going on: ‘I’m getting screwed here, I think I’m paying for the woman’s dress, too.”

“Why are they talking in Yiddish? That’s their language. It’s an effort for this guy to talk English. He’s got to think—it’s not his mother tongue. Little things like that.”

Other issues took place at the street level. Rose Shrage’s father, who had narrowly escaped being captured by the Gestapo in France, had been stabbed in the early days in Brownsville, sustaining a16-inch cut. And there were many assaults on Hasidim, fueling the rise of the Macabees.

Shrage took a hard line. “Its our fate,” he said. “So we get beaten up every once and awhile, it happened for years, it will happen until the Messiah comes. That’s what being Jewish means, we’re always gonna suffer that way. I say, damnit, no, it will take a little while for the Messiah to come. I want to welcome him healthy–I want to be in good shape when he comes.”

Rev. Bryan Karvelis, of the Church of the Transfiguration in Williamsburg, was in the forefront of community leaders complaining about alleged Hasidic actions. “A kid was brutally beaten by a mob of Hasids,” he said. “They pulled a gun on him and beat him up—he looked Spanish. The official story was, ‘Sorry, we’ll try to control it.’ That’s what they all say. There’s no response from the police and the courts.”

Karvelis conceded that “this is a tough neighborhood. There’s a high narcotics rate, and attacks and robberies.” And it was true that the Hasidim “might be abused verbally, or have their curls pulled. A few times.” But he added that the Hasidim “have an incredible hatred of Spanish and blacks. They come with a built-in hatred for anyone who’s not Jewish. You yell ‘Gonif,’ and within minutes you have 200 Hasidic men there.” Karvelis claimed he had thrown himself on top of  a 19 year-old youth being beaten with tin cans. “I wasn’t wearing a clerical collar–it might have made them more respectful.”

Maybe so. But how could he expect Hasidim to tolerate physical abuses like having their curls pulled–or worse? And did he have an inkling about Jewish history?

In December, I visited Ben’s Dairy, a purveyor of farmer’s cheese and other delicacies on East Houston Street, run by Jonah Friedman, a tall Satmar Hasid with dark hair and a beard, usually wearing a Russian fur hat. We went into the back room , a large area with work benches and a couple of adjoining freezers, and Jonah talked with me while he was moving cheese from the freezer into the oven. His father had “learned by the Rebbe in Europe,” and his family had followed him to Brooklyn. Partially financed by community funds, Jonah had built a good business. “Today there is no reason to be poor if you are only willing to work,” he said.

“How do you like the neighborhood here?” I asked. (East Houston had not yet been gentrified in those years).

“Beautiful. I love it here.”

Before I had a chance to follow up, he held his finger up, sort of winked, reached up to a shelf and pulled down a small revolver in a holster. “If anybody should come in here, I have this,” he said.

“You would kill a man?”

“The Torah instructs you, if your life is in danger, you must kill the other person first. It’s your duty. I would shoot first.”

Later that month, the Satmar held an event at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn As the large crowd settled down, someone started going over the financial situation of the yeshiva. They read out the names of each contributor. Some sums were quite large: $5,000, $10,000 and higher. Then there were the $50 ones: Everybody knew what everybody else gave.

There were prayers, then the Rebbe himself, whom everyone was struggling to see, began speaking. He spoke at some length in his hoarse voice, going over (I later found out) the Torah passage for the week. When he left, there was a mad scramble for pieces of the challah he had touched. Abe Beame, newly elected as mayor, spoke, too. He was led up to the podium, pushed into a seat, then pulled up again and given the microphone. He mentioned his visit to the boy’s camp during the summer and told the Satmar how much he appreciated what they had done for him during the election. Again, he didn’t smile.

And now there was bad news for Shrage. Beame, who was taking over as mayor on Jan. 1, declined to reappoint him. So Shrage was out of government. And now Shrage was awaiting new commands from the Rebbe. “If the Rebbe calls me at 2 in the morning and says, ‘Sam, you’ve done your thing in New York, get your passport ready, take a plane tomorrow and go to New Zealand (family, too), and build a yeshiva, I would do it,” he said. “And the Lubavitcher Rebbe does that all the time. This week, he sent people to Australia—five young guys. 24 hours notice. Go, no question.”

To be continued early in 2020.