Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Wives Is What I Hanker For": Mormons Take Center Stage

by Stephen J. Gertz

We shift from rare prose literature to rare literature of the theater today, inspired by an item offered in Swann Galleries upcoming Vintage  Posters sale, August 7, 2013.

During the 1880-1881 theatrical touring season the Goesche-Hopper Company presented 100 Wives, an anti-Mormon tabloid-theater comedy-melodrama with a dash of anti-Chinese racism that appears to have sold out every performance in every town and city it played in.

The playbill set forth the proceedings:

EMBLEMATIC TABLEAU - Inner Temple of the Mormons. The Danites Receiving a New Covenant. The Solemn Oaths of the Blood atonement. The Chant of the Priests. Immediately following this picture, which illustrates the mission of the Destroying Angels, the curtain rises upon the Play.

ACT I - Salt Lake City. Arrival of the English Colony at New Jerusalem. Elder Bezum's Wicked Designs. The McGinley Family. Elsie Bradford Hears Terrible News. A Timely Rescue.

ACT II - Nick's Ranch at McGinely's Gulch. The Chinese Question. A Boys Celebrate. A Lost Child. The Danites in Pursuit. Bezum Baffled. The Dead Restored To Life.

ACT III - TABLEAU I - McGinley's Home. Reconciliation and New Terrors. Mrs. McGinley's Plan. "Wives is what I hanker for." TABLEAU 2 - Up among the Mines. Little Bessie Prays for her Papa. The Death Fall from the Cliff.

ACT IV - Exterior of the Mormon Tabernacle. The Marriage. Elder Bezum presses Hard. The Mormon Church is Supreme. Surprise. The Govermnet has Something to Say at Last. "Home Sweet Home."

First on the bill, the play's lead character possesses my new favorite name, one right out of S.J. Perelman. Elder Bezum, third on the bill, is the zealous Mormon who declaims, "Wives is what I hanker for." A better headline for a personal ad  would be difficult to compose, "SWMM Seeks Wives! Wives, Wives!" lacking its quaint colloquial fervor.

The Cast:

Confucius McGinley, a Doubtful Convert.
Edward Branford, a Gentile.
Elder Bezum, A Pillar of the Church.
Hung Li, a Celestial.
Mrs. Sophronia McGinley, an Ambitious Woman.
Elsie Bradford, a Deceived Woman.
Mrs. Andrews, a Deluded Woman.
Little Bessie

"If this play could run for a hundred nights instead of closing this week, it would still not exhaust popular interest, for every one who has once seen it must want to go again. It has taken the town by surprise, and that, too, in the midst of election excitement; such a fresh and dramatic story, based on a matter that all are familiar with, yet that for the first time seems to come home to the audience with all its tragic capabilities.

"The popular idea of the 'American play,' with its slang and localisms of manners and dress, is very far indeed from all that is presentd in 'The Hundred Wives.' Nor need any one fear to be introduced into the American harem at Salt Lake, or be treated to any moralizing sermons or situations, in themselves demoralizing and disgusting. On the contrary the plot of this Mormon story is worked out with a hand at once delicate and skilful.

"The believer and the Danite, Mormon Apostle and Destroying Angel, are given just that touch of fanatic devotion and of quaint phraseology as brings out the livery this creed has adopted to serve the devil in, and the opening tableau of the Danite vow in the Mormon Tabernacle is the real keynote to the story. The skill, too, with which the Chinaman is made to foil a Mormon plot is very noticeable, especially as he is a typical Chinaman, of the California pattern, not above the tricks of his tribe - yet turning his secretive qualities to good and loyal effect as the plot thickens.

"Here are the two nearest problems that the American people have to deal with - the Chinese and the Mormon - most ingeniously worked out, and although the audience is in a broad ripple of laughter from beginning to end, there is an undercurrent of appeal constantly that this is a live story, and here is a matter that must be presently be settled in one or another way.

"The entirely novel humor and style of acting of Mr. De Wolf Hopper and Miss Ada Gilman have already been noticed. Both are such natural and such new personations, and both have such unusual physical advantages for the comic situation, that the matrimonial argument is irresistible whenever the diminutive wife takes her tall, strapping miner in hand. Mrs. Sophronia, with her unwavering attachment to the Mormon creed, and her undisguised horror of it when the reality os played off upon her by her own earnestness and her husband's joke, is altogether delightful.

"…In fine, the play is an argument, such as people can understand, against the hideous Mormon creed, which is suffered to exist by virtue of popular indifference to its every-day features. There will certainly be a change in public sentiment wherever the 'Hundred Wives' is played, for it is the one wife that comes out triumphant.

"Forcible as the plot is, it is none the less a clean plot, and all the more dramatic for being a true bill" (The Scrap Book, Volume 2, Sept. 1906- Feb. 1907, pp. 723-724, reprinting a review from the Philadelphia Ledger, 1880).

"This talking drama will occupy the boards at the opera house on Monday night next. The New Orleans Democrat pays the entertainment the following flattering tribute: The new American play, 'One Hundred Wives,' which has created an immense sensation wherever presented, was produced here last night and made a decided hit. The theater was filled from top to bottom, and the unanimous verdict of the immense audience was, that the drama is the best thing in its line which has ever been brought before a New Orleans audience. Though it is somewhat on the order of 'The Danites,' it is far superior to that play both in plot and detail. The company presenting it is an excellent one" (Decatur Review, January 28, 1882).

Producer-Actor De Wolf Hopper (1858-1935), who portrayed Confucius McGinley and was, presumably, the play's writer-director, was ninety-four marriages shy of "100 Wives." Married only six times, his fifth pass at the altar espoused him to actress Elda Furry, who later became the famed Old Hollywood gossip columnist, Hedda Hopper.

The world awaits a play with clean plot and true bill whose lead character is named Lao Tse McGonagle, Mencius O'Malley, or Zhaozhou Schwartz.

Images of 100 Wives and De Wolf Hopper courtesy of Swann Galleries; image of 100 Wives flyer courtesy of Ebay, with our thanks.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How WET Can You Get?

by Alastair Johnston 

Leonard Koren, Making WET: the magazine of Gourmet Bathing, Point Reyes, Ca: Imperfect Publishing, 2012

 WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing (1976–81), was a pioneering example of a California “lifestyle” magazine that was as much about the design and packaging as about the content. There were ads that looked like editorial content and vice versa. Ostensibly about bathing, it ran from 1976 until 1981, when the editor, Leonard Koren, left Venice, California, moved to San Francisco and then to Japan.

  The influence of Japanese culture increased steadily in the US, particularly the West Coast states, after the Second World War. Zen Buddhism was an important element, but so were the graphic arts. And there is the Japanese tea ceremony. “The Japanese tea room – despite its very appealing form and philosophy – was too culturally specific for the vague purposes I had in mind,” said Koren, who was a former architecture student looking for a direction.

