| print this
Big Book and Other A.A. Literature
Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, is probably the most important
single factor not only in the recovery of the individual
alcoholic who finds sobriety in A.A., but also in the growth
of the Fellowship throughout the world. The Big Book is
also one of the nonfiction hardcover best sellers of all
And yet, it was almost not written.
In 1937, Bill and Bob met in Akron for the first time since
Bill had returned from their first meeting in 1935. As they
tallied the results of over two years' work, they
counted altogether some 40 sober alcoholics in New York
and Akron, and "saw that wholesale recovery was possible."
But they agreed that they needed a book "to explain
to alcoholics our methods and results"and,
incidentally, to prevent distortion of their program which
up to that time had been transmitted by word-of-mouth.
Forthwith, they met with 18 members of the Akron group and
proposed the book. The idea met substantial opposition.
Bill argued that, in addition to the reasons above, the
book could be sent or carried to the alcoholic in different
places; it could help publicize the movement among nonalcoholic;
and it might even make money which could be used to establish
an office, handle inquiries, etc. But many of those present
were against any publicity, turned thumbs down on printed
material, and argued that the apostles hadn't needed
books. But Bill and Dr. Bob persisted and "by the
barest majority" of a single vote, the Akronites agreed
that they should proceed.
Bill began work on the book in March or April of 1938. By
summer, he had drafted the first two chapters. The text
was reviewed, argued over and revised by the alcoholics
in Akron and New York. It was also mimeographed and used
for a fund-raising operation which "fizzled"
out. At this stage Harper and Brothers offered to publish
the work. Although Bill was at first elated, he developed
grave misgivings about the book's being owned by an
outside publisher. However, he kept his doubts to himself
until he had reported the Harper offer to the trustees,
who were in "unanimously in favor of the deal."
Bill then expressed his misgivings. But the Board was not
impressed and "no conclusion was reached."
At this time, Bill was associated with Hank P., the first
alcoholic in the New York group to stay sober even for a
little while, other than Bill. Hank, a "terrific power
driver," urged Bill to ignore the trustees and the
Foundation and take matters into their joint hands. They
would form a stock company, sell shares to the New York
members and publish the book themselves. With little persuasion,
Bill agreed to charge ahead with the plan.
Hank worked up a prospectus in which he called the new company
"Works Publishing Company"..since he
envisioned the forthcoming book as only the first of many
"works." Next, he bought a pad of blank stock
certificates in a stationary store, typed "Works Publishing,
Inc., par value $25" across the top, and put his signature
at the bottom with the title, "President." Bill
said, "When I protested these irregularities, Henry
said there was no time to waste; why be concerned with small
details?" Hank then "descended like a whirlwind
on the New York alcoholics and their friends" trying
to sell them stock in the new venture.
Bill and Hank also contacted the Cornwall Press, one of
the largest book printers. When they told Dr. Bob what they
were doing, he consented dubiously to the venture but felt
the idea should be tried out on the trustees. So Bill "laid
out this information before the next trustees meeting. I
knew the reaction would be bad and it certainly wasI
knew we would have to go through with the deal despite all
the objections." And they did. (They eventually sold
200 shares for $5000, and Charles Towns of Towns Hospital
loaned them $2,500.) This decision that the embryonic society
should control and publish its own literature.so
controversial at the time turned out to be of immense
importance for the future of A.A.
Meanwhile, Bill had continued with the writing of the book.
He would work up basic ideas on a yellow scratch pad and
then, at the office in Newark, New Jersey, would stand behind
his nonalcoholic and often unpaid secretary, Ruth Hock,
dictating to her as she typed. As he went along, he checked
the draft with the Akron and New York members, from whom
he sometimes got "a real mauling." After completing
Chapter 3, "More About Alcoholism," and Chapter
4, "We Agnostics," Bill "reached the famous
Chapter 5," he recalls. "At this point we would
have to tell how our program really worked.This
problem really worried the life out of me." It was
in this mood that Bill, "tired clear through,"
lay in bed at 182 Clinton Street with pencil and tablet
in hand. Trying to focus his mind on the procedure that
had evolved from the work of William James, the theories
of Dr. Silkworth and the principles of the Oxford Group,
Bill asked for guidance and began to write the Steps as
he saw them. The words came swiftly and easily, and he was
done in about half an hour. When he reached his stopping
point, he numbered the Steps and found they added up to
twelve. He brought them in to dictate to Ruth the next day.
Ruth recalls that when he showed them to local members,
there were heated discussions and many other suggestions.
Jim B. opposed strong reference to God; Hank wanted to soft-pedal
them; but Fizt M. insisted the book should be religious
in tone and content. Ruth wrote Bill later about one meeting
in the office: "Fitz was for going all the way with
'God'; you (Bill) were in the middle; Hank was
for very little; and I trying to reflect the reaction
of the nonalcoholic was for very little. The result
of this was the phrase 'God as we understood Him,'
which I don't think ever had much of a negative reaction
anywhere." Bill later said these changes "had
widened our gateway so all who suffer might pass through,
regardless of their belief or lack of belief."
While Bill was working his way through the main text, New
York and Akron members were submitting their personal stories.
It was felt that these would provide living proof that the
program worked and "would identify us with the distant
reader." In addition to Bill's and Dr. Bob's
stories, the book eventually contained 16 stories from Akron
and 12 from New York.
Perhaps one of the most important contributions was "The
Doctor's Opinion," by Dr. Silkworth, which appears
at the very beginning of the book. The idea to include a
chapter by a medical person had come from Dr. Esther L.
Richards of John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, to whom
the mimeographed first two chapters had been sent. She wrote
an enthusiastic letter in return and suggested getting "a
number one physician who has a wide knowledge of the alcoholic's
medical and social problems to write an introduction."
Bill acted on the suggestion at once, and nine days later
had Dr. Silkworth's manuscript in hand.
Bill was worried about the reaction of organized religion.
Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the highly respected minister
of the Riverside Church (the Rockefeller family's
church), warmly approved an advanced copy and promised to
review the book on publication, thus virtually guaranteeing
favorable interest in Protestant circles. And Morgan R.,
a new member, knew someone on the Catholic Committee on
Publications in the New York Archdiocese. The committee
gave the book a wonderful report, though they suggested
some minor changes which Bill quickly accepted. The committee's
informal endorsement allowed Bill to breath easier.
Bill said that more than 100 titles were considered for
the book. The title that appeared on the Multilithed copies
was "Alcoholics Anonymous." The first documented
use of the name is in a letter from Bill to Willard Richardson
dated July 15, 1938, in which he uses it to refer to the
movement. Among the other possible titles considered for
the book were: "One Hundred Men," "The
Empty Glass," "The Dry Way," "The
Dry Life," and "The Way Out."
The choices quickly boiled down to "The Way Out,"
favored by most in Akron, and "Alcoholics Anonymous,"
favored by most in New York. Bill asked Fitz M., who lived
near Washington, D.C., to check both titles through the
library of congress. Fitz wired back to the effect that
the Library of Congress had 25 books entitled "The
Way Out," 12 entitled "The Way,".and
none called "Alcoholics Anonymous." That settled
the matter. The title of the book quickly became the name
of the Fellowship as well. Clarence S. later called himself
the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, basing his claim on
his being the first to use the name for a group.
