Elmer Gertz, in many ways, is one of the reasons the Library exists. He along with Emil, naturally, Anais Nin, Larry Durrell, and Bar- ney Rosset–these are the people in Miller’s orbit that helped bring him to the attention of the rest of the world.
Gertz defended Tropic of Cancer and Miller’s publisher, Grove Press, against obscenity charges. I mean, this is the guy that, in 1964 convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the ban on the book! Everyone who values artistic expression – or takes it for granted nowadays – owes an enormous deal to Elmer.
After the court case, he and Miller became close friends – which often happened whenever anyone got to know Miller.
Anyway, it was just another day – this is in 1996, mind you – and all of a sudden, in walks Gertz with his wife, Maime. I was floored. Elmer was a big deal to me – I understood that without him, I’d still be waiting tables or driving a truck or something.
He’s thrilled that I recognize him, and, after a while of bouncing off the walls with stories from his past friendship with Henry, it occurred to me to take him up to Miller’s old house on Partington Ridge.
At the time, his house was still owned by Miller’s kids, so I called his daughter Valentine to ask if it would be OK to bring Elmer up to the house. She immediately said yes. I closed the Library early, and we drove down the coast and up the winding road to Miller’s house.
To see the elation and wonder on Elmer’s face — being up there, seeing part of what Miller had so passionately talked with him about, being present in the place that he had read about for years – it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Though Elmer was Miller’s lawyer he was at the end of the day completely enraptured by Miller the writer and the person. Standing there in Miller’s home, he had tears in his eyes. It may sound corny, but for him, it was like a Graceland experience, you know?
Elmer Gertz was 90 years old at the time. It was his first visit to Big Sur. He passed away four years later.