Steve Conliff

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Steve Conliff
Steve Conliff at the Ohio Statehouse during his campaign for Governor of Ohio, 1978
Steve Conliff at the Ohio Statehouse during his campaign for Governor of Ohio, 1978
BornSteven Edwin Conliff
(1949-11-24)November 24, 1949
Milwaukee, WI
DiedJune 1, 2006(2006-06-01) (aged 56)
Columbus, OH
Pen nameLeon Yipsky, Zorba the Freak
Occupationwriter, publisher, political organizer, social satirist
NationalityNative American
EducationMiami University, Ohio State University
Period60s and 70s
SubjectYippies, politics, American Left, mass movements, Native American history
Notable worksBlacklisted News: Secret Histories from Chicago, '68, to 1984[1]
SpouseSuzan Bird Conliff

Steven Conliff (November 24, 1949 – June 1, 2006) was a Midwestern-based Native American writer, historian, social satirist, alternative-media publisher and political activist in the 1960s and 1970s.

Conliff is chiefly remembered for throwing a banana cream pie at James A. Rhodes, the governor of Ohio, in 1977, at the opening of the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, Ohio.[2][3][4]


Steve Conliff attended Miami University of Ohio, where he worked extensively with the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, known as "the mobe." It was during his time with the mobe that he began to question the effectiveness of 'politics as usual' and at about the same time, met up with the Youth International Party (Yippies).[5] It was as a newly-converted Yippie that Conliff moved to Columbus, Ohio, in 1970, briefly attending Ohio State University. Most of his activities revolved around politics and political organizing; he was a gifted and tireless organizer. One of his first experiences passing out anti-war leaflets at a local campus burger-joint got him arrested for vagrancy; he immediately challenged the constitutionality of the vagrancy laws as discriminatory against youth and poor people.[1][6]

In the summer of 1970, Steve Conliff started his first Yippie publication, Purple Berries--which later morphed into the publication Sour Grapes.[7] Conliff was also one of the founders of the Columbus Free Press[8] (to which he contributed up until his passing)[9][10] and the public-education-critical Subversive Scholastic (1978–84).[11] He regularly wrote for YIPster Times[12] (1972–78), HVPTA / Bite Magazine (1978-80), and Overthrow (1979–98).[13] In addition, Conliff's work also appeared in High Times,[14] News From Indian Country, Akwesasne Notes, Open Road,[15][16] Take Over, Fifth Estate, In These Times and The Mohican News-- among numerous other zines and underground newspapers, frequently writing under the pseudonym "Leon Yipsky."[8] He helped launch countless other publications, and published the local magazine Columbus Entertainment (which focused on cultural diversity before it was fashionable) from 1986 to 1988. (Note: no relation to the present owners of the magazine of the same name). A tribal descendant, Conliff presented papers detailing Mohican Indian history on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation (2001) at the New York State Museum in Albany (2004).[17] He also contributed American Indian ethnography to Notable Native Americans (Gale 1995)[18]and Volume 1 of the Gale Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Gale 1998).[19]

Steve Conliff was an important leader of the Yippies' second wave,[20][21][22] which included well-known activists such as Tom Forcade, Ben Masel,[23] A.J. Weberman, Aron Kay (another famous pie thrower),[24][25] David Peel, and Dana Beal.[26] He was also the transatlantic coordinator of the Rock Against Racism USA campaign of 1979, helping to organize concerts in Columbus, Dayton, Madison, Detroit, Chicago, and New York City.[27][28][29]

Like Neal Cassady and similar charismatic personalities of the counterculture, it is hard to quantify the nearly-metaphysical impact Steve Conliff had on activists around him; besides storytelling and history-keeping, his great gifts were to inspire, encourage and engage.[8][30][31][32]

The Pie and the Gubernatorial Campaign[edit]

Poster advertising Yippie-sponsored Smoke-In at Ohio State University, April 29, 1978. This event also served as an unofficial "Conliff for Governor" rally.