Which he probably was. But the fact is, the book Alcoholics
Anonymous was already off the press, and the name had been
used a year earlier to refer to the Fellowship as a whole.
The final editing of the book was done by Tom Uzzell, a
faculty member at New York University. He cut the manuscript
by a third to a half and sharpened up the writing in the
process. Dr. Howard, a psychiatrist in Montclair, New Jersey,
who had received an advance copy, made an important contribution
when he suggested there were too many "you musts."
Bill credited him with putting the Fellowship on a "we
ought" basis rather than a "you must"
When the forward was written, it contained a statement of
purpose of the organization. These few sentences with a
few changes and additions, became the "Preamble"
read at the beginning of tens of thousands of AA meetings
every day in the ensuing years.
With the manuscript completed and edited, Hank and Bill
took it to Edward Blackwell at Cornwall Press to be printed.
There was only one problem they had almost no money.
Blackwell helped them in two ways. First he agreed to print
the book and to accept $500 all they could afford
as a down payment. Second, he suggested an initial
printing of 5000 instead of the high figure Bill and Hank
were thinking of. (Bill never failed to express gratitude
to Blackwell in later years, and AA continued to have the
Big Book printed by Cornwell Press and its successor companies
until the present time.) A price of $3.50 was decided on
(rather high in 1939), and they chose the thickest paper
in Blackwell's plant "to convince the alcoholic
purchaser that he was getting his money's worth!"
Bill said later. The original volume proved so bulky that
it became known as the "Big Book."
As the pages came off the presses, they were bound in a
thick, dark red cover embossed in gold. The book had been
created from scratch in a single year by alcoholics who
had no more than two and a half years' sobriety. Yet
it turned out to be not only appealing and attractive, but
incredibly powerful and lasting in its effectiveness. Almost
everything the book has to say about alcoholics' problems
and their recovery is still applicable today. As one speaker
put it at the 50th Anniversary International Convention,
"For two thousand years before the Big Book appeared,
there was no hope for the alcoholic. Since then, the Big
Book has been ultimately responsible for the recovery of
But as the 5,000 copies of the Big Book lay stacked in Edward
Blackwell's warehouse in April 1939, Bill and Hank's
problems were only beginning. Each shareholder in Works
Publishing Company received a copy of the book. But beyond
that, they not only couldn't sell it, they weren't
sure they could even give it away. An attempt to get an
article in the Reader's Digest aborted, a national
radio program by the immensely popular Gabriel Heatter had
produced almost no results, and available funds reached
their lowest and most desperate ebb. Alcoholics Anonymous
seemed about to go under.
Then, with four separate occurrences, the turning point
came. First, Bert T. mortgaged his tailor shop to obtain
$1,000 to keep A.A. afloat a few weeks longer. Second, in
September, Liberty magazine ran an article on A.A. Third,
a series of articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer brought
a rush of new members and a rush of orders for the book.
Forth, nationwide publicity followed John D. Rockefeller's
dinner for Alcoholics Anonymous. An accounting showed that
the publishing company was showing a profit about
$3,000. Which had been spent on A.A. work at the
When they heard that the book was making money, some of
the stockholders, including Charlie Towns, began to ask
for their money back. Something had to be done. Again, Hank
and Bill turned to their pad of blank stock certificates.
This time on a number of them they typed "works Publishing,
Inc. Preferred Stock, par value $100." With these
in hand, Bill went to Washington, D.C., where some well-to-do
members bought the new issue. With the $3,000 thus raised,
Charlie Towns was repaid in full and the other grumbling
stockholders received their money.
1940, we had begun to see that the A.A. book should belong
to our society as a whole," relates Bill. "If
the Foundation could acquire the outstanding shares, the
book could be placed in trust for A.A. as a whole."
The treasurer of the Foundation, LeRoy Chipman, raised $8,000
by borrowing from Mr. Rockefeller and his two sons, plus
a few others, to be repaid out of income as the books were
sold. With this money, the outstanding shares were acquired.
A few of the shareholders generously contributed the money
to the Foundation.
With the appearance of the Jack Alexander article in the
Saturday Evening Post in March 1941, sales of the Big Book
were launched in a major way, and a second printing was
made. Sales continued to accelerate almost every year since.
By 1953, it was evident that the personal stories in the
first edition of the Big Book were somewhat dated. Of the
28 veterans whose stories were represented, five had gone
back to drinking, eight more had slipped after the book
was published but had come back to A.A., and 15 had remained
continuously sober. The experience of the first members
now needed to be expanded to include more stories by women,
more "high bottom" stories, and more stories
by younger members.
For the second edition, Bill went out of his way to include
one story that had been conspicuously missing from the first. that of Bill D., A.A. #3. Bill D. said later that
he was one of those not interested in the book project in
1938, and he did not share Bill W.'s vision of A.A.'s
future. But in 1952, when Bill D.'s health was failing
(and after he had experienced two years as delegate at the
General Service Conference), Bill W. persuaded him to record
Bill was responsible for getting many of the other stories
for the second edition himself, taping the experiences of
oldtimers which he thought were particularly helpful. Others
were asked to write or record their stories with a view
to showing the broader range of the membership in the mid-50's.
All these stories were thoroughly screened, and in the preparation
of the second edition, Bill was assisted by Ed B. and Nell
The original text in the first 164 pages was unchanged.
In addition to Bill's and Dr. Bob's stories,
six others were carried over from the first edition; 30
new stories were included; and the present division of the
story section into three parts was instituted.
By the time the second edition was introduced in time for
the International Convention in St. Louis in 1955, the first
edition had gone through 16 printings and 300,000 copies.
After 18 years had passed, it was again felt that the personal
stories needed to be revised in the sections "Those
Who Stopped In Time" and "They Nearly Lost All."
Again, they needed to be expanded to reflect the constituency
of A.A. in the 70's, with stories from the Armed Services,
Indians, Blacks, retirees. and more women and young
people. The Literature Committee also recommended they stress
recovery rather than drinking experience. Finally, 78 pages
of stories were deleted and replaced with 32 pages of new
stories from the Grapevine and 46 pages from individuals.
No changes were made in the first 164 pages. After two years
of work by a G.S.O. committee, the Trustees' Literature
Committee and the Conference Literature Committee, the third
edition was published in 1976. The second edition had gone
through 16 printings.
continued to increase as the years sped by. It took 34 years
to sell the first million copies of the Big Book; five years
to sell the second million; three years to sell the third
million; the fourth million was sold in two years, the fifth
in a year and a half. To put these figures into another
perspective, in 1939-41, it took about two years to sell
5,000 copies of Alcoholics Anonymous; in 1985, it took two
days. Big Book sales are especially remarkable in view of
the following facts:
It is not available from bookstores;
it is obtainable only from A.A.
It has never been advertised
or promoted (outside A.A.).
No author or editor is identified.
The basic text has remained
The figure of 5,000,000 copies sold by 1985 represents only
sales of English-language editions in the United States
and Canada. Additional thousands of copies are published
by A.A. offices overseas in 13 other languages. Afrikaans,
Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Icelandic, Italian,
Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.
All three editions of Alcoholics Anonymous were routinely
registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in the years they
were published. In 1955, there apparently existed an impression,
at the time, that the copyright of the second edition served
to renew the original copyright. The fact was, only the
additional material unique to the second edition was protected.
