Los Angeles Bard Duane Thorin Passes

Booklover, Song Writer, Musician

He Wrote “Occupy Your Car” the Classic Song About Homeless Folks and the Economic Meltdown

by Paul Hunt

Duane Thorin

Duane Thorin had music in his heart from birth. He loved to sing, play the guitar, entertain. But the path to that musical life was paved with obstructions and suffering. It was only when he was crushed by the 2008 meltdown like millions of other folks that he somehow rose from the ashes of despair to be able to live his dream of music, storytelling and song and make his mark on the Southern California cultural scene.

I first met Duane in the 1990’s when he was a frequent visitor to my bookshop in Burbank, Magnolia Park Books.  At the time that I met him, he was installing swimming pools in middle class areas of San Bernardino and Riverside. Those were the years of the housing boom. The government and the banksters were pushing everybody who was breathing, and some who were possibly not even existing in this dimension, to buy a house. Out in the hinterlands of San Berdoo, there was a huge housing boom. They were springing up in every desert plot and sandy hill that was available. Mortgages were rubber-stamped, and the middle class, eager to participate in the great American dream, poured into the area.

The families that bought these new digs got settled in, but then they got a taste of summer. It’s not Death Valley, but it is boiling hot out that way. The moms and pops had to hear their kids whining about it every damn day. The summer boil. No school with air conditioning. No nice grassy back yards like in the Westside of L.A. Just sand dunes. What to do? Paying the mortgage was tough enough, no way for a real swimming pool like in Beverly Hills. So how about an above-ground pool? They are just big enough and deep enough to keep the kids wet, a place to play in the yard at least part of the brutal summer days. Once the parents bought the pool, they would be given a referral to a guy like Duane who would come out to your place with a crew and actually install the thing on your sandlot.

Duane relaxing at the old Cliff's Bookshop in Pasadena. Photo by Paul Hunt

Duane relaxing at the old Cliff’s Bookshop in Pasadena. Photo by Paul Hunt

Duane was a big sturdy guy. Although he had worked in the entertainment world part of his life, several years booking acts into the Ice House in Pasadena, he still had to make a living. I don’t remember how he ever go into that business, but he did. Part of the lure of it was work like a dog all summer and make enough to live the rest of the year. The reward during Fall and Winter was to do the things that he really loved to do, singing, music, reading. But installing pools out in San Bernardino in the middle of summer is brutal work. The area had to be leveled, the rocks, snakes and lizards moved out, and then the pool put together so that when it was filled the water would stay inside.

He always had a tough time keeping a crew, the work was hell, long days when 100 degrees was the lowest it ever got, burning your skin off. Take your salt pills and drink gallons of water ’cause you’re going to sweat until you end up looking like a prune. Duane would come into my shop and occasionally dragoon some unemployed book – lover to work for him in the pool biz. If those guys lasted a week it was a miracle. Most were skinny and pale, night owls with an aversion to sunlight. I used to joke about it with him, telling him he was killing my customers. He said he was just trying to put some money in their pocket for an honest day’s work. Usually they were done in one or two days, and after a couple weeks of recuperation they looked forward to something a little less physical, like working at a Starbucks. Anything other than the sheer brutality of that scalding sun.

At times, even Duane had to back off for a few days. The pressure from the pool companies was intense. They would sell scores of pools and they depended on Duane to put them up. He had all his equipment loaded into a trailer, which he would pull out to the customer’s property. A difficult pool installation might take more than one day, sometimes several days. He would get a cheap motel and the crew would have to sleep there until the job was done. Just before the economy crumbled, an omen had popped up: his main guy, a really hard working Latino, was arrested and sent to prison for something. Duane was upset about that because he depended on him. It meant hiring 2 guys to replace him. The work load was intense, the phone always ringing, more jobs than he could ever handle. But it all came to a dead stop with the 2008 financial crash.

The big Meltdown hit everyone. The middle class was devastated. The poor class swelled with new members. Millions lost their houses, their savings, their way of life. San Bernardino looked like a big ghost town. Within a couple years, the City was sending guys out to the neighborhoods to spray green paint on dead lawns on the abandoned properties so they would look lived in. The pools were a big problem. The happy days of children splashing in the pools became the nightmare of the City, as the thousands of abandoned pools, now with stagnant algae packed water, became a breeding ground for billions of mosquitoes. City crews spent months draining the pools that Duane had built. We joked that maybe the thieving bankers visiting their now empty houses would get a well deserved dose of malaria in the process.

Duane Thorin 2013

Back in the bookstore, I saw Duane on almost a daily basis. We became fast friends. He was talented, intelligent, funny and literate. His business had collapsed but he lasted a couple years on his savings. I had to close the book store about the same time, and move into my van. At some point, he ran out of money totally. There was no work in L.A. The homeless population was swelling, thousands of families living in cars and vans. He lost his apartment, but I found him an RV which he got parked on a friend’s property, a lovely couple living in the mountains of Altadena. Through this crushing defeat, Duane Thorin was reborn. It wasn’t easy, he and I were often together at food banks. We hung out at coffee houses. The weird thing was that he was free. Free to change. Free to pursue his dreams.

He now had time to devote to his music. He sang at coffee houses, ran open mic nights, sharpened his skills with his guitar, hustled some music jobs, wrote songs. He was killer at it. His creativity exploded.

He also had time to do something that he wanted to do for years. His dad, also named Duane Thorin,  had been in the Korean war. He was captured by the North Koreans and thrown into a jail with other G.I.s. He managed to escape and was free for some time, trying to make it back to friendly lines, but was recaptured due to another G.I. making a stupid mistake. Duane’s dad was one of the only Americans to ever escape from the North Koreans. His recapture meant that torture and punishment would now be his life, and the North Koreans turned him over to the Red Chinese.

Escape From North Korea

Duane had made a recording of his dad telling his story before his death, and wanted to get it out, so I helped him to produce a CD of the original recording. It’s an exciting story, although agonizing to re-live the captivity.

Duane, was very patriotic, and wanted folks to remember what those who served for us had to go through. Listen to Duane singing the National Anthem. It will floor you.

Duane’s career soared in the last few years. He was in demand as a singing coach and manager, he arranged and ran the musical entertainment for private celebrity parties, he sang at venues around the southland and wrote songs. We were blessed to have Duane’s music video, Occupy Your Car, and his original song about Walmart moving into a small town.

The songs are so powerful because Duane lived through it. He knew what it was to live in a car. He could write his songs from his heart, drawing on his own personal experiences. His good friend Donna has filmed and recorded Duane for years, and we are blessed with the preservation of his music.

Chef Duanio

His sudden death last week was a shock. He seemed healthy, in good humor, and leading the life he always dreamed about, the musical life. He had created a character called Chef Duaneo, an Italian Chef who sang opera. Duane had so much fun with that, and Chef Duaneo was a hilarious musical show that played around town.

L.A. has lost another great voice, a bard, a troubadour.
Duane Thorin joins some other noted musicians who have passed recently. I can’t help thinking that Heaven’s gotta be rockin’ right now.

This is a revised version of a story that I wrote two weeks ago for www.GypsyCool.com. –Paul Hunt

L.A.’s Famous Whimsic Alley To Close

L.A.’s Fantasy Store For Harry Potter and All Things British To Shut Down

30% OFF Everything Sale Commences



Whimsic Alley, the popular fandom store, party and entertainment facility on L.A.’s Miracle Mile, has announced that it will be closing. Known for its elaborately themed interior, resembling a Dickensian street market and its castle-like Great Hall, the store developed a strong following among fans of Harry Potter.


Over the years, Whimsic Alley played host to hundreds of birthday parties, weddings, costume balls, themed tea parties, murder mystery dinners, summer camps, adult camps, wizard-rock concerts and filmings. Numerous Hollywood celebrities, including several of the stars of the Harry Potter films, have visited the store, held parties for themselves or their kids, or attended store events.

Long before the appearance of theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood, Potter fans from as far away as Russia, Israel, Australia and Asia reportedly planned their United States vacations with a visit to Whimsic Alley as an essential stop on their trip. Planners for both the global Harry Potter Exhibition and the Orlando, Florida Wizarding World of Harry Potter made frequent trips to Whimsic Alley as part of their preliminary research. One member of the London film production team reported that David Heyman, the producer of all the Harry Potter films, used to tell anyone from the film crew traveling to Los Angeles to be sure to stop in at Whimsic Alley while there.


Participants in Whimsic Alley’s annual “The Camp that Lived” (a name the campers came up with), developed strong bonds with fellow campers that have lasted years. The camp drew fans from all over the country and even featured the wedding of two of its campers.


Although Whimsic Alley has, since its inception, celebrated other fandoms as well, Harry Potter was the one that caught on the most. In recent years products and events have focused on fandoms such as Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Hunger Games, Outlander, Supernatural and others. Events featuring each of these themes have been held at Whimsic Alley. Recently, Sony Pictures hosted the kick-off of its current season of Outlander in the Great Hall, complete with an appearance by series author Diana Gabaldon.


According to Whimsic Alley’s owner, Stan Goldin, “New multi-million dollar theme parks and exhibitions are awe-inspiring. But for many years, Whimsic Alley filled a void that no one else seemed interested in filling. Our staff enjoyed serving our clientele as much as they hopefully enjoyed their experiences. As a result, we developed close friendships along the way which we hope will continue for many years to come.”

Whimsic Alley, located at 5464 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles, has begun offering all of its merchandise at close-out prices.  310-453-2370

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Found: Another Guide to Burbank – North Hollywood – Glendale

Fold-Out Guide Dated May 1999 Floats to Surface in My Archive of Dead Bookshops Paper Debris Pile

Paul Hunt

Original Published May 1999 by Paul Hunt

Original Published May 1999 by Paul Hunt

Reverse side

Reverse side

Where Are They Now?

Note:  If the store was listed in the previous article on the first Burbank – North Hollywood fold-out, the listings will be pretty much the same, although I might binge out a bit.  There are many changes and new shops listed on this fold-out from 1999.

Atlantis Book Shop  This was the old Bond Street Book Shop listed in the first flyer.  This store began the Conspiracy – UFO video rental saga and along with a great History selection, became known for extensive sections on Politics, Deep State, Conspiracy, CIA Plots, Assassinations, Secret Societies, Ancient Mysteries and such.  Redevelopment tore down the entire block, wiping out Atlantis Books just like the original Island of Atlantis of the Mediterranean, now largely known as Saudi Arabia, was destroyed.  Many celebrities hung out here, including the great Jordan Maxwell.  Filmmakers and television companies filmed here, surrounded by plans for Nazi UFO’s, photos of ETs, and stacks of books on various conspiracies.

2. Automotive Books   This is actually Automotive Book Stop.  (The Autobooks/Aerobooks shop near Hollywood Way did not want to participate in this flyer at the time, so was left out.)   Owned and operated by Fred and Chris Chapparo, they closed the shop and retired in 2016, although they may still be selling some rare items online.

