Monday, March 17, 2014

Charles Bukowski In High School

by Stephen J. Gertz

Los Angeles High School, 1917-1971.

Once upon a time - the late 1930s - Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), America's poet laureate of the depths, attended Los Angeles High School. His hard living years were ahead of him. His post-high school aspirations did not include writing. His ambition was to join the Navy. To that end he was a member of L.A. High's ROTC program.

A set of seven Los Angeles High School Blue & White semi-annual yearbooks - Summer 1936, Summer and Winter 1937, Winter 1938, Summer 1938 (in dust jacket, and a duplicate copy), and Winter 1939 - has recently appeared in the marketplace, offered by William Dailey Rare Books.

The provenance could not be more sterling; the copies of William Mullinax, Bukowski's closest boyhood friend and loyal high school buddy, who appeared in the novelist's Ham On Rye (1982) as Eli "Baldy" La Crosse. We know the provenance is solid because Bukowski inscribed two of the copies to Mullinax and other copies possess inscriptions to Mullinax.

Mullinax, the son of an alcoholic surgeon, was the person who introduced Bukowski to booze.

Bukowski has signed Mullinax's copy of the Winter 1939 yearbook on the front free endpaper. Whether he was aware of what he was doing or not, the line breaks suggest an eye and ear for poetry. And a sense of humor.

Best of Everything
to a good baseball
player and a swell
Henry Bukowski

His inscription squeezed next to Mullinax's class photo is not so proto-literary; it's standard high school yearbook prose: "lots of Luck an old pal and truly great guy, 'Baldy' Bill Mullinax."

Bukowski's inscription in the Summer 1938 yearbook is found on the page devoted to ROTC Company A, and is another exercise in breaking the boundaries of standard Jahrbuch-Stil prose.

Best Wishes
to a good army 
man. I hope you
will be a Nevins
sergeant next
Hank Bukowski
1st Class

Buk drew a line from the inscription to his ROTC Company A photo. He's fourth from the right in the second row down. You need a magnifying glass to see him with any clarity yet he stands out: deeply tanned between two snow-white boys, his cap with insignia at a rakish angle to the right and tipped down to  his  eyebrow. The attitude is already there.

The above page from Los Angeles High School Blue and White Summer 1938 is reproduced in Ben Pleasant's Visceral Bukowski (2004) and an enlargement of Bukowski within the group portrait is inset.

Of further value to collectors is that other classmates are found in the yearbooks who Bukowski later sandwiched into Ham On Rye, his semi-autobiographical novel recounting his youth in Los Angeles: Al Cole, Jimmy Newell; Jimmy Haddox, Jim Hatcher; and Harold Mortenson appears as Abe Mortenson. As a bonus, an autograph note is laid into the Winter 1939 yearbook, from Jim Haddox to Bill Mullinax, "Jim Hatcher" to "Baldy."

Images courtesy of William Dailey Rare Books, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

Bukowski's First Appearance In Print, 1944

Charles Bukowski, Artist

Lost Original Drawings Of A Dirty Old Man

 Charles Bukowski's Last, Unpublished Poem

Charles Bukowski Bonanza At Auction

Dirty Old Man Exposed At The Huntington Library

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