Therefore, there was a failure to renew the original copyright
on the first edition before it ran out, unbeknownst to anyone,
in 1967. The error was repeated when the renewal date for
the second edition came and went in 1983 without action
being taken (the third edition had already been published
in 1976.) The end result was that the heart and soul of
the Big Book, the first 164 pages, had been in the public
domain since 1967. and still are.
This situation was discovered when, early in 1985, a non-AA
publisher in Ohio announced the publication of a facsimile
of the first edition of Alcoholics Anonymous, jacket design
and all, to coincide with the 50th Anniversary International
Convention. Consternation befell the A.A. World Services
Board, the General Service Board and the G.S.O. staff as
they envisioned outside publishers printing the Big Book,
free to change the text as they wished, thus compromising
and distorting the recovery message. Also and secondarily,
financial support of A.A. services was threatened.
As it turned out, these fears were largely unfounded. It
became clear that A.A.'s would most likely continue
to buy A.A. literature from A.A., regardless of outside
publishing endeavors, and that the A.A. message would continue
complete unabridged and untampered with. In the case of
the facsimile affair, quite apart from the copyright, federal
"fair trading" laws protected A.A. against someone
marketing a product that appeared to be A.A.'s (After
1985 and therefore beyond the purview of this history, the
Board and the office took administrative, organizational,
legal and publishing steps to ensure that loss of copyright
would not occur again, and that A.A. would be more than
competitive with any outside publishers.)
In the early years of A.A., pamphlets were written, printed
and distributed by whoever was inspired to do so. A.A.'s
in about 20 states either produced pamphlets of their own
or distributed those obtained from other states. And much
of it was helpful. Mike R., recalling a little group in
Cordell, Oklahoma, in the 1940's says, "we got
material from all over. Akron and Little Rock and,
I think, Memphis. As well as from New York."
(There was no such thing as Conference-approved literature,"
because there was no Conference.) The Akron pamphlets continued
to be produced and used well into the 1970's.
The "headquarters" office of A.A., as it was
called then, developed several pamphlets in the 1940's
to meet needs as they arose. One of the earliest was called
simply "A.A." It contained a brief section headed
"Am I an Alcoholic?" plus several personal stories
and endorsements from medicine and religion, and ended with
the Twelve Steps. It measured 81/2 by 51/2 and had a white
cover. "Medicine Looks at A.A." was also one
of the earliest, perhaps reflecting Bill's preoccupation
with getting approval from the medical profession. Apparently
the problem of doctors' prescribing sedatives to alcoholic
patients and the problem of dual-addiction were present
from the start, for, significantly, a pamphlet on "Sedatives
and the Alcoholic" was published in 1948. The Jack
Alexander article from the Saturday Evening Post was also
The A.A. Grapevine came into existence in 1944, and two
years later Bill began to write a series of essays for the
Grapevine entitled "Twelve Points to Assure Our Future."
These were what were to become A.A.'s Twelve Traditions,
which Bill once described as "a set of general principles,
simply stated principles that could offer tested solutions
to all of A.A.'s problems of living and working together
and of relating our Society to the world outside."
The Grapevine pieces were reprinted in pamphlet form in
1947. Titled "A.A. Tradition," the pamphlet
also contained information on policy regarding hospitalization,
anonymity, money, clubs, and the function of the office.
By 1952, Bill was ready to write Twelve Steps and Twelve
Traditions, a book which combined the Tradition essays with
essays on how each of the Steps applied to sober living.
In a 1952 letter, Bill said, "Now I'm getting
down once more to serious writing I expect to do
a book which will cover the application of the Twelve Steps
to the whole problem of living. The problem of happy
sobriety. After that will come a manual on A.A. services.
So I am beginning to get on paper our whole experience of
the last dozen years."
In contrast to the joy and gratitude for recovery that permeate
the Big Book, the "Twelve and Twelve" is more
somber, reflecting the severe, lasting depression which
afflicted Bill while he was writing it (and which he describes
in its pages.) He found that enlarging upon and interpreting
the Steps was particularly difficult because of the diversity
among the alcoholics. He wrote to Father Dowling in July
1952, "The problem of the Steps has been to deepen
and broaden them, both for newcomers and oldtimers.
We have to deal with the atheists, agnostics, believers,
depressives, paranoids, clergymen, psychiatrists, and all
and sundry. How to widen the opening so it seems right and
reasonable to enter there and at the same time avoid distractions,
distortions, and the certain prejudices of all who may read,
seems fairly much of an assignment."
He followed the same practice that he had in writing the
Big Book; that is, he wrote a section at a time and sent
it to friends and editors for their comments. Then he revised
the manuscript accordingly. Betty L. and Tom P. were of
particular help. Jack Alexander was one friend to whom Bill
sent the essays. In the Traditions portion, Alexander suggested
he dwell on the lessons from the Washingtonians in more
detail. "You should have no worries about your writing
style," Alexander assured him. "More than anyone
else, you are qualified to speak the A.A. language and you
do it nobly. If you were to professionalize your style,
the juice of the message would be lost." These comments
cheered Bill considerably. Alexander made more substantive
suggestions for improving the sentence structure and punctuation
of the essays on the Steps, sent later, but he concluded,
"Otherwise the text is splendid. It has real authority
and conviction, and I stayed with you to the end."
As soon as Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions was published
in January 1953, it was an immediate success. Somewhat
to Bill's surprise. By October, 25,000 copies had
been shipped. It has remained A.A.'s second largest
best-selling book. The 1964 Conference approved a gift edition,
pocket sized, with blue endpapers and a ribbon marker. It
was priced slightly higher than the regular edition. The
only change made in the content of the book since it was
written was the addition of the Long Form of the Traditions,
by Conference action, in 1978.
A related pamphlet, "The Traditions and How They Developed,"
was issued in 1955.
After the Conference was formed in 1951, a path developed
for the progress of A.A. literature from inception through
Conference approval and to actual production. The only criteria
for Conference–approved literature is to meet a perceived
need by the Fellowship. The original idea for a piece of
literature may be brought in any number of ways.
Usually by letter from an individual, or through the service
structure. To the Literature Committee (or other
appropriate committee, depending on the subject) of the
General Service Board. There the idea is discussed and either
rejected or approved. If approved, it is referred to the
Literature Committee (or other appropriate committee, depending
on the subject) of the Conference. There the idea is again
discussed and either rejected or recommended (i.e., "approved.")
The Committee's report, containing its recommendations,
is brought to the Conference as a whole. Each recommendation
is considered separately in the Conference floor, where
it may be discussed at length and is voted upon. If it is
approved "by substantial unanimity," it becomes
a Conference recommendation.
But that is only the beginning, for the Trustees'
Literature Committee (or other appropriate committee) then
becomes responsible for implementing the recommendation.
They pass the idea on to A.A. World Services who, working
through the General Service Office, hires a writer (and
an illustrator, if necessary) and a graphics designer, and
physically produces the book or pamphlet in manuscript and
layout form. These are then circulated to the G.S.O. staff
for their comments and input, following which the final
copy goes back through the whole path once more..
through the Trustees' Committee to the matching Conference
Committee to the Conference floor, where it receives final
Conference-approval, if all has gone well. If approved,
it then goes back to AAWS to be published, priced, included
in the next literature catalogue and distributed.
