H. Lynn Womack, in his time, has won friends and influenced people.
A woman who was one of his students in the mid-1950s, when he was an assistant professor of philosophy at Mary Washinton College in Fredericksburg, Va., was so impressed that she spent the next 17 years helping him run his adult book empire here.
At the end of their association, she was indicted on obscenity charges (later dropped) and forced into bankruptcy. But far from blaming Womack for her troubles, she wants to point out how badly he has been treated over the years by the press. Story after story, she complains, has described him as a 'fat, gay albino' rather than as a 'charming, dynamic, thought-provoking man.
Even Womack's probation officer, otherwise a very law-and-order sort of fellow, found Womack so persuasive that prosecutors said he gave 'less than objective treatment' to Womack the convict.
A few years ago, by his won account, Womack, a white-haired, white-complexioned man of 56 who appears to weigh at least 300 pounds, was the fourth largest pronographer in America.
Although he has two ex-wives and a daughter who graduated from Vassa, Womack also is a homosexual - a discovery he says he made at age 27.
He has left Washington and, he insists, the pornography business, too. But his influence lingers. Three men who operate, among them, a dozen bookstores in Washington and its suburbs - Dennis Pryba, Jimmy Ingram and Donald Branca - are graduates of what could be called the Womack School of Pornography.
They also are veterans of the U.S. Naby or Marines who, while assigned to Washington area military instalations, went to work for Womack. They then went into business for themselves after Womack was ordered out of te pornography field by U.S. Districtt Courtrrt Judge Barrington Parker.
Born in Missippi, 'the son of tenant farmer who was an alcoholic . . . and went to the state penitentiary at Parchman for murdering his best friend.' Womack says he was a 'bookish child.' He was juggling three jobs to finance his education at Ole Miss when a friend advised him to get a government job and go to school in Washington instead, which led to his enrolling at George Washington University in 1941.
Womack says he was rejected for military service because he was 'legally bling . . .' Yet he supported himself doing clerical work for a series of federal agencies, and was twice married and twice divorced, while pursuing a bachelor's degree at GW and a doctorate at Johns Hopkins.
After 15 years of study, Womack became a teacher - first at GE and then, after a falling-out with his collegues there, at Mary Washington.
'About that time.' he says, 'Sputnik crossed the horizon. And I had a friend in Washington who called me up and said . . . 'I'm going to make a lot of money you could make it with me. He said these people are crazy. Everything is research and development.'
'I'm not particularly proud of this chapter in my life,' Womack confides, before plunging into an account of his involvement with Polytronics Research. inc., a firm whose principal asset, he says, was about 500 square feet of office space in Silver Spring.
Womack's version of the events, partly supported by newspaper accounts of the time, it that he and his associate concocted some phony electronics contracts with the Navy, kited the stock from worthlessness to $3.65 a share, 'sold a hell of a lot it, closed it out, and found ourselves with a considerable amount of money.
The SEC eventually held some hearings andd revoked the licenses of three different brokeage houses for making 'false and misleading statements' about Polytronics Researrchand its prospects. Womack's associate was cesured by the SEC for his role. But, says Womack, 'the SEC concluded . . . that I was overly educated and didn't understand financial matters whatever, so they didn't censure me.'
'What are you going to do when you suddenly have close to half a million dollars?' What Womack did was to quit teaching and purchase two established Washington printing companies. An accountant had told him that 'the printring business, apart from government, is one of the businesses in Washington that makes the most money.'
Although the bulk of his trade initially consisted of menus and other such fare, 'one of our accounts,' says Womack, 'was a man who had magazine called 'Grecian Guild Pictorial' . . . a simple little magazine that appealed to homosexuals . . . When he first sent us the book to publish it, I'll be perfectly honest, I sent it back and said 'Forget it!'
The client resubmitted his order along with a crtaified check, and that, says Womack, won him over. 'The man paid his bills and I saw that thesesesse type of magazines were very profitable. So I immediately struck a deal with to help us put together one that would belong to us, and . . . pretty soon we were publishing five or six of them . . .
'And to my amazement, one day I wake up and I'm indicted - for sending obscene material through the mail . . . I really can't tell you how astounded I was by all of this . . .I really became so angry, I suppose with my record of persistence in the future you could almost say I became irrational.'
Womack's astonishment was heightened in 1961 when a judge sentenced him to one to three years in prison.
'Now this is a sordid chapter in Washington foresic psychiatry and legal history,' says Womack, 'but I decide (on appeal) to plead insanity. And when I tell you the furor this created, you just wouldn't believe it.'
Womack attributes his success at being certified insane to the fact that, as a one-time student of psychology, he had friends on the staff at St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Stanley Dietz, Womack's retrial, a parade of expert witnesses testified that he was 'obsessive-compulsive' And, says Womack, 'at the end of this overwhelming testimony, the judge took the case away from the jury' and 'ruled that my crimes were the product of insanity.'
Womack was held at St. Elizabeths for a year and a half. 'It was very pleasant,' he says. 'I had a private room, TV, typewriter. While I was sitting there I organized Guild book Service . . .'
Womack credits Dietz with the brainstorm that restored him to freedom, U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Holtzhoff, since deceased, had presided over Womack's original trial, and frequently had expressed a belief that Womack - whatever wlse he was not insane. So when Womack decided that he would like to declared rehabilitated, Dietz waited until the month when Judge Holtzhoff would be hearing such cases and applied to Holtzhoff or Womack's release.
