From Bookstore Memories Time Capsule Archives:
Universal Books, Hot Dogs, Nazi Bikers, Texas Rangers, and the Hollywood Bookseller’s Baseball League Starring Icky Icky Icky as a Fastball
Mark Sailor’s Nostalgic Memories of his Early Days in the Long-
Vanished Hollywood Book Trade East of Vine Street
Editors note: Mark sailor wrote this about his early adventures in the Hollywood book trade. The manuscript is undated, and I found it in Frank Mosher’s storage unit many years ago when I helped him move an enormous bunch of books and shelves. I worked with dear friend Mark during the last couple of years of Cliff’s Books. We had known each other since the early 1970s. He died about a year before Cliff’s closed down. Hope you enjoy this travel back to the days when Hollywood was lined with book stores, the golden age of the late 1960s and the 1970s.
Story by Mark Sailor
The south side of Hollywood Boulevard at Argyle was a squalid corner in the early seventies. Universal Books existed only because of the times in which we lived: a group of tiny shops jumbo packed between the Dog House and Marlow’s Magazines on the corner. Serenaded by an endless rendition of Dueling Banjos through the paper thin walls that separated Universal Books from the cowboy bar just next door, we hosted Nazi biker gangs curbside on Friday Nights.
Our regular clientele included Don Morphis, “Head Reverend of the Church of Satan of Hollywood”, and Frank Braun, ex-Texas Ranger, a sometimes unwelcome frequent flier. Frank had 19 packages of books on the hold shelf above the front counter of the book shop.
We lived in a time of the world of dreams as large as the Bingo Mansions and the Hollyberries who instantly occupied their immediate celebrity west of the Sunset Strip. But we lived in a real-world east of Vine Street where rents diminished the farther one traveled into the habitat of ex-Nixonista refugees from Asia and the lands of the troubled Middle East. Like living on Pluto at the edge of the Solar System, we were at the edge of the Hollywood book world, east of Vine, in the shadow of the fading glamour of the Brown Derby and The Broadway Department Store. In fact, just west of Argyle was the last outpost of the Hollywood Dream, the beautiful Pantages Theater. The bulk of the bookshops were sprinkled west of Vine all the way to Highland Avenue.
I was a student at Occidental College. My scholarship did not include meals. I worked at Universal Books at night. I learned to “slap jackets” there and my mentor Larry Mullen taught me cataloging. It was my job to catalog the Black Americana collection started by Jerry Weinstein, a book maven and previous owner. Jules Manasseh was the co-owner and had entered the book world as an auto insurance salesperson. Jules’ manic presence as banker and novice bookseller provided a fertile backdrop of excitement and angst. We were always broke. Mrs. Manasseh’s matzoh ball soup on weekend nights was a blessing unexpected and usually happened following a big sale.
Universal Books was a small shop of 1000 square feet divided into two rooms; a main browsing parlor on Hollywood Boulevard and a backroom where books were processed by myself and fellow future bookseller Melvin Gupton. Melvin was a student at Ambassador College. He worked nights as I did. Later, Melvin moved to Valley Book City on Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. In the eighties Melvin opened Modern Times Bookshop in Pasadena and specialized in art and first editions. His brilliance was as unexcelled as his petulance toward everyday duties like making coffee and bathroom cleaning. His early death some years later was a loss to the world of knowledgeable and seasoned booksellers.
It was because of the shortage of money that I was chosen to call Frank Braun, ex-Texas Ranger so he could pay for one or more of the nineteen packages on hold.
“You wanna get paid, huh?” Frank Braun was terse. “You bring packages #2 and #19 to the Dog House in twenty minutes.”
“How will I know you?”
“Don’t worry about me – I’ll know you,” he quipped.
I turned to Larry. He was already getting the packages down off the shelf.
“You gonna tell him Frank Braun’s got a gun?” Jules pealed.
“Don’t worry. He won’t use it.” Larry answered. His voice was flat as a pancake.
“Why me?” I asked.
“Cause he’s a nut,” Jules answered, “and an anti-Semitic bastard.”
“You gotta go” Larry told me. “We need the money.”
The Dog House was a little Cinderella-style building 40 feet long and about as high as two trailers stacked sandwich style on top of one another. The dogs were as good and cheap as the clientele. Expatriates of the cowboy bar mingled with horse racing cappers. Hollyweirders abounded. Sometimes the lines into the Dog House exceeded the benches waiting for diners. It was a jumpin’ joint.