   Koren wanted to create some kind of visual expression that was not in the mainstream. He had been thinking about bathrooms as important but overlooked places that were private and cleansing: they had illumination, heat and water. They involved nakedness and contemplation. He had used images of bathers in a series of artworks, and came up with the idea of a magazine about bathing. His magazine was to be about enthusiasms, and since California is about extremes, he though he would create a parody of enthusiasts.

   His inspiration was threefold, first there was Vogue which he saw as dogmatic, full of bombastic bluster and grand pronouncements about fashion, such as “BROWN is the new BLACK!” Then there was Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, which was a compendium of beautifully presented drivel by self-important minor celebrities; and thirdly, there was Gourmet, a foodie magazine which featured pretentious articles about meals. Koren liked the idea of a tongue-in-cheek combination of all three, a “Magazine of Gourmet Bathing,” that was and was not about bathing: mud baths and soaps can only hold your attention for so long, but pretty much anything could work in the context. He started working on WET and delivered the magazine to friends in Venice Beach and Santa Monica, networking to sell ads or find contributors.

WET June/July 1977, photo by Raul Vega; design by Tom Ingalls & April Greiman

   In April 1977 he met the designer Tom Ingalls who had design world connections to photographers and graphic artists, that would improve the look of the magazine from a funky typewritten fanzine into something with more polish. At the time Ingalls was going through a break-up with his girlfriend April Greiman, and Koren hoped they could get along long enough to get the April/June issue of the magazine done. Greiman was on the verge of becoming one of the key figures in the LA design world. Her background was in textiles and she had gone to Basel, Switzerland, to study at the Art School there, but the faculty had plugged her into a series of courses in typography that were to transform her interests. She took the Swiss style she had been schooled in, and elements of Russian Constructivism she had picked up in Europe, and deconstructed them, leading to a postmodern style in American design in the 1980s (popularized, for example, on record album covers from Los Angeles-based labels).

  Cultural historian Frances Butler referred to it as “The LA Slash-and-Spritz style” because of the pieces of film, rubylith and artificial blotches added to the clean layouts that were appearing with the introduction of computerized design. No longer were jobs typeset in metal, repro-ed and pasted up, now there were photo-compositors, and most of the pre-press work was done on the light table. This led to a certain sterility in graphics that Greiman saw at once, and countered with stray bits of Zip-a-tone screen, registration marks and other tools which were normally invisible – a “baring the device” technique that had become popular in literature and film long before. In 1981, Butler wrote, “Sometimes the connection between visual incidents is not made explicit and the reader must try to trap these incidents into a syntax. Much contemporary graphic design has essentially a reader-sequencing structure. This is true of many Japanese posters, especially the early work of Tadanori Yokoo, and now the poster work of the Los Angeles slash-and-spritz school.”

WET September/October 1979, the "Religion" issue: Ricky Martin photographed by Guy Webster; designed by April Greiman & Jayme Odgers

  WET quickly evolved from a funky typewritten news-letter to a slick glossy publication and this attracted attention and advertisers. And while the content is more or less immaterial to advertisers, the nudity aspect didn’t hurt. As Koren said, “There is an appetite for nakedness – not the stagey, self-conscious nakedness of skin magazines, but the nakedness that lets the body pass by itself through the awakening and regenerating extremes of hot and cold, light and dark, wet and dry, that the natural environment is so kind to provide.”

  The magazine took off (events at bath houses created a buzz in the press, followed by television interviews in hot tubs, and Mademoiselle editors coming to mud bath parties) and attracted a lot of talented Angeleno artists: designers John Van Hamersveld, Taki Ono and Rip Georges, cartoonists Matt Groening, Futzie Nutzle and Gary Panter, photographers Herb Ritts, Raul Vega and Jayme Odgers. Some at the start of their careers, lent their talents cheaply and helped push the boundaries of art and design that WET would become known for.

  Koren said, “Scattered throughout California there are certain latter-day saints – a dangerous number of whom seem to be artists, photographers, or writers – who get the joke of gourmet bathing without having it explained. Which is fortunate because the concept is so evanescent and mercurial that to attempt explanation is to risk over-kill.” He did explain that it is not a system, a therapy or a philosophy, it is “at most a point of view having some--thing to do with sensuality, humor, humility, and taking such pleasure in small things that they stop being small.”

WET September/October 1980, design by John Van Hamersveld
   The magazine continually reinvented itself. For one thing the designers used it as a calling card to move on to other better-paying or higher profile gigs, but through new approaches to graphics and editorial content, it evolved. John Van Hamersveld, who had already achieved design fame with covers for the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street (1972: a collage of Robert Frank photos with scrawled hand-lettering and visible tape and cut marks), Hotter than Hell by Kiss (1974: showing the influence of Tadanori Yokoo), and Eat to the Beat by Blondie (1979: hand-lettering, angled type and a grid), continued with an illustration career; Jayme Odgers’ trade-mark image of a hand holding a Polaroid was featured on Fleetwood Mac and other best-selling album covers; Matt Groening’s “Life in Hell” cartoon made its first appearance in WET in 1978: it grew to a weekly syndication of 250 papers and launched Groening’s TV show “The Simpsons.”

   Koren found the thematic approach (e.g., “Religion”) was a good solution to pulling an issue together. He persuaded poet Lewis MacAdams to move south from Bolinas and assume the role of editor, which he fulfilled excellently, bringing in another range of literary connections, including William Burroughs’ essay “Is language a virus?” An article on necrophilia created a furor – and sold copies. Koren was well-networked. He dropped in on Noel Young in Santa Barbara and got a copy of Henry Miller’s essay “On Turning Eighty,” which ran in the magazine, as did an article on Henry Miller’s bathroom (Sept/Oct 1981). Fashion and music joined the regular contents. Kristine McKenna brought interviews with musicians that had uncensored language and ideas, making them unfit for more mainstream media. WET caught the Zeitgeist and was light and ephemeral, not predictable or ponderous. The ads blended into the editorial content and vice versa, creating a unified style, which is always desirable in a magazine.

WET September/October 1981, design by "King Terry" Teruhiko Yumura
    Koren refers to wabi-sabi, the Japanese concept of finding beauty in imperfection, and seeing profundity in nature, as one of his guiding principles. D. T. Suzuki described wabi-sabi as “an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty.” In graphics there is a style known as hata-uma or good/bad art (literally “clumsy-tasty,” referring to the occasional appeal of the badly drawn), which extends wabi-sabi to illustration. Koren hired Tokyo-based Teruhiko Yumura as art director in 1981. Yumura (known in WET as King Terry) brought this fresh style to LA design and it influenced Gary Panter and others. Again confusing editorial and advertising matter, there is a full-page ad for Terry’s Hit Parade, a “full-color action art book from Japan’s number one illustrator,” available exclusively as a “terrible WET book.”

