Once Upon a Time in Mar Vista

Last Memories of Sam: Johnson’s Bookstore

PhotoStory by Paul Hunt

The Bookstore was once the Mar Vista Library. I found this flyer stapled to the side of a shelf.

This nice color photo of Bob Klein was stapled to a shelf. RIP

This bookmark was in one of the books I got at the sale.  The website is still active this June day but will soon disappear into the internet ethos.

Just before the final sale there were about 10,000 wondrous books snuggled into shelves.

 

 

The Dollar Sale – fabulous bargains to those in the know.

 

The shelves started getting sparce, but this was a store where there was not a bad book to be found. All relevant and clean, dust jackets were protected with plastic brodarts.

 

Then, as time ran out, all remaining books, about 5,000, were free.

 

Finally, all shelves were cleared, the last book went out with a happy customer.

And so ends the story of the last big bookstore on L.A.’s West Side.  All the books have found new homes with loving owners who are grateful and excited to get them.  Some folks returned to get some additional shelving.  Many thanks to Richard, Janet, Petee, and Julie for help with this story.  To Bob Klein and Larry Myers:  Salute.  You achieved much to educate and change the world for the better.

Goodbye Bookstore Friend.

Archives Bookshop Relocates In Pasadena

Large Store Now Open In North Pasadena

Archives Bookstore, a long-time fixture in the Pasadena area has once again been forced to re-locate.  The good news is that owner John Wipf found a great location in the warehouse district of North Pasadena.  With plenty of free parking and a beautiful large store with great lighting, it is a pleasant place to shop.  Archives specializes in Religion, Theology,  Philosophy, Christian History and Christian Studies, and many related subjects..

Plenty of parking at the new location at 1232 N. Fair Oaks, Unit 10-B, Pasadena.

The entire long back wall is filled with Bargain Books at large discounts.  Plenty of light in this store makes browsing easy.

Another view of Archives massive inventory.  Congratulations to John and his crew for creating a great bookstore.

Archives Bookstore

1232 N. Fairoaks, Unit 10-B

Pasadena, Ca. 91103

Phone: 626-797-4756

Website link click here.

 

 

L.A.’s Westside To Lose The Last Large Used Bookshop

Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop To Close Forever May 31

by Paul Hunt

Westside’s Last General Used Bookshop

The Mar Vista area Bookstore is the last big used bookshop in West L.A., located at 12310 Venice Blvd., just east of Centinela.  The business started in 1977 on Westwood Blvd near UCLA, but moved to Santa Monica Blvd when the high rents drove all the bookstores out of Westwood, including the huge Campbell’s.    The travails of being subject to high rent eventually convinced partner Bob Klein to buy his own building, which he  did in 1987.  I remember that at the time partner Larry Myers did not particularly like the location on Venice Blvd., and would  not invest in the purchase of the real estate. Bob passed a couple years ago and left the building to a long-time friend.

Bob Klein

Bob Klein was a great guy, full of enthusiasm about books and literature.  He and Larry would visit me at my little shop in West Hollywood almost every week when they first got into business.  At the time, I had a shop called “Paperback Jack” in West Hollywood, but I was an active buyer and wholesaled a lot of hardbacks to other dealers.  Bob and Larry always found things to buy,  Afterwards, Bob and I would go down the street to a Shakey’s Pizza for an all-you-can eat lunch and then spend some time on the new video game “Asteroids”.  Larry stayed in the car with his home-made sandwich and a pile of books to read. He would rather skip a meal and use the money to buy a book.

Larry Myers

Larry is a knowledgeable bookman, and was usually in the shop when his partner Bob was teaching or out looking for book collections. They were totally polar opposites, Larry quiet and reserved, Bob outgoing and energetic.

Since their website could go dark at any time, I’m reprinting below the story of their shop as they tell it on www.SamJohnsons.com.  An interesting note is that both Bob and Larry went to Westchester High School.  Another bookman, Jack LeVan also went there.  His bookstore, Vajra Books, is still open in Inglewood, barely hanging on.  I will ask Jack if he remembers Bob and Larry from school days.

