Los Angeles Free Press
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LA Free Press (Dec. 15-22, 1967)
|Founded||May 23, 1964|
|Ceased publication||April 3, 1978|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
The Los Angeles Free Press, also called “The Freep”, was among the most widely distributed underground newspapers of the 1960s. It is often cited as the first such newspaper. The Free Press was edited and published weekly, for most of its existence, by Art Kunkin.
The first incarnation of The Freep was published from 1964–1978. In 2005, a new incarnation of the Free Press began publication, and continues to this day.
The Free Press was notable for its radical politics when, in the mid-1960s, such views rarely saw print. The Free Press wrote about and was often directly involved in the major historic issues and people of the 1960s and 1970s, including the Chicago Seven, Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman. Both the famous and the infamous would open up to the Los Angeles Free Press, from Bob Dylan to the Black Panthers to Jim Morrison to Iceberg Slim. This was a new kind of journalism at that time.
The Free Press saw itself as an advocate of personal freedom as well as a vehicle to aid the anti-Vietnam war movement. Because of its coverage of the Vietnam War and how it became a touchstone for anti-war activists, The Los Angeles Free Press is given degrees of credit for the ending of the War. It grew with the movement and at its peak was selling over 100,000 copies, with national distribution.
The Free Press was a founding member of the Underground Press Syndicate, a network of 600 community, student, and alternative newspapers throughout the United States. The paper also pioneered the emerging field of underground comics by publishing the “underground” political cartoons of Ron Cobb; and Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers started appearing as a regular feature in 1970.
Art Kunkin, at the time of the founding of The Los Angeles Free Press, was a 36-year-old unemployed tool-and-die worker and former organizer for the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), where he had served as business manager of the SWP paper, The Militant. The Free Press initially appeared as a one-shot 8-page tabloid, dated May 23, 1964, sold at the annual Los Angeles Renaissance Pleasure Faire and May Market, a fund-raising event for listener-sponsored KPFK radio. This first issue was entitled The Faire Free Press, with the logo "Los Angeles Free Press" appearing on an inside page, and a coupon soliciting subscribers. Five thousand copies were printed, of which 1,200 sold at a price of 25 cents.
While the outside pages were a spoof of the fair's Renaissance theme featuring cute stories like one about a "ban the crossbow" demonstration, the inside contained legitimate underground community news and reviews. After the fair ended, Kunkin circulated a brochure to potential investors and found enough backing to start putting out the paper on a regular weekly basis in July 1964.
The Free Press was produced mostly by unpaid volunteers. In the beginning, many of them were the same people who volunteered at KPFK, where Kunkin had his own political commentary radio show. It operated for its first two years out of free office space in the basement of a Sunset Boulevard coffee house called The Fifth Estate, which was an informal headquarters for the teenyboppers who gathered and rioted on the Sunset Strip in the mid-1960s.  Harlan Ellison and Lawrence Lipton were the first regular columnists, articles by the former collected in The Glass Teat. The paper grew slowly at first and in Oct. 1966, Kunkin informed a reporter for the Los Angeles Times that the paper had 9,000 readers and was operating on a shoestring. "I wanted to do a weekly in Los Angeles that would be like the Village Voice in New York," Kunkin told the Times. 
Cartoonist Ron Cobb created an ecology symbol and published it on November 7, 1969, in the Los Angeles Free Press', and then placed it in the public domain. The symbol was a combination of the letters "E" and "O" taken from the words "Environment" and "Organism", respectively. Look magazine incorporated the symbol into a flag in their April 21, 1970 issue. The flag was patterned after the flag of the United States, and had thirteen stripes alternating green and white. Its canton was green, with the ecology symbol where the stars would be in the United States flag.
In 1970, much of the newspaper's staff and then editor Brian Kirby left the paper due to financial and editorial differences. The team began a competing newspaper, The Staff. By this time the paper was at its zenith, with Kunkin controlling a small publishing empire including three Free Press bookstores in Los Angeles, a typesetting plant, a printing company, and a book publishing firm, in addition to the weekly paper. There were 150 employees and annual revenues of two million dollars. In spite of this, the business was awash in red ink and nearing collapse.