As can be imagined, the elapsed time to go through this
path is at least two years and may be much, much longer.
All A.A. literature is owned by A.A. Except for Bill, all
writers are hired on a contract basis and receive no royalties.
Following are the tracks of most of the individual pieces
of A.A. literature. pamphlets, Booklets, books and audio-visual
materials. Produced since 1952 insofar as it is possible
to reconstruct them.
True to his plans outlined in his 1952 letter (above), Bill
wrote "a manual on A.A. services." Originally
titled "Structure & Service," it was later
redone as "The Third Legacy Manual." Because
members were often unfamiliar with the Three Legacies when
they entered service and found the title intimidating, it
was again changed to "The A.A. Service Manual."
This booklet has been greatly expanded since Bill's
day, as the service structure has developed; and a new edition
is issued annually, revised to reflect the actions of each
annual Conference. In 1980, the "Twelve Concepts for
World Service" was combined with "The A.A. Service
Manual" into a single volume, by Conference action.
Alcoholic Husband" (reprinted from the Big Book) appeared
in the late '40's or very early '50's.
"The Alcoholic Wife" followed shortly. The early
use of these titles indicates the importance placed on the
understanding and cooperation of the spouse in getting the
alcoholic into A.A. The appearance of the Al-Anon Fellowship
lessened the need for these pamphlets and eventually, in
1976, they were combined into "Is There an Alcoholic
in Your Life?"
for the Woman" was probably written in the late 1940's
by Ralph B., for it was being reprinted in '51. It
was revised and updated in 1961-62, and again after 1985.
Questions and Answers," also written by Ralph B.,
was first approved in 1952, and became one of A.A.'s
basic pamphlets. It remained virtually unchanged until '74,
when it was revised to reduce the institutions sections
since other pamphlets on institutions were then available.
Concern over dual addiction dictated further rewording in
A.A. for You?" took the place of the earlier "A.A."
pamphlet in 1953, and has been one of the basic recovery
pieces ever since.
Bill's "Three Talks to Medical Societies"
were made available in pamphlet form in the early '50's.
The International Convention in St. Louis in 1955 furnished
the basis for Bill's next book, Alcoholics Anonymous
Comes of Age. He wrote it, he said, because he wanted to
make sure that nobody misunderstood what had happened at
St. Louis. Bill's biography, Pass It On, calls this
book "A masterpiece. Deceptively simple in its guise
as a log of the three-day proceedings, it is actually an
entire history of the Fellowship and its place in society,
with whole sections given over to the vision of A.A. as
held by those in society at large. Men of industry,
doctors, ministers, and trustees. Who lived in close
relationship to the Fellowship." Bill worked on the
book about one-and-a-half years, completing it at the end
of 1956. Three hundred pre-publication copies were circulated
for comments and it was finally published in 1957. Bill
did not think of his recollections contained in his three
major talks as definitive history, but continued to speak
of his plans to write such a book. He even had a small committee,
consisting of Ed B. and Nell Wing, working on it for a while,
but Bill's attention was diverted to other projects
and he died before it could be brought to fruition.
and Answers on Sponsorship" was completed and published
A.A. Group," a useful and popular pamphlet almost
thick enough to be called a manual, was published in 1965.
Happened to Joe," and "It Happened to Alice,"
two stories told in comic book style, were published in
1967 and 1968 respectively, but they had been started almost
a decade before. At its January 1958 meeting, the Policy
Committee recommended that the idea of a comic book to reach
the less literate alcoholic be explored. Four years later,
the Literature Committee was still studying the idea; and
four years after that, they reported the same status again.
At its January 1967 meeting, the Policy Committee again
recommended that a comic-book be prepared. And this time
the project was completed.
and the Armed Services" had an even longer gestation
period. Need for such a tool was expressed by the Literature
Committee as far back as January 1958, but apparently nothing
was done until '61, when a draft was authorized to
be circulated to the Services to assess the need. After
six more years of silence, the Literature Committee in 1967
agreed to prepare a pamphlet for the Armed Services. The
following year a draft was completed and was reviewed and
revised through 1969. Two years afterward, G.S.O. was still
trying to collect more stories. In July 1973, the stories
were completed and the foreword was being written, and the
pamphlet finally came off the press in 1974. Ironically,
after all this vacillation and indecision, the U.S. Navy
immediately entered the largest order ever received.
By 1958, the subject of "Sedatives and the Alcoholic"
was being further researched and the 1948 text was revised.
The Policy Committee was troubled in 1963, feeling the pamphlet
needed to be revised again to stress that it was not written
by experts. The aim was to avoid antagonizing the medical
profession, as the piece was doing in its existing form.
The Committee also expressed the fear that opposition to
tranquilizers expressed in the text ran contrary to A.A.
Traditions. The pamphlet, now titled, "Sedatives,
Stimulants and the Alcoholic," was periodically revised
over the next decade. The pamphlet was withdrawn and was
replaced with an entirely new piece on the same general
subject, which clarified A.A.'s policy of not "playing
doctor" by advising newcomers to discard prescription
drugs. Titled, "The A.A. Member – Medications
and Other Drugs," this most recent pamphlet was written
by doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous. In it, A.A. members
share their experience with medications and other drugs.
In a related vein, Bill wrote his thoughts on the status
of drug addicts within A.A. in an article in the Grapevine
in 1958. It was reprinted as a pamphlet, "Problems
Other Than Alcohol," and proved so pertinent as a
statement of A.A.'s singleness of purpose that excerpts
from it were published as a small leaflet and offered free
of charge. Bill's words are still as timely as they
were when he first wrote them 30 years ago.
In 1959, the Literature Committee assigned Ralph B. to write
a pamphlet on "The Alcoholic Employee." After
several drafts, the piece was published in January 1963.
just as employee alcoholism programs were in their ascendancy,
spurred first by the National Council on Alcoholism and
later represented by ALMACA. A.A. was already well recognized
as a resource by these organizations, and the pamphlet was
discontinued in 1980.
to an Inmate Who May Be an Alcoholic" was another
Ralph B. – written pamphlet, published in 1960. Initiated
under the Literature Committee, it became the province of
the Correctional Facilities Committee when the latter was
formed. It was judged to be too difficult for inmates to
read by 1980, and so a decision was made to discontinue
it. However, the demand for it proved to be so great that
this decision was rescinded.
Clergy Looks at A.A." was commissioned by the Literature
Committee to be written by Ralph B. in July 1959, and was
published in 1961. It was redone as "A Clergyman Asks
About Alcoholics Anonymous."
Soon after his work on "Alcoholics Anonymous Comes
of Age" was completed, Bill commenced writing "The
Twelve Concepts for World Service." He had been deeply
concerned about the necessity of reducing to writing exactly
how the service structure was supposed to work. Just as
he had been fearful in the beginning that the recovery program
might be watered down or distorted unless it was codified
into Twelve Steps; just as he was fearful the groups might
repeat their destructive mistakes unless their experience
was codified into Twelve Traditions; so Bill now was fearful
that the service structure might develop flaws and splits
if the 'how' and 'why' were not
codified into Twelve Concepts.
