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The University of Texas at Austin


Center Acquires the Bill Helmer Papers

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Bill Helmer Papers
Bill Helmer Papers
Bill Helmer Papers

The Briscoe Center has acquired the papers of veteran writer and editor Bill Helmer, who was a pioneer of the underground university press in the 1950s and ‘60s. Helmer’s papers include documentation related to his time at UT Austin editing The Texas Ranger, as well as his work as supervisor for student magazines in the 1965–66 school year. Helmer was a senior editor at Playboy magazine for over 30 years and a contributing writer to the Texas Observer, Texas Monthly and other publications.

“Helmer and his ilk of writers, illustrators and humorists were both the agents and results of seismic cultural shifts that shook American society as the post–World War II generation came of age and went to college,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “His papers document the quirky, edgy counter culture that churned under the radar at UT Austin in the late 1950s and came into full view in the 1960s and '70s.”

William J. Helmer was born in Iowa in 1936. His family moved to the Rio Grande Valley the following year. He graduated from UT in 1959 with a degree in journalism. During that time he wrote for the Daily Texan and edited the Texas Ranger. After a stint in New York City he returned to UT as supervisor for student magazines in 1965. During this time he was also a graduate student, completing a master’s degree in American Studies in 1968. In 1969 he moved to Chicago, working as a senior editor for Playboy until 1995. He is also the author or co-author of numerous books on the history of crime and criminal enterprises in the 1920s and ‘30s. He now lives in Boerne, Texas.

The Helmer papers include correspondence, clippings, cartoon drafts, research files and photo albums. Collection highlights include letters exchanged between Helmer and fellow alternative journalists Gilbert Shelton and Tony Bell (Texans who settled in San Francisco and founded the Rip Off Press, an influential underground comics publisher.) The collection also includes copies of magazines that Helmer edited or contributed to, scrapbooks that document his professional life and other materials documenting his family life.