The split in the staff began a downward spiral for the Free Press. The paper had begun to rely more and more heavily on sex ads for its revenues, and fell into debt after Kunkin bought two expensive Mergenthaler printing presses. Kunkin borrowed $60,000, putting up the paper as collateral. The note was cosigned by Marvin Miller, a major L.A. County, California sex industry publisher who both advertised in the paper and allowed Kunkin to use his presses after he lost his original printers. In 1971 Kunkin defaulted and the loan was foreclosed, and Marvin Miller became the new owner of the paper. Kunkin stayed on as editor for about two years and then left. After that the paper became little more than a wraparound for sex ads. It survived until the late 1970s when it was purchased by Larry Flynt, who found it unprofitable and soon shut it down. The last issue was dated April 3, 1978. (The final issue is featured in Paul Schrader's 1979 film, Hardcore, where George C. Scott's Jake Van Dorn character places an advertisement of himself as a porn producer in order to find his missing daughter.)
After he lost the Free Press, Kunkin started another competing paper called The Weekly News, with much the same tone as the old Free Press, which stopped after only 3 or 4 issues.
Because of free speech rules, newspaper publishers could buy vending machines, mount them on street corners chained to posts, and sell their issues direct to the public. Don Campbell, a Free Press editor, bought three vending machines for $125 and stocked them with papers. With the proceeds, he bought theee more machines. Pat Woolley, later to operate Sawyer Press and the syndicate that handled Ron Cobb, took the papers round to her head shop clients and sold them by hand to drivers cruising the Sunset Strip.
People were willing to pay 25 cents for the Free Press, even though readers could get mainstream dailies such as the Los Angeles Times for ten cents back then. The cry at the corner was "Don’t be a Creep, Buy a Freep!" The scene was so unique to Los Angeles, that in the movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, Peter Sellers (when he "sees the light" and converts from lawyer to hippie) is hawking them, as well.
Revival (2005 to current)
|Publisher||Steven M. Finger|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California|
A major contributor to this article appears to have a close connection with its subject. (April 2008) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
On 13 September 2005, the premier issue of a revived Los Angeles Free Press was distributed. It embodied many of the same ideals and beliefs and was again spearheaded by Art Kunkin, albeït with an entirely new staff.
The Free Press maintains an independent view. It covers politics, health (including natural and/or holistic), spirituality, literature, media, food, and community issues. The paper has taken a stand against the Iraq War. Most recently The Los Angeles Free Press gave Tom Hayden a lifetime achievement award for his efforts as an activist both in his private life and during his 18 years in politics.
Los Angeles Free Press was being published as a catalyst for social change. The mission statement of Los Angeles Free Press is to be "a true alternative to "Corporate-Controlled Media". The basis of the paper is that names and the locations have changed, but the issues concerning personal rights and the action of an unjust war, are the same as during the Vietnam War era .
The print version was being published in the original five-column format with the “screamer” headlines of old includes both current and vintage content in both the articles and ads. The look of the paper was true to its original format.
The Los Angeles Free Press is active and has current editions. The slogan is "We're Back. The True alternative to the corporate controlled media." Archives of past editions are available to view online for historical reference and/or research.
Art Kunkin is now a regular columnist for the two local newspapers, the American Free Journal Weekly and the Desert Valley Star Weekly.
- Levin, Bob. The Pirates and the Mouse: Disney's War Against The Underground (Fantagraphics Books, 2003), p. 41.
- Melissa Ursula Dawn Goldsmith, "Criticism Lighting His Fire: Perspectives on Jim Morrison from the Los Angeles Free Press, Down Beat, and The Miami Herald (master's thesis, Interdepartmental Program in Liberal Arts, Louisiana State University, 2007). Available at LSU's Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Library.
- Rolfe, Lionel. " Notes of a California Bohemian: Cafe Au L.A.," DeBelly. Retrieved Feb. 18, 2010.
- Nolan, Tom. "The Free Press Costs 15 Cents." Los Angeles Times, Oct. 2, 1966, pg. W36.
- Peck, Abe. Uncovering the Sixties, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), p. 187.
- Houston, Paul. "The Free Press Mystery: Who Owns the Paper?" Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1971, p.1.
- Kick, Russ, ed. Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide, (Disinformation Co., 2005), p. 247.
- About this newspaper: Los Angeles Free Press, Chronicling America, Library of Congress, retrieved March 25, 2010.