Tor.com Yanks MZB Birthday Tribute

Tor.com’s post “Marion Zimmer Bradley Gave Us New Perspectives” disappeared from the website after attracting negative comments for neglecting to mention her husband Walter Breen’s conviction for child molestation, and Bradley’s awareness that was going on (evident from her depositions).

Leah Schnelbach’s post was intended as a salute to the late author on her birthday. All it had to say about Breen was —

She was married to Robert Alden Bradley from 1949 until 1964, and had one son. She married Walter Breen in 1964, and the couple had a son and a daughter.

Apparently it wasn’t online long enough to be captured by the Wayback Machine, but Google’s cached copy is still available (for how long, I don’t know.)

Before the post was yanked it drew a blistering response by Deirdre Saoirse Moen, “Marion Zimmer Bradley gave us new perspectives all right”, who said, “I feel that what’s important to remember about MZB is what she enabled that was unconscionable.” Moen adds support from the depositions, available at Stephen Goldin’s website.

82 thoughts on “Tor.com Yanks MZB Birthday Tribute

  1. I’m not telling him to shut up in any way. I’m telling him that his story about nearly murdering an innocent man in cold blood over something someone else made up is not a relevant, nor a reasonable argument for why the complete and well-known record of MZB should be excised from a biography.

    It is his business whether he shares with the rest of us his his near-murders. I’m merely relaying that I don’t see how his story of considering premeditated murder on an innocent is relevant to the subject at hand. If anything, it merely underscores that there are people willing to do really bad things in the world for no good reason at all.

  2. Six things:

    It is possible that people can Make Shit Up about other people and damage reputations with the people they Make The Shit Up To and in some cases make it sound so bad that they incite the people they Made The Shit Up To to want to respond with self-righteous violence.

    It can be and has been that a percentage of the people to whom the Shit Was Made Up are unethical and/or immoral enough to actually act with self-righteous violence.

    It is possible for people to be appear to be reasonable and well-adjusted when interacting with non-intimates for short periods but horribly, evilly monstrous in private over the long-term, actually committing actions that would inspire a normally ethical or moral person to want to go outside proper conduct to commit self-righteous violence.

    I could not finish reading the poetry by Moira Greyland which Deirdre Saoirse Moen reprinted as what was described was too painful to contemplate actually happening to a child in reality.

    The value of the written fiction is neither improved nor reduced by real-life actions of the author. The work is not the person, any more than a road map is the pavement on which you travel.

    Fiction purchased after the death of the author does not enrich the author but rather the recipients of the author’s estate who are entirely innocent of whatever evil actions the author might have committed.

  3. Note about the above: Item six is based on the presumption that as Marion Zimmer Bradley Breen’s daughter, Moira Greyland is an heir and recipient of at least a portion of the estate. I mention it because people have mentioned refusing to purchase new copies of MZB’s work — if she is an heir, then not purchasing new copies deprives her of income, not MZB who is fifteen years gone.

  4. xdpaul: That’s exactly what you are doing by coming back to justify stifling his participation, characterizing it as “not relevant” and “nor a reasonable argument,” which is another way of saying you think he should have kept to himself the personal experience that caused him to take his original position. That he should have shut up.

    Quite a number of people here criticized Bruce’s comments about his personal experience of MZB when she was alive, making his candid explanation about why he struggles with the revelations of Moira Greyland thoroughly relevant to the exchange.

  5. A brief follow-up about 1954. Please correct me if any of this is off base:

    Whatever 26-year old Walter, who around that time was a brilliant med student at Columbia, did “under the boardwalk” in Atlantic City in ’54 was done in an environment of ubiquitous and often anonymous gay sex conducted in shadowy semi-public places. This subculture was sustained in part by society’s mass demonization of gays. We don’t know the specific incident but we know about lewdness laws and Vice and the boardwalk beat. Breen probably exposed himself in the presence of other men. Perhaps he was accused of it and he knew to shut up and not argue with Atlantic City cops. There could have been boys under 16 around but we don’t know the details. The New Jersey courts considered Breen a pervert because he was homosexual. A psychiatrist likely evaluated the severity of his homosexual disorder. Unless he was actually remanded to a mental hospital to cure his tendency to commit sodomy, the incident was considered minor. He would probably have been punished harshly – they called it “rehabilitation” – if he had been judged to have a habitual pattern of sex with other men and anonymous public sex (as well as if he were having sex with boys under 15). I’m not defending him. I am trying to not selectively forget the wider context.

