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September 27, 2020:

THE COLLECTOR

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, last night I watched a documentary that one of you lovely people recommended, called The Booksellers.  Of course, it was right up my alley and I thoroughly enjoyed it, save for the fact that I wished it wasn’t so New York-centric, as it ignored some wonderful dealers from all over the country.  And it occasionally veered to some uninteresting topics, for me at least.  But it was a fun peek into the mania of collecting with many truths about the Internet having really impacted and hurt what is the most fun part of collecting – the hunt.  But first it was the big chains and then Amazon and the ABE on the Internet.  Yes, you can find anything but you’re basically buying stuff sight unseen and that goes triple for eBay, where bargains can be had but only if the seller knows what they’re talking about, which, in about 90% of booksellers on eBay, they do not.  When I first began having collector fever in terms of first editions, it was actually in 1969 when I was living in Flatbush.  There was a wonderful used bookstore on Flatbush Avenue that I used to practically live in.  I found a first edition of Harpo Speaks there for two bucks once.  But we couldn’t really afford stuff back then.  Once I started working in television regularly and the money was coming in, I began to collect with more fervor.  Slowly at first, but I haunted all the used and rare bookshops in LA and the Valley and eventually Long Beach and even Orange County.  I’d usually do it on Saturdays with the Darling Daughter – we’d start at one, then just go from store to store and I’d buy first editions that looked interesting and we had so much fun doing it.  She’d find the children’s books and hang out there.  We were never in one store very long because I lack patience.  The big find back then happened at a musty old bookstore on Reseda Boulevard just north of Sherman Way called the Bookie Joint.  Rifling through the fiction section I came upon To Kill a Mockingbird, which, back in 1974 was not what it is today, rarity-wise.  I was surprised to see it was a first edition and the jacket, which is usually ratty, was in really good shape and not price clipped.  But I stood there for about twenty minutes trying to figure out if I should spend so much money, but I decided to, all $40 of it.  That book today would be worth $20K.

I really got serious the year we made The First Nudie Musical.  Because of my salary on that film, we’d bought our first house and I had money coming in from commercials and stuff.  So, I got a lot of Thurber firsts, a couple of Ring Lardner firsts, a nifty signed copy of a John Collier compendium called Fancies and Goodnights, and a couple of Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich books.  I bought whatever looked interesting and that, of course, interested me personally.  I was given several signed books by Christopher Isherwood, and I also had some wonderful oversized art books.  All of it got sold when I divorced in 1982 and the price we got was a joke – a dealer in Santa Monica.  I should have looked around more, but I was pressured into moving it all quickly.  By the time I sold all of that, I’d collected all the Stephen King books up to that point, had built a substantial Woolrich collection and on and on.  Then it wasn’t until Totally Hidden Video happened that I was able to really get back to serious collecting, because for two-and-a-half years I was making an incredible weekly salary and was single and living in an apartment.  And then the Varese years happened, and I was making a lovely amount of dough there, too.

So, over the years from 1989 to 2000, I amassed a really impressive collection of mostly twentieth century fiction.  I was pretty good at sussing out what I wanted, pretty good at finding great bargains, plus many dealers really liked me.  I began doing the book fairs in New York every year.  I would buy and buy and buy – on one trip, I must have shipped back ten boxes of incredible books.  So, highlights of that collection included pristine firsts (I was a condition freak, always) of every Cornell Woolrich (and all his pseudonyms) book, a good deal of Raymond Chandler, including a signed copy of The High Window, signed by Chandler to Billy Wilder in the year they wrote the screenplay of Double Indemnity.  That book has passed through several hands since and each time the price reaches a new record.  I had a complete collection of Ross Macdonald – the best copies in the world.  I had minty fresh UK firsts on Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, an amazing Stephen King collection, including a copy of The Shining in manuscript that had a whole other chapter near the end that didn’t make the book – but every regular first and all the limited editions.

