Alexander Lester Hillman was born on September 16, 1900 in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Isaac Hillman, was born in 1875 in Russia of Jewish ancestry, and came to America in 1887. His mother, Bessie Rosenzweig, was born in 1882 in New York City of Russian Jewish ancestry. His parents married in Chicago in 1898 and had three children, Alexander (b.1900), David (b.1904), and Jeanette (b.1911). The family lived at 1308 Irving Avenue in Chicago. The father was a salesman for a cigar manufacturer.
All three Hillman children attended public schools in Chicago.
In 1915 the family moved to a larger apartment at 2645 Augusta Street in Chicago. The father worked as a peddler, selling dry goods on credit.
In 1918, during the Great War, Alex Hillman was still a student in high school, so he was not drafted for military service.
In June of 1919 Alex Hillman graduated from high school in Chicago. In the fall of that year he began to attend the University of Chicago. While in college he joined a fraternity, won honors in the debate club, and in his junior year decided to major in the study of Law.
In June of 1923 Alex Hillman graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences degree from the University of Chicago.
Only five months later, on November 11, 1923, Variety, the newspaper of show business reported the proposed construction of a 1750-seat motion picture theater on the ground floor a two-million-dollar 18-story Chicago office building on Randolph Street, between Wabash and Michigan Avenues. The project was organized by a group of Chicago businessmen, William Randolph Hearst, Arthur Brisbane, and Moe L. Annenberg, who co-owned and operated a nationwide empire of newspapers, racing sheets, telegraph services, radio stations, distributors, and real estate. The lawyer they hired to handle this massive project was Alex Hillman. Another Chicago lawyer also affiliated with these businessmen at that same time was Benjamin Sangor.
In 1925 the Chicago Business Directory listed Alex Hillman as a lawyer, who occupied suite #409 of 160 North LaSalle Street.
In 1925 the Chicago-based media empire of Hearst, Brisbane, and Annenberg was promoting a new product division at the Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Company of Chicago, which had begun to produce radio receivers, radio transmitters, and radio supplies.
In May of 1926 Alex Hillman was sent to China, where Hearst, Brisbane, and Annenberg owned the Shanghai newspaper, The Chinese Free Press. They also co-owned the Shanghai radio station KRC (Kellogg Radio Corporation) with the Kellogg Switchboard and Supply Company of Chicago. While in China he supervised the radio and newspaper advertising for the new line of Kellogg radio products.
On August 22, 1926 Alex Hillman returned from China on the Steam Ship Arabia Maru, which landed in Seattle, Washington. The passenger manifest identified his home address as 1016 Kedzie Boulevard, Chicago, IL. Six weeks later, on October 9, 1926 The Fourth Estate, a weekly journal of the newspaper publishing industry, reported, "Alex Hillman, a Chicago newspaperman, has been in Shanghai for about three months doing publicity work."
By 1926 Moe L. Annenberg had left Chicago and moved to New York City, where his business affiliates included Lucky Luciano, Theodore Epstein, Warren Angel, Paul Sampliner, Irving S. Manheimer, Harry Donenfeld, and Benjamin Sangor. The last five businessmen all shared office space at 45 West 45th Street.
Warren Angel and Paul Sampliner were co-owners of Eastern Distributing Company, which handled distribution, as well as all stages of publishing. They also published erotic books through a subsidiary company, the Eastern Book Corporation, which was affiliated with Samuel Roth (1893-1974) and Esar "Evan" Levine (1899-1996), both of whom were periodically arrested and convicted pornographers. To avoid prosecution this business used an ever-changing variety of names and temporary addresses. In 1927 Alex Hillman left Chicago and moved to NYC, where the Eastern Book Corporation arranged for his founding of the "Hillman Press" at 43-to-49 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Although his company was co-owned by Eastern Distributing, he also sold his stock to private salesmen.
The Eastern Book Corporation was located at 45 West 45th Street, at the offices of the Eastern Distributing Company. They produced inexpensive condensed versions of classic erotic novels, which sold for one dollar at bookshops, newsstands, department stores, and retail outlets. They also owned and operated Rarity Press, Exotica Books, Panurge Press, Falstaff Books, William Faro Books, and Eugenics Publishing Company, all of which were located at 100 Fifth Avenue on Fifteenth Street. One of their best selling books was a pirated edition of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D. H. Lawrence.