    Marion says in her deposition that she didn’t know about 1954. The former victim suing her knew because his mother’s lawyer obtained a copy of Breen’s confidential pre-sentence report from the 80s. That report is Goldin’s source. Possibly it has more details.

    Marion had heard stories about Breen at the time she married him, but she was far from his only defender. Fandom was split into warring factions when the 1964 Worldcon refused to admit Breen on the basis of the unproven allegations. In the end, even the Worldcon officer who had spearheaded the campaign to refuse him entry apologized to Breen for having charged him with pre-crime. I believe there is an important summary of this in Jack Speer’s 1965 issue of Full Length Articles, The Breenigan After One Year, but I am unfortunately unable to find a linkable copy.

  6. Where did anyone say that “the complete and well-known record of MZB should be excised from a biography”?

  7. Roderick: Now that you’ve spotlighted it, perhaps someone with a copy of Speer’s zine will make the text available. And I think it’s premature to rationalize whatever Breen did to get arrested in the 1950s when, as you say, “we don’t know the specific incident” and “we don’t know the details” and the unknown answer to one question — was there a minor involved? — would be more pertinent to this discussion of MZB than than “the wider context” of homosexuality.

  8. Mike, it would be a very good thing if we could read and reflect on Speers’ zine. Your response about not knowing the pertinent questions about the 50s incident is very fair. I just thought it important to remember that the legal and social context of a “lewdness” charge in Atlantic City in ’54 – with societal pressure driving men to anonymous and covert, yet semi-public, sex – is not the same as a “child molestation” charge today. There were indeed probably under-16 boys under that boardwalk, and I have no idea what actually happened.

  9. Fiction purchased after the death of the author does not enrich the author but rather the recipients of the author’s estate who are entirely innocent of whatever evil actions the author might have committed.

    My understanding, which may be incomplete, is that MZB’s literary estate benefits Lisa Waters, her longtime partner.

  10. I think we have a lot of younger fans today unfamiliar with either gay history or fannish history who honestly don’t realize how crippling a “public lewdness” arrest could be.

    This is how it is today:

    http://youtu.be/9_eeH6dOswE

    In 1954 it was entirely the opposite: lost jobs, denial of security clearances, military courts-martial, school expulsions, public excoriation — Walter Breen is mentioned as having been a brilliant medical student at Columbia University — did the arrest kill a promising career? Did this inspire an “Aw, screw it. I’m condemned for life anyway, I might as well give in to my baser desires” attitude? Perhaps he might have controlled his sexual activities, limiting them to adults, had he not already had much of his life ruined. On the other hand, he might have been a physician who used his position to enable inappropriate acts with minors. We’ll never know.

    It is true that as late as 1984 he denied having done wrong with minors and claimed that some of his greatest detractors in the Breendoggle were gay and closeted, only years later coming out themselves.

    Roderick is correct that the context of the law and societal attitudes of the time were a factor in how his orientation and behavior were regarded compared to today. In a time when we have both conventions and fiction awards specifically for gay fans and writers, it can be difficult — especially if you aren’t old enough to have seen it first-hand — to understand how horrible it was then.

    (None of this excuses or is meant to excuse sexual predation of pre-teens, which is just as wrong today as it was then, but it may explain some of it in retrospect.)

    And just for the sake of education, gay men weren’t the only people using the space under the boardwalk for sex. In his 1975 autobiography, Moe Howard mentions how his brother Shemp accidentally discovered a heterosexual couple engaged in sexual activity under a boardwalk, and being so surprised that he knocked himself unconscious in his reaction, having to be rescued by Moe and one of the other members of the Stooges.

