The Rock Man: The Saga of Jack Garvin

The Rock Man – Part 1

From His Early Days to Hollywood Book Dealer

Jack Garvin, 1987

Jack Garvin, 1987

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

By Paul Hunt

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

Garvin packing up books at 1980s Book Fair

Garvin packing up books at 1980s Book Fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hollywood Book Shop bus cd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vintage Paperback Show To Be Held in March

This is the big show of the year for paperback collectors.

This is the big show of the year for paperback collectors.

It’s hard to believe that this is the 38th annual show.  I remember when I first learned of it, just like it was yesterday.  Tom Lesser rented a small Pavilion next to the big Burbank Book Castle store in the old Golden Mall in downtown Burbank. The Pavilion was a round small building and it didn’t hold a lot of tables, but the books for sale were great.  Tom rapidly outgrew the little Pavilion and moved to the Mission Hills Inn, where it was located for years. Now it is a big show and takes place at the Glendale Civic Auditorium.  The show always attracts a great crowd, including a lot of authors who are happy to sign your books.  If you collect paperbacks, science fiction or mystery genre books, this is the show that you must attend.

Uncle Paulie

The Secret World of Script Collectors

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

by Paul Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Kirby's Essex House titles

One of Kirby’s Essex House titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serindipity Books

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

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

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

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

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

Book Sail card

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Howard in his Book Domain, 2010

Peter Howard in his Book Domain, 2010

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

Sale of part of Manney's collection.

Sale of part of Manney’s collection.

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

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

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

L.A. beat the Giants 2-1.

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

 

Online Valley Bookseller Closing

Closing! San Fernando Valley location.  
At least 75% OFF Everything!

25 years of buying and selling mystery and science fiction.

30,000+ books, including 5,000+ SIGNED books.

At least 75% off everything.  Nothing held back.

Bonus:  all hardcovers $12.00 or less (at least 10,000 books),
sale price $1.00.

All magazines and comics 90% off.

All paperbacks $5.00 or less (at least 6,000 books) sale price $0.50.

7861 Alabama Avenue #20, Canoga Park

pkennedybookseller@earthlink.net

 From the 405 Freeway take Highway 101 to the west (towards Ventura) to Canoga Avenue.  Exit at Canoga and turn right (north). After passing Saticoy (about 2 miles) take the second left (Ingomar).  On Ingomar go one block, then right on Alabama. Go about 1/2 block, turn left into the driveway for 7861, then down to the end, unit 20.

 From Ventura take 101 to the Topanga Canyon Blvd. exit (will exit onto Ventura Blvd., heading east).  Take Ventura Blvd. east for about one mile to Canoga Avenue, and turn left (north).  (Now follow the directions from the above paragraph.) By Appointment in February and March.

 

Alias Bookstore to be Torn Down For Condos

The Oldest Surviving Westside Bookstore Will Be Gone By Mid-March

by Paul Hunt

IMG_5471Alias Books, 1650 Sawtelle Blvd., West Los Angeles. Photos by Paul Hunt

Alias Books, the longest surviving used bookstore on the Westside, will be closing in mid-March.  The property will be torn down so developers can put up a condo complex. The store began life in 1959 as the West L.A. Book Center, on the north side of Santa Monica Blvd. just west of Sawtelle.  The original owner, Ken Hyre ran the shop for 43 years.  I believe he moved onto Sawtelle sometime in the late 1970s, although I can’t remember the exact date.  Ken bought an old Masonic Temple and moved in with shelving and books.  Ken Hyre was a good friend of Eli Goodman, owner of Cosmopolitan Book Shop in Hollywood.  Together they published the “Price Guide to the Occult”, a comprehensive list of occult and metaphysical titles and their values.

Eli Goodman with Price Guide to the Occult. Photo by Arnold Herr

Eli Goodman with Price Guide to the Occult. Photo by Arnold Herr

Price Guide to Occult

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Price Guide Preface

In 2002 Hyre turned the business over to Brian Paeper, who has operated the shop ever since.  Ken’s death a couple years ago led to his daughter selling the building.  The bookstore is in a wonderful area, around the corner from the Nuart Theater, and on a street with restaurants and little shops.  Brian and his brother Patrick (who runs Alias Books East in the Atwater area) are discussing a possible new location, but with the sky-high rents in Los Angeles, prospects of this happening are dim.

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Brian, a gentle man who loves books has started his closing sale, with books now at 40% off.  The store’s closing will be a loss to the cultural life of the Westside.  Brian has successfully guided the store through the years to supply great books to his customers, and offer the ambiance of a comfortable bookshop in the traditional sense, an opposite of the slick Barnes & Noble/Walmart look.  His shop, open everyday and often late into the night, is a mecca for the westside lovers of books and literature.

Brian Paeper

Brian Paeper.  Photo by Paul Hunt

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Soon to be gone….