So many entities were involved. The General Service Board
was legally responsible for A.A.'s affairs. The Conference
had assumed the leadership of A.A. from the co-founders.
A tiny publishing operation and a service office had grown
in size and importance to the Fellowship. And a monthly
journal, the A.A. Grapevine was being published, separately.
Small wonder tensions developed among these bodies and confusion
was common. Which of the entities was supposed to do what?
What was their relationship to each other? Who was in charge?
What were their responsibilities and what were their
rights? Bill himself had often been at odds with the Alcoholic
Foundation, later the General Service Board. So he saw the
need to put down in writing his concepts of the reasons
for the structure, the lessons to be drawn from experience,
the relationships, and above all the spiritual principles
that undergirded it all.
As Bill set them down, the Twelve Concepts are a potpourri:
Concepts III through V, plus IX and XII, deal with spiritual
principles; the remainder, though they have no spiritual
overtones, are devoted to describing the relationship of
the various service entities and how they work together.
Altogether, they provided answers to nearly every question
They also brought into symmetry the Three Legacies of A.A.
as shown in the circle-and-triangle symbol; i.e.,
Legacy of Recovery had its 12 Steps
Legacy of Unity had its 12 Traditions
Legacy of Service now had its 12 Concepts
Concepts codified the Third Legacy.
Bill had completed a draft by 1960 which was sent to the
Trustees for review. The following year, a second draft
was circulated for review. The following year, a second
draft was circulated to the delegates, and final Conference-approval
was given, virtually by acclamation, in 1962. It is significant
that the Concepts booklet is the only piece of Conference-approved
literature that carries a personal by-line: "by Bill
However valuable to A.A.'s future, the text of the
Twelve Concepts was hard reading. According to memories
of G.S.O. staff members at the time, they were almost ignored
for a time. The staff members were required to study them
and attend several "classes" on them at the
office, but the average A.A. member. Even the average
member in service. Was scarcely aware of the Concepts,
much less a student of them. Gradually this changed, however,
and their worth came to be recognized in the '70's.
Word spread from service sponsor to service sponsee that
here was the cornerstone of the Third Legacy. At assemblies,
conferences and other service meetings, workshops on the
Concepts, once deserted, became crowded.
The need for literature addressed to young people was discussed
by the Board in October 1952. However, nothing was done
about it until the late '50's when they began
to gather case histories. Ralph B. pulled the material together
and prepared a first draft in July '61. It was finally
approved in October and "Young People and A.A."
appeared early the next year.
The same year, "Speaking at non-A.A. Meetings"
received Conference approval. This was a project of the
Public Information Committee, who was aware that over-eager
but inexperienced volunteers were sometimes creating a bad
impression of A.A. when they spoke to outside groups.
A.A. Cooperates with Community Efforts to Help Alcoholics,"
was a project of the Committee on Cooperation with the Professional
Community. Its original title when it was written in 1961
expresses the theme: "Cooperation, Yes.Affiliation,
No." Updated in 1967, this pamphlet proved enormously
helpful in clarifying A.A.'s role as alcoholism agencies
and treatment centers proliferated in the '70's.
May Be The Most Important Job In A.A. (the title is a quote
from Bill W.) made its appearance in 1965.
Bill's last book, "The A.A. Way of Life,"
was published in 1967. It consists entirely of excerpts
from Bill's other writings.. books, Grapevine
articles, letters. Selected and edited by Janet
G. at G.S.O. with Bill's word by word approval. Bill
did some editing of his own, polishing his earlier work.
It seemed to some people, however, that the total was somewhat
pompous and off-putting. So, in 1975, the title was changed
to "As Bill Sees It," with "The A.A. Way
of Life" as a sub-title. Sure enough, sales picked
up almost immediately and have continued at a steady level.
A guide in the front of the book directs the reader to Bill's
comments on such subjects as Acceptance, Character Defects,
Fear, Resentment, Serenity and scores of others.
The Grapevine in 1967 ran a series of illustrated feature
articles on the Twelve Traditions. Jack M.'s drawings
were clever and amusing, but insightful as well. It was
immediately suggested that the series be adapted into a
hardcover book. The format was changed shortly to a pamphlet,
which was published in 1971 and has proved extremely popular.
A.A. literature includes two booklets. "Came to Believe,"
published in 1973, is a collection of stories by A.A. members
who tell in their own words what the phrase "spiritual
awakening" means to them. Five years previously, an
A.A. member had pointed out the need, because many newcomers
translate the word "spiritual" in A.A. as meaning
"religious." The aim was to show the diversity
of convictions implied in "God as we understood Him,".
With which Bill was in delighted agreement. Except for six
pieces from the Grapevine the remainder of the contributions
were written especially for the book in response to an appeal
by G.S.O. and represent the broadest possible sampling of
members from all parts of the U.S. and Canada and around
the world. The first cover of "Came to Believe"
was a photograph of a tender shoot in spring, peeping up
through the snow.beautifully symbolic, but perhaps
too subtle for the browser at the literature table. It was
replaced by a simple dark blue title on an all white background,
still low-key and unobtrusive. After 1985, it was given
a bright red cover with gold stamping.
Sober," the other booklet, published in 1975, had
a more tortuous history. Around 1968, there were discussions
by the Board of the need for a pamphlet for sober old-timers,
and the need to point out "traps" or "danger
signals." Members of the Literature Committee and
others were asked to submit their ideas. Out of this grew
a specific proposal for a piece of literature to be developed
around the topic, "How We Stay Sober." It was
in outline form by October 1969, and was assigned to a professional
writer on the staff of a prestigious national magazine.
After nearly two years of work, he submitted a complete
draft. Which everyone agreed would not do at all.
They felt it needed such drastic revision that it should
be started again from scratch by a new author. Barry L.,
a seasoned, skillful freelance writer/consultant for G.S.O.
was given the task. With Bob H., general manager of G.S.O.,
he negotiated a flat fee for the project. After four and
a half years of organizing material and writing
and probably some procrastinating, as well, Barry came up
with a simple, intensely practical, charmingly written manual
on how to enjoy a happy, productive life without drinking.
It was not spiritual and contained nothing about getting
sober; but it was chock-full of the kind of advice and suggestions
a newcomer might get from a super-sponsor. ("A.A.'s
First Aid Kit" was Bayard's name for it.) And
it was written in a style unlike any other A.A. literature:
breezy, impertinent, colloquial and informal. "Living
Sober" proved to be hugely popular, and after it had
sold nearly a million copies, Barry L. felt he should have
been compensated more generously and should receive some
sort of royalty. He sent a letter to all past Trustees and
G.S.O. staff members with whom he was acquainted, to advance
his claim. The AAWS Board and the General Service Board
considered his case, but declined to take action. He then
threatened legal recourse, but perhaps realizing the weakness
of his case, never followed through.
In 1970, a need was recognized for a basic informational
piece directed not at the alcoholic prospect, but at the
nonalcoholic student who was interested in knowing about
Alcoholics Anonymous. The result was a pamphlet, "Students'
Guide to A.A." brought out in 1971. Within a year,
it was modified slightly to be suitable for other outside
groups as well, and the name was changed to "A Brief
Guide to A.A."
