History of the Hollywood Free Paper

"I found this paper in the gutter..."

From 1969 through roughly 1975, the Hollywood Free Paper served as a tangible voice, gathering place, communication medium and billboard for the Jesus Movement, appearing on the first and third Tuesday of each month for nearly seven years. At the peak of the Movement, the circulation of the HFP surpassed half a million copies.

By the time he started the HFP in October 1969, founding editor Duane Pederson was already involved in street ministry on the gritty boulevards of downtown Hollywood, a shell of the once bright motion picture colony whose dark streets, then as now, were home to drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps. Every intersection was lined with newspaper racks offering lurid underground tabloids.

"Everywhere I looked," Duane later recalled, "there were underground papers preaching revolution, sex, drugs, everything. I knew something was missing: there were no underground papers preaching the truth. Not a single one. I said, 'Jesus, if You'll give me the means with which to do it, I'll put out a newspaper telling people about You.'"

Three days later, ten thousand copies of the first edition of the Hollywood Free Paper rolled off the presses at a local printer, and Duane and his friends began handing them out on the streets of Los Angeles. "Very few people refused to take the paper," Duane recalled, "and nobody dropped them on the sidewalk. It thrilled me to see little knots of street people standing and reading the paper God had compelled me to publish."

Within two days, Box 1949 was jammed with mail from street people wanting to know more about Jesus and this new Movement. Many of the letters were scrawled in pencil and were barely legible, a few were typewritten, but all expressed the same hunger: "If your Jesus is really for real, man, I want to know more. I'd like to rap with you about the guy. Where can we meet? Are you gonna have another paper?" Some were signed with just a first name; others included a phone number. Some sent in dollar bills for a subscription. As Duane read the letters over a cup of tea at a coffee house near the post office, it dawned on him that he was "committed ... to publish another edition. And another."

"In a very real sense," Duane explained, "God provided the money" for that first issue and for every issue that followed, as a few local ministers and Christian businessmen opened their hearts and wallets to support this strange new "Christian underground paper." Duane was working as an entertainer and put some of his own money into publishing the paper. Circulation grew from 10,000 to 35,000 by the fourth issue. For New Year's 1970, one hundred thousand copies of the HFP were printed to be distributed on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena the night before the annual Tournament of Roses parade held each year just before the famous Rose Bowl football game.

"If you've ever been to the Rose Parade," Duane recalled, "you know it begins to happen the day before. About noon on the last day of December, the streets are already lined with people. They come with their sleeping bags, their thermos jugs of coffee. Some of them even bring charcoal grills and cook their meals right on the street. So this was a natural way to hand out the papers."

To Duane's amazement, people along the parade route had already heard of the HFP, and many "wanted to touch a copy, to read it, because at that time the paper was still pretty far out for most people. They had heard of the Free Paper. Some of them had even read one before. But here they were, thousands of them. And they went wild." Before long Box 1949 was jammed with mail again, but this time from more than 600 people who had read the paper and had decided to follow Jesus. "During that one night, over 600 people - that we knew about," Duane later recalled. "All we could say was, 'Praise the Lord!'"

The next year, New Year's 1971, Billy Graham was selected as Grand Marshal of the parade, and the Pasadena police expected one million six hundred thousand people along the Tournament of Roses parade route. Tabloid newspapers normally expect a pass-along readership of eight people for each copy distributed, which meant that two hundred thousand copies could potentially reach every person in the immense crowd. "And so we did it," Duane later recalled. "We printed 200,000."

The first annual Jesus People Festival of Music, one of the many "Jesus rock" concerts of the Movement, was held the Sunday before New Year's. Bundles of the HFP were made available there, and local teams of teenage and twentysomething "Jesus freaks" self-organized quickly to distribute the papers at the Rose Parade the following week. Letters to Box 1949 in the weeks and months that followed indicated that nearly 2,000 people who received the HFP at the Rose Parade had made decisions to follow Jesus as a result of that one single effort.

Circulation continued to grow to 350,000 and then past half a million, with much of the added readership coming from reprinting and distribution outside southern California in Kansas City, Minneapolis, Worcester, Detroit, Cleveland and Denver. At the Movement's peak the HFP was distributed in each of the 50 states and in nearly a dozen foreign countries. But "as far as we are able to recall," Duane would later write, "every desperate cry for help has come from a Free Paper that they found in the gutter, or on the street, or in some dirty restroom or alley. They just found it ... and that is what it's all about."

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