The following is from Sam: Johnson’s website, authored by Bob Klein.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Who We Are

Sometime in the `50’s two kids from Westchester High School found joy in ransacking Los Angeles’ second-hand bookshops together

Larry Myers, the precocious kid who knew all about everything.

Bob Klein, the unprecocious kid who didn’t.

Fired by fantasy, they’d root up whole bookshops hunting rarities by H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood—the list goes on.  And what bookshops the city boasted in the 1950’s. Particularly in Hollywood.  Pickwick Bookshop had a huge used book section upstairs; Cherokee Bookshop specialized in fantasy; Larson’s, in the ghostly and occult.  The magic of THE BOOKSHOP cast a glamour that has not faded.

Some years later Bob went on to become a teacher.

Larry went on to become—but no one quite knows what he went on to become.  Probably he is still becoming it.

Years later still, in 1976, in order to augment his meager academic earnings Bob decided to become a bookseller.  His girlfriend of the time—the lovely Sheryl (whose hips stopped traffic)—backed him all the way.  Otherwise he might have ended up selling aluminum siding.  Not anxious to fail alone, Bob browbeat Larry into becoming his partner.  For opening stock, each was responsible for amassing 5,000 books—exclusive naturally from the sacrosanctity of their own private libraries.

When their respective closets bulged, their friend Frank Spellman (of Krown and Spellman Booksellers), who had himself decided to decorate the trade, bagged two adjacent empty stores in a building on Westwood Boulevard; one for himself, one for Larry and Bob.

Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop opened to rave reviews (at least Bob and Larry raved) in August 1977 with a stock partially enhanced by generous donations by J.B. Kennedy (of J.B. Kennedy Books), who pitied the two innocents. Another essential bookseller was Andy Dowdy (of Other Times Books), who patiently answered their stupid questions. “Ask Andy,” was their slogan when the boys became pathetically confused, which was most of the time.  He never let them down.

What we wanted.

We wanted to sell wonderful books in fine condition and sell them at reasonable prices. And we wanted a constantly renewing stock.

Above all, we sought the Magic of the BOOKSHOP (capital letters all).  A place of culture and wondrous surprise.  A place to be.  The Great Good Place.  We wished to have something wonderful for everyone: Affordable rarities for the collector.  Solid clean copies of middle priced books for the general good reader.  Inexpensive paperbacks for students and the other walking indigent.  As well as a Sale Section of good hard bound books, $2 apiece, 6 for $10.

After a rocky week or two, we learned to pay good prices for good books and to have the strength to refuse a book in less than very nice condition.

The Open Boat

The first ten years the bookshop sailed smoothly, except for breakers in the form of landlords anxious to drown. After three years our Westwood landlord amused himself by tripling our rent.  So in 1980 we moved to Santa Monica Boulevard, in West LA, two doors from the shop of our friend Gene De Chene, another admirable bookseller.  This time two landlords owned the building.  So they were twice as eager to raise the rent.  After eight years of yearly rising increments, in 1987 Bob decided to buy his own building on Venice Boulevard.

The amenities of Sam: Johnson’s include the owners’ personalities, along with a  Steinway piano, a rubber mummy, dummy rats, and a human head emerging from a pot.  It is always Hallowe’en at Sam: Johnson’s.  In addition we have our own rear parking lot and garden.  Above all, we have classical music, sometimes live (remember that piano?), other times recorded.  We occasionally offer signings and poetry reading (also mostly live).  We’re open seven days and strain to get new stock every day.

Intentions

To landscape the unparkable parts of the parking lot.  To build an arbor with benches for reading.  To saturate the area in flowering shrubs and visiting livestock like butterflies.

Addenda and corrigenda

In addition to stocking books we’ve written published by other people, we decided it might be fun to issue our own books.

If sufficiently tantalized, punch up Books we publish.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bookstores mentioned in Bob Klein’s history of Sam: Johnson’s:


Pickwick Bookshop
:  The grand bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard.  It eventually became a regional chain and was purchased by B. Dalton, who ran it into the ground, all now closed.  Check out our stories on Hollywood Blvd. for more background.

