Hollywood’s Lost Book World East of Vine

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

Universal Book Store
Photo by Wayne Braby

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.

Marlows Book Shop
Photo by Wayne Braby

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.

Hollywood Boulevard Bookseller Follies – Part 1

(updated with more information 11-17-2016)

Tales of Wild and Crazy Bookseller Behavior From the 1970s,

Some of it Actually True

by Paul Hunt


Mark Sailor Lands a Job at Hollywood Book City

Mark Sailor landed at Hollywood Book City sometime in the mid 1970s.  At that time, Book City was in its growing years, expanding from one store to three storefronts on Hollywood Blvd.  The Store was started by Jerry Weinstein, of the famous Weinstein booksellers.  I knew them all except one of the sisters, and I can tell you they were bibliophiles through and through.  There’s been a few family book dynasties in Southern California, The Dawsons and the Duttons come to mind, but the Weinsteins outnumber any other contenders in all fields, they opened book shops around Southern California, often competing with one another, sometimes squabbling with each other, sometimes partnering up, but usually a fiercely independent group, helping each other only in the direst of circumstances.

Hollywood Book City

Hollywood Book City

When Jerry started Hollywood Book City, he was already a veteran bookseller.  As I remember, he was first involved with Universal Books, which was down east of Vine Street.  Jerry was somewhat desperate to find a suitable partner for the Book City store, someone who could lend a hand but also pump in some desperately needed capital. The desperation was so bad that he even asked me, which was really a joke, I was driving a cab and barely had enough to eat much less that strange word “capital”.   At the time, his sister lived in New York and was married to a man named Alan Siegel, who did have some money.  Jerry convinced them to come out West.  It was a good partnership for a while, but Jerry’s wife did not get along with Jerry’s sister, and that led to a breakup, with Alan running the Hollywood Store and Jerry heading out to the San Fernando Valley, where he started Valley Book City.  More on this Weinstein saga later (maybe), for now we are at the juncture of Mark Sailor drifting into Hollywood Book City and getting a job working with Jerry.

Hollywood was thriving in those days.  Book shops lined the street, and all retail was booming.  Most folks think that working in a book shop is a great life:  you could just sit around reading books all day, making an occasional sale.  How wrong, wrong, wrong you would be if you believe that nonsense, especially if you were talking about the weirdest place on earth, the center of the spinning vortex of strange behavior:  Hollywood.  Let us never forget that Hollywood and the surrounding area was founded by some wonderful but far out religious cults and communes and their occult and secret marks are still on the land.  I have written about this before, and intend to expand on it in the future.

Whatever Mark Sailor knew about bookselling, he probably got a shock working at Book City. The street was full of weird people, who would often come into your shop and drive you nuts.  I worked at several bookshops in Hollywood, and there was never a dull moment.  Nutcakes were especially more obnoxious at night, stealing books, tearing out pages, pissing in a back isle, eating gooey food they had sneaked in, on and on.  Some were so smelly you had to eject them right away or they would run off your other customers. And then there were the robbers, often with guns and/or knives, intent on getting a handful of cash from your register to buy enough drugs to make it through the night. All the above remarks apply only to the other booksellers on the street.   The patrons were even worse.

How Mark Sailor Met Famous Actor Will Sampson

Will Sampson

Will Sampson

Mark Sailor was in the middle of this inferno, starting out as a clerk, putting brodarts on books, cleaning up, trying to remain positive.  He was tall and thin, with thick glasses, an infectious smile and so good natured that I thought he wasn’t 100% human- I never saw him in a bad mood.  One night Will Sampson, the Native American actor who was just starting his acting career, came into Book City. Mark said he was drunk. He was a big guy, 6’5” and a tough former rodeo rider. He was in a rage about the white man and all the things they did to the American Indians. (We all agree with him on that issue). For some reason he grabbed Mark, taking him completely by surprise and got him in a headlock. He then marched him up and down Hollywood Boulevard, all the while ranting and screaming about the evil white man.  Mark thought he was going to die.  Sampson was so strong that Mark, thin and wispy, couldn’t break loose, and the big Indian dragged him around the Boulevard like he was a rag doll.  After a while, he calmed down, let Mark go, and staggered off.   As far as we know, even after Will sobered up, they did not become fast friends. So much for the pleasant evenings working in a bookstore in Hollywood.  After that, Mark became wary of anyone entering the store and getting too close to him.  This story came via Cliff, who got it from Mark before he died.

Mark's Book Shop on North Lake near Washington, Pasadena

Mark’s Book Shop on North Lake near Washington, Pasadena

Mark went on to work at other bookshops, like Cliff’s in Pasadena.  Mark became a first-rate bookseller.  He opened his own stores at various times.  I think his first one was on North Lake Street. Alan Siegel, owner of Hollywood Book City very generously paid for the first months rent, last months rent and security deposit to help Mark get a start. It was a nice shop, but about a year or two after opening the landlord decided to have the building re-roofed, and as soon as the old roof was taken off, an unexpected rain storm came, ruining Mark’s entire stock of books.  The jerk roofer left town, never to be called into account, and Mark had a bad time getting any recompense from the landlord. As the saying goes, “life ain’t for sissy’s”

When Mark first got the shop opened, Alan sent Ivan Chertoff up to help Mark put plastic Brodarts on the dust jackets of his books.  This was a job that Ivan had at Hollywood Books City, where he had hung out for years, not really an “official employee”, but helped Alan around the shop for lunch money.  I met “Ivan” many times at Book City, and frankly always felt that he had more than a few screws loose.  His real name, by the way, was Aaron Sotland according to Cliff.  I have no idea why he donned the moniker of “Ivan”, but other customers at Book City called him the crazy Russian.  When the moon was full, look out, he could fly off the handle.  Mark worked at Book City during this time, and certainly knew Ivan, so some kind of deal was made for Ivan to lend a hand to Mark in his new shop.  Alan probably needed a breather, another good reason aside from the obvious charitable one, to “loan” his ace Brodarter to Mark.

“Ivan” died a few years ago of cancer.  Mark went to the hospital to see him, but Ivan refused to talk to him, angrily and loudly proclaiming that Mark owed him money, possibly from the days of disaster at the Book Company.  Ivan died the next day.  My only thought is that if you are on death’s door why worry about a few bucks that someone owes you?  You aren’t going to take it to wherever you might be headed.  Somewhere I have a photo of Ivan getting an award from the City of L.A. or some Library Group, I’ll post it when I find it.

Another interesting thing that Cliff told me recently is that when he was younger he dated Mark’s mother Marilyn.  Small world, eh?

IMG_3896Later, he had another shop called The Owl Bookshop.  I was never there, but found an old business card that I’m reproducing here.  Mark helped out Cliff with bookselling and bookkeeping until his death a few years back.  He was a sweet guy, always polite and seemed to keep his cool, even under some of the difficult circumstances in his life.

I will update this post in the future, with some photos of Mark, as soon as I find them.  I also need to check with Cliff to get more information on his death.  I know he went into the Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, he wasn’t feeling well.  He was put into an induced coma, which he never came out of.