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John L. Spivak Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: JMB
Date: Jul 1978

Biographical History

John L. Spivak (1897-1981) was an American investigative reporter and author whom fellow muckraker Lincoln Steffens described as "the best of us." He was most concerned with the problems of the working class and the spread of fascism and anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States from the 1920s through the 1940s.

As a boy Spivak worked for a variety of factories in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, then landed a job as a cub reporter for the New Haven Union. Moving to New York, he worked at the Morning Sun, Evening Graphic, and the Call, the paper of the American Socialist Party. His first major break came when he traveled to West Virginia to cover the coal strikes that broke out after World War I. He then served briefly as a reporter and bureau chief in Berlin and Moscow for the International News Service and upon his return to the U.S. became a feature writer for leftist newspapers and magazines such as the New York Daily Worker, Ken, and the New Masses.

Spivak traveled throughout the South in the early 1930s interviewing prison camp officials and photographing camp atrocities and their corresponding punishment records. His novel, Georgia Nigger, depicting the brutality of prison camp chain gangs was serialized in the Daily Worker. His 1935 exposé in the New Masses charged a congressional committee with deliberately suppressing evidence of an offer made to Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler by Wall Street financiers to lead a military coup against the U.S. government and replace it with a fascist regime. He also investigated the anti-Semitic and financial activities of Charles E. Coughlin, the Catholic radio priest who founded the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan. Most of Spivak's work, however, was dedicated to exposing fascism and underground Nazi spy groups in Central America, Europe, and the U.S. He wrote several "muckraking" books about these activities.

With the rise of McCarthyism, Spivak spent most of the 1950s and 1960s writing under several pen names for men's adventure and lifestyle magazines including Cavalier, Esquire, Fury, Male, and Man to Man. Intent on writing his autobiography, he and his wife, Mabel, retired to their farm in Easton, Pennsylvania. Not long afterwards he decided to come out of retirement to edit a consumer affairs column for the Easton newspaper where his work culminated in a federal investigation into the high-pressure sales tactics used by magazine circulation companies that resulted in new consumer protection laws. Spivak died in 1981, six months after his wife passed away. They had been married for 64 years and were survived by a daughter and grandson.

Spivak's writings include: Medical Trust Unmasked (L.S. Siegfried, 1929), Devil's Brigade (Brewer and Warren, Inc., 1930), Georgia Nigger (London, Wishart & Company, 1933), Plotting America's Pogroms: A Documented Exposéof Organized Anti-Semitism in the United States (The New Masses, 1934), America Faces the Barricades (Covici Friede Inc., 1935), Europe Under the Terror (Simon & Schuster, 1936), Secret Armies: the New Technique of Nazi Warfare (Modern Age Books, 1939), Honorable Spy: Exposing Japanese Military Intrigue in the United States (Modern Age Books, 1939), Shrine of the Silver Dollar (Modern Age Books, 1940), Sex, Vice and Business (writing as Monroe Fry) (Ballantine Books, 1959), and his autobiography, A Man In His Time (Horizon Press, 1967).

Scope and Contents of the Collection

Spanning 1922 to 1973, the John L. Spivak Papers comprises correspondence, writings, and memorabilia of the investigative reporter and author (1897-1981).

Arranged alphabetically, the Correspondence-subject files (Boxes 1-12) include Family correspondence (Box 1) containing a few letters, telegrams, and holiday cards from Spivak's wife, daughter and grandson. The remaining files consist primarily of original and photocopied correspondence to and from publishers and those organizations and individuals Spivak contacted regarding his research. Also included are a few subject files with materials from investigative work.

Correspondents include book publishers (Covici Friede, Inc., Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., Horizon Press, Inc., Modern Age Books, Inc., Simon & Schuster, Inc.); magazine and newspaper publishers (American Mercury, Easton Publishing Company, Esquire, International News Service, Ken, New Masses, Survey-Survey Graphic); literary, lecture, and Hollywood producers and agents (Ad-Schulberg-Sam Jaffe, Inc., Brandt & Brandt, Charles Hamilton Autographs, Inc., Lester Cohen, Leland Hayward, Inc., Kurt Hellmer, Liebling-Wood, Inc., W. Colston Leigh, Inc., Motion Picture Guild, Inc., and Warner Bros. Pictures/Vitagraph, Inc.); agencies and organizations (American Action, Inc., American Council Against Nazi Propaganda, Inc., American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, International Labor Defense); attorneys (Caughlin & Hatten, Foulsten, Siefkin, Foulsten & Morris, Harry Hibschman, Louis Little, Milburn & Semmes, Willard J. Stone, William Stott, Carl Strover); authors and other noted persons (Jules Archer, John Nicholas Beffel, Elizabeth Cousins, Paul Comly French, Frederic J. Haskin, Luther Huston, Oakley C. Johnson, Shaemas O'Sheel, Harry Pollit, George Seldes, Irving Stone, Keith Sward, Mary Heaton Vorse, Kate Warriner, Ella Winter); and federal government departments and politicians. Subject files include Arab fascism, consumer affairs, magazine sales promotion business, Nazi infiltration and propaganda activities, radio and television appearances, and the Scottsboro case.

