Edwin Fancher (August 29, 1923 – September 29, 2023) was a co-founder and part-owner of The Village Voice, along with partners Dan Wolf and Norman Mailer, from the 1950s until the 1970s. The Voice functioned as a local alternative newspaper for Greenwich Village (and by extension for New York City) and as an important national arbiter of “hip” taste-making, especially during its halcyon days from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Fancher and his New School classmate Dan Wolf, along with the celebrated writer Norman Mailer, launched The Village Voice in 1955 with absolutely no experience in running a newspaper, establishing a publication that would influence culture and journalism in New York and beyond.
The tagline was “Expect the Unexpected.”
Ed Fancher was a long-time supporter of Village Preservation and honored us with an oral history in 2000. According to his account:
“We met in January 1946. Dan and I were both back from the wars, he from the Pacific where he was in combat and I from Italy where I had been in combat. We both became students at The New School for Social Research on 12th. We [Dan and I] became acquainted and took courses together and became very close friends. I studied psychology and took a couple of degrees at The New School. Dan did various things, became a writer working for the Columbia Encyclopedia and so on.”
“We were both on the G.I. Bill studying full-time. We were part of that whole group of veterans that came flocking back, particularly at The New School. There was a lot of excitement and many writers, and lots going on there. We remained good friends. I went on to become a psychologist and had various jobs in psychology. I was finishing up my psychology internship when Dan said, ‘Let’s start a weekly newspaper in the Village because The Villager really doesn’t represent the culture of the Village as we know it.’
“We were part of what could probably be called a kind of a bohemian culture, focused around the San Remo and Louie’s Bar. We were friends with Jimmy [James] Baldwin and Kerouac and Ginsberg—a whole lot of literary people. And so he and I started talking about that [the newspaper] in late 1954.”
Greenwich Village was the center of the literary universe in the 1940s and 1950s, and the San Remo Café, on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Streets, was the focus of the downtown literary world.
“World War II shaped the Voice more than people realize,” says Fancher. “I think all of us were traumatized by the war.”
“Dan Wolf and I were crazy,” he recalls in an interview with The New School. “Anybody with any sense would know that you couldn’t start a newspaper in New York with $10,000.”
Fancher and Wolf sought to create an intellectually open environment at the Voice. “The other publications were all straitlaced and rigid and were following a textbook kind of journalism. From the very beginning, people would come into our office and say they wanted to write something, and Dan Wolf would say, ‘OK, if I like it, we’ll publish it.”
Wolf met Norman Mailer through the noted French novelist Jean Malaquais. Mailer, already well-known for his countercultural essays, became the third partner in the enterprise, initially as an investor and silent partner. Later, he wrote a column called “Quickly: A Column for Slow Readers” about which he and Wolf often fought.
In the decades that followed, the Voice established itself as a true alternative to the city’s many traditional publications. During Fancher’s 19-year career at the Voice, the paper took bold stands supporting gay rights and civil liberties and was an early and vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. The Voice’s influential theater critic, Jerry Tallmer, created Off Broadway’s Obie Awards.
In 1970, Fancher and Wolf sold their shares of the Voice to Carter Burden, a New York City Council member, for $3 million. They agreed to stay on in their roles for several more years but left the Voice when Burden sold the paper to New York magazine in 1974.
Leaving the Voice allowed Fancher to work as a psychoanalyst full-time, as he had desired for many years. He served as president of the New York School for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and trained analysts at the New York Freudian Society (now called the Contemporary Freudian Society). Fancher retired in 2013 at the age of 90.
“Psychoanalysis attempts to free people from inhibition in much the same way that the Village Voice was an attempt to free journalism from inhibition,” he said.
You can read the entire transcript or listen to Edwin Fancher’s oral history here.
Check out our Historic Image Archive which contains a treasure trove of photographs of the early years of The Village Voice by the great Voice photographer Fred W. McDarrah and scores of other fascinating images of our neighborhoods.