   The successful marketing of the Californian lifestyle, particularly in the context of water, was a trend that continued with Beach Culture (late 80s) and Ray Gun (Santa Monica, 1992–2000) magazines, designed by David Carson, that were also essentially pointless, but graphically far less interesting.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Original Schindler's List Offered At $3,000,000

by Stephen J. Gertz

"Don't miss your chance to own a piece of history that has inspired many on the difference one person can make in the face of great danger. This exceedingly rare original Schindler’s List is the only one ever on the market. It emanates from the family of Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s accountant and right hand man (played by Ben Kingsley in the Academy Award-winning film). There are 3 others known which are in institutional hands. It is 14 pages in length and lists 801 male names, dated April 18, 1945. It is guaranteed authentic… Itzhak Stern typed up the 14 page list on onion skin paper. Up for auction is not a copy of that list, but the actual one. It was sold by Itzhak Stern's nephew to the current owner. It is dated in pencil on the first page, April 18, 1945."

An original of Oscar Schindler's list of factory workers to be saved from Nazi gas chambers was offered through an online auction that ended Sunday July 28th at 9PM EDT. On eBay. For  $3,000,000. That's three million george w's. It did not sell.

I, as most professional antiquarian booksellers, am customarily dubious about rare books and documents sold through eBay. Prices often appear to be calculated within a Martian atmosphere with little connection to market realities by sellers who are often amateurs, at best, and authentication can be a challenge. So, when I learned of this offer I simply shook my head: another wacko episode on eBay, the auction network at the bottom of the ratings.

However, when I casually mentioned this offer to a highly respected trade colleague here in Los Angeles he told me that he knew the seller. Not only that but the seller, Gazin Auctions/Auction Cause, was his next door neighbor.

Prior to the auction's end, I contacted Eric Gazin to find out if this is real or if I can share the opium pipe he's been sucking on.

SJG: How did you arrive at the offering price? Can you tell me something about the owner? How did the owner find you? I ask the last because I find it curious that it is being offered on eBay and not through Sotheby's, Christie's, or any other major auction house.

EG: The owner [in Israel] wishes to remain anonymous. This came to me through Gary Zimet, owner of Moments in Time, a document dealer. He is the one who arrived at this price. Contrary to conventional wisdom, eBay is a great location to offer these kinds of rare pieces. Our clients and buyers love the fact there is no 10% buyer's premium too, means more funds to spend on the auction item.

We sold the Rush Limbaugh - Harry Reid letter there for $2.1 million, the highest price ever achieved for a modern document. We have an active base of high net worth individuals who often make purchases from us.

SJG: At that price any serious collector will want to personally view it before committing to buy. What arrangements do you have for previewing the List?

EG: Yes, the winner will be able to see the List in person in Israel while his/her funds are in an escrow account and can bring along their expert.

SJG: If you have no bidders what's your next step?

EG: We have a few interested parties that may or may not bid, and if it ends without them bidding, we will be continuing the purchase discussions with them.

SJG: What sort of business do you have? What do you trade in?

EG: My company is a high profile auction management agency. We help mainly celebrities, charities, corporate brands, TV shows, and individuals with unique auction offerings which need design, promotion, bidder screening, logistic services, research, and consulting. Personally, I love historical items, rare books, and other paper pieces. We are always happy to assist a collector looking for a non traditional auction house alternative.

                                                              •  •  •

So, there you have it. Schindler's Original List, yours for only $3,000,000, private sale pending upon negotiation. When you can sell a letter from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to Limbaugh's boss, Mark P. Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications, excoriating Limbaugh for intemperate comments (read it here), and co-signed by forty-one Democratic senators for $2.1 million, all of a sudden $3 mil for an original of Schindler's List doesn't seem an insane price, nor eBay an inane place for rare books and historical paper from a respectable, high-end dealer..

Images courtesy of Gazin Auctions, with our thanks.

Friday, July 26, 2013

William S. Burroughs Exposes Scientology To Allen Ginsberg

by Stephen J. Gertz

Title page.

Serendipity struck Scientology when, simultaneous to actress Leah Remini's recent and very public defection from the controversial organization, a copy of William S. Burroughs exposé, Ali's Smile / Naked Scientology, came to market. It wasn't just any ol' copy. It was a Presentation Copy, Allen Ginsberg's, inscribed by Burroughs on the front wrapper, "For Allen / Love / William S. Burroughs," and signed "Allen Ginsberg aug 30, 1979 City Lights" on the half-title.

The book collects the author's various newspaper and magazine essays on Scientology and the Scientology-themed short story, Ali's Smile. Burroughs joined the organization during the Sixties, took courses, and became a "clear." But soon afterward he became disenchanted with the group's authoritarian and secretive nature and left the organization in 1970. Officially expelled, he was declared by Scientology to be in a "Condition of Treason."

Burroughs was initially attracted to Scientology because of its promise to liberate the mind by clearing it of traumatic memories that impeded personal growth, and, by extension, social progress and freedom from social control. His frequent collaborator, the artist Brion Gysin, introduced him to it and Burrough's "cut-up" technique in his early books reflected the influence of Hubbard's Dianetics and the fracturing of consciousness to attain a higher reality.

But as his biographer Ted Morgan noted, Burroughs "… had hoped to find a method of personal emancipation and had found instead another control system."

Burroughs wrote:

"In view of the fact that my articles and statements on Scientology may have influenced young people to associate themselves with the so called Church of Scientology, I feel an obligation to make my present views on the subject quite clear..."

"...Some of the techniques are highly valuable and warrant further study and experimentation. The E Meter is a useful device … (many variations of this instrument are possible). On the other hand I am in flat disagreement with the organizational policy. No body of knowledge needs an organizational policy. Organizational policy can only impede the advancement of knowledge. There is a basic incompatibility between any organization and freedom of thought. Suppose Newton had founded a Church of Newtonian Physics and refused to show his formula to anyone who doubted the tenets of Newtonian Physics? All organizations create organizational necessities. It is precisely organizational necessities that have prevented Scientology from obtaining the serious consideration merited by the importance of Mr. Hubbard’s discoveries. Scientologists are not prepared to accept intelligent and sometimes critical evaluation. They demand unquestioning acceptance.

"Mr. Hubbard’s overtly fascist utterances (China is the real threat to world peace, Scientology is protecting the home, the church, the family, decent morals … positively no wife swapping. It’s a dirty Communist trick … national boundaries, the concepts of RIGHT and WRONG against evil free thinking psychiatrist) can hardly recommend him to the militant students. Certainly it is time for the Scientologists to come out in plain English on one side or the other, if they expect the trust and support of young people. Which side are you on Hubbard, which side are you on?" (Burroughs On Scientology, Los Angeles Free Press,  March 6, 1970, reprinted in Ali's Smile / Naked Scientology).

That Burroughs presented this copy of Ali's Smile / Naked Scientology to Allen Ginsberg is of no little significance. Burroughs had been proselytizing to his friend about Scientology as early as 1959. In a letter to Ginsberg dated October 27 of that year he wrote: "The method of directed recall is the method of Scientology. You will recall I wrote urging you to contact local chapter and find an auditor. They do the job without hypnosis or drugs, simply run the tape back and forth until the trauma is wiped off. It works. I have used the method - partially responsible for recent changes."