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Alias Sawtelle Bus Card 2

Here’s a video shot at Alias Books, a salon with author Ben Pleasants, Bukowski biographer.  Click on the box below. This is Part 1

Below is Part 2, video with Ben Pleasants

Below is a 2013 interview of Brian filmed by Ben Pleasants

The closing of Alias Books leaves only the Sam Johnson bookstore as the sole remaining used bookshop in W.L.A., and the owner of that shop, Bob Klein, died last year.  We sadly have seen the collapse of literary culture all over the Southland, driven mainly by the insane high rents brought about by the U.S. Federal Reserve’s lowering of interest rates to basically zero, making billions of dollars available to corporate real estate interests.  It is not only commercial property that has soared, but rental property on the west side is among the highest in the country, one bedroom apartments renting for an average of near four thousand dollars a month.  Any wonder that there are 60,000 folks living in their cars or in tents on the streets?  Will the collapse of culture lead to a society that is set adrift, like a boat that has slipped its mooring, and slowly disappears into a ravenous ocean, where it is swallowed into the depths?

We thank Brian Paeper for keeping literacy alive on the west side, and wish for him the very best in his next endeavor. 

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Florida Radio Show Features Arnold Herr

Bucks on the Bookshelf Show Interviews Arnold About His New Book Wild Ride of a Hollywood Bookdealer

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Steve Eisenstein, host of Florida Radio show “Bucks on the Shelf”, recently interviewed Arnold Herr about his life in the book business and talked about his entertaining book on working for Eli Goodman at Cosmopolitan Books in Hollywood.  To download the interview to listen to, click here.

To hear the show, check out the information below.  Also, you can follow Steve on Facebook, click here.

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Check Out The Video Promo for “Wild Ride of a Hollywood Bookdealer”

Dave Dutton, Beloved Los Angeles Bookseller, Passes

The Lost Realms of the Dutton’s Family Book Empire

Some Fleeting Memories

by Paul Hunt

Dutton's Bookmark with all stores listed.

Dutton’s Bookmark with all stores listed.

It’s always a sad moment when an old-time bookseller dies.  Dave Dutton recently died, he was 79.  It magnifies and gives reflection to the great days of the second half of the 20th Century, when booksellers contributed so much to Southern California.  It was a wonderful time, and entire families built book empires around the area.  The Dawsons, The Duttons, and the Weinsteins come to mind.  So many of the founders of the legendary shops have passed, that we are only left with a few memories and some faded photos.

Dave Dutton had a large shop on Laurel Canyon at Magnolia Blvd. in the Valley.  The building is still standing, now a yoga studio.  At its zenith it also spawned a few other shops that opened around it on Magnolia just east of Laurel Canyon.  Dutton’s attracted so much activity that other booksellers opened shops near-by.  I remember Gilbert Coronel had a small shop on Magnolia.  He was also a book binder.  Next door or near was Michael Blatty who had a well organized shop.  Michael’s father was William Peter Blatty, the famous novelist of Exorcist fame.  These shops faded away at the same time that Dutton’s business declined. (Gilbert died last year, William Peter Blatty just recently.  I’ve lost track of Michael, a cheerful guy who loved books.)

Dutton’s was a fun place to visit.  The staff was friendly (a nice fellow named Abbott comes to mind) and the place was just packed with books. Dave had both new books and used books on the shelves.  What he didn’t have he was happy to search for. The word to describe Dave Dutton was “gentleman”, because that’s what he was, in the full sense of the word.  The Duttons, like their older friends the Dawsons, were from the old school of behavior, something not seen much anymore in the new world of corporate onslaught and greed.  They were all polite, friendly, and honest in their dealings.

Dave loved hanging out behind the shop where he had some tables set up.  It was here that he sorted through the tonnage of boxes of books that poured in.  In one of the articles in the local press, Dave said that when they first opened the shop they had a hard time getting books.  Boy, did that turn around.  By the 1990s the store was so packed that it was at times tough to get down the aisles. One of my friends, a local book scout, told me that Dutton’s wife Judy would get exasperated at the sheer quantity flowing in, and issue an edict that there was to be a strict halt on buying books. When my friend called Dave for an appointment to bring in some books to sell, Dave would say “Come around to the back of the shop, and don’t let my wife see you!”

Stopping by Dutton’s place to browse through the books would sometimes turn into an epic adventure of sorts. One time, driving into the back area behind the shop, I said hello to Dave, who was out in the back lot under a swap meet tent sorting through a huge pile of books.  He immediately sent me out to look at an estate of gambling books in the North Valley.  We always had a deal, if they were good I would buy them and bring them back to his shop and we would divvy them up.  It was on this trip that I spotted the legendary news rack of “pick-a-book” that was at one time owned by Harry Beirman.  I wasn’t able to buy it, but at least I can verify that it existed.  You can read the article on Beirman on this blog, click here.