3.  Bestseller Book Shop.   Store closed several years ago.  I started this store with a partner, it was all paperback books, and quite successful.  Massive rent spikes put it out.

4.  Book Castle/Movie World.  This was the Movie Store next to the Gigantic Book Castle.  The great Book Castle closed in 1994 when the rent went from $5M per month to an asking price of 30M per month, a number not possible to pay.  Shortly after, my partner Steve and I parted ways, and he operated the Movie World shop, which is still at the same location and packed with much more than just movie memorabilia.  A post on their facebook site in January said they may be closing this summer (not verified).

5.  Book City – Burbank  This store is long gone, although years after it closed a dollar book store opened for a short time.  This shop was run by Alan Siegel, who owned Hollywood Book City.  It was a huge shop, with a lot of good books although too many were behind locked cases, making it difficult to browse.   As I remember it opened around 1980, but then was closed for months after the ill-constructed back loft collapsed.  Luckily this happened in the middle of the night, because anyone underneath would have been crushed to jello.


6. Bookfellows Bookshop  (Also known as Mystery and Imagination Bookshop)  This great Science Fiction and Mystery Fiction shop is owned by Malcolm and Christine Bell.  It began life in an embryo stage on Hollywood Blvd. in the 1970s when Malcolm Bell and Chuck Annegan opened a bookshop in an upstairs office at the Cowboy Young building.  Heritage Book Shop and Atlantis Book Shop both also started there.  Christine worked for the nearby Book Treasury on Hollywood Blvd., and later hooked up with Malcolm.  Their first shop was on East Broadway Blvd. near S. Verdugo, in Glendale, later moving to Brand Blvd. to be where the action was.  The shop closed last year (2016) due to impossibly high overhead.  They were noted for their great book signings and top condition of their stock.  They are now mail order only, you can find them on ebay and internet book sites.

Brand Bookshop

7.  Brand Bookshop  One of the great large used book stores in the Los Angeles area, at its peak was about 7,200 sq. ft. of nicely shelved good stock.  The store was opened and run by Jerome Joseph, a long-time area bookman, and one of the friendliest guys on earth.  Unfortunately,  Jerome took ill a few years age, and his friend and partner Noriyake ran the store until Jerome’s passing.  The shop closed around  2015, leaving a void of a large general book store in the Glendale area.

8.  CM Bookshop in Silverlake  This was a small, but nice book shop that opened next to The Silverlake Coffee House.  I’m not sure of the owner’s name, I think it was Carl,  but he was a nice chap who started as a book scout. With a partner, he opened a shop in Old Town Pasadena called Book Alley, which was later sold and is now on East Colorado with a different owner, Tom Rogers.  This shop is long gone, too bad, it was so pleasant to buy a book and then go next door to the coffee house and have some java.  On hot summer days the air conditioning in the coffee house beckoned, but when the weather permitted the outside patio was even a better place to read a book and watch the endless parade of pretty girls going into the coffee house for their blended Iced Mocha Whipped Cream Strawberry Thinga Majings

9.  Dark Delicacies  This shop specializes in Horror and Fantasy Fiction, and is a mecca known around the country.  It moved to its present location at 3512 W. Magnolia where it is going strong.  Their current location is a couple doors from what used to be Magnolia Park Bookshop.  Great displays in the front windows is a tradition, and they keep a full schedule of author signings, including stars of horror and science fiction films.


10.  Dutton’s Books – Burbank   Store Closed years ago, see post about it and the Dutton Book Empire elsewhere on this blog. (check the list of articles and stories).  This was the perfect neighborhood book shop, run by an intelligent staff.  They carried both new and second hand books, with lots of perennial classics.

11.  Dutton’s Books – North Hollywood  This was Dave Dutton’s flagship store.  When business took a dive in the 2008 crash he retired.  The premises was a Yoga Studio for a while, I don’t know who is in there now.  It was a great shop, and I spent many hours browsing there.  It was a large store, with an interesting mix of new and second-hand.  Books were piled everywhere.  Dave could usually be found in the parking lot area behind the shop, sorting through the never-ending avalanche that poured in.  Dave and his shop missed by everyone with an ounce of culture.

12.  Howard Lowery Gallery  Specialty here was animation art of all kinds, especially Disney art, movie memorabilia, and comic art.  Howard was a very experienced dealer in these fields, having run the monthly auctions at Collector’s Bookshop on Hollywood Blvd. for years.  He ran his own auctions, usually held at the Burbank Hilton, and made a name for himself as the go-to expert in the field of animation art.  The shop is sadly long gone and I believe Howard is retired.


13. Iliad Bookshop   Owned by Dan Weinstien, he was forced to re-locate when the rent spike hit.  This shop on Vineland was famous for its great Mural that covered all three storefronts.  Dan found another spot and managed to scrape enough together to buy his building, and is now at 5400 Cahuenga Blvd., in North Hollywood.  He has a great new Mural that runs on two sides of the building, as we have written about and photographed on this site.  Treat yourself to a visit to this wonderful store, packed with good books and with really great prices.  This is the last big book shop to survive in the area, so please support it.  One of his cats is pictured on our banner.

14.  Last Grenadier – Burbank  This store had an excellent selection of Military History, books on Uniforms, Regimental Histories, related magazines, and also board games and armies of little lead soldiers, many colorfully painted by their staff.  Just before the wrecking ball took out the block they moved up north a few blocks on the same street, but the high rents eventually forced another move, this time over to the west side of Burbank on Hollywood Way, just south of Magnolia. They were there for a few years but closed when the rents went up.  The owner, Rocky, at one time had 5 game stores and with partners ran the Los Angeles area game and military conventions, always a lot of fun to  attend.

An old shot of Magnolia Park - Probably in the 1950s

An old shot of Magnolia Park – Probably in the 1950s

15. Magnolia Park Book Shop.  This shop started over 70 years ago by two guys who were remainder book salesmen.  Eventually it sold to a gentleman who bought the property.  He had a manager running the shop, but the manager  died in a tragic car crash. Also killed in the crash was his son, the product of a concurrent marriage with another woman, wife #2.  A bitter shock to wife #1.  His widow ran the shop for years. She sat by the front door, a thin, wizend old gal, smoking a cigarette and usually talking to anyone who would listen.  Her opinions about her present and former customers were classic and caustic.  I got the impression there weren’t many folks that she liked, except her friend the landlady, who was in her 90s and renting the store to her for the bargain price of $300 per month.  I leased the shop in 1993 when she retired to an old folks home, paying over 5 times the rent the previous tenant paid.  Four months later the place was almost entirely destroyed by the January 17, 1994 earthquake.  The front windows blew out, the ceiling collapsed, the shelving came down and the water lines snapped, flooding the shop and ruining thousands of books. It took us months to recover, but eventually it opened and was very successful.  The shop ran for about 10 years under the capable management of Gaye Hunnicutt.  It eventually was closed due to the building being sold to a rich landlord who wanted the location for his daughter’s mattress shop. That lasted a year, now it is a high end spa. From Books to Bedding and Beyond, to slur a current ad slogan.  But hey, in this society what’s more important?  Fancy Nails for sure.  Definitely the new standard for culture. Daaahling, with those long nails you couldn’t even turn the page of a book without tearing it.

16.  Reader’s Edge  This shop was actually in Montrose, a City that used to be part of the north end of Glendale.  It was located on a charming tree-lined street and served the local community with a selection of used paperbacks and hardcovers.  The old couple who ran it were very nice folks, I think the store closed many years ago because of their failing health and old age.

17.  Twice Told Tales  A tiny shop about a block from Magnolia Park Books on the North side of the street, run by a character who could have been out of a Jack London novel: Ty Stanley (not his real name as I found out later).  He was a Chicago guy, and palled around with Jay Robert Nash, the famous writer of true crime and mafia books, including the massive Encyclopedia of True Crime.  He looked like he was Klaus Kinski’s twin brother, just frightening enough to ward off trouble at crucial moments.  He was always scouting for books and paintings and he was a frequent “guest” at the old Bond Street store, bringing in boxes of material to flog on us. He was one of the most dedicated book scouts I ever met, and I learned a lot of advanced techniques from him.  When relaxing he always had some wild stories to tell about his Chicago days.  I got the impression that it was a good idea for him not to go back there.  One tragic incident that occurred toward the end of his career was that he was hit on the head from behind with a crow bar and robbed of a large amount of cash that he always carried.  This happened at a liquor store in the seedy area of NOHO.  The attacker stole his van, with him in it, parked it and left him pretty much for dead. He seemed to recover from that horrible incident, but he was drinking a lot of beer, which led to a drunk driving arrest.  He called my book shop from jail and wanted us to post bond for him, which we agreed to do.  Against our advice he sent one of his young friends up to the store to pick up the $1500 bail money.  The guy he sent was another book scout, generally a good guy, related to a famous book family in Los Angeles, but at the time sucking  fumes out of a crack pipe.  He picked up the cash for Ty’s bail and then disappeared, not seen again for months.  This happened on a Friday, meaning that since the bail was not paid  Mr. Stanley was still in the can on Monday, calling us as soon as he could Que up for a pay phone.  He wondered if we had had a change of heart, but blew his stack when we said we had given the dough to his pal, who had probably gone on a two-month crack binge.  My partner Steve then went downtown to L.A. County Jail and posted bond for him, another $1500, springing him Monday night.  Ty paid us back immediately.  He then went looking for his pal, but luckily (for both of them) he couldn’t find him, or there might have been some Chicago style justice.  Sometime in the 1990s he had a heart attack and died.  His son – whom Ty had never mentioned, cleaned out the shop.  Thus ended the fascinating tales that emanated from that little hole in the wall.  Too bad Jay Robert Nash didn’t write Ty Stanley’s biography, it would have been a doozy.

18.  Weinstein Fine Books  A nice shop in central Glendale run by a veteran bookman and a member of the Weinstein family, Sam Weinstein.  In his career he started, bought and sold several bookshops, I remember I first met him in Vista, CA. where he was running a shop.  This store is long gone, and Sam passed in 2017.  His son Dan owns and operates the great Iliad Book Store in NOHO.

PH and Jack Papuchuyan

PH and Jack Papuchuyan, H & H Book Services – Rare Book Binders

19.  H & H Book Services.  This shop is an old fashioned book bindery, run by two brothers, John and Jack Papuchyan, both superb artists and craftsmen.  They opened their first bindery in Burbank in the rear area of a store behind the old Bond Street Books.  Later they landed jobs at Heritage Books in West Hollywood.  They moved to this location many years ago, and if you need a rare book restored, this is where you go.  The shop is still open at this writing.

Once again, I hope you have enjoyed looking back at the golden age of book shops in the Burbank, NOHO, and Glendale area.  Out of the 19 shops listed only 4 survive, and two of those are at different locations.  Please send your comments, memories, corrections, or whines to us.