Ginsberg was also concerned with personal liberation and freedom from social totalitarianism. With this copy of Ali's Smile / Naked Scientology Burroughs presented Ginsberg with his conclusions about the group and his deep concerns, which can be neatly summarized in a line from The Who's We Won't Get Fooled Again, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." Dogma, orthodoxy, and authoritarian control were antithetical to everything Burroughs and Ginsberg stood for.

BURROUGHS, William S. Ali's Smile Naked Scientology. Bonn: Expanded Media Editions, 1978. First collected edition of previously published work, first printing in wrappers, a Presentation Copy inscribed to Allen Ginsberg. Octavo. 106, [4] pp., text in German and English, translations by Carl Weissner. Pictorial wrappers.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pablo Escobar: Drug Lord & Book Publisher?

by Stephen J. Gertz

Quick - you've just been incarcerated in La Cathedral, a maximum-security prison in Colombia built to your exacting specs so your accommodations are deluxe. You were the world's most notorious cocaine trafficker, head of the Medellin Cartel, but now you're all dressed-up with no place to go. You don't want anyone to forget your infamy. What's a coke kingpin to do?

Publish a book.


In 1992 Pablo Escobar did just that. Pablo Escobar Gaviria en Caricaturas 1983-1991 is his self-published valentine to himself, a vanity publication containing 352 political cartoons, photographs, and drawings (four in color) that originally appeared in Colombian newspapers.

Printed on June 2, 1992, it was limited to a small number of copies, the exact number unknown. It's full calf binding was graced by Escobar's facsimile signature and fingerprint on the front cover. After Escobar's escape from the lap of penal luxury a month later, in late July, 1992, his family, for reasons unclear, burned the print run. It appears that only a handful have survived, perhaps ten copies at most. It has become quite scarce.

But in a reminder that price is tied to market demand and not necessarily an item's rarity, the offering price on this book has ranged from the ludicrously absurd to the possibly reasonable. Two sellers on eBay - a site that has legitimate and knowledgeable rare booksellers yet is tainted by so many amateurs who have little idea of what they're doing and no feel for the market - offered copies at $60,000 (November, 2012) and $107,000 (February, 2013). PBA Galleries offered a copy in June, 2012 that was estimated to sell for $10,000 - $15,000.

The market spoke and it said (with Jamaican accent), "Have you lost your mind, Mon?" No surprise: they did not sell.

The eBay sellers had no excuse. PBA Galleries' initial auction page remains online with results posted (the lot in question, #94, excluded from the list, indicating no sale). The eBay offers were pure fantasy based upon a crackpipe dream. With no prior auction sales to compare to, PBA's estimate was, if too high, at least serious and down to earth, professionally evaluated, and within the realm of possibility based upon its staff handling thousands of rare books each year and knowledge of categories and their collectors.

Sanity prevailed when James Cummins Bookseller offered a copy two weeks ago for $5,000 and it immediately sold. The market found the price. The eBay copies possessed either Escobar's signature or the original publisher's box (as did the PBA copy), which, the dealers claimed, merited their grandiose, coked-up to the gills prices. (Why $107,000? Why not $100,000 or $110,000?).

A  low ($5,000, Cummins) and high (<$10,000, PBA) value has now been established. We can safely presume that the bidding at PBA began at around $9,000 and there were no takers. The reserve was likely around the same and it was not met. The copies offered on eBay are now worth approximately $5,000 - $8,750, if, of course, there's someone else in the world who cares enough to fork over that sum. That estimate will rise, of course, if demand exceeds supply. It will decline, naturally, if collectors collectively shrug their shoulders.

What the eBay dealers didn't understand because they did not know the market, was that the one person in the world who was a keen collector of drug-related literature, a completist who wanted everything in his area of collection, and, significantly, possessed fabulous wealth, had died in 2011. But Julio Santo Domingo was no fool and would have laughed at the eBay prices; he knew the marketplace. Hell, he was the marketplace for drug-lit., dominating it for the last fifteen years of his life. Escobar's book is interesting but not that interesting, at best a bizarre curiosity, and most, if not all, active collectors of drug literature do not have the scratch necessary to buy at exorbitant prices no matter how scarce the volume. You can't price books in a vacuum; offers have to reflect market realities. There is no such thing as intrinsic monetary value to any collectable, only what collectors are willing to pay and they rule the market. If viewers of Antiques Roadshow have learned anything it is that the rarest anything in the world is well-nigh worthless if nobody cares about it.

Pablo Escobar, whose fortune was once estimated in billions of dollars, would have been thrilled to learn that his book was offered at $107,000. Then, after coming down from the coke high, he would have been depressed when a copy actually sold for only a measly five grand. The market spoke and it said, tu libro es agradable, pero no es para tanto, mi amigo. Lo siento.

GAVIRIA, Pablo Escobar. Pablo Escobar Gaviria en Caricaturas 1983-1991. [Medellin, Colombia: Pablo Escobar,  1992]. First (only) edition, unknown limitation. Large quarto ( (9x7¾ in); 230 x 200 mm). [2] - 377, [1] recto-only pp. with 13 leaves of prologue and text, 8 leaves of photographs and portraits, 352 leaves of political and caricature, four in full color. Original padded calf with facsimile signature and fingerprint in gilt. Housed in the publisher's box.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dieter Rot Sets In

by Alastair Johnston

wait, later this will be nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth, edited by Sarah Suzuki et al, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2013, 96 pp., 108 illustrations, paperback.

    Funny how things come in threes. Last year I wrote on Booktryst about Ian Hamilton Finlay, the Scottish artist (concrete poet and landscape gardener). Finlay's son Eck got a laugh out of my review, calling my take, "IHF: the Dolce & Gabbana Years"! I noted that he had dismissed Dom Sylvester Houédard (ironically the first person to champion Finlay in print in Britain, in an excellent piece in Typographica 8) as "anti-culture" and "nonsense." Then I received a copy of Notes from the Cosmic Typewriter by DSH and reviewed it last week. Both of these pieces mentioned the publisher Hansjörg Mayer and both also mentioned the Icelandic concrete poet and book artist, Dieter Rot. So by some curious coincidence, Saturn cheap-day Return, or whatever you want to call it, I am back looking at the 1960s and the movements that promised so much then.

    It has been 50 years and those of us who remember the 60s are old codgers thinking nostalgically about the explosion of art, fashion and music that signaled our coming of age, and how much grimmer things got, from "Free Love" succumbing to AIDS, acid trips becoming the nightmare of drug wars with crackheads and cough-syrup slurpers pervading all corners of society, to the great liberating joy of rock-n-roll, punk & new wave, succumbing to disco then becoming the tired pablum of Justin Bieber  & Britney Spears. What went wrong? we cry. Stop babbling, gramps, say the youth, and drink your Ensure.