Member's-Eye View of Alcoholics Anonymous,"
one of the most powerful and popular pamphlets in the A.A.
library, almost never saw the light of day. Trustee Bayard
P., an executive with a large advertising agency in New
York, while on a business trip to California with his wife,
Majorie (also active in the program), look up an old associate
at the agency (and fellow A.A. member), Allan McG. (Parenthetically,
past trustee George D. remembers Allan McG. As a leader
in Southern California A.A. when he joined in 1961, and
says of him, "He was the most interesting man I ever
met, the most stimulating. He was brilliantly articulate
and touched many, many people.") When Allan met Bayard
and Marjorie P. for dinner, he mentioned to them that he
was making his annual speech about Alcoholics Anonymous
to a class at U.C.L.A. which he had done for a number
of years. They asked him if he had a manuscript of the talk,
which he later showed them; it was called "A Members
Eye View of A.A." "We were absolutely thrilled
by it," recalls Bayard. "It was the best thing
of the kind we'd ever read, and we asked Allan's
permission to take it back to New York and see if it could
be an A.A. publication. Which we did."
When Herb M. brought the manuscript to the AAWS Board, staff
member Ann M. raised strenuous objections based on the fact
that it was one person's opinion and one person's
writing and had not evolved through the group conscience
as all the other Conference-approved literature had. The
same opposition was raised at the Trustees' Literature
Committee. However, the inherent excellence and value of
the piece ultimately prevailed. It was approved by the Conference
and published in 1970, with a prefatory explanation which
read in part, "Though the A.A. program relies upon
the sharing of experience the recovery process itself
is highly individual Therefore, the program is described
here as it appears to one member; but the pamphlet does
reflect Fellowship thinking." Although the pamphlet
was originally conceived of to explain the program to alcoholism
professionals and other outsiders, it has provided fresh
insights for A.A. members as well.
Anonymity," published in 1972, arose out of a need
felt by the Public Information Committee to explain and
clarify both to A.A. members and to outsiders what anonymity
means. It was revised by a 1980 Conference action to remove
an ambiguity which existed in Bill's writings as to
the advisability of using full names when speaking at public
Nell Wing, A.A. Archivist, wrote and submitted to the Literature
Committee in 1972, brief biographies of A.A.'s co-founders.
She suggested they form a leaflet to fill requests for this
information, and the Conference agreed. Two years later,
she suggested a companion leaflet consisting of the co-founders'
last talks. The two were combined into a single pamphlet,
"The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous," in
Recognizing that America's population was growing
older, the Public Information Committee made efforts in
the early '70's to reach senior citizen alcoholics
through magazine articles. Out of this grew the suggestion
that a pamphlet was needed to reach this group. Over a couple
of years, a number of case histories were gathered from
members who had reached A.A. after the age of 60, and the
pamphlet "Time to Start Living" was published
in 1979. To make the message even more accessible to this
audience, it was also offered in a large-print version.
In the last decade of A.A.'s first 50 years, two handsome
historical biographies of its co-founders were added to
its major hardcover books. The need for such information
was discussed many times in the early 70's
especially as the early members who had known Dr. Bob and
Bill were dying off. Then, at the World Service Meeting
in New York in 1976, delegates from overseas requested strongly
that priority be given to a biography of Dr. Bob, as they
felt they knew too little about him. Partly because of that
impetus, the 1977 Conference authorized the joint-biography
project to go ahead.
The task was assigned to Niles P., a past trustee and past
assistant general manager of G.S.O. under Bob H. Niles quickly
exhausted the material in the archives and then undertook
interviews on tape with relatives, friends and acquaintances
of Dr. Bob and pioneer members of Midwestern A.A. The locals
of these interviews included not only Ohio and Dr. Bob's
native Vermont, but California, the D.C. area, Florida,
North Carolina, New York and Texas (where he spent time
with Dr. Bob's son.) In the course of the research,
the book naturally expanded from biographical limits into
a memoir of early A.A. in the Midwest. Niles' enormous
and sensitive job of digesting, organizing and assembling
the material from the tapes was supplemented by prodigious
editing by Janet C. Tastefully and masterfully designed
by a nonalcoholic book designer Nelson Gruppo, the book
was illustrated with 26 photos. Entitled "Dr. Bob
and the Good Oldtimers," it was published in 1980.
Niles P. immediately began research for a similar biography
of Bill W., except that the problem was now one of selection
from the plethora of material to draw on, including the
Robert Thompson biography published by Harper & Row.
Also, Niles felt overwhelmed by the challenge of portraying
Bill's complex character, colored by his own personal
acquaintanceship with the co-founder. Finally Niles fell
ill with cancer and resigned from the assignment.
Mel B., a professional writer working in corporate relations
in Toledo, Ohio, was engaged to take over. After working
for two years, Mel produced a voluminous, thoroughly researched,
well-written manuscript. (A remark made by the nonalcoholic
stenographer whom Mel hired to type the final manuscript
should be preserved for posterity. Unfamiliar with A.A.,
she got caught up in the drama of Bill's story, and
when she had finished, she said, "He was such an intelligent
and talented man. It's too bad he never did anything
with his life!")
The Literature Committee felt that Mel B.'s manuscript
lacked vitality and failed to make Bill come alive. So the
project was turned over to Catherine N., a freelance writer
in New York, to add human interest touches. After conducting
additional interviews, she started to work on the manuscript.
Soon, however, Catherine stopped in frustration, reporting
that she could not do justice to the subject by patching
and filling and asking for permission to do a complete rewrite
in her own style. She was given a go-ahead and spent another
year and a half in producing the final book.
A number of suggested titles were considered, but none seemed
quite right. Then one day, a staff member showed Bob P.
general manager of G.S.O. a thank you letter from a member
who was the delegate from Delaware for his visit to G.S.O.
on Open House Day. He compared his feelings with the first
time he had met Bill. "I was a couple of months sober
and so excited," he wrote, "so thrilled to actually
meet the co-founder that I gushed all over him with what
my sobriety meant to me and my undying gratitude for his
starting A.A. When I ran down, he took my hand in his and
said simply, 'Pass It On'" Bob P. exclaimed,
"There's our title!" The book was subtitled,
"The Story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message
reached the world." Again designed by Nelson Gruppo,
it came off the press just before Christmas 1984.
You Think Your Different" was intended in part to
forestall requests for separate pamphlets directed to special
groups of alcoholics. It contained the stories of 13 people
who thought A.A. wouldn't work for them because they
were somehow "different". Black or Jewish,
teenaged or nearing 80, gay, lesbian, etc.
As the number of alcoholism treatment centers grew in the
'60's and exploded in the '70's,
demand grew for shared information on their relationship
with A.A. The result was pamphlet "A.A. in Treatment
Centers," first published in 1965.
By the mid-70's, alcohol use and abuse among teenagers
was receiving a lot of attention in the national press.
Pressure was building outside and inside the Fellowship
for A.A. to produce a pamphlet targeted at teenage alcoholics.
The 1975 Conference recommended that two teenage stories
be added to "Young People in A.A.," but it was
then decided that a separate piece, in cartoon style, would
better fit the need. To bring it off required perhaps the
oddest collaboration in the history of A.A. literature.