Dave and his brother Doug loved books.  They had other stores, one in Magnolia Park in Burbank on Magnolia Blvd, one downtown Los Angeles, It was in the Arco tower, a downtown L.A. office building, and Doug ran a huge shop in Brentwood.  I found a few photos of the Magnolia Park shop and some pix that I took at the closing of Dutton’s Brentwood.

Photos of Dave Dutton’s nice shop in Burbank

Dutton's Burbank at closing. Photo by Paul Hunt

Dutton’s Burbank at closing. Photos by Paul Hunt

Duttons#2 Duttons#3

The above photos show the last days of the Burbank Store, which closed around 2005.

Dutton’s Brentwood closed in 2008

Dave’s brother Doug ran the Brentwood Store.  All photos by Paul Hunt.  I took these pictures around the time they closed.  At the time I was working for a company that distributed magazines, and we serviced the the news stand that was inside the coffee shop.

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Dutton's had a warm friendly coffee house & news stand

Dutton’s had a warm friendly coffee house & news stand

A friendly Dutton's Barrista greeted you with a big smile

A friendly Dutton’s Barrista greeted you with a big smile

Part of the courtyard

Part of the courtyard

Dutton’s Brentwood was a large building that was  “U” shaped.  It was originally a lot of small shops, so each shop area became a mini-bookstore organized by subject.  It was really cool, but probably hard to manage and employee intensive.  A big 5,000 sq. ft. store in the shape of a box or a rectangle can be managed by a couple of people, with some part-time help.  Dutton’s must have been a challenge, as there were multiple little shops, some without employees at times.  A most unusual layout.

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The news stand in the coffee shop, pretty much stripped of all the magazines by this time, just before the final day.  When it was operating, it was thick with literary titles, poetry magazines and more scholarly titles as well as the top mainstream magazines.

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Duttons Closing - John Sinclair - more 047

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This knowledgeable lady ran the Children’s Department

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The closing of the Brentwood store brought to an end the saga of the great Dutton’s Book Shops.  The family was innovative, consumer friendly, and hard working.  In the end, as so many other book shops have found, it is near impossible to fight the insane escalating rents of the landlords.  The real estate industry, along with help from the Federal Reserve, have almost turned the nation into a “rentier state.”  Both business and individuals have been the victims of this deadly game.  The so-called mortgage crises drove this to a new paradigm, from which  there seems to be no escape for the 99%.

In Dutton’s case, the Brentwood property was owned by Warren Buffett’s partner, Charlie Munger.  He had dreams of building a huge shopping center on the property, so when Dutton’s lease was up, it was the end.  The good news here is that at least Charlie Munger was very fair and actually provided a large settlement for Dutton, allowing him to take care of his business obligations, at least this is the rumor.  For Munger, in a way, it was also the end.  The neighbors protested against building a large center, so the old building is still standing, and after some years now has been re-leased to new tenants. Looking at it from Munger’s view, I personally can’t see why he was denied permission to rebuild the site after Dutton was gone, although I wish Dutton could have stayed and prospered.  It was an old structure, but a large lot with plenty of parking.  Munger had plenty of money to invest (he has given many millions to the Huntington) and would probably have put up a nice structure. Maybe Dutton could have come back to the new building with a smaller store.  Just speculation.  Sometimes, life gets weird for all of us, and our plans go haywire, even for the rich and powerful.

Please feel free to send in comments, annotations, corrections or your memories to: unclepaulie@rocketmail.com

A Video Tour of Hollywood’s Last Big General Book Shop

Eli Goodman’s Cosmopolitan Book Shop Was The Last Big General Book Shop in Hollywood.  Some Final Thoughts and a Short Video Tour Before it Was Closed

Posted by Paul Hunt

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Click on the box above to see what a really old bookshop looks like.  I did this short film just a few days before the end.  Eli was already under full time care and hadn’t been in the shop for three or four years.

elihead

Eli Goodman

Below are a series of Advertisements that Eli Ran in a local paper.

Eli 1 May 1

Eli 2- May 1

Eli 3- May 1

Eli 4- May 1businesscard-3.5inx2in-h-front

2 of our best customers park their rigs at our front door.

2 of our best customers park their rigs at our front door.

 

Hollywood Boulevard Bookstore Follies – Part 4

Bookstores on Hollywood Boulevard in 1976 – Continued

by Paul Hunt

Hollywood Book City

Hollywood Book City.  Photo by Wayne Braby

Walking to the next block, we now arrive at what can loosely be called the Cal Worthington of the used book business, HOLLYWOOD BOOK CITY.  This store has the largest stock of used and out-of-print books in Los Angeles, somewhere around a quarter of a million books if you care to count.  The store is co-owned by Alan Siegel and Jerry Weinstein.  And here we must pause and say a few words about Los Angeles’ first family of books, the Weinsteins.  They are to books what the Kennedys are to politics, there seems to be a never-ending supply of them.  As far as I can tell, each and every Weinstein is a bibliophile at birth, having both ink in the veins and a natural instinct for buying and selling books.