Cherokee Bookshop.  “The best used book shop West of the Mississippi” according to the great old time book dealer “Doc”  Burroughs.  Started by Jack. Blum, who  like Larry Myers always brown-bagged his lunch, even though near Musso-Franks. Upon his retirement he left the store in the hands of his two sons, Gene and Burt.  Burt opened the first comic book store in L.A. in the basement of Cherokee. He and brother Gene got to squabbling and split up their partnership.  The shop eventually moved to the Santa Monica Third Street Promenade for a while, but has long been closed.

Larson’s Book Shop.  This was L.A.’s premier metaphysical store for some time.   It started as mainly a back-issue magazine store, but got into occult and metaphysical.  John Larson died fairly early and his wife Louise ran the store.  One of our readers recently asked about the store, here’s a link to a rather lengthy reply with some information and gossip about Larson’s:

Frank Spellman (Krown & Spellman).  Big Frank Spellman was really a big man, he must have weighed near 350 pounds.  His specialty was Medieval History.  He later moved from Westwood to the Third Street Prominade into a narrow shop near the south end, where he operated from until his death many years ago.

Other Times Books.  Andy Dowdy ran this shop for years on Pico Blvd.  His specialty was Theatre Arts and Popular Culture, and he had an amazing stock of books.  He was an inexhaustible book scout and about as knowledgeable as anyone I’ve ever met in the book business. He ran the equivalent of a Salon out of his apartment on weekends, where book folks mingled with journalists, screen writers, actors and other literary folk.  Gus Hasford often was there while working on various novels and films.  Andy took ill some years ago, liquidated the book stock and moved up to Washington to live with relatives.  I haven’t heard from him in years. He was a gentleman always and I miss him and his gloriously fun shop.

Gene De Chene.   His bookshop was on Santa Monica Blvd. near Sawtelle Ave.  At the time, in the late 1960s and 1970s it was a great area for book stores and thrift shops due to the cheap rents.  Gene retired and sold the shop to his employee, a nice woman, (whose name I can’t remember), but high rents drove her out.  All the shops in the area are now gone, a long list.  Even Mrs. Goods Donuts is no longer there.  Only the Nuart Theater survives as a monument to the passing of our popular culture.

And now, soon, Sam: Johnson’t will sadly close.  The word on the street is that Larry is not in good health and wants to retire.  He declined to sign a renewal of the lease, and the owner has put the building up for sale.  Larry’s friend David is running the store, and scuttlebutt has it that Larry hasn’t been in the shop for months. Possibly he is unable to do so.  There are no plans for a public sale, and there is a rumor that the stock will be offered as one block.

A typed page, a note on the front door tells the last story.  A sad ending of not just one used book shop, but of an entire era of culture on the Westside.  The Westwood-West L.A.-Santa Monica area was at one time the home to numerious book shops.  Most are long gone, pushed out both by attrition and by high rents. One problem is that the younger generation has not gotten into the book business.  There’s no young newcomers opening shops.  A few places survive, Ken Karmiole still has his rare book business in Santa Monica, but all the used book shops of note are gone, like in other parts of Los  Angeles, almost a complete wipe-out.  Even the big Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica is gone. What this means in the long term cultural sense remains to be seen.  I doubt that anything good will come of it.  When a culture loses it’s book shops, its theaters, its art galleries, in effect the soul of its civilization, can it survive?

Dude, Where’s the Plaque?

The Bronze Plate is Still There, Slightly Hidden

by Paul Hunt

A couple of folks went by the site of Baroque Books to look for the memorial plate that was placed there to honor Red Skodolsky, whose bookshop was the model for Bukowski’s last novel “Pulp”.  Ed Murray sent a note and asked where it was, so I went by there myself to look for it.  I almost missed it as it is hidden at the bottom of the metal grate that covered the windows.