Steve Conliff's decision to throw a pie at Governor Rhodes was due to Rhodes' direct role in the Kent State shootings;[33] particularly 1) the ordering of Ohio National Guard troops onto campus, and 2) his angry speech given the day before the shootings (May 3, 1970) to assembled news media. Rhodes' infamous speech was said to inflame conservatives as well as the guardsmen occupying campus, thereby lighting the fuse of an already-incendiary situation:

We have seen here at the City of Kent especially, probably the most vicious form of campus-oriented violence yet perpetrated by dissident groups and their allies in the State of Ohio ... these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize a community. They're worse than the Brown Shirts and the communist element and also the Night Riders and the vigilantes. They're the worst type of people that we harbor in America. And I want to say that they're not going to take over the campus. And the campus now is going to be part of the County and the State of Ohio.[34][35]

In 1977, the Kent State University Administration decided to build a gymnasium on the exact site of the Kent State shootings, where there was already a small but respectful memorial to the four slain students erected by B'nai B'rith. As a result, all hell broke loose; there were numerous demonstrations and an infamous "Tent City" erected on the site that eventually had to be bulldozed down, its 193 inhabitants forcibly removed and arrested.[36][37][38] It was in this carnival atmosphere that the pieing of Governor James Rhodes took place.[39][40][41]

After pieing Rhodes and the generally-positive reaction,[42][43][44] Conliff decided to run for governor against Rhodes, as a Republican.[45][46][47] This campaign wasn't treated very seriously by Ohio media, but gave Conliff access to various conservative venues in which he delivered anti-war, anti-capitalist and pro-marijuana speeches to decidedly-unfriendly audiences with aplomb, which he seemed to enjoy:

Yippie Conliff says he's too young to serve as governor even if elected, but sees no problem with the state not having a governor.[48]

When his Lieutenant Governor candidate, yippie Leatrice Urbanowicz,[49] was thrown off the GOP ballot for being a registered Democrat,[50] that was also an occasion for more Yippie hoopla.[51][52][53]

Zorba the Freak[edit]

One of Conliff's continuing characters throughout his work was an alter ego, "the Leader of the Street People", named Zorba the Freak. Zorba liked to dish about other Yippies (who often recognized themselves in his stories) and became locally legendary, as well as an inside joke among the Yippies.[1] According to Columbus poet-activist Steve Abbott:

In journalism, historically, columnists have created alter egos who they supposedly interview but who speak for them. Finley Peter Dunne did Mr. Dooley. Mike Royko did Slats Grobnik. And William Raspberry always had the taxicab driver in Washington. Conliff had someone called Zorba the Freak—incredibly funny, incredibly well-written pieces that combine satire and commentary.[4]

Steve Conliff gives interview to Ohio State Lantern reporter during his gubernatorial campaign, 1978

Blacklisted News[edit]

With Dana Beal and the New Yippie Book Collective, Conliff published the 733-page anthology Blacklisted News: Secret Histories from Chicago 1968 to 1984, forward by William Kunstler. [1] Steve Conliff wrote over half of this volume, a detailed chronicle of specific Yippie actions all over the world (in the middle section titled "The Dreaded Yippie Curse") and a colorful collection of underground posters, jeremiads, essays, news clippings, comics, photos, articles, reviews and other counter-cultural history.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Conliff met artist Suzan Bird in 1970, while she was working in the hippie enclave of Pearl Alley, adjacent to the OSU campus:

He was selling Purple Berries, and he would come by E.G. Leather on Pearl Alley trying to get ads. It was one of the old hippie shops. I worked there at the time, so I would sit on the porch and talk to him, and we got to know each other fairly well just sitting and chatting.[4]

The two married in 1973 and had three sons. Bird's art work often accompanied Conliff's written pieces, especially in Purple Berries and Sour Grapes.

Steve Conliff died of lung cancer on June 1, 2006.[54]


  • We Are Not McGovernable: What Cronkite Didn't Tell You about the '72 Democratic Convention - Youth International Party, 1972[55]
  • Purple Berries and Sour Grapes - Ohio YIP periodicals, 1970-1974 [7]
  • Subversive Scholastic 1978–1984 [11]
  • Peace in Persia - Poetry inspired by the Iran hostage crisis, 1981
  • Zeitgeist: The Ballad of Tom Forcade - A lyric 'epic' poem first published in full in Blacklisted News--has been excerpted numerous times as an obituary for Forcade and the "Zippies" (Zeitgeist International Party) -- the radical breakaway Yippie faction that demonstrated at the 1972 Republican and Democratic Conventions in Miami Beach.
  • Blacklisted News: Secret Histories from Chicago, '68, to 1984 - Bleecker Publishing, 1983[1]
  • Chief Buffalo and The Green Arm - Two novels uploaded to the free internet in the early 00s, now unavailable, circa 2003
  • 8060 Olentangy River Road[56] posthumously published, 2010