The Weinstein dynasty is particularly strong at this location, as Jerry’s sister is married to partner Siegel.

Now where were we?  Oh, yes, BOOK CITY.  The store has a large general stock of just about everything you can think of, including one of the largest sections of books on art and books on the arts, cinema, theater, graphic arts, architecture, television and radio history. The store is well laid out, with different sections clearly marked, and even an upstairs balcony to rummage through.  Book City seems to agree with my theory of constant expansion to avoid overcrowding.  It was not too long ago that a large hole was made through the west wall, adding on what is now mainly a section of new books at discount, and remainders.  Now it seems that the east wall is going to get the same treatment and on or about June 1st the book hunter will find a new doorway leading into the “scarce, rare and antiquarian department.”

Hollywood Book Shop bus cd

Walking on a few doors will bring you to HOLLYWOOD BOOK SHOP.  This store has been here about three years, although one of the owners has been in the book business in Hollywood about 10 years.  They carry a large general stock of used and out-of-print books. The partners, Jack Garvin and Ray Cantor are polar opposites, at times engaging in bitter quarrels.  Garvin, a stocky man who resembles Nikita Khrushchev, started as a book scout, operating out of a garage behind some storefronts on Adams Avenue, east of Western, a once rich area that has seen better days.  He is also into minerals and geology, and this specialty led him to buy equipment to cut geodes and polishing machinery to further enhance specimens that he buys.  Jack is a chain-smoking, gruff man to deal with, Ray the nicer of the two, but they have built up an excellent stock of books.

Recently they purchased a large warehouse stuffed with magazines and pamphlets.  The story behind this is an odd one.  There was a periodicals dealer down in the South Los Angeles area by the name of Nick Kovach, who was dealing in scholarly periodicals back in the 1950s.  When the Russians launched Sputnik, it was a big kick in the rear to the U.S. educational system, which all of a sudden woke up to the sad fact that this great country was falling behind in science and technology.  Kovach found himself to be center stage in the arena of scientific and mathematical periodicals, courted by libraries across the country who needed this material.  He bought and sold enormous quantities of paper goods and magazines, filling up many warehouses.  In later years he realized that the collections included a lot of non-scientific stuff that was of no use to the libraries at the great universities and corporations.  So Kovach started to dispose of tonnage of this stuff, which was mainly popular culture and mainstream magazines.

Along came a roving dealer named Mark Trout, who traveled around the country in a van, looking for this kind of material.  He “leased” the rights to an old, long closed-down bowling alley in South Los Angeles from Kovach  that was jam packed with just the right stuff that he wanted:  popular magazines, like Life, Time, Fortune, and the such.  Trout made a great amount of money over the years selling this at flea markets.  One time, at the Rose Bowl flea market, Trout showed up with a stack of over 50 Number 1 Life magazines in mint condition. The collectors went berserk.  After milking the contents of the bowling alley for a number of years, Trout offered to transfer the “lease” to Jack Garvin and his partner.  All the great popular magazines had been removed and sold by Trout, but the place was still jammed with pamphlets, ephemera and lesser-known periodicals.  Garvin pulled out van loads of great stuff, including a world-class collection of pamphlets and rare broadsides on the subject of American radicalism, which he is selling to libraries at big prices. Garvin and Canter go down to their bowling alley once a week and pack their old van full of paper goodies and rare ephemera.  “It’s like owning a gold mine,” Jack once told me.  “Every once in a while we hit a particularly good vein!”  And it is enough material for years to come.

Cherokee Book Shop

Cherokee Book Shop.  Photo by Wayne Braby

A couple of doors further we arrive at one of the finest book shops in the world.  CHEROKEE BOOK SHOP. Established about 25 years ago, it has a large selection of Americana, occult, fine bindings, first editions, fine illustrated books, military history, and so on without end.  Upstairs is the famous comic room with 200,000 comics.  They also now have about 20,000 old Playboy Magazines.  Browsing through the store I noticed a couple of interesting items in a glass case near the counter.  One was a large folio Bible printed in London in 1683.  I’m not much for buying and collecting old bibles, but this one was quite unusual.  I am not referring to the fact that it is bound in a rich, glistening morocco, or that the morocco is covering heavy oak boards.  It is the fore-edge painting that attracts attention, mainly because it is an “open” painting, clearly visible where the book is lying on the table.