Delayed Reaction: What Happened 15 Years After My Argument With Larry McMurtry

America’s Great Storyteller Heads To The Bank With 37K and Proof That an Icon is Worth More Than the Best Computer Bill Gates Ever Built

by Paul Hunt

Stumbling around my crib on a recent early Saturday morning, I settled into my command center’s decrepit seat-sagging swivel chair with a cup of coffee, hoping to wake up enough to answer some email.

9 a.m. Time to punch up Steve Eisenstein’s Saturday morning internet radio show from Florida on WDBFradio.com. I was half listening while trying to get my old HP to fire up. Steve was running some kind of contest, something about “who was the author who just sold his old typewriter for over $37,000?” Hint, he wrote a book called Lonesome Dove. Glugging down some coffee woke me up a bit. Suddenly, my mind replayed an old flashback from some 15 years before.

One of my close friends, a wild and eccentric bookseller named Barry Cullwell, had decided to pull up stakes and move to Nevada. He was mainly a wholesaler and consistently came up with great loads of books. He had spent a year building out a very unusual bookstore very close to the Los Alamitos Race Course, one of his favorite spots. His bookstore included a fancy cigar humidor cabinet, which he had built entirely by hand. For Barry, it was approaching Southern California nirvana: A well-stocked bookstore, a side line of fine antiques, a large cigar humidore, and walking distance to the track, a place that he spent quite a lot of time, which is why it took him a year to build out the store.

He had a grand opening. I went down and bought a pile of books. The next day, Barry closed the store. Like for forever. It was sad, really, a fine shop loaded with good books, and a year’s work, and open only one day. But something had come up and he was moving to Nevada. He put his house up for sale and his girlfriend put her condo on the market. He emptied the book store and moved all his books up to the house and piled them in with all the others. The house, the condo, the garage, all packed tight, and I mean really tight. He called me up and said “I’m moving, find me a buyer for all these books.”

I had heard that Larry McMurtry was trolling around the country buying books. He had bought the town that he had grown up in, sniping off the buildings one by one until he owned them all, and then started filling the empty storefronts with books. It was a grand scheme, but the drawback was that the town was somewhere in Texas in the middle of nowhere. Even if you got to the place, accommodations were slim, so show up in your RV or with a sleeping bag. This was a destination for only the hardiest of book geeks.

After dialing McMurtry’s various book stores around the country, I finally made contact and he said he would love to look at the massive Cullwell load during his next trip out to L.A.   A few weeks later, he arrived, and I met him for lunch.

McMurtry was a Southern gentleman, and we got along just fine, until I asked him what was in the box he was trundling with him. He said it was his typewriter. I asked him if he was going to drop it off at a thrift store. This was the first of my many annoying foux pas of the day. McMurtry patiently explained that he wrote all his books using one prized model of a portable typewriter, a Hermes 3000, and he always carried it with him, with clones of the same exact model stashed around the country in various places that he visited or lived. “I’ve got 9 or 10 of these,” he cheerfully explained, “and keep one in every book shop that I own, plus reserves in various apartments and other places.” He was without a doubt, the Hermes Typewriter Company’s best promoter. Too bad they were out of business.

We got into a low-key but sometimes heated discussion about the virtues of using a computer as the greatest writing instrument ever invented. He didn’t see it that way. He had written all of his novels on the old Hermes. Plus, he had also written over 40 screenplays, all by pounding the portable typewriter. To me, at the time, it was beyond belief that anyone would prefer to do that much writing on some clunky old typewriter. I had grown up with them, and had used them myself, but when I got my first look at a computer, that was it. I never wanted to see or use one of those dreadful machines ever again.

McMurtry could not be convinced by any argument from me, he had of course heard them all before. His mind was made up. In fact, he seemed to be a little superstitious, like a baseball player who has to use the same exact bat, or make the same weird motions to ward off failure. To him, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and others could not be wrong. They all loved the Hermes portables. I got the feeling that he felt that if he used something else then he might write a dud of novel. In reality, that was not going to happen: he is America’s great storyteller. There is no way he’s going to fail because he switches to a computer. But maybe he thinks it would go that way, so why take a chance?

I got to thinking about it later, and came up with a couple of reasons to use a typewriter. Since erasing something is so damned hard, using white out or one of those tough pencil typewriter erasers with a brush on one end, one might become a little more cautious, think a little more clearly about what’s going to be put on the paper, and in what order. A manual typewriter might actually improve somebody’s writing by making it such a pain in the butt to erase a mistake that you would go out of your way not to make too many of them. Plus, some of the really good machines, like his Hermes, had a nice feel to it when properly tuned up.

I couldn’t convince myself to dump the computer and go back to a manual typewriter. I love my computer, the laptop is the greatest. In its day, the Swiss company that made Hermes (and watches, and music boxes) were the among the finest designers and manufacturers in the world. But by the early 1980s they were gone. Like Barry Cullwell’s bookstore. Like forever.

The Hermes 3000

The Hermes 3000

But Larry McMurtry is a sly one. When he put 2 of his beloved machines up for auction recently, he knew that the typewriter was not just a machine, it had become an icon. The machines that churned out the great novel Lonesome Dove, were beautiful, magical icons. The 2 Hermes brought $37,500 at auction. It is doubtful that any computer he could have used at the time would bring anything near that amount. Larry McMurtry laughed all the way to the bank, which might have actually been a long way if he was holed up in his ghost town in Texas. And, he admitted, he still had about 15 more of them stashed away or still in use! If the rest of his army of Hermes brings about the same money, he could be looking to raking in over $200,000 for them. Hey, that’s why icons are iconic!

Back to the radio show. After the above had flashed through my sleep deprived brain, I called the show with the answer to the question of the day. I won the contest. My prize was a beautiful signed copy of The Penitent, the wonderful story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

The Prize

The Prize

The two days I spent with McMurtry were certainly the highlights of that long ago year. Endless book chatter with a legendary bookman is not soon forgotten. Another argument I lost with him was in trying to get him to open up a book store in Los Angeles. My sales pitch about the glorious Southland could not sway him to leave his town in Texas. He also ended up not buying the Cullwell collection, so I didn’t collect a commission on that deal either, although it was sold soon after to another bookseller. I don’t feel bad about losing all the arguments to McMurtry – any writer who can get over $37,000 for two old typewriters is a giant in my view. Bill Gates eat your heart out, you lost to a Hermes, but many grateful thanks for the PC, I love it dearly as do billions of other earthlings. Except maybe for one guy in Texas.

Old Bookshop Guide to Burbank and North Hollywood, The Glory Years

From 1985-2000 Burbank and North Hollywood had a thriving trade in Books

by Paul Hunt

Here’s the guide to the book shops of the period: This was a tri-fold, so if you print this on both sides of one sheet and then fold in thirds, you will have an exact replica.

Burbank Flyer p1 (2)

Burbank Guide p2

The once thriving book trade in the Burbank – North Hollywood area is long gone.  The high rents are the culprit here, as the normal turnover due to booksellers retiring or dying is usually replaced by the younger generation.  This is no longer the  case, as what few apprentices as there are have no means to open a brick and mortar shop under the current climate of real estate insanity.

Let’s do a quick overview of the above flyer, in order of listing.

  1. Autobooks/Aerobooks.  This great bookstore, which has been around for at least 50 years, had to vacate their big store and move east on Magnolia Blvd, where they are still in business at 2900 W. Magnolia Blvd.  The phone number remains the same. The store is owned by a woman, believe it or not, named Tina.  I think she is the third owner.  She does a fantastic job, and had to move to the current spot due to the high rent at the old location on the map.
  2. Automotive Book Stop.  Owned and operated by Fred and Chris Chappiro, they closed the shop retired in 2016, although they may still be selling some rare items online.
  3. Bestseller Book Shop.  Store closed several years ago.  I started this store with a partner, it was all paperback books, and quite successful.  Massive rent spikes put it out.
  4. Bond Street Bookshop.  This store later became Atlantis Book Shop.  The original Burbank Book Castle started here, owned by Larry Mullins and Mark Marlow, who was Jerry Weinstein’s son.  Marlow dropped out and Mullins had a few other partners, eventually selling the store to James Brucker.  When Brucker bought the big Woolworth Building up the street with an investor-partner, he moved the Burbank Book Shop up there, and it was later incorporated into the Book Castle, Inc. A  fun note about real estate prices, Brucker and investor Vince Capizzi paid about $365,000 for the building in 1979.  Now sole owner Capizzi has it up for sale for 7.2 Million!  A nice tidy profit. The store is  long gone, the entire block torn down by Burbank Redevelopment for condos, banks and posh eateries.
  5. Book Castle . This was owned by Book Castle but operated as Avon Book Shop, specializing in scarce and rare books.  The store was managed by Ted Miller.  It closed many years ago when the rent went up.
  6. Book City – Burbank.  This store is long gone, although years after it closed a dollar book store opened for a short time.  This shop was run by Alan Siegel, who owned Hollywood Book City.  It was a huge shop, with a lot of good books.  As I remember it opened around 1980, but then closed for months after the ill-constructed back loft collapsed.  Luckily this happened in the middle of the night, because anyone underneath would have been crushed to jello.
  7. Cook Books, Janet Jarvits moved to this location from her office next door to Bond Street, taking over the premises when Jack Garvin retired.  She was forced out by high rents and moved to North Pasadena and was at Hill and Washington for years, until once again forced to close because of the rents.  Now looking for a new spot.
  8. Dutton’s Books – Burbank.  Store Closed years ago, see post about it and the Dutton Book Empire, click here.
  9. Dutton’s Books, North Hollywood.  This was Dave Dutton’s flagship store.  When business took a dive in the 2008 crash he retired.  The premises was a Yoga Studio for a while, I don’t know who is in there now.  It was a great shop, and I spent many hours browsing there.
  10. Iliad Bookshop.  Owned by Dan Weinstien, he was forced to re-locate when the rent spike hit.  This shop on Vineland was famous for its great Mural that covered all three storefronts.  Dan found another spot and managed to scrape enough together to buy his building, and is now at 5400 Cahuenga Blvd., in North Hollywood.  He has a great new Mural that runs on two sides of the building, as we have written about and photographed on this site.  Treat yourself to a visit to this wonderful store, packed with good books and with really great prices.  This is the last big book shop to survive in the area, so please support it.  One of his cats is pictured on our banner.
  11. Magnolia Park Book Shop.  This shop started over 70 years ago by two guys who were remainder book salesmen.  They eventually sold to a gentleman who died in a tragic car crash.  His widow ran the shop for years.  I rented the shop in 1993 when she retired.  Shop ran for about 10 years when it was closed due to high rent, the stock totally liquidated in a month  long sale, what didn’t sell was given to charities.
  12. Movie and Magazine World.  This movie memorabilia store is still going strong, my ex-partner Steve Edrington keeps it filled with great movie and film material.
  13. Sam’s Book City.  This was the original Valley Book City, which was opened by Jerry Weinstein when he and partner Alan Siegel split up. It was doing well, but the big Metro Station project destroyed everything in its path.  That part of Lankersheim was full of old furniture stores, antique shops and book stores.  What wasn’t ripped out for the Metro either went bankrupt due to the endless years of construction, or the big Academy housing project.  Now a totally different scene, bars, Starbucks, fast food, movie theaters.  Sam’s Book City, by the way, long gone and all stock liquidated.