Correspondence written under one of Spivak's pseudonyms, Monroe Fry, is found in the files of Ballantine Books, Cavalier, Escapade, King Bros. Productions, Inc., Magazine Management Company, Male, Meredith Publishing Company, and Volitant Publishing Corporation. Mercer Plankett (Box 10), an alias Spivak assumed in 1947 while doing research for "Pattern for American Fascism" and "The 'Save the Country' Racket," includes correspondence to and from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, congressmen, university administrators, and organizations such as American Action, Inc.

There are several folders of correspondence to and from Easton, Pennsylvania area citizens regarding his consumer affairs column, "Action! Express," and includes follow-up correspondence with various businesses and local, state, and federal government offices. Newspaper clippings, memos, press releases, and correspondence with congressional committees and congressmen (Fred B. Rooney, PA) regarding the magazine sales industry investigation comprise the bulk of the column material.

Writings (Boxes 13-34) include notes, drafts, manuscripts, and galley proofs for books, as well as notes, drafts, and clippings of journal and newspaper articles, some of which have handwritten comments. Writings under the name John L. Spivak appear first, followed alphabetically by pseudonym (William Blaise, Howard Booth, Paul Dinsmore, Monroe Fry, Paul Harris, Douglas Horrabin, Al Lippencott, Leslie Lippincott, Sherman L. North, and Shelby Ogden). Materials are then arranged by type (book, journal, newspaper), then publication date. There are also two unpublished manuscripts, Having Fun, reflections of the people and stories Spivak covered throughout his career, and Indictment, an exposéabout the rise of Arab fascism in the U.S. after World War II.

Arranged by type, Memorabilia (Boxes 35-41) includes original and photocopied clippings, arranged by date, of articles about Spivak on such topics as interviewing style, lecture appearances, research, charges made against him by the Georgia prison commissioner, responses to his investigative articles into the conditions in mental institutions, the Whalen forgeries, and Father Coughlin. Book, journal, and lecture publicity materials are arranged by type, then title, and contain clippings, advertisements for books and investigative articles, publishers' catalogs, press releases, and schedules of radio and television appearances. Also arranged by title are book reviews including items published in a variety of newspapers and sent to Spivak via a clipping service. Financial and legal materials, arranged by type, include birth and marriage certificates, contracts with publishers and pay records, litigation documents, travel receipts and passports, and miscellaneous receipts and foreign money. Photographs, arranged by type, include family snapshots, publicity portraits, group photographs, and photographs appearing in Secret Armies. There are also several negatives and test strips of photographs taken while in Central America investigating spy activity. Printed material includes articles from Hebrew newspapers, magazines, announcements, and miscellaneous items. Oversized materials contain issues of magazines, photostats of newspaper articles about Spivak's undercover work in a mental institution, photographs from Georgia Nigger, family portraits taken by Spivak, and book jacket plates and sample book jackets for A Man In His Time.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Spivak, John L. (John Louis), 1897-1981.


Authors, American.
Journalists -- United States.
Novelists, American.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Drafts (documents)
Manuscripts for publication.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

John L. Spivak Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of John L. Spivak. Additional materials from Zelda Besnoff and Joan I. Covera.

Table of Contents

Biographical material

Family correspondence-subject files

Correspondence-subject files


Writings (as John L. Spivak)

Writings (as William Blaise)

Writings (as Howard Booth)

Writings (as Paul Dinsmore)

Writings (as Monroe Fry)

Writings (as Paul Harris)

Writings (as Douglas Horrabin)

Writings (as Al Lippencott)

Writings (as Leslie Lippencott)

Writings (as Sherman L. North)

Writings (as Shelby Ogden)