Gershon Legman

Gershon Legman

George Alexander Legman (November 2, 1917 – February 23, 1999), American social critic and folklorist was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Emil and Julia Friedman Legman, both of Eastern or Central European Jewish descent; his father was a kosher butcher. Although he was an independent scholar, without institutional affiliation (except for the time -- 1964/5 -- spent as a writer in residence at the University of California at La Jolla), together with Alan Dundes and Vance Randolph, he pioneered the serious academic study of erotic and taboo materials in folklore. He also was a talented raconteur and could spin out tales non-stop for hours.As a young man he acquired a number of interests including sexuality, erotic folklore, and origami. In 1940, at age 23, he wrote "Oragenitalism, part I: cunnilinctus" (New York: J.R. Brussel) under the pen-name Roger-Maxe de la Glannege (an anagram of his real name). Nearly all copies were seized by the police and destroyed. For a period of time he was a bibliographic researcher with the Kinsey Institute. In 1949, he published "Love and Death", an attack on sexual censorship, arguing that American culture was permissive of graphic violence in proportion to, and as a consequence of, its repression of the erotic. That book was an outgrowth of the little magazine "Neurotica", which he and Jay Landesman edited and published in nine issues between 1948 and 1952. Its contributors, including Allen Ginsberg, Marshall McLuhan, and Kenneth Patchen, gave it influence disproportionate to its small circulation. The full set of "Neurotica" was reprinted in one volume by Hacker Art Books, New York, in 1963. "The Horn Book : studies in erotic folklore and bibliography" was a collection of assorted writings from the 1950s and 1960s. He was a prolific writer of essays, reviews and scholarly introductions, including those for the anonymous Victorian erotic memoir My Secret Life (1966), Aleksandr Afanasyev's Russian Secret Tales (1966), and Mark Twain's The Mammoth Cod (1976). He supplemented his income at times through the sale of rare erotica.

In 1953 Legman left his native United States for a farm "Le Clé des Champs" in the village of Valbonne in the South of France, where he was able to pursue his intellectual interests with greater freedom. In 1955 he organized an exhibition of Akira Yoshizawa's work at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Legman spent several decades compiling specimens of bawdy humor including limericks. In 1970 his first volume of over 1700 limericks (published in 1953 by Les Hautes Etudes, Paris) was released in the United States as "The Limerick". He followed this with a second volume, "The New Limerick" in 1977, which was reprinted as "More Limericks" in 1980. His magnum opus was "Rationale of the Dirty Joke: (An Analysis of Sexual Humor)", a tour de force of erotic folklore, succeeded by "No Laughing Matter : Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor, 2nd Series" for which a subscription had to be paid to support publishing, as no publisher would touch it after Grove did volume one in 1968. Near the end of his life, he edited "Roll Me in Your Arms" and "Blow the Candle Out," two volumes of bawdy songs and lore collected by Vance Randolph (both 1992). Other achievements include his edition of Robert Burns' "The Merry Muses of Caledonia" (1965).


Legman was in many senses a radical, but never identified with the movements of his time, decrying the sexual revolution, for example, in "The Fake Revolt" (1967), and leaving countless irascible obiter dicta on such topics as women's liberation, rock and roll and the psychedelic movement's use of mind-altering substances. However, he claimed to have been the inventor of the famous phrase "Make love, not war," in a lecture given at the University of Ohio in 1963 (Dudar, H. (1984, May 1). Love and death (and schmutz): G. Legman's second thoughts. Village Voice, pp. 41-43). He remained essentially an individualist and an idealist: "I consider sexual love the central mystery and central reality of life," he wrote. And "I believe in a personal and intense style, and in making value judgements [sic] . This is unfashionable now, but is the only responsible position" (Nasso, C. (1977). G(ershon) Legman. In C. Nasso (Ed.), Contemporary authors (Rev. ed., vol. 21/24, pp. 525-526). Detroit, MI: Gale). Brottman (23-24) offers the consensus view of Legman as, in many ways, his own worst enemy, exacerbating his rejection by the academic community with vitriolic attacks upon it.

