Cover for DAVIS: Dirty Jokes and Bawdy Songs: The Uncensored Life of Gershon Legman. Click for larger image
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Dirty Jokes and Bawdy Songs

The Uncensored Life of Gershon Legman

Laughing in the gutter with the larger-than-life dean of blue humor

Collector of sexual folklore. Cataloger of erotica. Tireless social critic. Gershon Legman's singular, disreputable resume made him a counter-cultural touchstone during his forty-year exile in France. Despite his obscurity today, Legman’s prescient work and passion for the prurient laid the groundwork for our contemporary study of the forbidden.

Susan G. Davis follows the life and times of the figure driven to share what he found in civilization's secret libraries. Self-taught and fiercely unaffiliated, Legman collected the risqué on street corners and in theaters and dug it out of little-known archives. If the sexual humor he uncovered often used laughter to disguise hostility and fear, he still believed it indispensable to the human experience. Davis reveals Legman in all his prickly, provocative complexity as an outrageous nonconformist thundering at a wrong-headed world while reveling in conflict, violating laws and boundaries with equal abandon, and pursuing love and improbable adventures. Through it all, he maintained a kaleidoscopic network of friends, fellow intellectuals, celebrity admirers, and like-minded obsessives.

"A more difficult subject is hard to imagine—a self-taught, little-known, irascible scholar who with little support and great opposition delved into some of the darkest corners of culture. Yet this remarkable and utterly engaging biography is the epic story of an unlikely hero as well as a lesson in just how much one person can accomplish in one lifetime. It also evokes an era, one uncomfortably like our own, in which scholars, theologians, politicians, and police wrestle with the unresolved issues of love and death."--John Szwed, author of Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth

Publication of this book was supported in part by a grant from the L. J. and Mary C. Skaggs Folklore Fund.


Susan G. Davis is a professor emerita of Communication and Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author of Parades and Power: Street Theatre in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia and Spectacular Nature: Corporate Culture and the Sea World Experience.

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