Inside Cherokee Book Shop. Photo by Wayne Braby

Inside Cherokee Book Shop. Photo by Wayne Braby

Another interesting item (among thousands) is a limited edition of “The Life of Our Lord,” by Charles Dickens, published by Merrymount Press in 1934.  This also is in full red morocco..  Laid in the front inside cover is a cancelled check that Dickens made out to “self” for five pounds, not a small sum when you glance at the date August 27, 1864.  One can’t help wondering what that illustrious gentleman spent  the money on:  was it something special or just enough to cover some day-to-day expenses?  Curious as we are, we will never know.  Also to be found inside this volume, placed loose between two pages, is an old invitation to a dinner on November 2, 1867, in honor of Dickens’ “forthcoming” departure on a trip to the U.S.  The banquet took place at Freemason’s Hall, Great Queen Street, London.  Ahh, if we only had a time machine, we could put that invitation to good use.  And don’t forget to take along some items for Mr. Dickens to sign, maybe even the Merrymount edition of “The Life of  Our Lord.”  Now that would be a rarity, having a signed edition of a book that was printed sixty-five years after the author’s death. Since we don’t yet have a time machine, if you see a copy, be advised that it is either a “spirit signature” or a forgery.

Atlantis Books. Photo by Wayne Braby

Atlantis Books. Photo by Wayne Braby

Leaving Cherokee, we go down the  Boulevard a couple of blocks to ATLANTIS BOOKS.  This is one of those secret bookstores, one that you have probably walked past and never seen because it sits well back from the Boulevard, tightly packed into the rear of an alcove.  Even if you have the exact address you may miss it, so I’m going to give you two important landmarks.  The first is Mr. Howland’s miniature jewelry store and watch repair stand, which sits at the front of the alcove.  The second landmark is to watch the names of the stars embedded in the famous sidewalk.  When you see the name “Rochester” (Legs, do yo’ stuff!) you will be there.

The store itself is deceptively large, but not large enough for the seventy thousand volumes nestled into every nook and cranny (no lie, the store actually does have little nooks and crannies.)  Sometimes the new arrivals are piled so high on the counter that the only thing visible of the owner is an occasional puff of smoke from his pipe that drifts over the top of the stacks, lazily floating up toward the ceiling.  You know right away that this is your kind of store.

More often than not, there is a book scout leaning on the front counter, trying to sell some books to owner “Doc” Burroughs.  One can always tell how tough is the haggling over price by the amount of cigarette butts the fearless scout has deposited in the ashtray. Dr. Burroughs always wears a suit and tie, not to be flashy, but he is a Veterinarian who makes house calls only, he does not have a clinic.  In between the stops to treat sick dogs and cats, he stops at thrift stores, estate sales, and other bookstores to pick up some good inventory.  His Volkswagen station wagon is always piled with coolers full of medicine for the animals, surrounded by boxes of books, filling up the rest of the space.  It’s a winning combination because even if book sales are slow, sick animals abound, so the rent will always get paid.

The real fun at Atlantis is to slip towards the back aisles and dig around in, say, the Russian History section, or root through one of L.A.’s best World War 2 collections.  On the way out (or in), don’t forget to check out the three bargain carts that are dutifully wheeled out into the alcove each day.

Marlow's Bookshop. Photo by Wayne Braby

Marlow’s Bookshop. Photo by Wayne Braby

Leaving Atlantis, walk up to Argyle and cross the street to the south side of Hollywood and work your way back.  The first stop is right on the corner of Hollywood and Argyle,  MARLOW’S BOOKSHOP.  Owned by -you guessed it – a gentleman named Marlow, this store has been open about five years. It has a general stock of used books, but specializes in back issue periodicals and in research (mainly for the film industry).  A graduate engineer before he got into the book business, Marlow said he recently got a call from the filmmakers of All The President’s Men.  They needed to duplicate the library of The Washington Post for some of the scenes, so  Marlow rented them an entire set-up of 10,000 books.  It was a rush job , he put it together overnight so the film company could start shooting the scene the next day!

Notice the 50% off sign in the window.  This came about when Marlow had stopped over to Hollywood Book City.  While chatting with Book City owner Alan Siegel, he complained that business was a little slow.  “Why don’t you have a sale?” said Alan, “It’l bring in some new business.”  Marlow said he would try it, but didn’t know how to start.  Alan generously loaned Marlow a beautiful large banner that said “Anniversary Sale, 50% Off”.  Marlow borrowed the banner and put it up on his shop (not shown in the photo).  It worked so well that he kept the banner up there permanently, and refused to give it back to Alan. “That damned banner cost me over a $100,” said Siegel.  “No good deed goes unpunished on this street” he said sadly. To make matters worse, a couple of Marlow’s customers claim that he doubled the price on most items in order not to sell too cheaply.  I can only say that these are at the moment unsubstantiated and unproven claims, but certainly in the realm of bookstore lore.

