Ed Fancher, a psychologist who started The Village Voice, the nationally known alternative weekly newspaper, with two partners in 1955 and remained its publisher until new ownership dismissed him 19 years later, died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 100.
The death was confirmed by his daughter, Emily Fancher.
In a city brimming with daily newspapers, The Voice found its niche as an alternative newsweekly in the bohemian culture of Greenwich Village, where another weekly, The Villager, had been publishing since the 1930s.
“We were crazy enough to think it would succeed,” Mr. Fancher said in an interview for this obituary in 2018. “It was absolutely nutty, but we were all World War II vets who had survived, and that had a lot to do with our optimism that — goddamn it! — we were going to make it.”
The three partners had distinct roles at the paper. Mr. Fancher handled circulation, distribution and advertising. Norman Mailer, already a novelist celebrated for “The Naked and the Dead,” wrote a column. (He left the paper after a few months, believing it should have adopted an angrier editorial tone and also upset about uncorrected typos in his articles.) Dan Wolf held the more demanding position of editor.
John Wilcock, The Voice’s first news editor and a columnist, long claimed to have been the publication’s fourth founder, but Mr. Fancher denied this. Mr. Wilcock died in 2018.
The Voice stuck largely to its local turf at first. But it soon expanded its journalistic ambitions citywide and nationally, becoming the most influential and successful alternative weekly in the United States. Its lively and provocative articles, essays, columns and criticism covering politics, civil rights, the women’s movement, sex and the arts created an idiosyncratic brand that was widely imitated.
“We had some very devoted, enthusiastic, loyal people writing for us who saw The Voice as their paper,” Mr. Fancher said in an interview in 2000 for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s oral history project. “They weren’t making a living, but they were doing what they wanted to do. It was the kind of paper that Dan and I wanted and that we enjoyed.”
Generations of readers became familiar with the bylines of Nat Hentoff, Jonas Mekas, Andrew Sarris, Mary Perot Nichols, Robert Christgau, Jack Newfield, Vivian Gornick, Michael Musto and Wayne Barrett, as well as the elegant and witty cartoons of Jules Feiffer and the freewheeling personal ads that helped fill the newspaper’s overflowing classifieds section.
The Voice also ruffled feathers. In a speech in 1959, Mr. Fancher accused the Tammany Hall Democratic organization — which The Voice would battle for years in pursuit of political reform in Greenwich Village — of trying to scare away its advertisers.
“Our refusal to play the role of house organ to the vested political interests of Greenwich Village has grown more and more intolerable to them,” Mr. Fancher said when he accepted an award for excellence from the New York Press Association. “And if we were innocent when we started, it was these gentlemen who sent us to school — educated us, but not quite free of charge.”
Edwin Crawford Fancher was born on Aug. 29, 1923, in Middletown, N.Y. His father, Frank, was vice president and general manager of the Orange County Telephone Company. His mother, Elizabeth (McGarr) Fancher, was a homemaker.
After graduating from boarding school in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he played fullback on the football team, he entered the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, in 1941. He cited two reasons for the faraway choice of college: He loved Jack London’s stories of the Alaskan wilderness, and the campus’s R.O.T.C. program would satisfy his father, a former naval officer, who wanted him to receive military training.
World War II interrupted Mr. Fancher’s studies. He joined the Army in 1942 and fought with the ski troops of the 10th Mountain Division against German troops in northern Italy.
He resumed his education after the war at the New School for Social Research, one of the cultural and philosophical pillars of Greenwich Village, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1949. He met Mr. Wolf early on at the New School; Mr. Wolf in turn became friendly with Mr. Mailer. Mr. Wolf introduced Mr. Mailer to his second wife, Adele Morales, who had dated Mr. Fancher for three years.
Mr. Fancher earned a master’s in psychology at the New School in 1951 and taught the subject at New Rochelle High School. While he was completing his clinical psychology internship in New Jersey, Mr. Wolf approached him about starting The Voice, although neither had a journalism background. To persuade Mr. Fancher to join him, Mr. Wolf suggested that he work part time for a year, then leave to pursue psychology full time.
Mr. Fancher and Mr. Mailer invested $5,000 each in the paper, but Mr. Wolf could not afford to contribute.
“We had a vision of an open newspaper, unlike the usual newspaper that was cut and dried, and written and edited to a formula,” Mr. Fancher said in an interview in 2009 with History Heard, an education website that interviews witnesses to history. “We wanted writers who would write in fresh, subjective ways.”
The writers delivered on the editorial model, but they were often rewarded early on with low pay or postdated checks. It would take seven years for The Voice to break even.
Jerry Tallmer, the weekly’s first associate editor, recalled that Mr. Fancher had a talent for finding well-heeled people to kick in money to keep The Voice afloat. But there were difficult moments, which Mr. Tallmer described in an article in The Villager in 2014.
“I always knew whenever I came into the office and found all the desks and the mimeograph machine moved around,” Mr. Tallmer wrote, “that Ed had been muscularly working off his fury and frustrations at keeping The Voice breathing for just one more daunting day.”
The year of work that he promised Mr. Wolf multiplied, and, after turning a profit, The Voice thrived — so much so that in 1970, Mr. Fancher, Mr. Wolf and Mr. Mailer (who still held shares) sold their controlling interest to Carter Burden, a New York City councilman, for $3 million.
But four years later, after New York magazine acquired control of The Voice, Mr. Fancher and Mr. Wolf were fired by the magazine’s editor, Clay S. Felker. They, along with Mr. Mailer and Herbert Lutz, a fourth minority shareholder, sued over the terms of the deal and settled for $485,000.
The Village Voice’s print edition was shut down in 2017, and its website followed a year later. Under new management as of December 2020, The Voice is once again available online and, occasionally, in print.
Mr. Fancher’s first marriage was brief and ended in annulment while he was in his early 20s. He married Vivian Kramer in 1970. In addition to Ms. Fancher, their daughter, Mr. Fancher is survived by their son, Bruce, and two granddaughters. His wife died in 2020.
The sale of The Voice ended Mr. Fancher’s journalistic career, but he had continued to work as a psychologist all along. He was a founder of the Washington Square Consultation Center (now the Washington Square Institute for Psychotherapy and Mental Health) and the first president of the New York School for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, which trains psychotherapists, where he worked until his retirement in 2016.
But he would always be associated with The Voice. In 2017, when he spoke at a reunion of staff members in TriBeCa, he recalled that he and Mr. Wolf, who died in 1996, and Mr. Mailer, who died in 2007, had started The Voice as a response to World War II — “a feeling that there should be an open society, and that would require an open sort of newspaper, which The Village Voice was.”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.