Founder(s) Art Kunkin
Ceased publication April 3, 1974
|Format alternative weekly|
Founded May 23, 1964
|Headquarters Los Angeles, California|
The Los Angeles Free Press (1964–1978; new series 2005–ongoing), 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, who, at the time of its founding, was a 36-year-old unemployed tool-and-die worker and former organizer for the Socialist Workers Party, 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 1200 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 was over 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 coffeehouse 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 9000 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.
This newspaper was notable for its radical politics when such views rarely saw print. 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 in the anti-Vietnam war movement. With its readership, particularly readers ready to sit, march, and sing, The Los Angeles Free Press is given degrees of credit for the ending of the Vietnam War, because of its coverage and how it became a touchstone for the activists, both everyday people and celebrities. It grew with the movement, and at its peak was selling over 100,000 copies, with national distribution.
The Free Press wrote about and was often directly involved in the major historic issues and people of the 1960s and '70s such as the Chicago 7 Trial, 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.
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 3 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 twenty-five 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. It also appeared briefly in Hardcore (1979) where George Scott's Jake Van Dorn placed an ad as a porno producer looking for experienced actors in the hopes of finding his missing daughter.
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. The Free Press was a founding member of the Underground Press Syndicate. It was the impetus for a network of 600 community, student and alternative newspapers throughout the United States.
Author Charles Bukowski's Open City column "Notes of a Dirty Old Man" was taken on by the Los Angeles Free Press beginning in 1969, when Open City folded.
The cartoonist Ron Cobb created an ecology symbol and published 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, but was featured in Paul Schrader's 1979 film, Hardcore as where George C. Scott's Jake Van Dorn character placed an advertisement of himself as a porn producer in order to find his missing daughter. After he lost the Free Press, Art 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.
Rebirth (2005 to current)
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.
Steven M. Finger became the publisher of the Los Angeles Free Press in late 2006/early 2007. Finger also owns and manages AP&G, the marketing arm of the Los Angeles Free Press.
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.