    Dieter Rot (or Roth as he is called here) was born in Germany in 1930. Though he operated at the same time as Op Art, Actionism and Fluxus, he went his own way and, like another German, Kurt Schwitters, he created his own one-man art movement. And he did it out of Germany, moving from Switzerland to Iceland in 1955. His biggest influence was Marcel Duchamp and he worked closely with British pop artist Richard Hamilton as well as the printer and typographer Hansjörg Mayer. There is one constant in Rot's output and that is editioned works, whether books or prints, but otherwise he changed means of expression constantly.

     The title of this monograph suggests the transience of all things, and points to the fact the Rot used cardboard, Sellotape, newsprint and other non-archival material to make his art. (Schwitters too liked bits of acidic newsprint and so many of his artworks are now uniformly brown whereas they once had sparkling red and yellow passages.) Rot's art or anti-art was ahead of its time, though obviously Duchamp and Cage are big influences. He took sheets of overprinted waste paper from a printshop floor and bound them into books. Of course there is an unconscious element in there and the random juxtaposition of fragmentary found images would be a constant in his work for the next two decades. He made masks out of black paper by cutting holes in a sheet at random then overlaying it on a printed page. He also die-cut holes in randomly assembled pieces of print matter.

   Rot's Daily Mirror Book of 1961 is a good example of his conceptual art: he cut random 2 centimetre squares out of the British tabloid Daily Mirror then perfectbound them -- the result is a "book" with pages, text, fragments of ads and imagery that is an archaeological slide of a moment. It also signals a new form: the Artist's Book. (Later he recycled this book, taking some of the pages and blowing them up to be much larger, for Quadratblatt, 1965.)

    Another artwork, less obviously a book, but no less an "artistsbook" is his Litteraturwurst, which he created in different incarnations throughout the 1960s. He took a book or newspaper and ground it up, added gelatin, lard and spices, and stuffed it into a sausage skin. You could slice your own text from it, like congealed alphabet soup (though not so vegetarian). He offered it to George Maciunas as a Fluxus publication but it was rejected. (Thus becoming another of many artworks misunderstood, even by their intended audience.) His point was, we consume literature like sausage and it too ends up as shit. He made litteraturwurst out of Marx, James Joyce, Goethe, Hegel, Günter Grass and many other authors he felt needed this treatment.

    Roth loved playing jokes on the artworld. Not like those clowns Richard Prince, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst who are merely naughty boys in art class saying "But Sir it is art, my mammy says so…," but in a more subversive way. He made a bunny rabbit shaped like a chocolate rabbit you might consume at easter. (Remember the Swiss love chocolate probably more than they love sausage.) It's called "Karnickelköttelkarnickel (Bunny-dropping-bunny)" -- which is amusing in itself. It was manufactured, out of rabbit droppings, in an edition of 250. Not only does chocolate resemble shit, but a lot of art is really shit, he seems to be saying. He called his collected poems The Collected Shit, forestalling any criticism, and retained all the errors in his German that his students at R.I.S.D. (who were tasked with assembling the work) introduced. He stepped in an artwork of his contemporary Joseph Beuys (a bucket of lard), but the more celebrated artist graciously allowed his action as a "collaboration." 

    A self-portrait has a Duchampian title, "P. O. TH. A. A. VFB." (written in Dymo tape on the pedestal), it stands for "Portrait of the Artist as a Vogelfutterbüste." His lumpy ugly sub-Giacometti self-portrait bust is made of chocolate and birdseed. His intention was that the work would be left in a garden to be consumed by the birds and vanish as the artist himself does. Of course it ended up in a museum being worried over by conservationists. From the gloom of Beckett to the exuberance of Paolozzi you can see a mirror of the times in his work.

    Rot's increasing use of food was problematic, not just for posterity, but even during its existence. Cupcakes in the shape of a motorcyclist were given out at a gallery opening … and eaten. An installation of pieces of cheese which were supposed to slide down a wall towards open suitcases became rancid and maggoty in a few days and eventually the gallerist's husband drove the art to the desert and abandoned it.

    Roth didn't like the Fluxus artists ("A good thing they are modest, he said, because they have no talent"); he doesn't seem to have liked anybody very much ("James Joyce is kitsch"), apart from his collaborators Hansjörg Mayer and Richard Hamilton, but he created some very amusing and provocative artworks, some in multiple editions, and many of which stretch our concept of what a book is or can be.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ancient Empress Heats Up Rare Book Bound By A Master

by Stephen J. Gertz

Front wrapper.

Vulgar, insatiably lustful, shrewish, calculating, mean-spirited, born in a brothel and, above all, beautiful, she was the daughter of a bear trainer father and actress-dancer mother from Byzantium (Constantinople). Or, in the sanitized version, she was gorgeous and pious, the daughter of a Miaphysite Christian priest.

Title page.

The Byzantine Roman Empress Theodora, wife of Justinian I, was one of the most influential women of her time. Justinian sought her counsel on politics, and she is credited with influencing social reforms, including the expansion of divorce rights of and property ownership by women, other rights for women, and the rights of children. Born in 497 CE, she reigned from 527 CE until her death at age fifty-one in 548 CE.

She got the royal treatment from French historian Charles Diehl (1859-1944) in a magnificently designed biography, Theodora Imperatrice de Byzance, with Italian Art Nouveau illustrator Manuel Orazi providing the lithographed decorations and images. It was published in Paris by L'Edition D'Art H. Piazza et Cie in 1904 in a limited edition of 300 numbered copies.

Chapter headpiece.

I recently had a copy pass through my hands, bound by René Kieffer of Paris and fit for an empress in a stunning Art Nouveau binding as showy as the sixty full color and gilt lithographed illustrations and decorative borders that frame the text.

Theodora's debut.

Diehl concentrates on the hot ancient empress born in a brothel aspects of Theodora's life as told by the historian Procopius, a scribe for the Byzantine Roman general Belisarius and Theodora's contemporary, in his Historia Arcana (Secret History) which went unpublished for over a thousand years until discovered in the Vatican Library. Within, Procopius claimed that both Justinian and Theodora were "fiends in human form" whose heads, according to witnesses, left their bodies to roam their palace. Had Procopius published the work his severed head would have roamed the palace like a  bowling ball.

Prior to the Historia Arcana Procopius wrote two other accounts of Theodora, twenty years younger than Justinian and his mistress before becoming his wife, both published while Justinian was alive and capable of retribution if he didn't like what he read. Each portrayed her as a courageous and influential (The Wars of Justinian), pious Christian (The Buildings of Justinian). Squeaky clean, that queen. But Procopius became disillusioned and turned bitter against the imperial couple.