I hope you enjoyed this overview, I have some photos and more to say about some of these shops if anyone actually wants to know. The end result is that out of the 14 shops on the flyer only 3 are still surviving in the area, which has gone through massive gentrification, Los  Angeles and Burbank pouring billions of  dollars into the area which has greatly benefited large real estate and corporate interests.

Booklet Guides to Old Book Shops

Old Book Shop Guides – Overview and Guide to San Diego Book Shops, Many Vanished From History, But  A Few Survive

Paul Hunt

About 40 years ago it was popular for book stores in a local area to band together and publish little folded flyers or guides to shops in the area that sold books. Some listed used book shops only, others had both new and used shops listed. As I come across these in my archives I’m going to publish them. The first one I found is the guide “The Bookstores of San Diego”. This was a directory of the active members of the San Diego Booksellers Association, and is dated 1991/1992 edition.

Aside from an old telephone yellow page directory, these old guides are one of the only surviving listings of local shops. And remember that a bookshop that is NOT a member of a local group may not be listed in their flyer. I remember putting together a guide to book stores in the North Hollywood – Burbank – Glendale area many years ago. I’ll publish it when and if I find a surviving copy. These guides are like a photograph in time, not a complete history. Shops come and go, and if the guides are updated you can notice the additions and subtractions of the stores.

The guides, being ephemeral, were not meant to last forever, and most, of course, did not, so surviving copies, no matter how wrinkled or smudged or coffee stained, are to be treasured. Send them to me so I can post them on this site. Feel free to download and save the guides that I re-print here, print them out and also save them as .pdf files on your computer.

A good project for someone would be to put up a database, with all known used book shops the country, with information as to who the owners are/were, when founded, years of operation, reference notes, websites, addresses, phone numbers, photographs, etc. Maybe this should be part of a university or public library project.

Southern California Independent Boooksellers Association

The link to the Southern California Independent Booksellers, scbabooks.org goes to an “It’s Your Lucky Day” page saying you can buy this site from GoDaddy.

However, The Southern California Independent Booksellers Association is still alive, although I had a bit of trouble finding it. The original site was SCBABOOKS.ORG, I assume standing for Southern California Booksellers Asssociation. The director was Jennifer Bigelow. Clicking on this site (scbabooks.org) takes you to a GoDaddy parking page, site renewal is expired and site will be up for sale. I found an article from 2012 stating that Jennifer Bigelow had resigned as director to spend more time with her family.

The good news is that the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association is alive and well, now at a different website, which is SCIBABOOKS.ORG. You can join for free and access the list of book store members and save it or print it out. This is a great group to belong to if you own a book store.

An ad from the San Diego Book Fair Program Book, 1991

An ad from the San Diego Book Fair Program Book, 1991.  Better call first, this ad was 26 years ago and many of the shops are gone.

San Diego Booksellers

Researching for an article on Southern California Book Shops brought up some interesting things. The old San Diego Booksellers Association website sdbooks.org goes to a GoDaddy parking page, basically meaning the site is up for sale.

I checked the bookmarket.com website, which lists bookseller and bookstore associations, with links you click on. The link to the San Diego Booksellers gives an error message that the site can’t be reached.

I checked the San Diego Book Awards Association, which links up authors to various resources. Their link to the San Diego Booksellers Association is also dead and goes to a search page. Until I can find any information to the contrary I have to assume that the San Diego group has vanished.

However, an old list of San Diego Booksellers can be found on this site: http://www.patentlore.com/sandiego/sdbs_assoc.htm#W
This patent help site has a lot of links, many of which are dead. One trick to get high up in google search is to have a lot of links, which makes google think your site is important. This site has a lot of links, but many are not up to date. The list of Booksellers here is really old, possibly taken from an old guide. Please note that many of the shops listed are out of business or moved, so call first or do more research.

Another site I found regarding San Diego book stores is a google.com map of “San Diego Used Book Stores”. The map lists 13 shops. When you click on any of the shops, the basic information of the store appears, along with a miss-spelling “They Cary” books on such and such topics. This annoying miss-spelling is on all of the links. There is no attribution on who created this map, most of the shops seem to be in business, although clicking on the Parmer Books website it goes to a search page, so they are possibly gone. Also note that their listing of D.G. Wills book store is spelled “Willis”, so be aware of that mistake.

Although many of the old used book shops are gone, there’s still some great stores, like Adams Avenue. In the early days of computer databases I used to train (for free) owners and employees of used book stores on how to use Record Manager and Bookmaster. I think Adams Avenue sent some employees up to our shop for training. I’m thrilled that they are still going strong, they have a fine book shop. Check out their website at: www.adamsavebooks.com., and visit their store when you are in the area.

Another really cool site to check out is D.G. Wills in La Jolla. His website is www.dgwillsbooks.com. Tons of fantastic photos of his previous author events are on the site. He also has a youtube channel with a lot of great videos of famous authors who have appeared at his store. You can find this at: https://www.youtube.com/user/DGWillsBooks. He had some of America’s greatest authors at his book signing events, many of which he thankfully video taped and is sharing for free. This is really a treasure.

Hope you have fun drooling over all the shops that are left.  Click on the Button Below to access the .PDF files for the San Diego Book Shop Booklet list, just remember many of the shops are gone.   You can print these pages out if  you wish, for your “Remember When” fantasy scrapbook!
Click Here

Book Shops in New York City 1939

The Now Closed Gotham Book Mart Published “The Bookman’s Guide To New York” In 1939.  Here is a copy of this scarce booklet for your reading enjoyment. The descriptions of the shops are well done in the tasteful manner of the 1930s.

Rare NY Guide

Rare NY Guide

To get a copy of this booklet, click on the Gotham link below, which will open all the pages in PDF format.  Simply print them out.  Make your own booklet by cutting the pages to size and folding in the middle, staple, and you have an exact copy.  Each page of the PDF is actually two pages of the original booklet.  The actual page numbers are printed at the bottom of each page.   Please let me know if you have any old photos of any of the book shops mentioned in the booklet.

Click on the link below

Click Here


The Rock Man – Part 2

The Rock Man – Part 2

by Paul Hunt

 Garvin bails out of Hollywood and Moves to Paradise, opens a Book and Rock Shop; Helps to found the California Book Fair;  Garvin vs. Civilized Society in Burbank and the ABAA; Founds the Geo-Literary Society; Feuds with Sol Grossman and leaves the Book Fair; Troubles with Wifey; The Last Days; Lindy Saves the House.

With two other partners, I opened the Burbank Book Castle in May of 1981 on the sleepy old Burbank Golden Mall, which Johnny Carson used to refer to derogatorily as “Beautiful Downtown Burbank”. It actually was beautiful, a hidden oasis at the far end of Burbank, nestled next to the mountains, far from the concrete jungles of central Los Angeles. The mall was an “outdoor” affair, a surviving remnant of urban design from the 1960s, with the shops facing an area of grass and gorgeous trees from around the world. Parking was free and plentiful behind all the storefronts, leaving customers to walk through the park-like setting for blocks without having to dodge cars. It was as close to a retail paradise as you could ever get.

After I got settled in for a year or so, I went back to Hollywood and stopped in to see Garvin. He was miserable. The Boulevard was changing, rents going up, a lot of violence on the street, bookshops moving out to the Westwood area near U.C.L.A. I suggested he move out to Burbank. There were plenty of empty storefronts, rents were reasonable, and although business was slow, it was safe and had potential. I invited Jack out for a tour and he liked what he saw. The strange thing was that Jack and his wife were actually living in Burbank, buying a house in the Northern part, near Lockheed, but had never ventured to the Burbank Golden Mall. This was somewhat understandable, as the Mall was well hidden. The City refused to put up signs directing visitors, even when the merchants offered to pay for them, and since the Mall was “inside-out”, with the back of the storefronts facing wide parking lots, it was sort of invisible to traffic driving by, unless you knew it was there. The City, of course, was secretly planning to gut the whole Mall under redevelopment, which they finally managed to do after a 20 year struggle with merchants and landlords. It is now back to being a street, all corporate owned, the original landlords mostly gone, replaced by REITs, and wall to wall restaurants and movie theaters, just like every other downtown in the County. But in the 1980s it was wonderful.

Jack Garvin (2)

Garvin liked what he saw, and soon rented a nice shop about a block away from me, at 321 N. Golden Mall. He called it Garvin’s Book and Rock Shop. Garvin was always interested in rocks, geology, and gemstones as well as books. He had bought equipment to cut and polish gemstones, and displayed beautiful gems and mineral samples in his shop. Every year Jack would load up his old van with books he had acquired on geology, minerals and gems and head out to Tuscon, Arizona for the big Gem and Mineral Show. He would rent a hotel room and sell books and buy or trade for mineral samples and gems. These he would bring back to Burbank and display in his shop. The load coming back was always heavier than going in.

The big Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

The big Tucson Gem and Mineral Show

Jack’s love of gems and minerals led him to found, or help found The Geo-Literary Society, a group whose interest was books, ephemera and documents on everything from old mining operations to new and old books on the related subjects. In this field, Jack carved out a name for himself, and was recognized as an expert in the field. Anytime I found books or ephemera of interest to Garvin, he would pick it up from me and take it up to his shop, where he would always be able to get a good price for the material, the split with us much more that we could ever get, as Jack had the customers for it, both in Burbank and in Tucson.

Garvin ad 1989

Garvin loved Burbank. After he was established his business picked up. The gems and minerals sold to a steady group of customers on the Mall, the books on gems and minerals could be sold in Tucson if need be. He decided to participate in some community events, something that he never did in Hollywood, which led to a few amusing incidents.


The first was when the burger chain Fuddruckers opened up on the Mall. They invited all the merchants to come in for a pre-opening free dinner. This was music to the ears of booksellers, all of whom would much rather spend money on books instead of food. The merchants packed into the restaurant one night for a burger feast. Garvin joined us, sitting down next to me at a table. Fuddruckers had great burgers, a sidebar where you could add all kinds of condiments, and plenty to drink.

I looked over at Garvin’s plate. There wasn’t any burger to be seen, just a large bowl of chopped jalapenos peppers from the condiment bar. “Hey Jack, where’s your burger?” I said.

The meat here is no good, kid, I checked it out,” he said.