Universal Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

Universal Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

A few doors west is UNIVERSAL BOOKS.  This store has been in business for about 10 years.  The present owner is a former insurance agent who got into the book business “because of the easy pace and the interesting people.”  Universal carries a general stock, specializing in first editions, rare and scarce books and occult.

universal-books

“I really like book people,” says the owner Jules Manasseh,, “but once in a while you get a nut in.  Like once a guy came in and went back to the shelves and started looking around.  Before long he starts goose-stepping around the store yelling ‘Sieg Heil’ and giving the Nazi salute.  I had to ask him to leave, he was bothering the customers.  Then, a couple of weeks later he came back in, tried to sneak past me wearing one of those pair of phony glasses with the big nose attached.  I guess he thought I wouldn’t recognize him.  I threw him out again.  He was a real nut.”  Well, that’s Hollywood, folks!

Gilberts Book Shop. Photo by Wayne Braby

Gilberts Book Shop. Photo by Wayne Braby

Next is GILBERT’S BOOK SHOP, the oldest book store in Hollywood.  It has been there since 1928 (although not with the same name), it was formerly The Satyr Book Store and began life actually around the corner on Vine Street.  They carry new and used books, mainly in the fields of metaphysics and astrology, and also push best-seller novels, first editions and fine sets.  You can also buy old movie lobby cards for $1.00 each on a bargain table near the door.  During World War II Henry Miller used to receive his mail here. Mr. Gilbert, the owner, is married to one of the daughters of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Don’t even think about finding any rare Tarzan books, Mr. Gilbert keeps them all at his house.

Proceeding west to Cahuenga and then taking a few steps south to 1952, you will find WORLD BOOK AND NEWS, a 24-hour newsstand.  The large display room also offers magazines and pocketbooks, with a generous selection of the latest comics stretching along the outside wall of the building.

A block away at 1638 N. Wilcox is BOND STREET BOOKS.  Owners Steve Edrington and Jim McDonald maintain a large stock of used and back issue comics, back issue magazines, and a good selection of movie stills and posters.  They’ve been in business here eight years and their crowded store contains lots of goodies.

Hollywood Book Service invoice. Collection of Paul Hunt

Hollywood Book Service invoice. Collection of Paul Hunt

HOLLYWOOD BOOK SERVICE  is also just south of the Boulevard, at 1654 Cherokee Ave.  The owner, Helen Hall, is the only woman bookstore owner in the Hollywood Boulevard area.  She started as a book scout but found that she had accumulated so many books that she had to open a store, which was in 1965.  With over 20,000 books, Ms Hall specializes in searching for out of print books, movie stills, posters, and magazines, used encyclopedias and sets of The Great Books of the Western World. There is a good stock of autographed movie stills, including George Raft, Cagney, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, and Edward G. Robinson.

Ms. Hall fondly recalled one of the most pleasant moments in her career as a bookseller.  She had once bought some books from a private school library, and as she was leaving the librarian gave her, free of charge, about 30 bound volumes of Railroad magazine  She took them back and set them on the floor of her shop, near the door, and the next day a customer walked in and purchased them for $250.  Now, if you could only have a windfall like that every day!

Larry Edmunds Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

Larry Edmunds Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

Back on the Boulevard again, we go into LARRY EDMUNDS BOOKSHOP.  This has the world’s largest collection of books and memorabilia on cinema.  Larry Edmunds died about 1941.  He had originally worked for the Stanley Rose Bookstore, but left Rose and went into partnership with Milt Luboviski, the present owner.

larry-edmunds-2

For you bookstore history buffs, Stanley Rose’s shop was across the street from present day Edmunds, in what is now a part of Musso & Frank’s Grill.  At the time, the 1930s, Rose was known as one of the most flamboyant of the Los Angeles booksellers.  He was a friend of the famous: Cagney, Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe were among his friends.  Rose was known to carry his satchel of fine books around town to personally show them (and sell them) to his high rolling customers, the movie producers, directors and stars.  He was also known to spend a lot of time at Musso’s, where he held court daily, as the expression goes.  Rose died after the war.

Larry Edmunds Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

Larry Edmunds Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

But back to Edmunds.  The shop has over one million items, including antique cameras and movie paraphernalia.  It is here that you will find the literature of the cinema:  books, biographies, sheet music, scripts, magazines, posters, press books, lobby cards, and so on.  A nice place to spend the summer!

Our last two stops are both on a side street, Las Palmas, a few steps south of Hollywood Boulevard.  The first is UNIVERSAL NEWS, another 24 hour newsstand.  They stock everything fro current magazines to out of town newspapers.  If they ain’t got it you’re in trouble!  A lot of Hollywood industry people stop here to pick up the latest copy of Hollywood Reporter, or the Racing Form.

Baroque Book Store. Photo by Wayne Braby

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?)

Now that you have the list, the only thing left to tell you is “Happy Hunting”, and I hope you are fortunate enough to have a bank account much larger than mine!

 

 

Hollywood Boulevard Bookstore Follies Part 3

Continuing the Survey of Hollywood Bookshops in 1976

by Paul Hunt

Photos by Wayne Braby unless otherwise noted.