Holtzhoff, in granting the request, 'threw up his arms and said 'I don't want to have anything to do with tis case or with you again,' Womack recalls.
Back in circulation, Womack set up headquarters in a warehouse on Capitol Hill and began spawning new corporations. While his pornography business continued to grow, 'we did a lot of outside printing. We were the largest menu printers in Washington . . .Some of the accounts we had wee kept out of sentimental reasons. For example, I printed all of the annual programs for the United Daughters of the Confederacy when they had their 100th Jubilee.'
In1967, Womack went into the bookstore business, building achain of stores that ultimately stretched from Washington to Fayetterville, N.C., with the greatest connentration along the 14th Street corridor here and in the Tidewater area of southern Virginia.
During this period of his career, Womack says, he assigned a share of his business and increasingly important responsibilities to a young Navy veteran named Dennis Pryba, who is now connected to half a dozen Washington area adult bookstores.
The late 1960s were Womack's heyday. HisHisisHis business was 'going swimmingly,' he says, and he hhhas fond memories of his next encounter with the law: Manual v. Day .
'The Supreme Court rulled that my little physique magazines, and I loved this, they said 'they are cheap, they are uncouth, they're tawdry, they are in poor taste, but they are not obscene . . .' Now involved in this case was something that I have very strong feelings about . . . The post office said in effect, heterosexuals can have 'Playbo.' hommesexuals can have a comparable literature.''
But he admits his magazines had no editorial content comparable to 'Playboy's.' 'Absolutely not! Who has the money?'
In the wake of Manual v. Day , says Womack, 'we opened up and really went into business, to put it mildly . . . And the Justice Department, of course, became increasingly irate.'
As a result, he was indicted again in August, 1970 this time for the interstate transportation of obscene materials, convicted a year later on 15 counts, and sentenced to 2 1/2 years by Judge Parker.
Womack thus became, by his account, 'the only perosn in the history of the smut business who upon conviction (pending appeal) was either incarcerated and or barred from having any further connection with his business.'
Three years after his treal in July, 1971, and two arrests later (both of those cases were dropped), the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed Womack's conviction. Although his sentence evevtually was cut to six months, Womack's business empire was reduced to shambles, he claims, by the years of sturggle with the courts, the FBI and IRS - costing a cumulative $250,000 in legal expenses alone.
An IRS agent spent the better part of two years in Guild Books' offices according to Womack. 'He had a desk . . .We offered to put a telephone on it for him, but he wouldn't let us. . .'
What hurt the business most, Womack says, was the court-ordered absence of his own hand at the helm. Guild Books 'at its height was doing about $2 million a year,' he says. 'By the time they had closed, June 30, 1974, they had liabilities of nearly $1 million. Because, frankly, I was the cement that held them together.'
As told by Womack, his story is that of a simple businessman stripped of his fortune, his livehood, his home and even his hometown by fanatical law enforcement agents and a judge who 'hates with loathing the very mention of the word homosexual.'
A rather different, but equally aggrieved view emerges from talking to two of the men who prosecuted Womack. The defendant's character takes on an altered complexion. He is guilty not merely of trafficking in pornography but of 'exploitation of the weaknesses of youth.' Beyong that, however, as his prosecutors see it, the debt Womack wound up paying to society may not have been very formidable.
At Womack's final sentencing, prosecutors noted that the 1401 H St. bookstore was them being operated by James J. Proferes, an ex-Womack-employee (who was later convicted and imprisoned on tax charges). 'Your Honor, we don not feel that the dissolution of a corporation means that the man has gone out of business,' said one posecutor. But Parker found these arguments 'shaky' and 'amorphous,' and proceeded to reduce Womack's sentence to six months, with credit for time already served.
Nor did Womack's companies ever pay $30,000 in fines levied by the court. Although judge parker had put a freeze on some valuable parcels of Womack owned real estate, the properties ultimately were disposed of in such a way that the court was unable to share in the proceeds.
Womack's claim is that his assets were mortgaged to the hilt in any event, and he disowns any knowlege of a complex series of maneuvers by which his Virginia Beach properties suddenly increased 300 per cent in value after being sold to a corporation headed by an Old Womack business associate.
Womack says he is out of the pornography business. He now works out of a dark, dusty office at the rear of Budget Books, 'the largest legitimate bookstore- in Norfolk, Va., where the 'Playboys' and Penthouses' are well-concealed behind the counter as required by a local ordinance.
According to former associates, Womack's whole way of life has changed rastically, bedoming, by his standards, positively spartan. He lives in a modest, apparently rented house and, during frequent long-distance phone calls to his Washington friends, seems to yearn, they say, for the social and intellectual stimulation of the big city.
From his austere exile, Womack has taken steps to re-enter the literary marketplace. Guild Books, reactivated as a nonpornographic publishing firm, recently came out with its 1978 'International Guild Guide - the most complete guide to the gay scene ever!' Its country-by-country listings include the following advice to the gay tourist bound for Communist China:
'Despite official and theoretical disapproval, homosexuality does exist in the larger cities. However, extreme discretion should be exercised and the approach should always come from Chinese.'