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The Slide Area No. 10/February 2008

In the previous issue, I made reference to Larry Edmunds Bookstore. I am devoting this issue – a special historical number – to a reprint of an article from Picture Play, October 1930, pages 83 and 116, which is possibly the first piece published on a Hollywood bookstore catering to the film community.

The Boulevard Directory by Margaret Reid

In the old days, the palmy days of art for art’s sake and such, there was nothing a star liked better than to curl up in front of the camera with a good book. No cinema castle was complete without a tidy shelf of the dear classics in swell bindings. The library was second only to the Russian wolfhound in popularity. For press purposes the two were essential to success.

In these modern times, you don’t see any more pictures of stars with their Schopenhauer. You may think, consequently, that they have given up reading. But that’s because you haven’t cast an eye over the accounts at the Hollywood Book Store. Far from giving up literature, the film colony has taken it up. Dinner parties are now sustained as much by literary discussion as by studio gossip.

The Hollywood Book Store has been flourishing for over eight years. On the Boulevard at Highland Avenue, directly opposite the famous old Hotel Hollywood, a shallow cloister separates its door from the sidewalk. No architectural fancies distinguish it – it is just a shop. But it knows more about the inner star than any other shop in town. Taste in literature is a pretty infallible indication of character, and Hollywood has few secrets that are not known to the analytical walls of this store.

Even his best friends would probably be startled to know that a certain juvenile of considerable boxoffice appeal entered one day and asked nervously for a copy of “What Every Young Man Should Know.” Then there is the character actress who wears smart clothes and a sophisticated demeanor in drawing-room drama, and who buys every James Oliver Curwood opus as soon as it appears. And dear indeed to the hearts of the Hollywood Book Store is the famous ingénue who fluttered in to ask for Havelock Ellis’ latest murder mystery.

But there are exceptions to the general rule of local intelligence. This store caters principally to a moving-picture clientele, yet their stock is as varied as the best in New York, and their standard of selection and sale just about the finest in Los Angeles.

Jean Hersholt is an omnivorous collector, with a connoisseur’s discrimination. He is not attracted to the moderns. Dickens is his favorite and any old edition the store finds it immediately added to the Hersholt library.

John Barrymore has a leaning toward morbidity and eroticism, but abominates anything unless it is masterful of construction and in good taste. Every few days he comes in. Hat pulled down over his eyes, he asks for his book, spells his name out to the clerk through the corner of his mouth and makes a break for the door. Barrymore never browses.

Frankly aware of the limitations of her literary knowledge, Joan Crawford seldom shops independently. Usually she asks the clerk’s advice. She wants to know what is good and why is it considered so. And then buys it. She recently disclosed a little-known passion of her husband. Douglas Jr. is doing some illustrating, perhaps for his own writing, and Joan bought the finest examples of Harry Clarke’s and Alastair’s drawings for him. They are two of Doug’s favorites and Joan surrounds him with an atmosphere in keeping with his own venture.

Louis Wolheim is the delight of the shop. What he doesn’t know about literature just isn’t to be known. A brilliant wit, his frequent visits are keenly enjoyed by the clerks, even aside from the prodigious purchases he makes.

Lois Moran is not to be taken in by the “faerie intellects.” She likes vitality and a sure power between the covers of the books she buys. And the covers themselves mean nothing to her. Special editions, signed copies, rare illustrations, are never brought out for Lois. Subject matter is all she cares about. Good books in cheap bindings are her meat.

Another youngster with taste anomalous to her appearance is Lola Lane. Fiction she buys now and then, but usually she pores over the shelves devoted to science, psychology, and astronomy. De Kruif’s “Microbe Hunters” is still one of her pet book. Any clerk who ventures into a technical argument with her becomes a very uncomfortable young man. For Lois knows her subjects.

Clara Bow, behind roseate glasses, buys in one visit a hundred dollars’ worth of “wicked stories.” But she is so sweet about it that the clerks are convinced she is only a little girl afraid of forgetting her part. Thus the books are a character reenforcement. The Costellos, Helene and Dolores, shop carefully and with taste. Good verse and finely written prose appeals to them. Dorothy Sebastian reads every play that appears in book form, and knows the modern drama intimately, despite her Hollywood exile. Conrad Nagel always knows exactly what he wants and is never “sold.”

As you see, the clientele of the Hollywood Book Store is not only the most celebrated in the world. It is also a very discriminating one.