  11. HelenS: Does it only benefit Lisa Waters or are either of Mrs. Bradley Breen’s children also heirs to her estate? That seems to me relevant with regard to income of the estate. If her son or daughter are named heirs to a percentage of those royalties, then a boycott of buying new copies of her fiction does hurt them, making them even greater victims. If Ms Waters is the executrix and only beneficiary, it is certainly a different matter.

  12. With that introduction I wasn’t sure what your YouTube link was going to lead to — so for everyone’s benefit I’ll note that it turned out to be a video about gay comic book characters.

  13. According to http://www.mzbworks.com/:

    “This is the home page for the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust, which holds Mrs. Bradley’s copyrights and administers her literary estate. The address above may be used to contact Ann Sharp, the Trustee.”

  14. MZB’s partner Lisa Waters is the only beneficiary from the sale of MZB’s books (per her daughter Moira, a dear friend I’ve know since my teens). If anyone would like to benefit MZB’s surviving children, Moira suggests looking up her brother Mark Greyland’s incredible art.

  15. To support victims of child abuse is laudable. Learning who are the rights holders to help decide what books to buy is also important. However, I fear there may be another issue looming ahead of us: to fail to acknowledge and read works of literary, social and historical significance is to become ignorant.

    There is a case that we as a society have a joint responsibility to try understand the struggles and trials of past generations and learn from their mistakes. Walter, outed as a homosexual back when that cost your career, brought out vicious hatred, lies, blackmail and violence, and even got you subjected to police and FBI surveillance with the constant threat of arrest or worse, moved (like many others) to San Francisco after the California Supreme Court decided, for the first time in our history, that men who love men have a right to assemble and even go to a bar together. He dreamed of making the world that had punished him a better place. He wrote one of the first academic treatments of the theory and history of homosexuality that served as an early foundational text for the emerging LGBT Studies discipline (though it has of course rejected his conclusions).

    Shortly before he died, Breen’s desire to have sex with his own gender was vindicated by the medical establishment. Homosexuality was eliminated from the DSM list of mental disorders. Such desire is now celebrated in popular culture. Yet the taboo surrounding his erotic interest in younger men and boys remained, and he was pushed to the far fringes of the gay community (and almost out of fandom). Only last year, the DSM was revised to state that those who have sexual desires or fantasies about the young, yet do not actually have sex with children too young to give legal consent, are not mentally ill.

    So Walter struggled with real demons as well as those society projected on him unfairly. As the court cases suggest, he lost touch with basic ethical principles. Marion, who married him knowing and admiring what he stood for in their grand project to bring about massive social change for women and gays, likewise struggled to cope with his dark side, and also to cope with her own. Today, Marion has been sainted, and her work is “canon.” Walter is reviled, and seems to be out of print. (Though if you can find a way to get his estate paid royalties, I think it was assigned to Moira and Mark at the time of his death.)

    Everyone gets to make personal decisions about what books they want to read. You can find used copies if you do not wish to pay a rights holder. But to refuse to engage with their work and their legacy does a disservice not only to the memory of Marion and Walter (and as Deirdre said, perhaps also to victims), but also, I believe, a disservice to women, gays and other marginalized people who have benefited immeasurably from their talent, dedication, and years spent fighting the good fight.

  16. Roderick, I can’t let this go by without avowing that, knowing all that I now know, it would be impossible to regard either of them as role models.

    Also, File 770 has been around long enough to have reported Walter’s last conviction at the time it occurred. “Fighting the good fight”? In Walter’s case, to have that view one would have to approve all the rights he advocated, not just those that are now socially accepted.

  17. MIKE: I apologize for not making clear that the YouTube link I posted was about approval of gay characters in modern comic books, and nothing inappropriate or salacious.

    CHRIS S: Thank you for the clarification with regard as to who benefits from MZBB’s estate.

    DEIRDRE SAOIRSE MOEN: Thank you for posting the links to Mark Greyland’s works for sale.

    RODERICK: Thank you for once again reminding us how inappropriate it is to throw writing down the Memory Hole because we don’t like what the writer has done in personal life. It’s a lesson that we seem to need to be re-taught from time to time. Thank you also for the partial history of anti-homosexuality and age-of-consent laws in Europe and for the information about Gandhi actions late in his life, the entirety about which I was ignorant.