Here’s the Plaque, but notice that the address is wrong.  His shop was next to the newsstand, at 1643 N. Las Palmas, not 1843 that is lettered on the Plate.  The recent store that was in that location was called Antibellum.  It was an Art Gallery run by Rick Castro, and focused on Fetish and Bondage/Domination.  Bukowski would get some good material out of there, were he alive, and were the Gallery still open.  It closed in early 2017, and still sits empty.  Here’s a photo of the store front, I put an arrow showing where the almost hidden plaque is.  I hope the next occupant of the store keeps  it there.

 

A close-up of Red.  Although at the bottom off the window, he is at least safe and protected from what goes on outside.  I swear I heard someone say “Get Out”.  Maybe it came from the tattoo parlor on the corner, but it had an echo sound, like from an empty store front.

 

Charles Bukowski – Was His Fictional Bookstore in “Pulp” Real?

Bukowski’s Last Novel Pulp and “Skid Row Hollywood”

by Paul Hunt

Bill Nelson from Oddball Books gave me his worn copy  of Pulp to read while I was recuperating from a recent medical incident.  He knew I was at the old Los Angeles Free Press during the days when Bukowski was writing his column “Notes of a Dirty Old Man.”

A lot of the young writers at the time loved Bukowski.  He was a fresh voice and we couldn’t wait to see his latest outrage.  Although he was loved by a lot of the writers of that era, none of us  thought that the public at large was ready for him.  We were wrong, and a few years later, a big chunk of  the literary community had latched on to his rising reputation..

Pulp is a fun read, but it is not just another private eye book and  Nicky Belane is not just another gumshoe, he is “Hollywood’s greatest private dick.”  He is also a world class drunk.  He is drinking on every page, everywhere he goes, which includes every dimly lit bar within shouting distance.  Bukowski was having fun with this, mocking every private eye mystery in every way possible.  Private dick Belane drank so much that about half way through the book I briefly thought about heading out to an AA meeting just to keep my sanity.  Luckily, my old friend Sol Grossman was on my mind.

Sol Grossman

Sol was a partner in the California Book Fairs that I was involved in.  He had also operated a mail order business dealing in private eye novels called “Mainly Mysteries”.  In his personal life, he was heavily involved in the AA movement.  He wasn’t just a friend of Bill’s, he was Bill’s long-lost twin brother.  Sol was on my mind as I read Pulp, because he had just died the week before at the young age of 92.  I started laughing out loud just thinking about what a gigantic rant he would have gone on if he had read Pulp.  He was passionate beyond belief against drunkenness, and would wave his big cane around in a profane-laced rant at anyone perceived by him to be a drunk, even a fictional character. Sol was the main sponsor of AA meetings in Ventura, where he lived.

Even while drunk out of his mind, private dick Belane takes on an odd assortment of clients.  One hires him to find Celine, the long-dead French writer, who was seen frequenting a Hollywood bookstore.  Belane knows deep down that this is crazy, Celine had been dead for years, but off he goes to Red Koldowsky’s bookstore to check it out.

“You know Red.  He likes to run people out of his  bookstore.  A person can spend a thousand bucks in there, then maybe linger a minute or two and Red will say ‘Why don’t you get the hell out of here?’.  Red’s a good guy, he’s just freaky.  Anyway, he keeps forcing Celine out and Celine goes over to Musso’s and hangs around the bar looking sad.  A day or so later he’ll be back and it will happen all over again.”

Anyone not familiar with Old Hollywood might think that Red’s bookstore is just another fictional creation of Bukowski.  Red was, however, very real, and Bukowski knew him well.  His real name was Sholom “Red” Stodolsky and his bookstore was Baroque Book Store on Las Palmas Avenue, just a half block south of Hollywood Blvd. An article I wrote back in the 1970s and expanded and printed here on Bookstore Memories, called “Hollywood Blvd. Bookstore Follies” lists most of the bookstores in Hollywood at the time Bukowski was prowling around the area.  Here’s the listing:

Baroque Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

Lastly, we come to BAROQUE BOOK STORE, which almost adjoins Universal News.  Owner Sholom “Red” Stodolsky specializes in modern literature, literary criticism, music theater, film, poetry and first editions.  You can get an added thrill to that exciting out-of-print tome you find by reading it while strapped into the electric chair that sits in the middle of the store.  Don’t worry about the volts, it’s only a make-believe mock-up from a movie set. (Who said that book dealers are eccentric?)