You tell me which account is the more likely to appeal to a broad, popular audience:

"Theodora, the second sister, dressed in a little tunic with sleeves, like a slave girl, waited on Comito and used to follow her about carrying on her shoulders the bench on which her favored sister was wont to sit at public gatherings. Now Theodora was still too young to know the normal relation of man with maid, but consented to the unnatural violence of villainous slaves who, following their masters to the theater, employed their leisure in this infamous manner. And for some time in a brothel she suffered such misuse.

"But as soon as she arrived at the age of youth, and was now ready for the world, her mother put her on the stage. Forthwith, she became a courtesan, and such as the ancient Greeks used to call a common one, at that: for she was not a flute or harp player, nor was she even trained to dance, but only gave her youth to anyone she met, in utter abandonment. Her general favors included, of course, the actors in the theater; and in their productions she took part in the low comedy scenes. For she was very funny and a good mimic, and immediately became popular in this art. There was no shame in the girl, and no one ever saw her dismayed: no role was too scandalous for her to, accept without a blush.

Champion with Theodora as prize.

"She was the kind of comedienne who delights the audience by letting herself be cuffed and slapped on the cheeks, and makes them guffaw by raising her skirts to reveal to the spectators those feminine secrets here and there which custom veils from the eyes of the opposite sex. With pretended laziness she mocked her lovers, and coquettishly adopting ever new ways of embracing, was able to keep in a constant turmoil the hearts of the sophisticated. And she did not wait to be asked by anyone she met, but on the contrary, with inviting jests and a comic flaunting of her skirts herself tempted all men who passed by, especially those who were adolescent.

 "On the field of pleasure she was never defeated" (Procopius, Historia Arcana, Chapter 9, trans. by Richard Atwater).

Theodora Imperatrice de Byzance, no shock, went into five editions in its first year of publication but this, the true first, has become scarce. It was reprinted in 1937, and translated into English and published by F. Ungar in New York, 1972.

Binding by René Kieffer.

This copy was bound c. 1904 by René Kieffer in full mauve crushed morocco that picks-up the hue from the title page decoration. Multiple fillets and deep purple onlays as borders enclose an Art Nouveau design incorporating gilt-outlined, green onlaid flowers, gilt stems, and gilt-outlined, black onlaid branchwork, with gilt-bordered black onlaid dots. The design is reiterated in the spine compartments. 

Broad mauve morocco turn-ins with gilt rules and cornerpieces grace the inner covers with deep blue-purple patterned silk endpapers. Marbled endleaves follow the silk endpapers. All edges are gilt and the original wrappers are preserved.  Kieffer's ticket is found on the verso of the front endleaf. The whole is housed in the binder's morocco-edged slipcase

Inner front cover turn-in, with Kieffer's stamp.

According to Duncan & De Bartha's Art Nouveau and Art Deco Bookbinding, René Kieffer (1875-1964) worked for ten years at the famed Chambolle-Duru bindery in Paris, specializing in gilding, before establishing his own workshop in 1903. He debuted at the 1903 Salon des Artistes Françcais, and, evolving toward to more modern approach, became a disciple of the great Marius-Michel. At the time of this binding's creation he had begun to incorporate a transitional mix of flowers, vines, and colorful onlays in rather formal compositions, their Art Nouveau motifs retained within symmetrical borders that revealed his classical roots. By the end of World War I he had emerged as one of Paris's leading binders, his work sought after by collectors, his fine workmanship matched by a wide range of of progressive designs.


The patterned silk endpapers are extraordinary, amongst the most attractive and unusual I've seen; wonderful things happen when light strikes them at various angles.

Kieffer's stamp.
Kieffer's ticket.

Kieffer's design was not particularly original for the period yet the binding's beauty and masterful craftsmanship earned him the right to advertise his work as Art Bindings and the honorific, Binder to the Empress Theodora, sexpot sovereign of the Eastern Roman Empire.

[KIEFFER, René, binder]. DIEHL, Charles. Theodora Imperatrice de Byzance. Par Chalres Diehl, Charge de Cours a la Faculté des Lettres de L'University de Paris. Illustrations de Manuel Orazi. Paris: L'Edition D'Art H. Piazza et Cie., n.d. [1904].

First edition, limited to 240 copies (of 300) on vélin à la cuve, this being no. 242. Quarto (8 7/8 x 6 1/4 in; 226 x 159 mm). 261, [1] pp. Decorative text borders. Sixty full color and gold lithographed text illustrations, twelve hors texte.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Maxfield Parrish Didn't Like Book Collecting

by Stephen J. Gertz

"I have steered clear of book collecting always, seeing the ravaging results on some of my friends, and I wouldn't know a first edition from subsequent ones..."

So wrote the great book, etc., illustrator, Maxfield Parrish, in his distinctive script on both sides of a 3 1/2 x 5 1/2 card, to collector and printer Edward L. Stone (1864-1938) on December 15, 1930, from Windsor, Vermont (later home to J.D. Salinger). Stone was instrumental in the Library of Congress acquiring the copy of the Gutenberg Bible on vellum from the Benedictine Monastery of St. Paul, Carinthia, Austria. Parrish, responding to a letter from Stone, commented on the bible, and then book collecting in general. Parrish collected manuscripts but avoided books:

I have a friend & neighbor who is having a room built for his great collection. He takes out a book as though it were a new baby, his eyes glisten and voices are hushed as in a museum. Were it the MSS I would understand, but it is just one of many printed at the time, albeit a fine job and hard to get and expensive to own. I wouldn't want to get that way. I almost got four with George Washington's signature in them, but luckily was willed a fine Saray Highboy instead, though it ought to be in a museum instead of up here in the New Hampshire hills.

We have no idea what four books signed by George Washington Parrish refers to but I suspect that readers may be salivating, as I am, at the thought of possessing them. I have no idea what the market is for a Saray highboy but the signed Washington books must surely exceed it in value.

Stone, an avid book collector, replied to Parrish, an avid hobby machinist, on January 16, 1931, mentioning the Gutenberg Bible exhibit at the LOC,  printer and book designer, Bruce Rogers (1870-1957), and printer Billy Budge,  an "old-timer," according to the Typographical Journal in 1902, working in Chicago. He also defends the collection of books:

On permanent exhibition in a magnificent mahogany case in the Library of Congress, I imagine it will be of continued interest to a ledge percentage of the people who visit the Library‚ as I feel sure you would enjoy not only this particular copy of the Bible, but the seventeen hundred Fifteenth Century books, which will remain on exhibition for some months.

I have forgotten whether I sent you one of the little booklets which Billy Budge printed for me - "All Hope Abandon - Ye Who Enter Here." If not, I will be glad to send you a copy. Maybe this might ease your pain about not being a book collector. But in my sixty six years I have found nothing to take its place - nothing comparable, but, of course, there are many things I have not tried and know nothing about, but I know of people who have interests of all sorts and collectors who are crazy about everything from stamps to colonial antique furniture, paintings, etchings, and everything imaginable. I think it's a fine thing for anyone to get thoroughly interested in a given thing and know all about it that they can possibly find out. You know someone has said: 'There is more o know about an electron than the mind of any one man can contain.' So whether it be in four-leaf clovers or whatnot, there is great enjoyment, just as there must be in your hobby of machines, mechanics or in models of ships, as was Bruce Rogers.