Dr. George G., middle-aged head of the Department of Communications
at a distinguished university; and Yvonne D., functionally
illiterate but street-wise teenaged black girl from a Harlem
ghetto. Yvonne was also an A.A. member, the sponsee of G.S.O.
staffer Susan D. Together, she and George G. drew up the
personal stories of the teenagers and worked with an illustrator
from Mad magazine to create the pamphlet entitled "Too
Young?" Its graphic illustrations shocked some older
A.A. members at first, but the teenagers related to them
and the piece became very popular. On recommendation of
the Public Information Committee, excerpts from "Too
Young?" were issued in leaflet form, entitled "Message
to Teenagers," and offered free of charge. Hundreds
of thousands of copies of the leaflet were distributed annually.
To aid in A.A.'s work in correctional institutions,
two primary pieces of literature were available. "A.A.
in Prisons" was directed at corrections officials,
describing how A.A. groups function behind bars and containing
prison officials' commendation of A.A. It was first
published in 1964 and revised in 1969. And "Memo to
an Inmate Who May Be an Alcoholic." What was still
needed. According to the Trustees' Correctional
Institutions Committee was a pamphlet containing
inmates' personal stories, directed to inmates, many
of whom had only the lowest level of reading ability. In
1976, the challenge of creating such a piece was undertaken.
It was completed and published the following year, with
simple, convincingly authentic stories from a variety of
inmates. male and female, Black, Hispanic, etc..
and liberally illustrated.
At one of the committee meetings, a member, who was an ex-con
himself, related a remark made to him by a fellow convict
who had suggested he attend the prison A.A. meeting. "why
should I?" the Committee member had asked. The other
convict had replied with a shrug, "It sure beats hell
out of sitting in a cell!" That remark was adopted
as the title for the proposed pamphlet. However, before
the piece reached publication in 1977, the Committee decided
the mild profanity might offend someone, so the "hell"
was removed and the title became, "It Sure Beats Sitting
in a Cell."
As A.A. literature originated in the U.S., the term "Conference-approved"
refers to the U.S./Canada Conference. Although A.A. literature
in other countries is usually a translation of U.S./Canada
literature, A.A. is autonomous in each country and may develop
pamphlets as directed by its own Conference. Such a pamphlet
was "A Newcomer Asks," written and published
in 1979 in Great Britain. When the G.S.O./London sent copies
to G.S.O./New York, the piece was recognized as meeting
a need frequently expressed on this side of the Atlantic.
So, except for Americanizing a few expressions, the pamphlet
was "borrowed" intact. It was the first instance
of a reverse flow of literature. (The round metal meeting
sign designed to be hung outside meeting places was "borrowed"
The editors at G.S.O. who check each pamphlet for changes
in facts or figures that may be needed before reprinting,
noticed in early 1975 that where the Steps were appended
at the end of pamphlets or books, they were sometimes referred
to as "The Twelve Suggested Steps" or simply
"The Suggested Steps," but more often as "The
Twelve Steps." The editors asked if they should not
make the usage consistent by eliminating the word "suggested"
where it appeared in a heading. The staff agreed and the
change was made routinely as pamphlets came up for reprinting.
Then a sharp-eyed alternate delegate in the Southeast New
York Area noticed the change and stormed into G.S.O. with
several followers accusing the staff of subverting Conference–approved
literature, going against Bill's wishes, and other
misdemeanors. (Their objections may have been rooted in
their familiarity with a privately manufactured window-shade
type of "suggested Steps" wall displays in common
use at that time in the New York area.) It was pointed out
to them that the wording "The Twelve Steps"
was used in the Big Book (where they are "suggested
as a program of recovery"), the Twelve and Twelve,
the A.A. Grapevine and the parchments. But the dissidents
remained adamant and aroused the SENY area assembly to vote
to ask the Conference to recommend that the deletions be
restored. The controversy raged a year with both views being
carried to all the delegates in letters. The matter was
laid to rest by a recommendation of the 1976 Conference
affirming the usage of "The Twelve Steps" without
the word "suggested."
The delegates in 1979-80 became concerned that A.A.'s
service material (including about a dozen leaflets and single-sheet
flyers, and all Guidelines) did not carry the "Conference-approved"
seal and were not, in fact, Conference-approved. This situation
was tidied-up by the 1980 Conference with three advisory
actions as follows:
the following pamphlets, leaflets, and flyers be approved
with their present content:
"Where Do I Go From Here"
"You're A.A. G.S.O."
"Self-Supporting? The 60-30-10 Plan"
"Carrying the Message Inside the Walls"
"Circles of Love and Service"
"A.A. In Your Community"
"A.A. At A Glance"
"The A.A. Member"
"If You Are a Professional"
factual or statistical information may be updated whenever
practical without going through the process of Conference
A.A. Guidelines are a reflection of collective experience
that is shared through G.S.O. relating to specialized topics
not necessarily relevant to all groups or members.
the A.A. Guidelines may be produced or revised..at
the discretion of the G.S.O. staff without Conference approval."
The history of A.A. literature is also told in the history
of what was not published. Several Conferences had to deal
with the request that the Twenty-Four Hours A Day book be
adopted as A.A. literature, since it was written by an A.A.
member and was in widespread use in A.A. (It was copyrighted
and published by Hazelden and hence was not available. Also,
being written in specific religious language, it would be
inappropriate.) The Trustees Literature Committee, and sometimes
the Conference as well, repeatedly turned down the suggestion
that a guide to Fourth Step Inventory be published. (It
is adequately explained in the Big Book and Twelve and Twelve,
and also such a guide is available from the outside for
those who insist they need one.) Repeatedly throughout the
history of the Conference, delegates have come in with the
complaint, "there's too much literature". Oblivious to the fact that (except for service
pieces) a new piece of literature is produced only by Conference
action, following the tortuous path of approval described
earlier. As each book or pamphlet originated to fill a perceived
need, it is not easy to decide what should be eliminated.
At least twice in 1974 and 1981 committees
or task forces were appointed to review all literature with
a view to see what could be combined or dropped, and several
helpful suggestions resulted. But the total number of titles
continues slowly to increase. On several occasions, a moratorium
has been declared on the publication of new literature..
only to have the moratorium ignored by the next Conference
when the need for a new pamphlet was felt.
A separate chapter could be written about the path followed
by one suggested piece of literature that was not published;
namely, a pamphlet for the homosexual alcoholic. The substantial
number of gay groups in Alcoholics Anonymous led to an expressed
need for such a pamphlet. The suggestion reached the 1981
Conference, where it was discussed and debated at length,
and was finally tabled until the 1982 Conference "to
allow time for all delegates to get the group conscience
from the groups in their areas." In 1982, after further
lengthy discussion, the Conference said that the issue could
not be intelligently decided without seeing a draft of the
pamphlet, which was authorized to be written. A special
task force was appointed to meet with homosexual A.A.'s
and write the draft. The draft was distributed to all delegates
in early 1983 as pre-Conference material, to be kept confidential.
Instead, the draft was copied or mimeographed in many locations,
where it stirred up additional furor. The 1983 Conference
discussed and debated the subject further, with more emotion
than before, pro and con, and finally recommended that such
a pamphlet not be produced at that time.
One pamphlet that was rejected two times and finally published
(after 1985) was "The Twelve Concepts Illustrated."