An arm in a trench coat yanked me. “You Mark?” the voice demanded.
I nearly dropped the book packages. It was Frank Braun.
“Guess you wanna get paid?” Frank peeled open his Bogart-like coat, revealing a 45 and a checkbook. I was so scared I almost washed my pants.
“You seen Larry lately? He’s a hang dog and lost his spirit. You tell Jules ‘the Jew’ Manasseh that Frank Braun’s ready to meet him anytime.”
I got Frank’s check and hurried back to the bookshop. Sans hot dogs, sans kraut.
Universal Books existed as a bookshop because of the high esteem in which books were held. No electronic device could replace Uncle Tom’s Cabin with the telltale “Stereotyped by Hobart and Robbins” and the 1851 moniker in two blind stamped brown cloth volumes which made it an exceptional and rare work. No computer could duplicate signed copies of W.E.B. Dubois “The Souls of Black Folk” or Jean Toomer’s “CANE”. The electronic equivalency and/or convenience of the Kindle iron lung dependent on a battery or a cord mirage existence, now you see it, now you don’t, just didn’t exist.
Book scouts, legendary and famous, were always coming into Universal Books. Maybe they wanted money from the previous book buy, maybe they didn’t. I got to know Jack Crandall, who later discovered a collection of incunabula in Kansas and bought an honest to God mesa in Arizona, complete with Indian bones and the remains of failed Conquistadors. Jack was great; he found the exceptional book and we sold it.
‘Doc’ Burroughs, a gruff and talented book scout, provided occult and mystical books. His presence was often joined by another great bookseller, Paul Hunt. Paul’s star as a bookseller traveled and ascended into several great shops in Burbank, including Book Castle, and a store called Atlantis Book Shop, specializing in the paranormal and UFOs. An encouraging friend, Paul also helped create the California Book Fair, a convention of booksellers gathered annually at the Glendale Civic Auditorium or the Burbank Hilton. It was there such luminaries as Jay Leno and Kevin Tighe began their book collecting careers.
Doc, Larry and Jules provided the final boot to the Nazi Bikers. On Friday nights “Icky Icky Icky” the biker leader would come in, pick a Bible from the shelf, tear it up and goose-step out of Universal Books with his arm and middle finger doing a HEIL HITLER. After some weeks of this grandstanding, the boys (Jules and Larry) called Doc for help. At about 8:15 that night, Icky Icky Icky met a baseball bat invitation from the “Hollywood Booksellers Baseball League”. His head was to be the fastball. He was escorted out of the store. It took a lot to subdue Doc Burroughs, who really wanted some batting practice.
The answer to our troubles was a bullet through the front window some weeks later. Ironically it was from Frank Braun, whose gall overcame his pall of resentment about Jules. I found out later Frank had commissioned Igor (Hollywood’s carpenter who built bookshelves) to build 20 bookcases on wheels with doors, so to move from his Beachwood address in the event of attack or invasion by the communists. Some kids dumped boulders on Frank’s roof and Frank released the 20 cases down Beachwood Drive. I never heard from him again.
Larry Mullen moved to Mexico. Jules Manasseh moved his store up to the middle of Hollywood Boulevard some years later. Doc Burroughs and Paul Hunt opened the Atlantis Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard and after Doc’s death Paul moved to Burbank and re-opened the shop on the old Golden Mall where it flourished for many years.
The high shelves at the Universal Bookshop and its depth of stock was a delight to many a book reader. Its passing was unmentioned like a Blanche DuBois typescript unremembered for want of a cast of characters. In its Streetcar Named Desire was the beginning of a long journey into the book world of rarity and wonderment. It was a fine community of Hollywood bookstores. Those book stores now exist only on bookshelves in readers homes throughout the City. Perhaps you have some copies in your home too, books from Hollywood’s lost book world, east of Vine.
Superb addition to your Tales of Hollywood Booksellers, Mr. Hunt. If only Mark had made some mention of Mayme Clayton, who worked at Universal, and later bought all the Black culture stock and became our most important collector of African-American material from Literature to Movies and back again.
Thank you for your kind comments. I just posted a business card to the story, and I believe “Mae Phillips” is actually Mayme Clayton. Stay tuned for more on her and her Museum.