In 1975, Leslie Martin ’76 was sprawled on her bed in her dorm reading a copy of The Justice when she learned that founder and publisher of Penthouse Magazine, Bob Guccione was going to be named Brandeis’ Publisher of the Year.

Penthouse is a men’s magazine which is known for publishing pornographic content as well as editorial lifestyle pieces. Prior to the age of the internet, its reputation rivaled that of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, and in 1982 — at the peak of its popularity — Guccione was named in the “Forbes 400” ranking of wealthiest people. His money happened to be a major part of his consideration as a recipient of the award. A Justice article from Nov. 4 1975 reads: “[President Marver] Berstein noted that Guccione was a poor choice for the distinction, but since the University was depending on the dinner to raise $100,000 in scholarship money for this year, the decision would not be reversed.” Guccione was chosen after other considered honorees turned the offer down. 

When Martin first learned about the award, she was more than stunned. “I read that thing over probably three times. And I just couldn’t believe it. What was this esteemed university doing? Honoring someone who was a pornographer?” Martin recalled in a March 3 interview with The Justice. She noted, “There’s always been a place for that in society. But given how women were treated in those days and how much we had to fight for, I couldn’t believe that Brandeis would choose him of all people.”

Martin had read in The Justice that Berstein was holding open office hours. “I’ve never done anything so bold before, I don’t think. And it’s a big office, a big desk, and he’s in a big chair, and he was smoking a big cigar. And I asked, ‘how did this happen?’” Berstein, in addition to explaining how Penthouse had published a series of articles about the Vietnam veterans and the injustices they suffered, said that Guccione was going to make a sizable contribution to the school. The administration saw honoring the publisher as a lucrative choice given that the University was in the midst of a financial crisis, largely due to the fact that in the 70s, many Jewish donors “turned their attention and money toward Israel,” according to a 1998 New York Times article regarding the University’s 50th year.

At a special meeting with Bernstein on Oct. 30, 1975, the Student Senate — the Brandeis student government at the time — expressed its disapproval of the award. Senator Ellen Feinberg ’76 read a statement which was published in The Justice as a Letter to the Editor, addressing the matter of financial pressure: “We realize the financial exigencies of Brandeis University. However, to alleviate this financial crisis through this immoral and vile association will result in an economically sound university that is morally bankrupt.” Feinberg also remarked that the University was essentially “prostituting itself to maintain economic solvency.”

Multiple students who came to The Justice to voice their concerns echoed Feinberg’s statement, stressing the irony of the event. In reference to the Oct. 29, 1975 Penthouse advertisement in the New York Times, Mark Pearlman ’76 and Feinberg’s Letter to the Editor noted that “Brandeis will be ‘uncovered’ [...] like one of Guccione’s ‘pretty women’.”

Brandeis Bob Guccione Protest Justice Clippings1.jpg
EDITORIAL: The 1975 editorial board of The Justice expresses concerns about Brandeis’ choice of “Publisher of the Year."

Martin recalls the community outcry following the full-page advertisement that Penthouse took out in The New York Times. She noted the sense of shame felt not only amongst herself and her fellow students, but also amongst donors, alumni, and parents alike. 

Martin described her initial conversation with Berstein as “a lot of nothing,” with statements along the lines of “it’s going to happen” and “this is how things are.” Despite this, she was determined to fight the decision. “I wasn’t going to let it go,” she said. Martin took the matter to the Student Union: “They rallied around me. It was an amazing feeling, validation of my take on this whole situation, and a great feeling to know that there were other like-minded students all around me.” Upon this gathering, they immediately started planning to take action. 

A representative of the Women’s Caucus under the Student Union, Martin presented Berstein with a petition signed by over 450 students demanding that an alternative honoree be selected. Students also led a march and takeover of the administrative building, and a list of demands was drawn up. The protesters demanded that the award not go forward, that Brandeis establish a Women’s Studies program — which faculty had been working to establish for years at that point — and that a Women’s Center be set up on campus. At the time, most other esteemed universities already had Women’s Studies programs and women’s centers. “We felt that Brandeis was very much behind the times, and this award was a shining example of it,” Martin said. Though not a direct nor immediate result of the protests, both a Women’s and Gender Studies minor and Women’s Center were established shortly after Martin graduated in 1976. 

She describes the campus environment during her time as an undergraduate, explaining that it was the very beginning of the second wave of the women’s movement  and “not much had sunk in yet.” There were active consciousness-raising groups on campus, including the Brandeis Women’s Caucus and the Brandeis Women’s Coalition who both contested the Guccione award. These groups sought out to teach women about safety, sexual assault and other gender imbalances that permeated society. Martin and her then-boyfriend had suspected that the signs for these groups were being taken down. “We set a trap for some signs, and we caught somebody tearing them down.” 

“Those days we were still very much second class citizens,” she added. There was little legislation supporting women’s freedoms — let it be noted that this was a time when women were not able to attain a credit card in their own name without their husband’s approval. “Back in those days, it was nothing for men to whistle at women and yell out comments about their bodies. In general, our bodies weren’t our own,” said Martin.

As she remembers it, there was an “unfathomable” amount of advertising that used nearly naked women to sell products. When Martin was 17, she came across a full-page advertisement in Newsweek of a barely clothed woman, warrior-like in demeanor, holding a chain with a wolf at the other end of it. The advertisement was for motor oil. She recalls fondly of her high school self: “I wrote a letter to the company, saying something along the lines of ‘How dare you, this is ridiculous. My friends and I are all going to be driving soon, and we will never buy your brand of motor oil!’” She said that it was the first thing she ever did as a woman’s advocate.

Martin has been a long-time “rabble-rouser,” as she puts it. With this long-held proclivity towards social justice, this episode in Brandeis history was a turning point that determined the trajectory of her life. Her interests are vast, including issues such as the Vietnam war, farm workers’ rights, nuclear weapons, the Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, climate change, gun control and more.

The physical award, which was presented to Guccione at a November fund-raising dinner, reads: “BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY SALUTES BOB GUCCIONE / Talented entrepreneur and new force in the world of publishing he has increasingly focused his editorial attention on such critical issues of our day as the welfare of the Vietnam veteran and problems of criminality in modern society / November 18, 1975.” The plaque — estimated to be worth $350 to $500 — was auctioned off for $68 in 2014.  

“Poetic justice,” Martin remarked.

After the 1975 protest, Martin was interviewed by a Boston Globe reporter whose accuracy and integrity in his coverage influenced her to pursue journalism rather than become a French teacher as originally planned. She finished her degree at Brandeis in French language and literature and moved on to study journalism and mass communication at University of Minnesota. 

After having had a lengthy career in journalism at various publications, Martin now lives with her husband and two cats in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. While she is still working to expose injustices as a freelance journalist, she happily considers watching over her granddaughter two days a week the “best job ever.”