Also, a complete run of Fredric Brown firsts, many signed books, and on and on and on.  And on the fateful day when I wandered into Illustration House in New York, after buying a painting on eBay that I still have and love, that was signed Joseph Lyendecker, which turned you not to be by him, I went down the illustration art rabbit hole because they had six Leyendecker paintings, including a 1921 Saturday Evening Post cover that I wanted so bad I could taste it but there was no way I could pay $32,500, which was the price they were willing to sell it to me for (it was marked at 40K).  When I got back to LA, that painting was all I could think about, but even though I had money that was just way out of my league.  So, one morning I walked in the book room, pulled fifty books off the shelf out of the 2000 that were there, called a dealer in Santa Monica and told him he had one hour to come over and to be prepared to write a check for $32,500.  He knew me well and knew what I had, and he was there in forty-five minutes.  He’d already called another dealer in Santa Barbara, as they were going to buy together.  He spent an hour going over everything with a fine tooth comb, tried the usual dealer thing of trying to make me think the grouping wasn’t worth quite as much as I thought, to which I replied, “That’s fine, I can call another dealer right now – and you know you’re going to quadruple your money on these and maybe even do more than that.  He wrote the check and I bought the Leyendecker.  Eventually, thanks to the bad business at the label we don’t name, all of it had to go to pay attorney fees – and for no reason, that was the pity of it all.  In the end, everyone lost.

But I still have some decent books, even now.  Nothing terribly rare, money-wise, but really beautiful copies of things I like.  So, I recommend The Booksellers – it’s a nice peek into the world of book sellers AND collectors.  And guess what?  It’s middle-aged people who are reading on Kindle.  The younger folks and the hipsters have discovered real books and it’s become a thing, much like that same demographic’s embrace of vinyl, so much so that a bunch of new mom-and-pop bookstores have popped up in Manhattan.  That hasn’t happened here yet, but I’m hoping it will when this insanity that we’re all living now is finally over.

Yesterday was a day that just sort of was.  I only got four-and-a-half hours of sleep, was up at eight-thirty and out an hour later.  I had matzoh brei at Jerry’s Deli and that was good and calorie friendly.  And I managed to kill ninety minutes there.  Then I went to the mail place, where I picked up no mail or packages, then came home just as she of the Evil Eye was leaving.  I caught up with e-mails and stuff on the computer, then sat on my couch like so much fish.

Yesterday, I watched a motion picture on Blu and Ray entitled Mississippi Mermaid, un file de Francois Truffaut, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve.  I saw the film when it came out in April of 1970 and really liked it a lot.  It was based on a novel by William Irish aka Cornell Woolrich, called Waltz into Darkness.  I’ve seen it two or three times since and enjoy it despite a week final twenty minutes.  I really liked the score by Antoine Duhamel, too.  When the Twilight Time Blu-ray came out, I watched it again, a bit disappointed in the typical older transfer from MGM/UA.  I was in the mood to see it again and so I did.  I enjoyed it all over again – when you’ve got Belmondo and Deneuve it’s hard to miss.  But this time around, I must say the transfer annoyed me even more.  At times it’s okay, but if just needs a spiffy new transfer, and I actually doubt that MGM/UA have anything but an internegative – I have to imagine the camera negative is in France.

After that, I closed my eyes for a minute and two hours later I woke up.  Then I had my three hot dogs, which were excellent, and which put me right under 1000 calories.  I listened to music whilst doing some organizing of a cupboard, then I decided that my meals for the next two days would be a batch of tuna pasta salad.  I normally use the wide elbow macaroni noodles but for some unfathomable reason I had a two-pound bag of them, and I didn’t trust myself to figure out what a pound was.  So, luckily, I also had a box of small elbow macaroni and I made that instead.  I’m sure it will be fine.  I didn’t add any mayonnaise as it’s always better if you do that the day of, the day of being this day here.

Today, I’ll be up when I’m up, I’ll do whatever needs doing, I’ll eat half the batch of the tuna pasta salad, which should put me at exactly 1000 calories, then I’ll watch, listen, and relax.

Tomorrow, I’m praying for a little miracle or two – they’re in the wind and hopefully at least one will come my way – and I’ll eat the rest of the tuna pasta salad.  The rest of the week is choosing songs for the November show.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, be up when I’m up, do whatever needs doing, eat, and then watch, listen, and relax.  Today’s topic of discussion: It’s free-for-all day, the day in which you dear readers get to make with the topics and we all get to post about them.  So, let’s have loads of lovely topics and loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, where I shall most likely dream of my book collector days.

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