As I remember Red in those days, he was about 5 ft. 10 in. had thinning red hair, a small red mustache, and a small belly paunch, the kind older men frequently acquire for free later in life.

Some of Red’s remarks from Pulp:

“Can you believe some of them come in here eating ice cream cones.?”

“Hey you” he yelled “get the hell out of here.”

“I can tell when they’re not going to buy.”

Red in his doorway. Note the Bukowski sign.

Was Red really that way, yelling at potential customers to “Get Out” or was this just a Bukowski exaggeration?.  By the late 1970s and into the 1980s Hollywood was declining.  This was mostly due to the greed of developers, banksters, and their handy tool, Mayor Bradley.  A Redevelopment area was created and plans laid for a billion dollar boondoggle of building, which is still going on to this day.  But in order to drive property values down to the low level that they could then be acquired by huge developers, services were cut, the police cut back, and the area of Hollywood got worse every year.  Bukowski called it “skid row Hollywood.”  By the 1990s the only three places that he thought were still viable were Red’s bookstore, Musso’s (Musso and Franks) and Fredericks of Hollywood.  The rest of Hollywood was repulsive even to Bukowski.

As the years wore on and crime increased, the booksellers had an increasingly hard time coping with an onslaught of thieves, the unwashed, the rude and the crude. Some of the book dealers could cope, others like Red were deeply offended at the incivility of it all.

Curmudgeon:  a crusty, ill-tempered person, usually an old man.

Bukowski, writing Pulp, certainly was aware of this and described Red that way, maybe actually understating it.  L.A.Times writer John McCormick described being booted out of Baroque around the 1980s.

“Are you going to buy anything?”  asked Red

“I don’t know” said McCormick.

“Then get out.”

Retired Bookseller Fred Dorsett

 

Now retired bookseller Fred Dorsett remembers Red as “curmudgeonly a human as I have ever met.  In fact, he is the benchmark against which all curmudgeons are measured.”

Fred tells of a book scout who occasionally would bring in some lit to sell to Red.  They had a cordial relationship, until a strange incident occurred.  The book scout picked up some signed sports books, totally out of Red’s area of expertise.  The scout sold them to Gene at Cherokee Books on Hollywood Blvd.  Somehow, during some gossip, Red heard about it, and the next time the poor Book Scout stopped into Baroque Book Store Red yelled at him, accusing him of the grandest and most foul type of betrayal, and told him to get out and never come back..  The book scout was still trying to figure that one out years later.

Trolling through the internet blogs relating to Bukowski and to Baroque sheds some more light.  A few remember Red fondly, and said they were always treated with respect, and that Red would  often give them something extra with a purchase.  Some other comments weren’t quite as kind:

“A cranky old fucker.”

“He was a type of eccentric character that seems to be dying off, along with the rest of his generation.”

“I was treated like shit.”

“A Jerk”

“Cranky”

etc.

Bukowski, however, got along just fine with the real Red.  He was impressed that Red was a huge fan, and had gone out of his way to stock a ton of both new and used Bukowski material.  In 1989 Bukowski wrote a poem about Red, and it was published in a limited edition of 50 copies

Red, a poem, limited edition

Good luck trying to find a copy to purchase, the last one I saw was around $1700.  If you are diligent, you can find the actual poem on the  internet, but you will have to look hard for it, maybe even hire Nicky Belane, Hollywood’s greatest private dick to give you a hand. Hey, don’t laugh, he found Celine, didn’t he?

Red Skodolsky died in 1998 at the age of  82.  The bookstore was closed and the stock liquidated.

Charles Bukowski died in 1994 not long after he finished Pulp.  The one case that he had taken early on in the book was to find “The Red Sparrow.”  Through thick and thin, he could never solve that until the end of the book.  It’s an interesting ending, which you will enjoy, especially when you figure out who or what the Red Sparrow is.

Time for a glass of wine. Cheers to the old Hollywood.