It is easy for me to understand the thrill that you would get from collecting manuscripts, but such a hobby would be a little too much for me, although I have a few manuscript Books of Hours, the works of some of the old writers and scribes, and they all give me a great thrill. Only the other day I found in a little volume of Ovid the signature of 'Robert Browning, Venice 1878." And although I am not collecting autographs or inscriptions, they certainly do add to the pleasure and particularly if they are accompanied by a sentiment or have some special association. Just as there is a bit of pleasure in having a book printed in Leyden, 1616, by William Brewster before he sailed on the Mayflower, although the subject is not intriguing - Cartwright's 'Commentaries of Solomon.' One of my manuscript books dates back to 1330, quite old for me to own…

Last June I was in John Byland's library where they have twelve hundred manuscript books, and to look at a showcase full of them ne could easily imagine viewing a jewelry case with the wonderful illuminated goldwork, wonderful floral designs and other decorations…

I have only one George Washingon signature, one of Patrick Henry and William Blake. I suspect I have many others that I have not mentally catalogued."

Edward Lee Stone, author of a Book-Lover's Bouquet (1931) and The Great Gutenberg Bible (1930) was born in Liberty, Virginia (now known as Bedford, VA). After working for John P. Bell's printing company, Stone was promoted and eventually took over the business. He became a wealthy and prominent citizen of Roanoake, VA through his business, the Stone Printing and Manufacturing Company. His wealth went a long way in helping the LOC buying the Gutenberg from Benedictine Monastery of St. Paul.

The Parrish letter and Stone's three-page typed response are being offered by PBA Galleries in their Historic Autographs and Manuscripts With Archival Material sale, July 25, 2013. It is estimated to sell for $700-$1000.

Image courtesy of PBA Galleries, with our thanks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Harlan Ellison Gets A Haircut

by Stephen J. Gertz

Hollywood haircut noir.

Harlan Ellison did a book signing in Hollywood last weekend. He got a haircut first.

I don't know how many haircuts Ellison gets each year but the media was alerted for this one. He's seventy-nine years old but not on death's door; this wasn't Harlan Ellison's Last Haircut. But it was a Harlan Ellison haircut, nonetheless. Stop the presses.

Considering that he got it at Sweeney Todd's Barber Shop on Hollywood Boulevard we're fortunate that it wasn't something more. Trader Joe's is not offering 100% All-Harlan Meat Pies this week.

Sweeney Todd's offers party services and will, upon request, screen vintage stag films for guests, a classic movie projector running the sin through its sprockets. This occurs at night, after hours. No stag films during Ellison's haircut: it was daytime and the clips were strictly of the scissors kind. Harlan merely needed a little taken off the top and around the ears with neckline cleaned up. But he wound up getting styled.

Prelude to a pompadour.
Photo credit: Miriam Linna.

I arrived late, Sweeney Todd's was packed inside, a crowd of Ellisoniacs piled outside, and the two bodyguards the publisher hired for the occasion (appropriately dressed  as '50s juvenile delinquents  because Ellison is the king of JD-lit. amongst other literary crowns he wears) blocked my entrance. Through the window I saw Harlan sitting in the barber's chair. He'd been regaling those inside with 100% pure Ellison, which is to say he was outrageous, funny, profane, provocative, acerbic, funnier still, insightful, and totally entertaining. I didn't hear any of it but it's a given that when Harlan Ellison opens his mouth to an audience pearls of all grades and colors fall out of it.

Haircut over, he made it to the front door, looked directly at me through its window, got walleyed, enthusiastically pointed, then spread his arms and mouthed "Oh, my God!" Somewhat puzzled by his effusive display I pantomimed my own greeting in return. A moment later he walked out the door with his wife, Susan, and bodyguards in tow. "Great to see you!" he said as if I was his long-lost best friend. I was touched. "Great to see you, too," I said, as if he was my long-lost best friend I never knew I had and lost.  Surrounded by the adoring he introduced me to Susan: "Tell her who you are!" I did while he was distracted by the press, which pressed close, the potential for sterling sound bites too overwhelming to let pass.

He was wearing a black t-shirt under an open button-down. The t-shirt read, "What if the Hokey-Pokey was really what it's all about?," existentialist despair with mordant pop-culture wit ala Ellison. So, we put our right foot in, we put our right foot out and pokey'ed down the street to La Luz de Jesus, the book, art, and pop-culture gallery where Harlan was giving a talk with Q&A followed by a signing for Pulling A Train and Getting in the Wind. These twin collections of Ellison JD short stories were recently published by Kicks Books and reprint those in Ellison's Sex Gang by Paul Merchant (Nightstand Books, NB 1503, 1959) with others from the late '50s - early '60s. Kicks is the wild paperback imprint out of Brooklyn and home to "Hip Pocket Books," the reflection of the all-consuming pulp-culture sensibility of their publisher, Miriam Linna. She's the reigning Queen of Cool whose irrepressibly enthusiastic, tongue-in-torrid-cheek happy-go-hard-boiled fanzine ad copy reads like a rush down a dark alley on a moonlit night in Pulpville in service to moving the merch with an irresistible pitch.

"All hail the first hip pocket volume of Ellison short stories culled
from the rarest of his titles, SEX GANG, which was issued under
the name of Paul Merchant in 1959. The wild set of psychosexual
gangland tales is finally available again, fifty years later, spanning
two volumes which collect all of the stories in the 1959 book plus
an unhealthy dose of lost fiction from the persistent pen of the
grand master of all things tainted, terrible, torrid and terrific."

The gallery was packed; there was no room to wriggle. A sardine would have been thankful to be in a can. Harlan moved through the crowd toward the front; I faded into the audience.

After an amusing introduction by comedian Patton Oswalt (whose recent Star Wars-themed filibuster on Parks and Recreation has gone YouTube viral due to its inspired high-insanity quotient) Harlan took the podium and for the next half-hour he took it for a ride.

Harlan mugs for Patton Oswalt's camera.

Don't get Harlan Ellison started on the stalkers, creeps, and miscreants that have plagued him over the years. Death threats have come his way like confetti at a convention. He doesn't shoot from the hip so much as bazooka from the shoulder and this bugs some people, particularly those with loose hinges. Ellison doesn't take kindly to loons in his yard at night with shotguns. It offends his street-sense of courtesy and he has no compunctions about dealing directly with such hazards. On one occasion he disarmed the intruder and nailed him to a tree. This may seem extreme but in Ellison's telling the episode was a dark Looney Tune™ and the only thing missing was an anvil falling on the bum's head; he got off easy with the nails, and Harlan, naturally, nailed the story's laugh lines.

