A cultural waif all but engulfed by the pizza parlorporno palace squalor of Hollywood Boulevard, the Larry Edmunds Bookshop stands very much alone in its greatness.
It is to Larry Edmunds that the Library of Congress came to buy Bernard Herrmann's original "Citizen Kane" score at a cost of $12,500. It is to Larry Edmunds that old movie stars and directors, everyone from Broderick Crawford and Glenn Ford to King Vidor and Raoul Walsh, come to purchase memorabilia and prove to assorted progeny that they really were once big in pictures. Francois Truffaut considers it his favourite place in the whole world, and Jean Charles Tacchella, director of "Cousin Cousine," says "it's a more famous place today than Schwab's drugstore. Actors who want to meet a director, to be discovered, must go to that film bookstore.
With a blacklog of 1 million stills and a six-figure collection of lobby cards, posters, screenplays, magazines, press books and even pre-cinema machines like magic lanterns and something called a polyorama panoptique, Larry Edmunds is without peer as the first and still largest film book store anywhere. It has everything you'd possibly want in the cinema field, except, you guessed it, Larry Edmunds.
There was a Larry Edmunds once, a hard-drinking Hollywook bookman who hung out with the likes of William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe as they imbided their way through the 1930s. He died in 1941, three years after the store's opening, but Milton Luboviski, his partner and still the proprietor, kept the name as a memorial and has long since gotten used to people assuming it's his.
A lively, not to say springhtly fellow of 64, Luboviski is as baffled as the next man by the explosion of interest in film that has seen his catalog expand over 15 years from "a little folding thing with maybe 125 title's" to a projected three-volume, 15,000-item opus, the most complete film bibliography around. "The great novels are over with, they ended with the 1930s and 1940," he says. "The bright young men today want to make the great American film."
It is with a touch of sadness that Luboviski says this, for "my specialty was contemporary literature. We had signed copies of Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, but business was not so hot, we'd maybe sell one once every three months. So I branched out into the Hollywood novel and wahtever books there were on film, maybe 20 books. When I started to specialize all the other bookdealers thought I was insane. They said 'You can't specialize in an area if there aren't any books.' I'd like to say now that I knew what I was doing , but I never thought it would explode the way it has. I can't help keep track anyone, it becomes overpowering."
Also a bit overpowering is the Larry Edmunds clientele And this doesn't simply mean people like Trauffaut, who "goes right down the shelves very fast, he has a pile of books this high in 15 minutes." Or the mail order customers from almost every country in the world, some even writing in "one inch-square toilet paper." It doesn't even mean the standing order folks, the people who don't blanch at a $3,000 pricetag for an original "Frankenstein" poster, who "want these particular things and don't give a damn what it costs." What it means it that a lot of Larry Edmunds' regular customers are more than passing strange.
Milton Luboviski puts it much more plainly. Monomaniacs are the backbone of this business," he says. "Some people are absolutely insane, they come back every day and ask, 'Do you have anything new, do you have anything new?' What do they want? Everything. If a star's name is mentioned in a novel, they have to buy it. If the ink is darker in another edition of a book, they take both. I'm not kidding, they've got to have every edition."
Special even in Luboviski's experience was "a young girl, 19 or 20, who came from the South, Virginia or Tennessee, and asked to see everything we had on Debbie Reynolds. I thought I could smell who was a good customer and who wasn't, so I told the clerk 'Don't knock yourself out with her.' Well, she spent $2,000 for Debbie Reynolds material that day, and $10-$15,000 before she left Los Angeles. That shows you what a mavin I am."
Aside from the "Citizen Kane" score, other rareties that Luboviski particularly remembers are copies of the "Gone With the Wind," script, a book about the Hollywood 10 signed by each of the 10, and a very special edition of a famous early film history. Terry Ramaye's "A Million and One Night." "Whoever owned the book had everyone mentioned in it sign near his name. There must have been two or three thousand signatures and little drawings, everyone from Chopin to Disney. I said it 15 years ago; if I had it now it would go for $25,000."'
Since in a sense "I have them all," Luboviski doesn't collect film books personally, or any other film memorabilia for that matter except for those old, pre-cinema machines with the funny names. And so far as watching films goes, he doesn't do much of that either. "I very rarely see them," he admits with a shrug. "One doesn't want to go out much anymore, you know."