  1. ^ a b c d e f New Yippie Book Collective (1983). Blacklisted News: Secret Histories from Chicago, '68, to 1984. Bleecker Publishing. ISBN 9780912873008.
  2. ^ "Gov. Rhodes Is Hit in Face With a Pie by Protester". New York Times. August 17, 1977.
  3. ^ Rhodes Opens Fair, gets 'creamed' by KSU Group, Associated Press, The Daily Reporter, 17 August 1977
  4. ^ a b c Ghose, Dave. "An Oral History: The pieing of Gov. Jim Rhodes at the Ohio State Fair". Columbus Monthly. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  5. ^ Martin Jezer, Yippies and the Mobe, The Nation, October 3, 1988, Vol. 247 Issue 8, p 283-285
  6. ^ Konkoly, Jim (3 February 1972). "Vagrancy Law to be Tested" (PDF). Ohio State Lantern.
  7. ^ a b SOUR GRAPES cover Youth International Party, Columbus, OH, 1974
  8. ^ a b c Steve Abbott (April 1, 2012). Ken Wachsberger (ed.). "Karl and Groucho's Marxist Dance : Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Part 2 (Voices from the Underground)". Michigan State University Press. ISBN 978-1611860313.
  9. ^ "Articles by Steven Conliff". Columbus Free Press. Columbus Free Press. 2005.
  10. ^ Conliff, Steve. "Remarks prepared for Annual Free Press Awards Dinner". Columbus Free Press. Retrieved 2006-05-02.
  11. ^ a b "Subversive Scholastic". 1978–84.CS1 maint: Date format (link) SUBVERSIVE SCHOLASTIC cover : May/June 1980
  12. ^ Yipsky, Leon, March to Disband the DEA, Yipster Times, June 1975 Illustration : YIPSTER TIMES cover, June 1975
  13. ^ *OVERTHROW cover : Fall 1985 *** OVERTHROW cover : Spring 1986 credit: Bolerium Books
  14. ^ Conliff, Steve (June 1979). "Kent State and Dealing". High Times.
  15. ^ Conliff, Steve (Spring 1977). "Everybody needs nobody sometimes" (PDF). Open Road.
  16. ^ Conliff, Steve (Winter 1978). "Ohio: Getting down in the Streets" (PDF). Open Road.
  17. ^ Steven E. Conliff (1949 - 2006)
  18. ^ Sharon Malinowski (1995). "Notable Native Americans". Thomson Gale. ISBN 978-0810396388.
  19. ^ Sharon Malinowski (1998). "GALE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES, VOLUME 1: NORTHEAST, SOUTHEAST". Thomson Gale. ISBN 9780787610869.
  20. ^ "Yippies Exclude Hoffman And Rubin as Spokesmen". New York Times. 28 November 1972.
  21. ^ Cooperman, Alan (21 January 1981). "Amid Washington's Pomp, a 'Counter-Inaugural'". The Harvard Crimson.
  22. ^ Traynor, P. (4 November 1977). "Come Pie With Me : the Creaming of America" (PDF). Open Road.
  23. ^ Deadhead, Daisy. "Ben Masel 1954 - 2011". Dead Air. Retrieved 2011-05-12.(obituary of Yippie Ben Masel humorously describes Conliff's appearance on Missouri talk radio to get him out of jail)
  24. ^ "Dessert storm: the phantom flan flingers answer their critics". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 September 2005.
  25. ^ Anthony Haden-Guest. "Throwing Custard Pies Looks Like Fun. It's Also Art". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 18 February 2018. A comprehensive history of political pie-throwing; cites the Yippies at some length, mentions Conliff and interviews Kay.
  26. ^ James Rosen (May 2008). "The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate". New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0385508643.
  27. ^ Alice Torbush, Daisy Deadhead, Rock Against Racism USA - Tour Dates & Concert Calender, Overthrow/Yipster Times, p. 12-14, April 1979 Illustration : Overthrow cover: ROCK AGAINST RACISM issue, April 1979
  28. ^ Baby Lindy. "Screaming Urge : Impulse Control". Hyped to Death CD archives. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  29. ^ Webster, Brian. "Rock Against Racism USA". Brian Webster and Associates. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  30. ^ Deadhead, Daisy. "I wish someone would phone". Dead Air. Retrieved 2008-01-16.