A plaque at the site of Red’s old bookstore on Las Palmas.

 

 

 

 

 

Distant Lands Travel Bookstore in Pasadena Closing

High Rents, Competition From Mega-Corps Cited

Store Has Been in Pasadena 29 Years

Distant Lands Window Sign

The wonderful travel bookstore and outfitters in Pasadena, Distant Lands, will close its doors by the end of December, possibly as soon as Christmas Eve.  The Store, located in trendy Old Town Pasadena at 20 South Raymond, has faced increasingly high rents since they started in business 29 years ago.  As with other bookstores, when the rents go sky-high it is impossible to survive selling general books to the public.

20 South Raymond is near the heart of Pasadena Old Town

Other factors in the closing this month include the intense competition from huge internet operations in the travel business itself, which has led to many travel agencies around the world to close their doors.  The large internet corporations achieve a near-monopoly status and discount fiercely, making it nearly impossible for smaller agencies to survive.  Another factor might be that large parts of the world are unsafe for travelers at the moment, due to wars, famine, and political turbulence.

The Store-wide sale is starting now.

Distant Lands carries a large stock of books on travel, as well as maps and other informative information.  Everything is on sale, including travel gear, fantastic back-packs and even some display items like funky old suitcases and trunks.

The store has a Facebook page and also a website, www.distantlands.com.  The owner said he will probably continue business online only in some fashion, but right now he is  concentrating on their store-wide sale.

Notice the old airline seats.

For many folks, Distant Lands was the starting point for an adventure of a life time.  The store could guide you and help you plan your travel to many remote and exotic places. Your memories of these travels and adventures remain forever. It also attracted a large and constant stream of foreign tourists, who came to get information on where to go in the Los Angeles and Southern California area.  Pasadena is a mecca for tourists, the yearly Rose Parade attracts people from around the world.

Booksellers of Mumbai

The Fine Art of Stacking Books in India – Unanswered is “How Do You Pull Out The One on the Bottom of the Pile?”

The average monthly profit at the stall, after rent, salaries, and other expenses, is about $511. U.S.  Their method of stacking allows them to jam in a huge number of books in a small space.  Notice that most of the books are trade paperbacks, which are “square”.  If you stacked hardbacks like this, because of the spines, all the books would soon be warped or “shelf cocked” as we say.  They would have to be put in a book press for a month to get them back to normal.

An improvement might be to have very thin ply board in between the stacks to keep the books in one stack from intruding  on the books in an adjacent stack, making it easier to pull out a book without snagging others that are adjacent.  Notice in the recently posted film “The Cardinal and the Corpse” that Driff has them stacked this way, (I call it the Mumbai Stacking System).  Notice that Driff has many hardbacks in his stacks.  Any other comments on this?

Bucks on the Bookshelf Radio Show June 2, 2018

Host Steve Eisenstein and Paul Hunt Discuss Topics Including:

The Mystery Surrounding The Vanishing Erle Stanley Gardner Museum

Gus Hasford, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Legal Responsibilities of Book Dealers Who Buy From an Estate

Rare Guest Book From Tokyo Medical Conference in 1905

and much more on this 2 hour show.

This show was recorded from WDBF Tune-In radio.  The show is every Saturday 9am-11am Pacific Time.

Click Here to Listen to the show:

 

L.A.’s Bad Boy Adam Parfrey Dead at 61

Feral House the Greatest Popular Culture Publisher

by Paul Hunt

Adam Parfrey:

 Being edgy, cruising on the event horizon between  extreme kulture and downright madness was something Adam consistently sought and attained.

I’m very sad that my friend Adam Parfrey has passed.  He reportedly died on May 10th, but there is no comment on his facebook page as to tthe cause of death.  His publishing companny, Feral House, was in Los Angeles for many years.  I had actually met him before he founded FH when he was connected to AMOK Books, which dealt in books that were on the fringe of pop culture, conspiracy,  psychology, crime, and the bizarre.  Their catalogs, if you can find one, are a treasure of information and knowledge.