I wouldn't interrupt Harlan Ellison in mid-sentence if I were you. He takes no prisoners. You'll be impaled but the audience will scream with delight. You may, however, float an inch off the ground with a beatific smile afterward, as did one guilty party I saw. To be cursed by Harlan Ellison is to be blessed; you have been anointed with his words. It's like getting ranked-out by Don Rickles: it's a badge of honor and only the humorless complain.

"Hot on the heels of PULLING A TRAIN comes its savage sister
GETTING IN THE WIND, whipping up more gritty street life odes
circa 1959! Perfect the pair with both volumes - together, they
pack the fervor of a genre too wild, too true, too traumatizing
for tepid tempers - this is the neckmeat for a new breed of reader,
a glittering illiterati channeling raw emotion and constant
visceral stimulation. Without this pair, friend, you are lost."

Harlan Ellison has been called contentious, abrasive, and argumentative. He knows he can be that way sometimes. Considering the many putzes he's had to contend with over the years you'd be contentious, abrasive, and argumentative, too. Robert Bloch once said that while other writers take infinite pains, "Harlan gives them."

He has a healthy ego. Some think it's too healthy. But a novelist without an ego solidly in the pink ain't much of a writer. So, when a young guy asked him what he thought of Philip K. Dick during the Q&A I froze. Uh, oh, I thought, this is a Harlan Ellison book event; Harlan Ellison is performing (because Harlan Ellison appearances are performance art); Harlan Ellison is one of the greatest science-fiction writers the world has ever produced; hell, it's Harlan-Time! and this chowderhead is asking about another author, one in the same genre? I thought the question steel to Ellison's flint and expected sparks to fly.

Harlan grew quiet. It was a two-part question, he carefully replied. What do I think of Philip K. Dick as a writer and what do I think of Philip K. Dick as a man?

Ellison adores 80% of Philip K. Dick's work, it's beyond compare. The other 20% he doesn't care for, Dick's theologically-themed novels. Ellison isn't into spirituality, he prefers gritty, he says. As for Philip K. Dick, the man, Harlan began then stopped himself, afraid that he might say something that would get him into trouble. He earlier expressed a strong aversion to computers, the Internet, social media and hand-held digital devices that can take a snippet and turn it into a tempest in ten minutes. After measured consideration he simply said that when Dick was in the mood he could be the most charming person in the world. When he wasn't in the mood, well..., and he let it go at that.

There was one area in which Ellison admitted satisfaction in besting Philip K. Dick. Dick was only married five times. Susan is Harlan's sixth wife, their marriage in its twenty-eighth year. "I finally got it right!" he said. This after he admitted to being a swordsman in youth, advancing with his sabre five, six times a day, starlets too enchanted to parry his lunges nor want to. You'd think that level of activity would affect his writing schedule but this is a man who used to make in-store appearances as writer-in-residence as window display, sitting at a desk with typewriter and banging out work in progress to draw passersby, mutli-tasking as silent, preoccupied barker.

As long as he was talking about sci-fi colleagues he expressed his grief over Richard Matheson's recent death. Matheson was a giant in Ellison's book and the world lost a master.

At this point the line for signing snaked out the door of La Luz de Jesus, the natives were getting restless, and it was time for Harlan to move into the adjoining space, sit at a desk and begin that part of the party, and this was, indeed, a party.

in the Kicks paperback line, a 'sidekick' perfume has been formulated,
street-tested, bottled and packaged. SEX GANG is the heady scent
that tells the world OFF! Exclusive, limited, and totally dangerous. With
miniature switchblade comb. Arrives bottled in authentic Italian half ounce
Baralan bottle, boxed in signature Kicks Books Co. gift box."

I had to leave before the signing began. I wedged through the crush, went up to him to say goodbye, and our farewell was as warm as our hello. I still didn't understand why but I enjoyed it. He seemed to enjoy it, too. We both enjoyed it and I saw no point in spoiling the enjoyment by questioning him in public, putting him in an awkward position, and blowing the good vibes. I noticed a few people checking me out, like who's this guy who seems to be such a good buddy of the Great Man?

I'd met Harlan Ellison exactly once, a while ago for a total of maybe thirty, forty minutes or so. What did I do right to earn a generous spot in his memory? Maybe he had me confused with someone else. When he earlier told me to tell Susan about myself it could have been a dodge to discover who I was but at that moment he was besieged and may have simply delegated the introduction for convenience.

Isaac Asimov once noted that "Harlan uses his gifts for colorful and variegated invective on those who irritate him - intrusive fans, obdurate editors, callous publishers, offensive strangers."

Harlan Ellison doesn't suffer fools gladly. In fact he doesn't suffer at all; he makes them suffer. I have the sense that he's annoyed by 99.9999% of the population. While he respects his fans and, up to a point, appreciates their attention, he has no use for flatterers. Perhaps, then, Harlan didn't think me a fool, was not annoyed, nor considered me a fawning supplicant, intrusive, irritating, or offensive  -  though I've been all those things with others, at times. I've been awestruck by a celebrity only once in my life and that was when I had lunch with Yoko Ono a few years back during a book fair in New York and interviewed her for Booktryst. I  felt like a blubbering idiot throughout the experience. Don't tell him but I'm in awe of Harlan Ellison. I just keep it under wraps and behave like a normal person, no matter how alien I actually am.

Kicks Books fragrances, SIN TIME is created from the world's
finest floral distillates. A scent can evoke the memory of a
stained satin bedsheet or the moonlit hair of a gang deb
teetering down the wet, cobblestone streets of Red Hook.
Extracted from lavender, this ancient scent is symbolic of
magic and mistrust, aiding one in seeing ghosts of gangland past.
A pair of exquisite miniature glass dice are inside each
Baralan bottle."

I wanted to reach out to him later to reinforce the friendship that was welcome news to me. Susan was kind to give me his secret contact info, which I'd lost, a mail drop located in [redacted] within L.A.'s San Fernando Valley. He doesn't do email and few get his phone number. It may have been more interesting but I feel lucky he didn't ask me to place a gladiolus under a garbage can at the corner of [redacted] and [redacted], wait two hours, return, and pick up a coded sandwich bag in the trash can containing his home address written in cuneiform Sumerian.

Cheech Beldone, delinquent, with toothpick.
Photo credit: Patton Oswalt.

I am pleased to report that Harlan and his haircut - "The Cheech Beldone," created by Sween Lahman of Sweeney Todd's and so-dubbed in homage to Harlan's street name when he joined a youth gang in 1954 to research the phenomenon - survived the afternoon, or at least as much as I experienced of it. At seventy-nine years, Harlan Ellison still has a full, lush head of hair. Long may it wave. I want this guy around forever. Make that a permanent wave.

All images other than header courtesy of Miriam Linna, with our thanks.

A case of Kicks perfumes was boosted from the Kicks Books trunk. Anyone with knowledge its whereabouts is encouraged to contact the publisher before Cheech Beldone hunts down the dirty dog and dissects it.
Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email