In 1928 Rarity Press produced "Mimes Of The Courtesans" by Lucian, an erotic memoir of ancient Roman court life, with a foreword by "A. L. Hillman."
Also in 1928 Alex Hillman founded the Hillman-Bird Publishing Company at 80 East 11th Street.
That same year the A. L. Hillman Publishing Company produced "Southern Mills," a dissertation on abusive labor conditions at cotton mills, by Lois MacDonald, an NYU doctoral student.
In 1929 the Alex L. Hillman Publishing Company produced "Don Juan's Notebook" by Harry Kemp.
On April 24, 1931 The New York Times reported a corporate name change had been filed for "Exotica Club, Inc." to be renamed "Rarity Press, Inc."
In 1930 the Alex L. Hillman Publishing Company produced "The Brothel" by Pierre LaMaziere.
In 1931 Alex Hillman founded William Godwin Publications in an office at 100 Fifth Avenue at 15th Street. His company was named after the English author, William Godwin (1756-1836), an historic libertarian. Alex Hillman's first books included, "Here Is My Body" (1931) by Jack Woodford, "Made For Love" (1932) by James Gifford, "Cheaters' Club" (1932) by James Clark, "Woman For Sale" by Chile Acuna, "Unmoral" (1933) by Jack Woodford, "Infamous Women" (1934) by Doris Knight, and "Indecent" (1934) by Jack Woodford.
In the summer of 1932 Alex Hillman married Rita Jean Kanarek. She was born May 16, 1912 in NYC. She had just completed her Junior year of college at NYU. On September 3, 1932 the newlyweds traveled to Bermuda on the Steam Ship Franconia for their honeymoon.
In 1934 Alex Hillman founded Arcadia House Publications.
On September 15, 1935 The New York Times reported that Alex Hillman had founded Hillman-Curl Publications at 66 Fifth Avenue. His partner, Samuel Curl, had been an editor at the publishing division of Brentano's Books, a venerable NYC book store, which had recently been forced into bankruptcy by a credit-holding group of publishing companies. Brentano's was sold at bankruptcy auction and then resold for a tremendous profit.
In 1938 Alex Hillman founded Hillman Periodicals at 630 Fifth Avenue. His magazine titles eventually included Real Romances, Real Story, Real Confessions, Real Detective, Crime Detective, and Crime Confessions. That same year his son, Richard Alexander Hillman, was born.
On February 5, 1939 The New York Times published an advertisement that announced the Book-Of-The-Month Club selection for February 1939 was "Days Of Our Years" by Pierre Van Paassen, from Hillman-Curl at 11 East 44th Street.
On July 5, 1939 The New York Times reported that Alex Hillman had rented a new apartment at 1070 Park Avenue. The 1940 U.S. Census listed the Hillman family at the same address, along with three live-in servants.
In September of 1939 the FBI investigated Alex Hillman, at which time he was the documented owner of Rarity Press, William Godwin Books, and Hillman-Curl.
The 1940 NYC Business Directory listed William Godwin Publishers at 7 East 44th Street, and their telephone number was MU2-1681. The same directory also listed "Alex Hillman" and "Hillman Periodicals" at the same location and phone number.
In 1941 Alex Hillman began to produce comic books. His titles eventually included Rocket Comics, Miracle Comics, Victory Comics, Air Fighters, Crime Detective Comics, Real Clue Comics, Dead-Eye Western Comics, and Western Fighter Comics. Freelance artists whose drawings appeared in Hillman comic books included Malcolm Kildale, Ed Ashe, Jack Warren, Robert Jenney, Al McWilliams, and Gerald McCann.
On August 15, 1942 Hillman Periodicals produced the first issue of Tab, a new five-cent weekly digest magazine of pin-ups and gags. "Tab" was also the name of Theodore Epstein's company, which produced Moe L. Annenberg's racing sheets.
On August 25, 1942 the father of Alex Hillman, Isaac Hillman, died at the age of sixty-six in Chicago.
In February of 1943 Alex Hillman began to publish Movieland, a Hollywood fan magazine.
In 1943 Alex and Rita Hillman had a second child, Alexander Lester Hillman, Jr.