The burger was delicious, and I tried to pitch him to go get one, but he waved me off, and started to gobble down his bowl of chopped jalapenos with some cut tomatoes sprinkled on top. Wow, I thought, what a man of steel this guy is. I had never met anyone who could sit down and snarf up an entire bowl of those spicy peppers. Maybe a guy from Mexico, but no gringo could do this, except, evidently, the Rock Man. Frankly, I was somewhat stunned. I could eat a few of them mixed in with a salad. But an entire bowl? No way.

I watched Garvin. He gobbled up the whole bowl very quickly, just snorting it down. After a few minutes, he got up from the table and when he returned he had a large bowl of vanilla ice cream. He also snarfed that down quickly. When he had finished he said “Well kid, see you tomorrow, I’m going to head home.”

The next afternoon, on the way to the bank, I stopped in to The Rock shop to see if Garvin was still alive.

Boy, I had a bad night, kid. My stomach was on fire. That joint is no good, the food is rotten. Even a bowl of ice cream couldn’t cool off my gut.”

Jeez, Jack, it’s no wonder. I couldn’t believe that you ate an entire bowl of chopped Jalapenos peppers.”

Chopped Jalapenos? Uggh.” he grunted. “Kid, I thought those were olives!”

Smoking two packs a day had destroyed his taste buds.

He somehow lived through that experience to go on to the next incident of bad food behavior, one that caused a lot of trouble.

The old AMC Theater,, now gone. Thanks to cinematreasures.org

The old AMC Theater,, now gone. Thanks to cinematreasures.org

The next incident, which sent some shock waves through the top tier of commercial elites in Burbank, revolved around the opening of a new movie theater next to the Golden Mall. The owners of the theater decided to throw a shindig for the city officials and various big shots, like the bankers, top tier realtors, and lawyers. Invitations were sent out. Not included were the peasants and especially dealers in used books and rocks. Somehow, Garvin heard about this event, and decided that he should be there to sip champagne and nosh with the elites of the city. He stopped by my shop one Tuesday evening on the way to the party.

Hey kid, are you going to the big shindig tonight.”

Uhh, no Jack, I wasn’t invited, it’s sort of a private affair for the big shots.”

They won’t notice, we’ll just slip in. I heard there’s going to be plenty of food and booze.”

I’ll pass on this one, Jack. Besides, it’s a dressy affair. Everyone will be wearing suits or sport coats. They might notice you with your red and white checkered lumberjack shirt on.

Aw kid, you’re too paranoid. Selling all these books on conspiracies has got to you. It starts in 10 minutes. I’m going to slip in and grab a bite. See you tomorrow,” he said, heading out the door.

The next afternoon, during the slow time after lunch, I walked up to Jack’s shop to see if he had managed to escape arrest for crashing the party.

Hey, Jack, how’d it go last night? Did they let you in?”

There was one character trait that Garvin had. No matter how embarrassing an event in his life could be, he would tell anyone about it. Most folks, not wanting to look bad, would never tell anyone about some major faux pas that would reflect on themselves. With Jack, it was all there for anyone to hear and howl about. He never seemed to care about any social implications.

Well kid, it was a disaster. I got in ok, I just walked in like I belonged there. You were right, all the big shots were dressed to the nines. They had a great spread put out. I ate way too much, they had the best food and horsd’oeurves.

I was stuffed full, so I thought I would take a breather. I lit a cigarette and I saw a table behind me, I put my arm back to lean against the table. How was I to know that they had brought in a huge cake and put it right where I wanted to lean back? My arm accidentally went right into the cake.”

Good God, Jack, into the cake? You ruined the big cake?” I could envision a gaping hole in the cake, laced with small red and white threads from his lumberjack shirt.

Yeah, it was bad. Some woman screamed. Then the chef came running toward me, yelling and screaming.

What did you do, make a break for the door?”

No, but I knew I was in trouble. I had to go on the offensive. When the chef got up to me, I yelled at the top of my voice, ‘DON’T JUST STAND THERE YOU IDIOT – GET ME A TOWEL.’ I waved my arm at him, it had cake and iceing all over it. See, kid, in these situations you gotta turn things around. My yelling at him interrupted his thoughts, which were probably to kill me, and he ran off to get me a towel. I wiped the cake off my shirt and then got out of there pronto.”

Now I gotta send the shirt to the cleaners.”

Yeah Jack, but the cake, it must have cost them a hundred bucks for one of those huge cakes.”

It was their fault, why did they put it behind me there without telling me?”

Around this time, Jack was angry with the ABAA. He had gone to one of the monthly meetings, which was at Heritage Book Shop’s elegant digs in a remodeled mortuary building on the edge of Beverly Hills. He was upset that there was not much food, just a cracker and cheese plate.

Kid,” he told me, “those guys with all their money are so cheap that they don’t even put on a big spread. They should have plenty of food and some wine. What they put out to eat was pathetic, with all their money.”

I tried to tell him that it was just a bookseller’s meeting, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He pointed out that even our Golden Mall monthly merchants meeting had a good dinner set up, since the meeting was at 6pm they felt it was appropriate to feed everyone. This anger at the ABAA not having a good meal at the meetings led Jack to also begin talking about putting on a book fair every year in Southern California, a low price show where booth rents were reasonable and the admission was free or very low.

The ABAA show is only here every other year, and it’s far too expensive for a lot of the dealers to attend.” he said. This eventually led to a group of us getting together to explore the idea of putting on a book fair that would be accessible for booksellers and dealers who might not be members of the ABAA. Sol Grossman, Keith Burns, Jack Garvin and I ended up founding the California Book Fair Associates.

Since Jack was knowledgeable about various shows, we leaned on him for guidance. Without Jack, there probably would not have been a book fair. He had been to many shows, including regional fairs and also the big gem and mineral shows in Pasadena and Tucson, and had the basic knowledge of what had to be done to put on a show. We spent months having meetings at Sol Grossman’s warehouse/office in North Hollywood, refining our ideas and working out details.

The Glendale Show was great

The Glendale Show was great

Our first show was at the Glendale Civic Auditorium, and was a great success. We eventually put on 2 shows a year in the L.A. Area, plus shows in San Diego, Monterey, Ventura, San Francisco, and Santa Monica.

We met almost every week and paid attention to detail. We took over the monthly book fair in San Diego at the Masonic Temple on Adams Avenue in order to keep a presence in the area for the once a year big show there.

The line went around the corner

The line went around the corner

If I can find all my notebooks on the subject, I may write an article that would provide some guidance on how to put on a show, and how much effort goes into it. The book fairs today do not have the pull or attraction of the shows we put on. How to generate excitement and entertainment is an important element in any show. Just telling people to come on over to a hotel and buy some old books from some seedy looking used book dealers does not attract much attention. I would also add in the new platforms of social media that are available to entrepreneurs to publicize the show, tools that we didn’t have back in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then we were stuck with having to put advertising in papers like the L.A. Times, which would gouge you on price and rarely give out any free publicity.

Eventually, the book fair meetings were moved to Ventura, when Sol Grossman and Keith Burns moved up there. But before the move, when the weekly meetings were at Sol’s warehouse in North Hollywood, Jack and Sol got into a big beef, ending with Jack leaving the book fair committee and being bought out by the fair.

How this came about was somewhat strange. We would break for lunch at our meetings and walk over to a nearby all-you-can eat smorgy. During the lunch chatter, Jack and Sol would start talking about old times and some deals that they had together. Jack would always find a way to tell Sol how he had gotten the best of him, or made a lot of money off him in these deals. Sol would get furious at the thought that not only had Jack made money on these old deals, but here he is 20 years later bragging about. To make matters worse, when Jack would be spinning these tales, he would laugh and chortle about it. For Jack, it was a chance to get a little one-up on Sol, who was usually viewed at the most successful business guy. He didn’t realize how pissed off Sol would get, his anger about it would lead to harsh words, disrupt the meetings, and give everyone except Jack a knot in their stomach, two knots for Sol.

Sol Grossman

Sol Grossman

The war between Sol and Jack got worse by the week, especially on Sol’s end. He no longer would go to lunch with Jack because he didn’t want to hear about how Jack had made money on his past deals. He wanted Jack out of the book fair or he would close down the whole fair. Jack finally realized that the situation was serious, and got a lawyer. Then Sol got a lawyer. On the verge of a self-destructive lawsuit, Keith and I stepped in and deescalated the situation and forced a fair settlement for Jack. He was off the show committee, but still kept his booth, a solution that seemed to work.

The stress from Sol and the Book Fair mess was bad enough, but things got worse. Jack returned from his annual trip to the Tucson Gem and Mineral show and found that his wife had changed the locks on the door to his house. He banged on the door to let him in, the response was that she called the police. They showed up and after hearing both sides of the story, told Jack to get a motel for the night and get a lawyer in the morning.

Land Pirate of the Natchez Trace

John Murrell,  Land Pirate of the Natchez Trace

Jack’s wife was always a sweet woman, and seemed very religious, unlike her husband, who was ambivalent about the subject. I remember Jack telling me once that his wife was related in some way to John Murrell, the infamous land pirate and murderous outlaw of the Natchez Trace. “She’s one of the Murrells, I have to be careful not to ever cross her.” he said. Something, however, had gone wrong with wifey. She had snapped, her personality took a 180 turn. No longer the sweet religious lady, the next time I saw her she was swearing like a sailor. I have no idea what brought this on.

Jack's friend Joel Malter auctioned off the shop

Jack’s friend Joel Malter auctioned off the shop

Jack, banned from his own house, had suffered some kind of miner stroke from the stress. When he got out of the hospital he was having trouble with numbers, telling me what a good deal it was to stay at the Holiday Inn in Burbank. I knew that $125. a night was not a good deal for Jack. Someone contacted Jack’s sister, who lived in Orange County, and she took him in. He was devastated about the situation with his wife and decided to get rid of the shop. Joel Malter came in and auctioned off all the books, gems, minerals and shelving, clearing everything out.

Jack’s wife was taken back to Oklahoma by relatives. Jack had a heart attack and was sent back to the Hospital, where he was hooked up on life support. A bookseller friend of Jack’s, Lin Currey from Orange County, came up and surveyed the situation. He found out that Jack’s house was only about 3 payments away from paying off the mortgage completely, but that the wife had not made any payments in months and the place was headed for foreclosure. He arranged to sell off all the furniture, clothing, books, gems, everything he could find in the house, and paid off the mortgage completely, leaving clear title for the wife’s relatives to sell it and get enough money to care for her.

Lin Curry, 1987

Lin Curry, 1987

Lin Curry called me over to Jack’s garage to haul off some old debris to my dumpster. He told me the doctors said Jack had only a few more days to live. Just as I was driving off, he threw a duffle bag into the back of my van. “It’s Jack’s underwear, you can use them for rags to clean books” he said.

A couple weeks later, I ran into a lady who worked at the local mortuary. She knew Jack. I lamented his passing. “Oh no,” she said. “They took him OFF life support and he got a lot better, HE’S STILL ALIVE.”

