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  September 25, 2000

Abbie Hoffman Papers Swell
Alternative Press Collection

Jack Hoffman has three words of advice for anyone considering purchasing an autobiography written by his brother, Chicago Seven member and 1960s activist Abbie Hoffman - don't buy it.

"It's all B.S.," he says, chuckling. "Abbie was a master of telling people what they wanted to hear. He really set the standard for what passes as dialogue in politics today."

In 1968, Abbot Howard Hoffman also set the standard for what passed as inciting to riot at a political convention, staging anti-war protests outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that led to charges against him and seven others, one of whom was later released. Hoffman and his colleagues became famous as the Chicago Seven.

Today, a draft of Hoffman's autobiography, Soon to be a Major Motion Picture, rests in the vaults of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, along with four other Hoffman books, thousands of pages of FBI and New York City Police Department surveillance files, dozens of letters from Hoffman to his family while he was a fugitive and, later, as he sat in jail, and many of Hoffman's T-shirts, political buttons, posters, family photos and other ephemera. The material was donated to UConn's archives by Hoffman's brother Jack, who is now working the phones trying to obtain more of his brother's papers and other memoirs to add to the collection.

Man and Myth
Hoffman, who co-founded the Yippie movement, cut his teeth in the protest movement as a 26 year old, in 1962, battling a Worcester, Mass., company that he charged was discriminating against African-Ameri cans. He soon moved to the national stage, and "created a culture of revolution," Jack Hoffman says. "Abbie was one of the catalysts of the mass protest movement. He said we could do it and have fun too."

And fun they had, criss-crossing the country creating or attending protests, working for a variety of political campaigns, including those of George McGovern and Shirley Chisholm, writing and, Jack Hoffman says, playing the media like a fiddle:

"He had people convinced, actually convinced, he was going to drop LSD in the Chicago reservoir and get the whole city tripping. Can you imagine believing that? It would have taken dump trucks full of LSD to have any impact, but Abbie was so convincing he had them (the media) eating out of his hand."

Some of the fun ended after Hoffman was arrested for selling cocaine in 1973, jumped bail in 1974, and spent the next six years as a fugitive, eventually turning himself in in 1980. Still, even during those years, he managed to infuriate federal officials, particularly FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, by appearing on television interviews, showing up in print, and continuing to be a nuisance and agitator. At one point during his years underground, he even appeared before Congress, testifying in the persona of environmentalist Barry Freed against a proposal to remove some of New York's 1,000 Islands so ships could more easily reach the St. Lawrence Seaway from the Midwest.

He and Jack also attended a handful of Boston Red Sox games, and held season tickets to the New England Patriots during his underground years.

"There were a lot of times he used to walk the line. (At the Patriot's games) everybody knew who he was. I was scared as hell. But Abbie knew people so well, he knew these were not the kind of people who would turn him in. And he was right. They'd give us the thumbs up sign, nod knowingly. He loved it. He was the biggest ego tripper in the world, a real egomaniac," Jack Hoffman says.

But, he adds, Abbie also was shy, and often introverted.

"The mythology of Abbie is very interesting. The myth is that he's this guy who loved to get on the stage and everything. I mean, he's doing that, but he was also very naive, especially about politics, and at times he would be a loner, an introvert. He wasn't what he appeared to be on stage," Jack Hoffman says.

A movie about Hoffman's life released in late August, Steal This Movie! - named after another of Hoffman's books, Steal This Book! - misses that element of Abbie Hoffman, Jack Hoffman says. "It's not bad - I read the script. But the focus is on the public Abbie and doesn't explore the contradictions. But that's OK, that's Hollywood," he shrugs.

Preserving the Past
Jack Hoffman decided to donate Abbie's material to UConn because he was impressed with the sincerity and completeness of a presentation made to him by former director of University Libraries Norman Stevens and Dodd Center staffers Terri Goldich and Betsy Pittman. He also was impressed that Hoffman's papers would not stand alone but, rather, would join UConn's extensive Alternative Press Collection, founded in the late 1960s as a repository for radical and ephemeral publications from activist movements for social, cultural and political change. Today, there are more than 7,000 newspaper and magazine titles, more than 5,000 books and pamphlets, and nearly 2,000 files of miscellaneous materials in the collection, covering left- and right-wing views.

"I was moved by the conversation, the discussion and sincerity regarding how UConn would handle the materials," Jack Hoffman said recently, as a reporter and photographer from The Hartford Courant sorted through a box of Abbie Hoffman's T-shirts, each blazoned with a slogan for one or another of Hoffman's causes - "Put the CIA on Trial," "My Country Invaded Nicaragua, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt," "Just Say No," a reference to drug testing, and another shirt celebrating the 1975 "possible dream" of the Boston Red Sox. Each shirt was separated by wafer-thin sheets of cotton.

"This is beautiful," Jack Hoffman said, surveying the boxes, cartons, and soft cloth gloves anyone handling the materials must wear. "I made the right decision."

Fomenting Change
Abbie Hoffman, a prodigious writer who was passionate - almost fanatical, his brother says - in following through on whatever cause he took on, was 52 years old when he died in 1989, in what was considered a suicide. A manic depressive in his later years, the combination of his passions and depression sometime drove him to fantastic lengths, Jack says.

Once, driving through Connecticut on Route 95, on his way to Chicago to deliver damning papers regarding then President Reagan and the Iran-Contra affair to the offices of Playboy magazine, Abbie had an auto accident that destroyed his car. Somehow, Jack says, he still made his way to Newark Airport, caught a ride to Playboy, and was presenting his work to the editors. Realizing something was very wrong, Hoffman's lawyer called Jack.

"He had broken ribs and a broken ankle. One of his wrists was smashed. And he was talking wildly, tremendously excited about the material he had unearthed," Jack Hoffman says. "It was classic manic depressive behavior."

It also was classic Abbie, he added, referring to his ability to focus. That same ability can be seen in some of Hoffman's letters which, even from prison, offer Jack instructions on what to do regarding various protests and legal battles taking place at the time.

"To Abbie, there was nothing in life as exciting as winning a fight against The Big Guy. His philosophy was that if you believe in something that's right, then go for it. He believed that while you may not be able to fight city hall, you sure as hell could change it," Jack Hoffman says.

If nothing else, Abbie Hoffman fomented change. Now researchers can document some of that change through his personal writings, with a visit to the University Archives.

Richard Veilleux