On September 2, 1944 The New York Times reported Alex Hillman had rented a new apartment at 895 Park Avenue on East 79th Street.
In 1944 Alex Hillman began to publish Pageant Magazine.
Screen Guide, a popular Hollywood fan magazine, was founded by Moe L. Annenberg and ran for thirteen years, until 1947, when it was sold to Alex Hillman.
In 1947 the Interborough News Company accused a consortium of NYC distributors of conspiring to monopolize magazine distribution. Listed as defendants in the suit for $4,860,000 was Annenberg's Triangle Publications, S-M News Company, Hearst Magazines, Irving Manheimer of PDC and Macfadden Publications, Paul Sampliner and Harry Donenfeld of National Comics and IND, and Alex Hillman of Hillman Periodicals. After seven years of litigation the court granted the defendants motion to dismiss the charges.
In 1948 Alex Hillman began to produce several series of mystery and Western paperback digest books, such as Thriller Novel Classic, A Mystery Novel Classic, The Western Novel Classic, A Gunfire Western Novel, A Western Action Novel, and A Fighting Western Novel. Covers for these digest-sized paperbacks were painted by Sam Cherry, Ernest Chiriacka, Cardwell Higgins (1902-1983), and Will Gimby.
In 1950 Hillman Publications produced Worlds Beyond, a science-fiction digest magazine, edited by Damon Knight (1922-2002), with stories by Jack Vance, Lester del Rey, Graham Greene, C. M. Kornbluth, and illustrations by Henry R. Van Dongen and Paul Callé.
On June 13, 1950 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on the U. S. Senate investigation of organized crime connections the Pioneer News Service. The owner of the company, William Molasky, an ex-convict, stated before Crime Committee Chairman Estes Kefauver that he owned the St. Louis Racing News, which was affiliated with the Continental Press Service, the national monopoly in racing news distribution controlled by the Chicago Capone syndicate. Molasky said he handled Ace Clocker, Turf Bulletin, The Daily Sport News, and The Daily Racing Form for Triangle Publications. Besides racing publications, he also distributed the Chicago Daily News, Herald-American, Sun-Times and Journal Commerce, and the New York Herald-Tribune, N.Y. News, N.Y. Times, and N.Y. Mirror. In addition to racing sheets and newspapers, the Pioneer News Service also distributed magazines for Macfadden Publications, M.L.A. Publications, Hillman Periodicals, Independent News Company, Kable News Company, Leader News Company, Publishers Distributing Corporation, and S-M News Company.
In 1951 the mother of Alex Hillman, Bessie Rosenzweig Hillman, died at the age of sixty-nine in Chicago.
In 1953 Nelson Rockefeller persuaded Alex Hillman to establish a purchase fund for the Museum of Modern Art.
In the 1950s Alex Hillman began to produce mens adventure magazines, such as Action For Men, Epic, Expose For Men, Champ, Escape To Adventure, and Real Adventure Magazine. Covers and story illustrations were assigned to George Gross, A. Leslie Ross, Clarence Doore, and Norman Saunders.
In 1961 Alex Hillman sold Pageant Magazine and retired from publishing to concentrate on the Alex Hillman Investment Company. He sold Pageant to Macfadden Publications, the president of which was Irving S. Manheimer, who was also president of PDC distribution company.
Alex and Rita Hillman assembled a great art collection of Impressionist, Modern, Abstract, and contemporary Pop Art.
In 1965 the Museum Of Modern Art acquired the historic 86-feet-long pop art masterpiece, "F-111," by James Rosenquist (b.1938), whose paintings are the visual equivalent to Jack Kerouac's "On The Road," a beatnik cross-country road trip in a delirious whirl of billboards, lonesome souls, and a timeless yearning for the spiritually sublime.
On October 3,1966 the eldest son of Alex Hillman, Richard Alexander Hillman, died at the age of twenty-eight in an automobile accident in Connecticut.
Alex Hillman died at the age of sixty-seven, while recovering from an operation at a Boston hospital on March 25, 1968. His wife Rita Hillman went on to become an influential board member of the International Center of Photography, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the founder of an innovative internship program for student nurses. She died at the age of ninety-five on November 8, 2007.
© David Saunders 2016