    I should also note in passing that when I attended MileHighCon in Denver in 1976, MZBB was a GoH, and the masquerade included several women as her Free Amazons of Darkover (as separate individuals, not as a group). It struck me at the time that those characters clearly empowered women who needed role models like the Free Amazons in their real lives, and that they were expressing how grateful they were to her for providing them.

  18. David K. M. Klaus, I too am grateful for the contributions from Chris and Deirdre. And I thank you for your kind words – though I seem to have overstepped the bounds set by the good graces of our moderator. I’m not sure whether my last remarks crossed a line by giving unintended personal offense, and I apologize if they did. Or perhaps Mike thought my meandering into fascism and Foucauldian theory strayed too far off the topic at hand. But in any case, it was a delight having this conversation.

  19. I have to be out all day and will lock comments on this post til I get back. Then I will decide whether any I am holding for review will be reposted.

  20. I am reopening comments on this thread. I have not approved three comments that I held for review.

    One was simply insulting, and while I have not removed other comments which contain insults, the others did not contain ONLY insults.

    Two used an inductive reasoning process to rationalize Marion Zimmer Bradley’s and Walter Breen’s sexual preferences, viewing what they did to children as a part of that spectrum which remains criminalized, while other parts of that spectrum no longer are, as if it was possible to elevate the still-criminalized acts to the level of a civil rights struggle. I’m not here to provide a forum for that viewpoint.

    These decisions undoubtedly are going to chill, or even end, this discussion, but into each life a little rain must fall.

  21. Mike wrote: “I think it’s premature to rationalize whatever Breen did to get arrested in the 1950s when, as you say, “we don’t know the specific incident” and “we don’t know the details” and the unknown answer to one question — was there a minor involved? — would be more pertinent to this discussion”

    I agree. When I was a small child, a few years after Walter Breen was first arrested, a total stranger–a grown man–approached me in a public place, unzipped his fly, pulled our his penis, and repeatedly urged me to perform oral sex on him.

    Is there information suggesting that the same sort of activity was NOT why Walter Breen was arrested? Is there information indicating that, in completely contrast to his consistent and well-documented history of molesting minors AFTER that, he was arrested for activity only involving adults in 1954?

  22. Mike, I apologize unreservedly.

    Like so many of us, I have experience with the terrible effects of childhood trauma. As I wrote earlier, Marion and Walter’s abuse is well documented by the courts. It cannot be dismissed or justified. So I have no defense for a blog comment on the danger of becoming “ignorant.” That came off as a gratuitous insult to anyone who disagrees, and all I can say is that this was not my intent. I regret writing “fighting the good fight” when I could have just as easily just said that I hope we won’t forget their roles in the early civil rights movement.

    But I am troubled by the idea that to find value in a writer/activist’s contribution to civil rights (even Walter’s), “one would have to approve all the rights he advocated.” Like you, I think Walter’s brand of sexual politics was exploitative and repugnant. He was far from alone in espousing or tolerating it in the 60s and 70s. Activists with views we find abhorrent were “a facet of” the political coalitions of that era in the US and Europe. But I didn’t, and would never, try to rationalize child abuse or state that it lies on “a spectrum” of right and wrong.

    We can find value in literature and other political speech even when an author’s views are anathema. I hope that future generations may still find value, as we did, in keeping The Second Sex, Naked Lunch, Howl, Dhalgren, Discipline and Punish, or The Mists of Avalon on the bookshelf. Perhaps, should they come across Greek Love in a library, some might pick it up in order to better understand all that has come before.

    But I apologize sincerely for giving such inexcusable offense to you and your readers.

  23. Roderick also apologized to me, and I accepted his apology. I found myself reading the portion on Breen.

    I agree with DS and Mike that we can’t assume more about the 1954 arrest than that without further information. However, because we might as well have everything out in the light, I’m writing Stephen Goldin to see if he has a copy, or at least enough details so someone can procure it. (He’s trying to recover a hard drive, so it may not be something that happens soon.)

