A Memorial For Duane Thorin Has Been Set For May 27 at The Ice House in Pasadena
Booklover, Song Writer, Musician
He Wrote “Occupy Your Car” the Classic Song About Homeless Folks and the Economic Meltdown
by Paul Hunt
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
1 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.
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.
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.
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.
by Paul Hunt
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
by Paul Hunt
Arnold worked for years at the old Cosmopolitan Book Shop in Hollywood, owned by one of the oddest, most eccentric individuals in the history of the galaxy, Mr. Eli Goodman. I also worked at Cosmo, but only part time the last two years of its existence, until its demise a couple years ago. But Arnold was there for around 20 years when Eli was personally running the biblio madhouse, and luckily for us, he kept his head down and his notebook handy. He originally wrote about the goings on at Cosmo using a pseudonym for Eli. His articles were published in the ABAA newsletter, later on BookstoreMemories.com, Stephen Gertz’s Booktryst.com and finally gathered together with new chapters, Arnold’s own illustrations, and a whole lot more funny stuff.
Arnold and I have both owned our own shops. I knew Eli for many years before I worked there. I heard a lot of the stories first-hand as they were happening, and saw some flashing moments pass by at the speed of light. Eli, although a complete eccentric, was also a brilliant man. He had a great memory, was as well read as any university professor of literature, and was a kind man, although he didn’t suffer fools. Well, once in a while just to break the monotony. He had the longest run of any of the individual Los Angeles bookstore owners, in great part because he had an inner toughness due to his growing up under difficult circumstances and living in the shadow of the Great Depression. You can glean some more about Eli, with some photos elsewhere on this website.
If you’ve ever wondered what really goes on behind the scenes in a creaky, dusty bookshop crammed to the rafters with books, and run by Los Angeles’ number one champion tightwad, catering to an assortment of university professors, literary high steppers, book collectors, and the sweepings of Hollywood crackpots, then here it is. Arnold’s story is bold, screamingly hilarious. His pen pops with laughter. If you don’t get the hoot of your life reading this, then please check into the morgue immediately, ’cause you’re part of the walking dead.
You can order this book from the publisher, Poltroon Press (click here to order)
Click Here for more information.
A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE CLAYTON JOHNSON
This program is free to the public – first come, first served – with a suggested donation of $8 to our nonprofit to help cover expenses.
George Clayton Johnson (July 10, 1929 – December 25, 2015) penned some of the most memorable science fiction scripts of the 1960s and ’70s, including the first episode of “Star Trek” and seminal episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” as well as co-writing the novel Logan’s Run. Join us for an evening celebrating Johnson’s life and career, including “Twilight Zone” episodes “Nothing in the Dark”(1962), “A Penny for Your Thoughts” (1961), “A Game of Pool” (1961) and “Kick the Can” (1962), as well as remembrances from colleagues. There will be a panel discussion and a performance by members of Ray Bradbury’s Pandemonium Theatre Company.
To rsvp on Eventbrite click here. It is free to rsvp.
Panel discussion follows with biographer Vivien Cooper, LOGAN’S RUN co-writer William F. Nolan, writers Dennis Etchison, Mark Scott Zicree and Wendy All and producers Jason and Sunni Brock, moderated by George’s son Paul Johnson. There will also be a performance by members of Ray Bradbury’s Pandemonium Theatre Company. (approx. 150 min.)
Posted by Uncle Paulie