  31. ^ Fitrakis, Bob. "Steve Conliff: A legend has passed away but his spirit is with us". Columbus Free Press. Retrieved 2006-06-01.
  32. ^ Connie Everett, Paul Volker (June 2006). "In Memoriam : Steve Conliff (page 63)" (PDF). ComFest. ComFest : Community Festival, Columbus, Ohio - cultivating Peace, Love, Music and Art since 1972 (festival program : June 23, 24, 25, 2006).
  33. ^ Fitrakis, Bob. "Four Still Dead in Ohio". Green Party of the United States. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  34. ^ "KSU May 4 Rhodes Speech, May 3, 1970 : Governor Rhodes Speech on campus disorders in Kent, May 3, 1970". Kent State University Special Collections and Archives. Kent State University.
  35. ^ James Michener (1971). "Kent State : What Happened and Why (chapter: The Governor Moves In)". Random House. pp. 225–232. ISBN 978-0394471990.
  36. ^ Miriam R. Jackson (2017). "We Shall Not Be Moved : the May 4th coalition, the "gym struggle" of 1977 at Kent State University and the battle over ultimate control of the Vietnam Era national narrative". Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1490776651.
  37. ^ "Tent City Archives". Four Dead in Ohio : May 4, 1970.
  38. ^ "Gym Annex Controversy (Tent City) records". Kent State University Libraries : Special Records and Archives. Kent State University.
  39. ^ James A. Schnell (2003). "Case Studies in Culture and Communication: a group perspective". Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0739105832.
  40. ^ Kent State: Remembering the Tragedy, editorial, The Michigan Daily, p. 4, 11 May 1978.
  41. ^ Patterson, Doug (August 1977). "Tent City at Kent State" (PDF). Socialist Worker. p. 11.
  42. ^ Shushnick, Irving (December 1977). "Pie Times for Pols". High Times.
  43. ^ Fetcher, Doug; Maxwell, Duane (27 January 1978). "Pressnotes, the State : Pie-throwing presented as Constitutional" (PDF). University of Cincinnati Digital Collections. The News Record (University of Cincinnati). p. 5.
  44. ^ "Around the Nation - Special to the New York Times". The New York Times. 21 May 1978.
  45. ^ Tyo, Aleene (24 March 1978). "June Primary Candidates File". Greenville Daily Advocate.
  46. ^ Rhodes Only Major Officeholder Facing Primary Foe, editorial, Akron Beacon Journal, 26 March 1978
  47. ^ Miering, Michael. "OHIO GOVERNOR ELECTION RESULTS 1962-1990". Ohio Politicals. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  48. ^ Wilson, Steve, Field Pared As Primary Deadline Passes, Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 March 1978
  49. ^ Rapport, Marc (29 March 1978). "Student on Ballot with Pie Thrower: she's candidate for lieutenant governor". Daily Kent Stater.
  50. ^ "Urbanowicz Removed from State Office Race". Daily Kent Stater. 5 April 1978.
  51. ^ Plonsky, Chris (18 May 1978). "Court ousts slate challenging Rhodes". Daily Kent Stater.
  52. ^ Vondruska, Tom (12 May 1978). "Reporter Gets Case of Gas". The Daily Guardian (Wright State University).
  53. ^ Call, Michael, Security is Heavy as State Fair Opens, Akron Beacon Journal, 15 August, 1978
  54. ^ "Steven Edwin Conliff (obituary)". Columbus Dispatch. June 2006.
  55. ^ Steve Conliff (1972). "We are Not McGovernable!: What Cronkite Didn't Tell You about the '72 Democratic Convention". Youth International Party.
  56. ^ "8060 Olentangy River Road, Delaware, Ohio, 43015 : a fragmentary presentation of the prehistory and history of a parcel of land in the northern suburbs of Columbus, Ohio". 2010.

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