For a while,in the 1990’s AMOK had an open bookshop at1764 N. Vermont Avenue in Hollywood.    I remember it to be a small shop, kind of long and narrow.  They might have split the rent at one time with a notorious group, the Man-Boy outfit.  This may certainly have run off some customers.  I remember the Man-Boy section ran along the north wall of the store, and I was personally put off by the display.  Anyone actually putting into practice what they were promoting could find themselves in prison for a long time. Maybe Adam and his partner just needed someone to share the rent, but also maybe Adam just did it to attract a bunch of publicity; it is still something of a mystery to me. Adam would push boundries and do things for effect and attention.*  This includes some vaguely anti-semitic things at times,like publishing a novel by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Adam’s mother was Jewish, so it just sounds a little weird, and he didn’t believe in any of it, but was a master at publicity and marketing, especially to the youth market of pop culture. Being edgy, cruising on the event horizon between  extreme kulture and downright madness was something Adam consistently sought and attained.

Adam was in the used book business at one time, so we shared a lot of insight.  He too had wrestled with mounds of rejects from the Goodwill and other charities.  An interesting experience only known to a few in the entire world.  He was a frequent visitor to my book shops, and we had some great conversations. For a while Adam operated out of an office in downtown Los Angeles.  He eventually moved to the Silverlake area into an iconic structure that served as his office as well as appearing to be a Kultural Church.  It was one of the coolest buildings in the City, in an area of previous metaphysical activity and a fitting place for the House of Adam.

I helped with research on Bill Nelson’s important Hollywood’s Hellfire Club, finding some treasure troves of material for the book. During this time  I also helped Adam obtain a painting he badly wanted from the estate of one of the prominent members of the Bundy Drive Boys, it was an original John Decker. Although there are no acknowledgements of any of this in the book, I got lucky and was able to track down a large cache of material on the Bundy Drive gang.  I prowled through some garages and estates in the Hollywood Hills and was able to supply a great deal of material to Bill Nelson for the book, including a scrapbook of Sadakichi Hartmann on his famous “Perfume Concerts” in New York at the turn of the previous century. I believe Bill gave this to Adam and it may still be in his collection.  If anyone at FH finds it, send it to UC Riverside, it belongs in the Hartmann archive.

John Decker

When John Decker’s house in Brentwood was going to be demolished a big celebrity bash was held by the worman who lived there, who I think was Decker’s assistant.  Invitations were sent only to the big celebrities, of course leaving out booksellers and researchers. My solution to the invitation snub was that I crashed the party with actor Jed Rowen (The Ghastly Love of Johnny X).  I wrote about the evening, with a lot of photos of the event, on What Up Hollywood, click here if you want to know about Decker’s great pad.  An update to the story concerns the front door, which is pictured.  It was hand made by Decker.  The woman who sold the house took it with her, and before she died of cancer a couple years ago she sold it. The purchaser was a Hollywood author and collector, so it is in good hands, saved from the wrecking ball.. Click here to see the photos Jed and I took, including those of the front door.

Adam was somewhat eccentric, which is why and how he managed to build the greatest backlist of popular culture I’ve ever seen.  The folks writing these books were usually on the fringe, and Adam could relate to them on an equal and intellectural basis  He truely enjoyed the company of many of his authors.  He was genuine and treated them as friends, building trust.  He was greatly respected by the authors, and they delivered the quality that he sought.  I really don’t think any modern day publisher, no matter how much money they have, can ever match the incredible line-up of titles at Feral House.  Take a look through their titles on the FH website.  As long as you live, you will never see a better list in the genre.  I wonder where the company goes from here?  Since Adam moved away from L.A. a few years ago I haven’t heard much about who, if anyone, has been groomed to carry on.  Doing daily business routine is not what is important.  Who can connect to the authors, who can dig out the great stories, who can push for quality?  Adam did it instinctivly, smoothly, beautifully.  He loved his authors and they loved him.  (With a few exceptions, even Adam could screw up once in a while and act like a dick, but hey, who hasn’t done that?}

One of the edgy events that Adam put on was at the old Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Ave. in Hollywood.  It was to launch Timothy Wyllie’s book “Love, Sex, Fear, Death, The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment.”  Included at the event was a re-inactment of one of the religious group’s occult rituals..  The Theater was packed and Adam at his best.  Timothy Wyllie sold and signed a lot of books.  It was one of the strangest events I’ve ever been at, but a complete success for Adam and FH.