A note about the photos.  About the time I originally wrote this article, my friend Wayne Braby offered me his glorious photos of the Hollywood Bookshops you will see in this article, never before published to my knowledge.  Wayne was in contact with Muir Dawson of Dawson’s Book Shop, and I have a letter from Muir discussing the possibility of Wayne writing a book for Dawson on the subject of the Hollywood book stores.  I don’t think this project was ever completed, hence Wayne gave me his photos. Wayne Braby was a bookseller, specializing in Military History.  When I knew him, he was working out of his house in Santa Monica.  His wife was a librarian in Santa Monica, a very literary family! I hope you greatly enjoy these wonderful photographs showing a long-lost world.

Getting back to the subject at hand, all the shops on Hollywood Boulevard have the same problem to a greater or lesser degree, so I would like to propose a solution to this over-crowding phenomenon.  It can only be met by an aggressive policy of continuous expansion, i.e., get more books then get more space then get more books and so on.  The bookshops will slowly expand until they are adjoining one another, and the future will bring the glorious scene of Hollywood Boulevard becoming one giant bookstore, all connected with interior passageways.  You could enter at, say La Brea, and not surface again until a week later at Argyle.  Pack a snack.

(Note how wrong I was on that prediction.  Wishful thinking to the max.  There’s now only one bookstore left on Hollywood Blvd., Larry Edmunds, specializing in motion picture history.  All others gone, a near complete wipe-out of our past cultural repositories.)

But for now you will have to be content to hoof it up and down the street, seeking out the bookshops individually.  To help you with this chore, I will take you on a short guided tour, possibly introducing you to some shops that have until now escaped your attention.  We will start on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard from Highland and go east until we reach Argyle, then return on the south side of the street.  You will probably need several days to accomplish this when you do it for real; it is not a feat that can be performed in one day and also be enjoyed, unless of course, your will power is like unto Superman and you are the only person on earth who can walk into even the smallest bookshop and resist the urge to browse thoroughly through the beckoning stacks.  The mere mention of Superman brings us to our first stop, COLLECTOR’S BOOK STORE, aka BENNETT’S, home of the rare comic book.

The bronzed plaque embedded into the front of the entrance-way carries an odd slogan in Latin that reads, “bene Agimus Vobiscum.”  I am told that this means, “Where the good deals are given.”  Collector’s originally started in business on Wilcox, just north of the Boulevard, about 1965.  The owners are former high school teacher Malcolm Willits, Leonard Brown, and Mark Willoughby. They moved to their present location in 1968, where they now hold forth as one of the great rare comics dealers.  The well organized store also holds an awesome amount of movie memorabilia, including movie stills, posters, scripts and fan magazines.  The more that one million movie photo stills are all categorized for easy reference both by star name and movie title.  The 50,000 or so movie and television scripts are also well categorized  The poster collection even includes one of the very first movie posters, circa 1912, from an obscure movie that was filmed by Edison.

If you happen to be into science fiction,, check out the tremendous collection of back issue science fiction magazines  Since this year is the 59th anniversary for Amazing Stories, you may want to pop in and pick up the first issue, dated April 1926.  Bring a bank loan officer with you.

The old Pickwick Bookshop

The old Pickwick Bookshop

Next we come to PICKWICK BOOK SHOP a store so well known that I can add very little.  It is now owned by B. Dalton, a giant national chain of bookstores.  It is certainly the supermarket of books, for here one can find an enormous selection of new paperbacks, hard cover editions, best sellers and remainders.

But the store was not always like this.  The behemoth of a book store began in a very small way in 1925 when Louis Epstein purchased a tiny bookshop that was actually attached to a gunsmith’s shop in Long Beach.  The man who sold it to Epstein gave him some parting advice on buying used books:  “Don’t ever pay more than 10 cents for any book.”  Epstein used to recall that advice got him thrown out of some of the best homes in Long Beach.

He eventually moved to downtown Los Angeles, calling his store Epstein’s Used Books. His shop was near the old Dawson’s, and Epstein could watch the constant stream of folks going into Dawson’s, with little spill-over into his small shop. Epstein dealt in literature and poetry, but was having a hard time of it, all the while seeing his neighbor Ernest Dawson doing a pretty good business with a lot of the L.A. trade passing through his doors.  Then fortune smiled on Louie.  A movie studio came in and wanted to rent 5,000 books.  When pressed for a rental amount, he blurted out 5 cents a day per book.  The studio folks were happy with that, and Epstein wrote up a rental document, which was to last for 30 days.  Time passed, and the books were never returned. Epstein called a few times but was given the run-around.  About a year later a truck pulled up in front of his shop and dropped off the 5,000 books that had been used by the studio as set props. The studio sent him a check for the rental for 30 days.  After some phone calls, protesting that they owed him $250. per day for 365 days, the studios said “no way, we only needed them for 30 days.  Sorry that we forgot to send them back on time, go pound sand.”  Epstein phoned his lawyer instead.  The attorney extracted the full amount from the Studio, a very substantial figure. Their lax business practice cost them nearly $100,000, big money in the 1930s.  When Epstein called his attorney to collect the money, his lawyer refused to give it to him.  “If I give you this money, you’ll just spend it foolishly buying more books and having a good time.  So here’s the deal:  you go find a building to buy and I will release the money into escrow, that way at least you will own your own store.”  And that is how Louis Epstein ended up owning the building on Hollywood Blvd. that became the mighty Pickwick Bookshop, opened in 1938 and concentrating on selling new books and remainders.  Mr. Epstein sold his interest to B. Dalton a few years ago.