The fairly classical (though not uncritical) Freudian framework of his interpretation probably strikes many present-day readers as quaint, but his legacy was one of opening vistas of scholarship: in Bruce Jackson's view "Legman is the person, more than any other, who made research into erotic folklore and erotic verbal behavior academically respectable" and who made accessible to other scholars material that scholarly journals had long been afraid to publish (Scott, J. (1999, March 14). Gershon Legman, anthologist of erotic humor, is dead at 81. New York Times, p. 49). According to his obituary in "The London Independent," in a childhood incident, classmates "wrote the word "kosher" in horse-shit juice across his forehead." He regarded the event as formative, and he would insist throughout his life that violence and sadism so prominent in American culture resulted directly from the suppression of sex.

Gershon Legman died February 23, 1999 in his adopted home country, France, after several years of debility, and a week after suffering a massive stroke.

Legman's Sexuality

According to George Chauncey's book "Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940" (1994), Legman was a homosexual and is credited with having invented the vibrating dildo when he was only twenty. However, Brottman (7-10 et passim) holds that he was exclusively heterosexual, accounting for both the abandonment of his proposed volume on fellatio as well as, possibly and in some measure, for his contempt for Alfred Kinsey. He was married for many years to Beverley Keith (died of lung cancer, 1966), married briefly to Christine Conrad (Brottman 29) a possibly bigamous relationship, ended either by annulment or divorce , then to Judith Evans. Autobiographical asides in his works note multiple heterosexual relationships, including at least two engagements; moreover, in "Rationale of the Dirty Joke," he consistently speaks of homosexuality as a "perversion," and Frank Rector ("The Nazi extermination of homosexuals". New York: Stein and Day, 1981) claims that homosexuality was in Legman's mind connected not with a democratic gay liberation movement, but with the Nazi Ernst Rohm. His obituary in the "London Independent" lists three marriages, two sons and two daughters. Brottman lists a daughter, Ariëla Legman (b. 1957), by an unidentified Dutch woman, as well as Legman's children by Judith: David Guy Legman (1968), Rafael (1971) and Sara Felicity (1973), and identifies Louise "Beka" Doherty as the great love of Legman's life.

External links

* [ British Origami Society: David Lister on Gershon Legman's contribution to paperfolding]


By Gershon Legman
*"The Language of Homosexuality: An American Glossary",in George W. Henry, "Sex Variants" (New York: Paul B. Hoeber, 1941)
*"Love and Death: A Study in Censorship", (1949)
*"Bibliography of paper-folding" (1952)
*"Neurotica: No. 9 The Castration Complex" (ed., with Alvin Lustig) (1952)
*"The Compleat Neurotica: St. Louis - New York 1948 - 51" (ed., with Jay Irving) Landesman (1963)
*"Guilt of the Templars" (1966)
*"Oragenitalism; an encyclopaedic outline of oral technique in genital excitation. Part I: cunnilinctus." (NY: J.R. Brussel, 1940. 63 pp.). Nearly all copies seized by police and destroyed.
*"Oragenitalism" (Julian Press, 1969. 319 pp.) reissued as "The Intimate Kiss" (Paperback Library, 1971)
*"Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor" (New York: Grove Press, 1968); reprinted in hardcover by Indiana University Press (December 1982) ISBN 0253347777; ISBN 978-0253347770
*"No Laughing Matter: An Analysis of Sexual Humor" (1982)
*"Limerick" (Hardcover - Sep 11, 1991) About Gershon Legman
*"Funny Peculiar: Gershon Legman and the Psychopathology of Humor", by Mikita Brottman (2004)In which Gerson Legman is Cited
*"Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940", by George Chauncey (1994)


Brottman, Mikita. 'Funny Peculiar: Gershon Legman and the Psychopathology of Humor' Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, Inc. 2004.

Legman's contributions to origami:

An appreciative essay by Martha Cornog and Timothy Perper:

Obituary in the "London Independent"

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