I found out where he was and visited him in the hospital. He was in bad shape.

What’s up kid?”

Well, Jack, there’s good news and bad news.”

Bad news?”

Yeah, Lin Currey saved your house, but he had to sell off everything to do it, the furniture, all your books, your gems and minerals, even your clothes. We thought you were dead. They took your wife back to Oklahoma.”

Christ, kid, with all that, what could possibly be the good news?”

I have a duffle bag in the back of my van with all your underwear in it, so you can make a fresh start”

Jack grunted. We chatted a little longer, but he tired out and I left.

He died a few days later.

Postscript. At my urging, Janet Jarvits had purchased all of Jack’s really nice shelving and rented the store from the landlord. She opened up her cook book and culinary store at that location and was there for years until the Burbank City Redevelopment destroyed the old mall and the building fell into the hands of real estate sharks, jacking the rent so high she had to move out.

Jamet Jarvits Bookmark

Today, there is no trace of any of the bookstores that used to line the Golden Mall, with the exception of a movie memorabilia shop. Rest in Peace Jack Garvin, Garvin’s Book and Rock Shop, now only a whisper in the wind here at Bookstore Memories.

Bookshops on the old Golden Mall:

Burbank Book City

Burbank Book Castle

Garvin’s Book and Rock Shop (later Janet Jarvits Cook Books)

Burbank Book Shop (new books)

Crown Books (Remember them?)

Best Seller Book Shop

Atlantis Book Shop

Last Grenadier

Movie World (Movie Memorabilia)

plus a few $1 book blowout shops over the years.

plus Tom Lesser’s Paperback Collectors Show at the Golden Mall Pavillion.

The Rock Man: The Saga of Jack Garvin

The Rock Man – Part 1

From His Early Days to Hollywood Book Dealer

Jack Garvin, 1987

Jack Garvin, 1987

A Tale of a Grouchy Bookseller; Part Time Scoundrel, and at one time the most disliked bookseller on Hollywood Blvd.

By Paul Hunt

I always thought that Jack Garvin looked like Nikita Khrushchev, except he wore thick glasses. He was stout with a big head, wavy gray hair and a gruff voice. At any time I thought he might take off his shoe and start pounding it on his desk. I did see him slam books on his desk on one or two occasions when he was particularly irritated about something. And since he was an amateur geologist, he could always reach back on the shelf behind his desk and pick up a geode to hurl at you.

Garvin packing up books at 1980s Book Fair

Garvin packing up books at 1980s Book Fair

Jack Garvin started out as a book scout in the Los Angeles area. At one time in the 1960’s he was operating in the Adams Avenue area. He rented a couple of old garages behind some storefronts in the once swanky borough. The street, just east of Western, was at one time filled with mansions of the wealthy. By the time that Garvin had arrived, it was a seedy area, and auction houses now lined Adams, with an occasional antiques shop in the shadows. There were four of them that I remember. Tuesdays was Orrill’s, a big general auction of Furniture and sometimes piles of boxes of books. Wednesdays was Morrie Ziff, a short, sharply dressed man who chain-smoked and had a big diamond ring on his left hand. Although he was only about 5 feet tall, he was a tough character. When he climbed up to his auction perch he would be lord of the room, and woe be unto any of his slovenly employees who dragged a piece of furniture across the floor. “Hey,” Ziff would bellow, “pick up that table, what the hell are you doing dragging it.” The humiliated employees, usually old black guys, would almost start crying. “Sorry, Mr. Ziff, we’ll pick it up, we’ll pick it up.” The 50 buyers crowded into the smoke filled room remained silent until Ziff calmed down, and started to take bids.

A few doors down the street was H & H. who also auctioned on Wednesdays. These boys not only had an auction, but they had a big Quonset hut where they allegedly “sterilized” the sofas, mattresses and other fabric-covered items to State of California standards. The other auction houses would dump their stuffed items in there to get the coveted sterilization sticker. It looked to me that whatever horrible gas they pumped into the hut would leak out fairly quickly. Maybe it explains the high cancer rates in the neighborhood.

On Thursday was the big, high end auction, Abel’s. This is where the expensive furniture, jewelry and collectibles were sold. Where the rich Beverly Hills antiques dealers headed. The area was seedy, but there was money to be made. Abel’s always got the good books, the libraries from the old estates. As the last of the old mansions in the central city were being torn down for office buildings, the remains of the once elegant life style were shipped to Abel’s.

As I have written elsewhere on this blog, it was Harry Bierman of Pick-A-Book who usually prevailed, buying up the great libraries and carting them to his shop in West Hollywood. Guys like Garvin could not compete with Harry, he had money behind him. Jack Garvin could only get a few odd lots here and there at one or another auction, never the big prize at Abel’s.

An old lady who ran an antique shop across the street from H & H told me that she could look out her back door and often see Garvin lugging in boxes of books into the rear garages. “The place was really a mess, slovenly, books and paper everywhere. I was always afraid it would attract rats,” she said. “I was glad to see him go”

He did, however manage to score a couple of big libraries. Somehow, an elderly woman closing out her house got his phone number and called him to come over and look at some books. Her recently dead husband, a retired assistant prosecutor for the City of Los Angeles, had a fine library of Western Americana. Jack told me that it was one of the best collections of scarce Western books that he had ever seen. “I was thinking hard to figure out how I could get the books, I didn’t have much money. Finally, I thought I would offer her $500 for the entire library, a steal even back then, so when she asked me how much I would pay, I held up my right hand and wiggled my fingers.”

Five dollars?” she said. That’s all it’s worth? I know my husband spent a lot of money buying these old books, but if you say so, you’re the expert.”

I asked Jack if he had set her straight and told her he meant $500. “Hell no,” he chuckled. He had a weird way of laughing, the air hissing through his teeth while his belly moved up and down. “If she would sell me the books for 5 bucks, who am I to argue?”

I told Jack he was unconscionable, taking advantage of an old widow like that. He lit a cigarette, took a drag, then started to chuckle again. “That’s not the end of the story, kid (I was always the Kid to him). A few weeks goes by, and the old lady calls me again. I go back to her house and she shows me into another room, which I think was the husband’s office. It was filled with even better stuff, really rare Americana. I looked around and tried to act disinterested. When she asked me how much I would pay, I said the same as before, $5.” Jack started to snortle again with glee, remembering, savoring the moment.

I felt that Jack Garvin had really gone out of his way to build up some bad Kharma. I just wondered when it would hit.

With the money he made from these buys, he moved up to Hollywood, where he opened a bookshop with a guy named Ray Cantor. I told the story of how Jack and Ray got a hold of the wonderful ephemera collection from Nick Kovach’s closed down bowling alley in South Los Angeles, see Hollywood Blvd. Bookstore Follies, Part 4 on this blog for that saga.

Hollywood Book Shop bus cd

So Jack and Ray were operating out of Hollywood Book Shop, smack in the middle of book row, and the situation should have been fun and profitable. Alas, there was a big problem. Jack and Ray really did not like each other. They should never have been partners. They were polar opposites, Ray a nice mellow man, and Jack, a gruff, belligerent bully, always playing pranks on Ray, and always seething with dislike. Jack was always complaining that Ray would give a 20% discount to other booksellers, a standard courtesy if they would reciprocate. No amount of logic would pacify Garvin, who would rage that Ray was “giving away” the store. To Jack, other booksellers were basically the enemy, and should be given no favors. Or discounts.

Since at that time, I was a book scout, I floated between the many book shops in Hollywood. Sometimes it was really disturbing. There was little, if any camaraderie in those days. Most of the dealers would never visit another dealer’s shop, especially Garvin’s. So the few book scouts were like troubadours, going from shop to shop, picking up gossip, seeing what was new, what collections had come in, what could be bought for arbitrage and sold to another dealer for a profit. It helped that most of the dealers did not speak to each other much, but were always curious about how the others were doing.

One night I had stopped by Garvin’s place to look around. I was talking to him when the phone rang. It was his partner, Ray. He was calling from the Santa Monica area where he had gone to look at some books, which he said were junk and didn’t buy any. Jack said “Ray, I just got a hot lead on a library out in Northridge, but you have to go tonight, as other dealers are coming tomorrow.” I could hear Ray say something like, “Northridge? Are you kidding? It’s rush hour and I’m in Santa Monica.”

Ray, it sounds like a really good load, I think you should give it a shot.”

Ray agreed, and Jack hung up the phone, at which point he started his heavy chortle, pounding on the desk, laughing. I asked him what was so funny? He said that the “library” was really just a load of old textbooks, and that Ray would be gone for hours on a wild goose chase. That Jack would do that to his partner, an over-the-top prank, a time wasting exercise in maliciousness, was beyond me. I shook my head and left the shop.

It wasn’t long after that incident that Ray and Jack got into a heated discussion about something, non-stop yelling for a half an hour. They stopped for a few minutes, took a breather. Jack lit a cigarette. Ray keeled over with a heart attack, dead before he hit the ground.

Jack managed to buy out Ray’s share of the shop from his wife, and was now the sole owner. But there was no mercy from the other dealers. Every day, Jim from Partridge would walk by Garvin’s place on his way to the bank.  He would stop at the entrance, and yell out:

You killed him Garvin. Poor Ray, you killed him!”

This went on for months. The other dealers kept their distance.

Meanwhile, down in Orange County, another situation was developing that intersects with our story of Jack Garvin. A rare book dealer named John McLaughlin of the Book Sail, had just hired a guy to help him run the store. We will call this guy “Pete” to protect the living. Pete had worked in bookstores and was a decent bookseller, but really down on his luck due to his gambling problem, so he had heard that McLaughlin was hiring, and begged him for the job. It didn’t pay much, but Pete was desperate.

McLaughlin, as mentioned previously on this blog in the “Secret World of Script Collectors”, was a wealthy bookseller. He also had a lot of quirks, one of which was to hang out at Orange County biker bars and shoot pool. So naturally, John thought it would be fun to take his new hire, Pete, with him after work for a couple of beers and some billiards. Pete did not like this at all, the bars John hung out at were sleazy and dangerous. And besides, Pete did not play pool. His eyesight was shot from years of sitting in Gardena card palaces staring at his cards in marathon poker games. But John the Mighty, his boss, bullied him to go with him.

The billiard game commenced, with John offering Pete an extra $100 if he won. Pete, no fool, did not want to take this suckers bet, knowing that John was a pool shark. John insisted. “What happens if I lose? I can’t pay you $100 on my salary,” said Pete. “Remember, I work for you.”

No problem, Pete, I’ll think of something, but you won’t have to pay money, just a trivial thing of some sorts. If you beat me, I’ll give you $100 bucks.”

Pete, of course, lost the game. John laughed with glee. “OK, I won, so here’s what you have to do. Tomorrow we are going to drive up to Hollywood, to Dawson’s Book Shop, and you have to ‘goose’ Glen Dawson!”