The suggestion first came by letter from a member in the
State of Washington in 1980. The Trustees Literature Committee
discussed it earnestly. and then threw up their hands.
The Concepts, they felt, were too lengthy, too complex,
to hard to read to lend themselves to light illustrations.
So they rejected the proposal. But the person who had originated
the idea didn't give up, and persuaded the Washington
area assembly to resubmit the proposal with the added support
of the regional trustee. This time the proposal was forwarded
to the Conference which, in 1984, recommended the pamphlet
be prepared. So the G.S.O. engaged Jack M., who had illustrated
the Twelve Traditions pamphlet, to do some trial drawings.
They turned out to be clear and amusing. Right on
target. The Committee was delightful and gave their go-ahead.
But after a delay of several months the cartoonist declared
the job was too difficult for him.
The project then lay fallow for about a year (the failure
to complete it being reported with "regret"
to the 1985 Conference.) A few months later, Sarah P., literature
coordinator on the G.S.O. staff, and Vinnie M., newly appointed
director of publications, decided on a new approach; namely,
to write the text for the pamphlet first. They assigned
a seasoned writer with long service experience to prepare
a simplified and popularized text and also to suggest how
this text might be illustrated. This approach worked, although
two new artists were tried before the right style and appeal
During the first 25 years, Bill's telling his story was
a part of almost every group meeting and A.A. gathering
at which the co-founder appeared. But thereafter, with the
enormous growth of the Fellowship and Bill's reduced travel,
only a relatively few members had ever seen him or heard
him tell his story. So it was decided (mostly by Bill himself)
in the early 1960's to record "Bill's Own Story" on film
for archival purposes and for the sake of A.A.'s to come.
The product, filmed with Lois at Stepping Stones, was almost
of home-movie quality with a bad sound-track, but it did
accomplish the objective of preserving Bill on film. It
was followed up about a year later with a similar home-movie
style production, "Bill Discusses the Twelve Traditions,"
which showed Bill speaking to a group of G.S.O. people (though
no so identified) around a conference table. These films
were something of an embarrassment to the Conference as
they were not "Conference-approved" and were technically
in violation of the Eleventh Tradition. On the other hand,
they were treasured by the Fellowship, and were offered
for rental from G.S.O. They have been seen and enjoyed by
hundreds of thousands of A.A.'s in the years since at gatherings
from group meetings to International Conventions. They are
restricted to use within A.A. only, by action of the 1965
A decade later the employment of audio-visual material was
so universal that both the Trustees' Public Information
Committee and Literature Committee were discussing the need
for a film about Alcoholics Anonymous to carry the message
to the general public. Since audio-visual materials were
considered to be "literature" in another form,
the Literature Committee was given the responsibility of
exploring whether such a film could be made within the Traditions.
An audio-visual subcommittee was appointed consisting of
people with heavy media experience: Chuck H., Jerry D.,
and Bob P. Lois F., a brand-new but highly capable G.S.O.
staff member, was secretary of the Literature Committee
and therefore of the subcommittee as well.
The subcommittee met several times in 1977 and made three
fundamental decisions which were crucial to the accomplishment
of the project. First, they agreed that the objective would
be to portray Alcoholics Anonymous as it actually was, to
counter the misconceptions and stereotyping that existed
in the public mind. Second, in keeping with this objective,
it was determined not to employ professional actors, but
to photograph actual A.A.'s in real settings if it
could be done without showing faces. And third, no script
would be written; the actual words of the members would
tell the story. Thus, it was hoped, any hint of promotion
would be voided.
Authorization was given by the Trustees to film some test
footage to see if anonymity could be preserved. Lois F.
was directed to find three filmmakers from which one could
be selected, which she did. As she was from San Francisco,
where she had known Mark Chase, director of the San Francisco
Film Festival, Lois asked him for recommendations. He told
her his pick would be Crommie & Crommie, a husband and
wife team of exceptional artistic talent and sensitivity,
who were "into making films that affect people's
lives." And they were the filmmakers finally selected.
Lois said later, "I sometimes think the greatest contribution
I made while at G.S.O. was finding the Crommies."
The test footage was shot in New York, California and Chicago
at the end of 1977 and the first part of January 1978. Lois
F. did the advanced work and accompanied Karen and David
Crommie during the test filming, always going through area
and local service people, painstakingly explaining what
was proposed and getting the group conscience of the individuals
and groups being filmed. Even so, Lois recalls there was
"lots of criticism," tears, protests, threats
and wild rumors." The General Service Board viewed
the test footage at their January 1978 meeting, gave some
guidance and okayed it to be shown to the Conference. The
Conference recommended that "The test film shown to
the Conference Literature Committee be expanded to a film
approximately 25 minutes in length for the purpose of carrying
the A.A. message to the general public" This
action was implemented during 1978, and the finished film,
entitled "Alcoholics Anonymous–An Inside View,"
was shown to the 1979 Conference for their approval.
Meanwhile, however, "the great film festival flap"
had occurred. It began about a month before the Conference
with the Crommies' asking Lois if they could enter
the film in the San Francisco International Film Festival
as an example of their work. Lois asked Bob P., who inquired
what exposure it would involve. Lois explained that the
films are shown to small groups of judges in small meeting
rooms, so the exposure would be very limited. Bob P., feeling
that this was a professional matter involving primarily
filmmakers, gave permission. Within a fortnight a major
uproar was taking place on the West Coast, angry phone calls
were pouring into G.S.O., and a petition to impeach Bob
P. as general manager was being circulated in the Northern
What had happened was that, unexpectedly, the "Inside
View" film had won first in its category of "Health
Care," and had then gone on to win the Silver Award
among all documentary films in the Festival. An announcement
had appeared in a San Francisco paper, further inviting
the public to see the film at the award ceremonies. All
this before the Conference had even seen the film, much
less approved it! Following a hurried phone call, the Festival
officials agreed not to show the film to the public.
But the fat was on the fire. Lois and Bob P. credit George
D., Pacific Regional Trustee, with valiant and effective
service traveling to gatherings throughout his region to
calm people down.
as a result of this flap, the 1979 Conference imposed a
series of seven restrictions and conditions on the distribution
of the film for the first year. The Trustees' Public Information
Committee was charged with reviewing and evaluating the
entire experience at the end of that time and formulating
a suitable policy. This was done, and the recommendation
was made to release the film for general distribution.
Inside View" has been shown on TV scores of times and has
had wide use both outside and inside the Fellowship. It
has been particularly useful in lowering the anxiety of
patients in treatment centers facing their first exposure
to A.A. In fact, Lois F. says the story that touched her
most was of a Winnipeg, Manitoba, woman who had seen the
film in a trial showing under the auspices of regional trustee
Don N. on a Fargo/Moorhead TV station. This woman had called
the Winnipeg central office for help on several occasions,
but always refused to go to an A.A. meeting. The day after
the showing, she called once more to say she had seen the
film and didn't know what she had been afraid of, as she
was now ready to go to A.A.
of its impact, footage from the film was later used in a
series of public service announcements produced by Crommie
& Crommie for A.A. (After 1985, the Crommies also produced
two more documentary films in the same style, one directed
at young alcoholics and the other at inmates, which were
enthusiastically received.) David and Karen have stated
many times that knowing A.A. during the making of the films
has profoundly changed their lives.