Adam Parfrey, Paul Hunt,  and filmmaker John Aes Nihil at the Tim Willie Event.

The problem the last few years was that Adam had moved to the boonies in Washington State to grow his own food in case some of the dire predictions in his conspiracy books were actually going to come true. He had also recently married, I don’t know if his new bride pressured him to move or not.  I tried to dissuade him of this in the strongest terms I could.  I even wrote him a personal letter about it.  Adam had become L.A.’s Bad Boy Publisher.  The new media loved him.  He or FH were constantly featured on the pages of Los  Angeles publications.  His books pushed the envelope and that prompted more interviews.  He held Salons at his house, events like the one at the Silent Theater, and was himself sought after by the media for interviews.  My view was that if Adam moved out of Los Angeles to rural Washington, then he would no longer be L.A.’s Bad Boy, he would become just another out of town publisher, albeit a great one.  Eventually, the media would forget about him to some extent.  If you’re  an L.A. boy then by God you had better be living in L.A.  The City is a possessive mistress.

So Adam moved anyway.  The media frenzy cooled.  He was no longer on the cover of the Weekly or other local publications.  I think the event with Tim Wyllie happened shortly after his move, but he came back to L.A. to launch the book.  The truth is that Port Townsend, Washington is not L.A.  It may have its own charms, but  turning your back on L.A. is like spurning a woman.  No good will come of it, and Adam’s spell on L.A. was broken.  Like it or not, L.A. is where it’s at..  This is one of the  centers of the universe in a literary sense.  It’s a huge book market.  It’s buzzing with literary activity.  The filmmakers are here, musicians are here, authors are here. His many friends wanted him to stay in L.A.  We loved him and didn’t want to lose him because he was an important part of our lives as well as a focal point of cultural activity.  But Adam ditched it all for some peace and quiet, a change of lifestyle, and to grow vegetables.  (Personal Disclosure: Don’t send any vegan hate mail.  My girl friend and I are in a community gardern and we grow vegetables here in L.A  And BTW, we are not waiting for armageddon, we are eating all the little fuckers now.)  We have to respect his decision, but I also think it may have long-term played a role in his death.  He had certain health issues.  L.A. is world class in medical help.  He was famous for over-working and not taking care of himself.  I think if he had paid more attention to his health, been in Los Angeles to take advantage of the great medical facilities here, he would possibly still be alive instead of dead at 61. That’s just my opinion, subject to change if I hear further information about the cause of his death.**

I remember a really funny incident.  We had a book shop in Burbank called Movie World.  One day I happened to be in there instead of down at Atlantis where I normally hung out.  In comes Adam.  I took him out to the lobby of  the shop and showed him this enormous pile of  thousands of 8 x 10 photos that my partner had just dumped on this cart.  I knew Adam was always looking for movie stills of his father, whom he revered.  I reached into the massive pile, grabbing a batch of the photos, and on top was a great photo of  his father in a movie scene. (The only photo of his father in the entire pile.)  Wow, was Adam happy.  What a one in a million coincidence!  He was also happy about  the price:  25 cents!

Adam Parfrey zipped through our lives with a quiet intensity.  A tornado was usually following him, throwing out some of those classic titles that blew our minds and expanded our consciousness.  Rest in Peace friend Adam Parfrey.  You are still L.A.’s bad boy in my book of life.

  • *After I wrote this post I found Adam’s interesting early 1990s article on Hollywood films and pedophila, man-boy group, etc., which was recently found and posted on the Steamshovel Press website, Click Here to read it.
  • ** Kenn Thomas: ” A year ago I made it out to Port Townsend and paid him a visit, met his dog, Loki. It was a bit difficult to get there. Had to drive a distance (from Seattle), board a ferry (with the car), and then drive some more. Beautiful place, though.”