pickwick-inside

A great shot of the inside of Pickwick.  The stairs on the right led up to the top floor which was loaded with stacks of remainders, many from the U.K.

Jim Hubler's Partridge Book Shop

Jim Hubler’s Partridge Bookstore.

Nestled right next door to Pickwick is our next stop,PARTRIDGE BOOKSTORE.  For fifteen years Partridge has treated folks quite nicely and become a minor landmark.  A passerby will often notice that around the hour of 3 p.m. a small, growing knot of book buyers begins to line up in front of the store.  The anxious looks on the faces of the patrons reveals some silent prayers (or curses) to the almighty that Jim Hubler, the owner, will be a little earlier today than he was the last time.  Why do all those people wait here rather than go to the obvious elsewhere?  Simple.   Everything in Partridge is discounted, including all the paperbacks.  A large selection of new books, with lots and lots of science fiction paperbacks makes it a pleasant, and thrifty, place to shop.

Dorsett's shop is in the back of the Artisan's Patio

Dorsett’s shop is in the back of the Artisan’s Patio

 Next is FRED DORSETT, BOOKSELLER.  This store is located off the Boulevard inside the Artisan’s Patio, an alley-like mini-craft center containing, among other things, a leather shop, jewelry store, and candle shop.  Dorsett has been there about four years, specializing in used and out-of print books about books, printing history, small press books, metaphysical and occult.

In the olden days about a hundred years ago, bookmen were often publishers and printers as well as booksellers.  Dorsett is helping to carry on this tradition.  An author himself, his great interest in poetry has led to the audacious project of publishing a book of poetry entitled “Gold Coast.”  Working in his spare time with friend Rob Budinger, the book is being produced entirely by hand, using hand-made paper and printed on an ancient Imperial Press that is lodged in one of Rob’s spare rooms.  As was demonstrated to me one evening, the printing is very time consuming, taking anywhere from five minutes to an hour per each individual page, depending on just whose side the gods happen to be on that day.  The book will then be bound entirely by hand and sold in a strictly limited edition.  This type of production is a slow process; the book will take about a year to produce.

Meanwhile, Dorsett has plenty of adventures to occupy his time, including roaring through the scores of estate sales on the week-ends, hitting the hundreds of library sales, and rooting through the books that are brought into the shop by book scouts.  Sometimes, just getting to work is an adventure.  One recent Sunday, Dorsett arrived at the Artisan’s Patio early to get some books priced for sale.  As he put his key into the outside gate a slight movement on the other side of the gate caught his attention.  He stared through the iron bars of the gate in disbelief: a large, fully grown lion was sitting in the shadows looking straight at him!  “I slowly turned the key back to lock the gate and backed away, unnerved and shaking.  I wasn’t prepared to go in there and be lunch for Mr. Lion.”  The owner of the big cat showed up a few minutes later, apologizing. “He probably wouldn’t hurt you, he’s usually pretty mellow” he said, dragging his pet down Hollywood Blvd. to his car.  “Yeah, right” said Dorsett.  “Tell it to the Ringling Brothers”.

book-treasury

Moving on a few doors, we come to THE BOOK TREASURY.  The store has been operated by the present owners about two years.  Jon Gentilman and Bob Weinstein.  A warm, pleasant shop it is richly paneled and neatly organized, the books evenly lining the shelves like the Queen’s guards waiting for marching orders.  The specialties here are science fiction (hardbacks only), modern first editions, Americana and illustrated books.

Certainly the most interesting piece of Americana in the shop at the moment is a handwritten letter from George Wythe, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Dated November 24th, 1763, it is addressed in a clear and beautiful hand to one Henry Tucker of Norfolk, Virginia.  Wythe was seeking to have Tucker post a bond guaranteeing the costs that would occur in a suit brought by an alleged friend of Tucker’s.  Wythe remarks at the end of the letter that if Tucker does not know the man involved, “you will be kind enough to pardon this freedom and let me know who is his friend”  History, as far as I know, does not record Tucker’s answer, but it does record quiet starkly that Wythe himself could have used more friends.  Someone he trusted poisoned him, and he received the dubious distinction of being the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to be murdered!

To be continued….

Map with notes of shop locations referred to in the article.

Map with notes of shop locations referred to in the article.