Pete was shocked. Almost speechless. ‘Goose’ Glen Dawson? One of the deans of the antiquarian book business? “Are you kidding? Glen Dawson was not the kind of man you could do that to. He is respected, above reproach, a war hero.  He’s not some teenager. Besides, he might get mad and kill me,” he said.

John, after torturing Pete for a few minutes, let him off the hook. “OK, lets play another game, double or nothing. If you win, I’ll give you $200. If you lose, I’ll think of something else, not Glen Dawson.”

Pete was in a pickle, but what could he do? He knew he was going to lose again, but he needed to keep his job to pay off some gambling debts. He badly wanted to leave, just go home and never lay eyes on John or the Book Sail again. This was just too much.

Pete lost the next game. John, happy as kid with a gallon of ice cream, told Pete what his punishment would be. The next day they were to drive up to Hollywood, to Hollywood Book Shop. Pete was to march inside and kiss Jack Garvin on the lips. Pete protested, to no avail.  “You lost fair and square,” John said, “so be a man and take your punishment.”

Pete felt sick inside. He pleaded to John, “Come on, man, this joke is going too far. I can’t do it. Kiss Garvin? Yuuck! It makes me sick to think about it. He’s an old man, grizzled, and has tobacco breath. Uggh.”

You do it or you’re fired” said John. “Besides, we can look around Hollywood and buy some books. I’ll buy you lunch, even if you retch.”

So the next day John and Pete drove up to Hollywood and parked right in front of Hollywood Book Shop. John got out of the car with Pete and said “No tricks, I’ll be watching. If you want to keep your job, you go in there and do what I told you to do. Give him a big smack.”

Jack was sitting at his desk, just inside the front door to the right, a cigarette burning in the ash tray. He saw Pete come in. “Pete, what are you up to?” He found out quickly as Pete came over and kissed him dead smack on the lips.

Jack jumped up, overturning his chair and ran out onto the sidewalk screaming, “What the hell are you doing, have you turned faggot?” A small crowd gathered in front of the shop, curious as to what was happening. Garvin kept yelling.

John McLaughlin was doubled up in laughter just inside the door. Pete, dejected, had nothing to say. Garvin was screaming. “Get out of my store you fruitcake,” wiping his lips again and again, afraid he might catch something from Pete’s kiss. As soon as Pete and John left the store Garvin ran to the back restroom and washed out his mouth and lips, which were luckily protected from Pete’s germs by a thick layer of impenetrable tobacco juice.

Hollywood was closing in on Garvin. His dream of bookselling on the Boulevard, with other dealers, in some modicum of respect, entirely vanished that day. Garvin became wary of anyone entering the shop who might be a secret queer, ready to pounce on his chubby old grizzled body and drag him into the stacks for a book orgy. He was also sick of Jim coming by every morning yelling “You killed him Garvin.” The dream was turning sour. There was one last ploy that he was going to try.

Jack Garvin wanted to join the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America. He wanted to be a member of the prestigious club. The ABAA represented ultimate success for Garvin, it was something that he always had wanted. He applied for membership, but there was a lot of opposition, something unusual in the rare book trade. New members were always needed and desired by the ABAA, but in this case, some of the Hollywood dealers objected. His application dragged on and created quite a kerfuffle.  Peggy Christian was opposed to it.  “He’s so uncouth.” she said.  Doc Burroughs at Atlantis was also against Garvin being in the ABAA.  “Why are they lowering their standards” he told me.  The guy dislikes other dealers.  He refused to sell me some books that were for sale on his shelf because he was afraid I would make a profit on them. And then there’s the thing about his partner…”

Eventually Garvin was approved, and was accepted so to speak, as a member, mainly because they could not figure a way to legally keep him out.

It was at the old Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Blvd. where the ABAA held their Los Angeles show every two years. Garvin prepared for months and put up a nice stock of books. He told me when the show started he was excited to show off his books and chat with other members. “The whole first day I was eagerly looking forward to the ABAA members to come by my booth. None did. Not even one of those bastards came to my booth. NOT EVEN ONE!”

I’ll tell you kid, I felt really bad. Why did I go through all this? Joining up and everything. They boycotted me. Kid, I went home that night and cried like a baby.”

End of Part 1. Coming in Part 2: Garvin bails out of Hollywood and Moves to Paradise, opens a Book and Rock Shop; Helps to found the California Book Fair;  Garvin vs. Civilized Society in Burbank and the ABAA; Founds the Geo-Literary Society; Feuds with Sol Grossman and leaves the Book Fair; Troubles with Wifey; The Last Days; Lindy Saves the House.

The Secret World of Script Collectors

A Brief Look at the Collector, Dealer, and Book Scout Who Brought Scripts into the Big Money of Collectibles

by Paul Hunt

(This was originally published by WhatUpHollywood.com and was triggered by an auction at Bonhams held October 16th 2013)

This Auction story begins almost 40 years ago. It’s really the story of three individuals who made a huge impression in the world of script collecting: the book scout, the dealer, and the collector. The book scout, or “picker”, was the secretive man who found some of the great screenplays. He sold them to an eccentric bookseller, who was the one who educated the world to the valuable and historic scripts that had previously been overlooked, and who slapped prices on them so high that the literary denizens had to sit up and take notice. And finally, the buyer, one of the most flamboyant collectors of the late 20th century, who paid unheard of prices for priceless screenplays, setting such a high standard that only the wealthy could apply to join that exclusive club.

The clues to this story are buried deep in the Bonhams catalog for the October 16th, 2013 Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in Los Angeles. Way back in the catalog, item #2297, and continuing on for nine more items, are a series of very rare screenplays and scripts. Nine of them are William Faulkner adaptations, the other a script based on a Hemingway short story. The clues are in the provenance for these scripts: “Serendipity Books, the Richard Manney Collection.” Six words, which probably go unnoticed to most who read them. But behind those six little words lies a crazy story of discovery and big money, a story that is populated by three characters, two larger than life and one who has hidden in the shadows for 40 years.

It all started with the book scout, or as they are called back in the mid-west, a “picker”, a term used in the antiques and book world to designate the guy who scours estates, attics, and old barns to find the gems. Cable TV has several shows about this profession, guys in vans who travel the country looking for hidden treasures. Although he has been one of the greatest pickers, or book scouts in the world of rare scripts, the man in this story never considered himself in that context exactly. His name is Brian Kirby, and in the tight world of the literary fringe of Southern California, he is both legendary and mysterious.

He was a drummer from Detroit. He came to Los Angeles in the late 60s to check out the music business. Instead, he found work in a second hand book shop in west Los Angeles. The shop, W.L.A. Book Center was run by a very astute old bookman named Ken Hyre. His shop was orderly and had a really fine stock of books, clean copies, heavy on literature with a big selection of university press titles, which at the time was very impressive, as none of the other used bookshops had anything to compare with this. Ken and Eli Goodman, another L.A. bookseller, collaborated on a ground-breaking book, Price Guide to the Occult, which became a standard reference work. It was while he was working in Hyre’s shop that Kirby found his love of books and literature; it became a life long passion. He was always a reader, but now, surrounded by great books, his knowledge expanded greatly.

This eventually led him to land a job as an editor at a small San Fernando Valley publishing company run by porno king Milt Luros. Kirby earned his editing spurs there, running an imprint called Essex House. He attracted some authors who would later shake the world, like Charles Bukowski. He enticed the vanguard of the young L.A. writers to put their talents to work writing erotic novels. Charles Platt, in his book “Loose Canon”, claims that Kirby’s editing skills were attracting writers who were so esoteric that the men who bought the pocket books were disappointed in the lack of hardcore porn, and that Luros pulled the plug on Essex House because it was not making enough money. Kirby claims otherwise, and cited a story involving some pretty intense personality conflicts and individuals who were jealous of his work, a story too long to go into here. But sometimes the night is darkest just before the dawn. Brian Kirby moved on to the center stage of the counter-culture revolution.

One of Kirby's Essex House titles

One of Kirby’s Essex House titles

The late 1960’s and early 1970s were tumultuous times in America. The young people were sick of the “man”, the establishment that shackled them both physically and intellectually. The war in Vietnam was raging, sucking up the young men and sending them into the hell of a ground war in Asian jungles. Back home, young people woke up to the lies of their government, and their leaders. Smoking pot, tripping out on psychedelics, sexual freedom, intellectual freedom, and social protesting were the things to do. And the man who was placed in the command post as editor-in-chief of what was to become the largest and most effective underground newspaper in the country was Brian Kirby. His days as the editor of The Los Angeles Free Press lit fires in the minds of the young men and women of Southern California. He attracted the greatest of the L.A. writers and published the biggest stories of the time

The government, the cops, and the L.A. establishment launched an all-out war against the L.A. Free Press, or the Freep, as it was called. Eventually, the IRS closed the doors on the paper because the owner, Art Kunkin, had missed a tax payment. In a series of legal maneuvers, one of Kunkin’s creditors managed to salvage the “logo”, The Los Angeles Free Press, and continue publishing, but with one caveat: Kunkin was bankrupt and the target of prosecution, so the “logo” was sold to some guys from San Diego, said by some to have “shady” connections. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it was enough to scare the hell out of the entire staff of hippies and revolutionaries. Wanting no part of the “mob” (rumors never proven), they rebelled, and moved down to Santa Monica Blvd. near Cahuenga and started their own newspaper called “The Staff”. Kirby went along as Editor, and Phil Wilson, an admired artist, came in as Publisher.

The Staff was a successful underground, although plagued by an anarchistic mob rule where no one was actually in charge. It was during these years that Kirby really fell in love with films. His passion of books, movies, and music energized him. Every Tuesday night for years he and a couple of close friends went to the Toho Theatre on south La Brea to see the classic Samurai movies. He got plenty of records and tickets to concerts, seeing the greatest rock groups that hit L.A.

The Staff lasted a few years, but waned as the counter-culture wound down. Kirby did not want for work, he was hired by publishers/distributors Leon Kaspersky and Paul Hunt (KASH Enterprises) to edit a string of newspapers sold throughout Los Angeles, including The Los Angeles Sun, Impulse, and His and Hers, the last two being sexual freedom newspapers. The Sun was started to battle with Paul Eberle’s Los Angeles Star, one of the first of the so-called reader-written newspapers. It was around this time that he discovered movie scripts, and this soon became an obsession. He realized that some of the most important writers in America, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Frederick Faust (Max Brand), and others had been hired by the big movie studios to use their talents to write screenplays. These scripts, dating from the 1930s through the 1950s were far more rare that the first editions of their books. In many cases only a handful of scripts survived the years. And sometimes only one copy would surface.

Brian Kirby (l) and Keith Burns, 1985. Burns was also a world class script collector.