  24. Breen raped little children at least as young as ten. This has been established in Court. He may have raped ones as young as three.

    MZB knew this. She not only did nothing, she covered up his crimes.

    She also raped her own child for years.

    This isn’t consensual if illegal sex with adults “under the boardwalk”. This is violating little children.

  25. The crimes that Breen committed completely negates any type of “good” he may have done. You don’t get to abuse and rape children only to be forgiven because you did “good works” for others. Any non-famous person who abuses or rapes children doesn’t then get lauded for the good things they’ve done. They get vilified as the monsters they are. There is no excuse for what Breen did, and there should be no apologetics applied to him simply because he’s well known.

    The same goes for Bradley. Raping and abusing your own children is the most disgusting and repulsive thing a person can do, and it’s even worse when it’s the woman who gave those children life. She doesn’t get an excuse because her work was good or because she helped women with it. She is the lowest of the low. And I love her books! But I will not join the chorus of those that say that she gets a pass for being a monster to her children because she’s a good writer or because she was good at wearing a mask. Her crimes negates anything else she did. It negates any positives she did for others because her first duty as a mother was to her children. And she failed miserably at that. Any fan who excuses what she did because they like the pretty words she wrote is no better than she was, and are condoning her abuse as a result.

  26. ALICIA:

    Raping and abusing your own children is the most disgusting and repulsive thing a person can do, and it’s even worse when it’s the woman who gave those children life. She doesn’t get an excuse because her work was good or because she helped women with it. She is the lowest of the low. And I love her books! But I will not join the chorus of those that say that she gets a pass for being a monster to her children because she’s a good writer or because she was good at wearing a mask. Her crimes negates anything else she did. It negates any positives she did for others because her first duty as a mother was to her children. And she failed miserably at that. Any fan who excuses what she did because they like the pretty words she wrote is no better than she was, and are condoning her abuse as a result.

    I apologize for not expressing myself clearly enough. What I was trying to say (and as St. Paul requested, please forgive my stumbling tongue) was that some women who lacked self-confidence or self-esteem appeared to me to benefit from some of what she wrote about women on Darkover. I never meant to suggest that anything MZBB wrote balanced on the scale of justice sufficiently to negate the evil of acts of child sexual abuse.

    I am the father of two now-adult sons, and I was fierce in their defense when they came under violent abuse from other children in school (while staying within the bounds of propriety toward those other children, making sure that proper authorities handled it rather than take action myself and committing a second crime). I do not excuse what she or Walter Breen did because they wrote “pretty words”. The good she did in empowering some women, I agree, is overwhelmed by the harm she did in her personal life.

    However, taken on their own, those words still did some good and her written work should not be removed from history because of what she did outside of them. Erasing them makes us no better than those who burn Harry Potter books or who burned books written by Jews in Nazi Germany. We have to accept the value of the words while not for a minute tolerating the evil that was done in person.

    Prior to these revelations here I knew about Walter Breen and how he was criminally convicted, and in the disgrace of being in prison at the time of his death. I did not know of Marion Zimmer’s equally criminal abuse until now, and I confess I am in some shock. I know that women of high ethics such as Dr. Cheryl Chapman were moved sufficiently by her fiction to be involved both fannishly and academically with her work, and that there is an ongoing annual fan convention themed around those works as well. Neither of these might have taken place had her abusive behavior been known before now.

    I think that if someone organized a charity to assist her children and boys molested by Mr. Breen in their recovery to which fans could contribute would be an excellent idea in which someone with a reputation for handling money better than my own could serve as a focal point. It’s unfortunate that one of the fans-turned-pro alleged to have been abused by him is deceased — but even if enough money was raised to help the still-living people who were so badly treated, funds beyond that could be used to “pay it forward” and assist other fans who have suffered similarly at the hands of others besides Mrs. Bradley Breen or Mr. Breen.

    And separately, I have to wonder what the late Paul Edwin Zimmer, who I regarded as a friend in the Los Angeles convention circuit of the late ’70s/early ’80s, knew about any of this?

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