Brian Kirby (l) and Keith Burns, 1985. Burns was also a world class script collector. The boys were taking a break at an estate sale in Silverlake.  Photo by Paul Hunt

In the mid 1970s it wasn’t so easy to identify exactly who had written what film. There was no internet, no IMDB. Research had to be done using books on films, reference books and collections of the movie trade magazines. Slowly, Kirby began to figure it out. He prowled the used book shops and movie memorabilia stores. There were lots of scripts around, but not many written by the big names in American Literature. These are the ones, like the Faulkners up for grabs at the coming Bonhams sale, that Kirby looked for. He also fell in with the bookseller who was to become the King of modern first editions.

Peter Howard operated out of a bookstore called Serendipity Books in Berkeley, California. Kirby became friendly with Howard, and at times went up north to Berkeley to help at the shop or to work at the big Antiquarian Book Fair that hit San Francisco every two years. Peter Howard, a brilliant but eccentric man, bonded deeply with Kirby. They both shared a passionate love of American literature. Kirby prodded Howard to sell some of the scripts he had found. Howard, never afraid to paste a high price on a top piece of literature, was a little unsure about the scripts. Who would buy them? There was literally no market for them. Manuscripts for books written by major authors, yes. But movie screenplays? Howard saw the potential and started to display a few at the San Francisco, New York and Boston book fairs.

Serindipity Books

Peter Howard had already made his mark on the book world. He had pushed to the front lines of the top fiction dealers. He and his staff scoured the country for the rarest American First Editions. His mantra was to get the finest copies, mint in dust jackets if possible, and with inscriptions from the authors. Once, Howard even sent his crew all the way to Southern France to snag a wonderful collection of first editions owned by an American ex-patriot. He got fine copies inscribed by American authors living in Paris before World War 2, and many other goodies. Serendipity book catalogs were treasured as reference material by other booksellers. Howard even published a book naming upcoming authors to watch and collect. Even though most of the massive stock of hundreds of thousands of volumes in his shop was modestly priced, when it came to the fine first editions, he got prices that rivaled the highest of any other dealer or auction. He was not only the lead modern fiction dealer, he was the lead high-priced dealer.

Peter Howard in the 1970s with his VW bookmobile, travelling the USA

Peter Howard in the 1970s with his VW bookmobile, travelling the USA

One story is that it was at a show in New York that Howard met the man who would become the market maker for movie scripts. His name is Richard Manney, and he became the first big collector to realize the scarcity and value of original screenplays written by the finest American writers. Manney, a flamboyant character, was big in the art and antiques world. At the time, he was the head of a multimillion dollar company called Mediators that was buying and selling advertising time on television. He had a complex barter scheme where he would trade advertising time on television shows for products and merchandise from major U.S. Companies. The money piled into the company coffers by the tens of millions, and Manney spent lavishly to buy paintings, furniture, rare books, and then movie scripts.

He amassed a fabulous collection of rare books. Because he was the big buyer of movie scripts early on, he held a certain amount of clout. It was a constant battle of wits between Kirby, Howard and Manney over price. Kirby was the first to see the high value of the scripts. Howard, although egged on by Kirby to push the prices to where they should be relative to the rarity of the scripts, was, as happens in business, trying to get the best possible deal from Kirby and increase his profit spread while always pushing for a higher price on the retail end. Manney, the collector, tried to keep the prices down within reason, but in the end his collectible conscious, that desirous schizophrenic other self that all great collectors have, always won out, he had to have those great scripts that were turning up. Think of it as the last round of a WWF tag-team event, everyone’s in the ring pounding each other and the referee has gone out through the ropes for a hot dog.

Book Sail card

Kirby, meanwhile, was furiously beating the bushes in Southern California. He was the go to guy if you had scripts for sale, because he could send them to Peter Howard who had the big buyer with deep pockets. Then Kirby was hired by rare bookseller John McLaughlin, an Orange County dealer with a fat checkbook. Kirby was manager of John’s shop, The Book Sail, for a period of time, where he saw the truckloads of rare books being purchased by McLaughlin pour into the shop. Every picker and book scout around the country knew of the Book Sail. McLaughlin’s father was a vice-president of IBM, and he showered John with a constant rain of money. John not only got enormous amounts from stock dividends on a quarterly basis, but mum and dad often sent packets of cash too. The pickers considered John to be the biggest buyer in the antiquarian book market. But at times, even John’s almost unlimited amounts of money was not enough and it put him on financial thin ice. No problem. John kept on buying and buying. He would agree to pay almost any price for rare books, manuscripts, and because he listened to Kirby who was managing his shop, for rare movie scripts. The catch was, during thin cash months John would demand “terms.” By making payments on items instead of paying out all that cash at once, he could then actually buy more goodies. He was, in effect, demanding that the pickers grant him special credit, which they gladly did in most cases.

This gave Kirby some leverage over Peter Howard. He could push up the price to Peter, who knew that McLaughlin was in the wings ready to pounce on any great script that popped up, especially if it showed up in Kirby’s hands. McLaughlin paid enormous amounts. He had Bram Stoker’s original hand-written manuscript to Dracula laying about the shop. A big chunk of this million dollar manuscript disappeared for a while, sending John into a screaming rage that went on for days. The Xerox repair man eventually found it when he came by the Book Sail to fix the copy machine. Someone had left it in the little compartment in the copy cabinet where the paper was stored. Maybe it was even John himself who put it there. Or gremlins.

McLaughlin even managed to get his hands on the unfinished manuscript of Clifford Irving’s fraudulent biography of Howard Hughes. This was a big score, but one that McLaughlin couldn’t say much about in public, since all copies were ordered to be destroyed by the Court in the Criminal trial that sent Irving to prison. Every picker and book-scout in America, it seemed at the time, had John McLaughlin’s phone number in the glove box of their pick-up trucks. John pushed his rich image to the max. He was a brilliant man, with a photographic memory, although he would sometimes be slowed by smoking monstrous doobies every morning when he woke up, just so he could cruise on a perfect cloud of serenity until the afternoon lunch, which he often chucked up because of a recurring stomach problem. But no matter, McLaughlin was a force to be reckoned with when it came to buying anything literary. And Peter Howard knew it to be so.

At some point, Peter was relieved to hear that Kirby and McLaughlin had had a falling out. It had to happen. McLaughlin was at times like a naughty child, throwing tantrums. He would go into the shop and show some customer all the cool new stuff that had come in, pulling out books and manuscripts from showcases, stacking books all over the counter, and then leave the shop and also leave the mess to the dismayed employees who would struggle to put it all back in place, usually on their own time, since they were only paid until the store’s closing hour. The next day could be a repeat. Or John might just disappear for a few days, sitting at home in good spirits watching old movie serials and over-seeing one of his older employees whose job it was to clean the pile of raccoon poop off the roof of John’s mansion, caused by his wife constantly putting bowls of food out the second story window on a ledge for the fuzzy little guys. Back at the shop, everyone walked on eggshells. Managers and employees came and went. But eventually, they all got fired for something. Or in some cases, for nothing. The only one who lasted was the raccoon expert. “How can you stand it?” Kirby once asked him. He answered that he had been in a concentration camp in World War 2, and to him, dealing with John was child’s play, so to speak.

Kirby, meanwhile, had gotten into some big collections of movie scripts. He was always polite and paid fairly, a trait that earned him respect. He was doing well, but it wasn’t all roses. He had purchased a house in the old bohemian section of Los Angeles, Echo Park. It was a nice place and he filled it with books and scripts. Unfortunately, the bohemians, or what remnants were left of them, were pushed out and new arrivals from south of the border spawned some of L.A.’s worst gangs. The violence in the area spun out of control. The LAPD phones were so jammed on Saturday night that all lines were busy for hours. Kirby’s van was stolen from in front of his house, never to be seen again. Drug gangs operated openly on the streets, the bad deals ending in shoot outs, sometimes even with the cops. This situation did not escape notice by the bankers, who re-assessed the values of the homes in the area in a downward direction. Kirby got a notice that his house was now worth less than he had paid for it just a couple years before, and the bank wanted a big chunk of dough from him to balance out the scales of social injustice. He had to call in Peter Howard for the money to save his house. Howard came down with a check, but he gutted Kirby’s collection of scripts and first editions as payment. Kirby was grateful, but in some ways also bitter about the situation. He had worked hard for years rooting out the gems of scripts and first editions. Now he had to start over, all the while dodging bullets from the gang wars.

Peter Howard in his Book Domain, 2010

Peter Howard in his Book Domain, 2010

The local southern California booksellers used to joke that the great books always sold to dealers north of L.A., and that the price rose the farther up the coast the book went. Santa Barbara was the home of a few powerful and wealthy booksellers who bought a lot from the L.A. dealers. But the books always seemed to go farther north and the end was nearly always at Peter Howard’s Serendipity Books. From there, the big buyers, the millionaire players like Richard Manney swept them into their collections. All was well on the north-bound rare book conveyor belt until the early 1990’s.

Sale of part of Manney's collection.

Sale of part of Manney’s collection.

Richard Manney’s company, Mediators, suffered some disastrous lawsuits and ultimately bankruptcy. Sotheby’s in New York sold off a big chunk of his collection of rare books in 1991. The legendary man who was the first major buyer to recognize the value of the best screenplays and put up the highest prices to acquire them, had to pull back. The temporary effect on the script market was not good. Prices cooled. Some new players came in, some new dealers appeared, but it wasn’t the same for a while. Eventually, the absolute rarity of the great scripts brought welcome attention and upward price trends again. We all have our ups and downs in life. Manney just hit the biggest highs and probably suffered the lows, but he came through it all with his dignity and sense of humor intact. He lived a flamboyant life that most of us only dream about and owned some of the greatest scripts and rare books that are in existence. Now it’s time to sell off the fabulous scripts. Which young buyers will raise their paddles at the coming Bonhams auction and bid for these fantastic items?

As for the great bookman Peter Howard, he died at age 72 on March 31, 2011. He was the King of modern literature until the end. Every time the Antiquarian Book Fair came to San Francisco, Howard would put on a monstrous feast at his shop. He would roast a pig, just like the Kings of ancient England did in medieval times, and host a party for the booksellers coming into town from around the world. Kirby went up to these events to give Howard a hand. Serendipity would sell an enormous amount of books during the party, as Howard would discount deeply and give the buyers great deals. Rumors of six figure sales floated around the book community. Being invited to his party and feast was an honor. No one in the book world who attended will ever forget those events, and the way the American economy looks today, they will never be repeated.

Peter Howard was a big Giants fan. He was watching the season’s opening game with the Dodgers. According to his daughter, Howard was sitting in his favorite chair with the TV blaring. He died at the bottom of the sixth inning.

L.A. beat the Giants 2-1.

And so passed the greatest bookseller who ever dealt in scripts and screenplays. A little memorial to him continues each time Bonhams puts in the simple line of provenance: “Serendipity Books, the Richard Manney Collection”