When I hear the words “literary salon,” I think of Gertrude Stein’s Paris apartment crowded with Fitzgerald, Picasso, Hemingway and all her other Lost Generation pals talking art, philosophy and letters. A dozen or so years later and 6000 miles west, Alla Nazimova held similar salons in her movie star mansion at 8150 Sunset Boulevard. She gladly included fellow European ex-patriots and other well-educated folk around silent-era Hollywood in her weekly salons during which they’d cover all manner of subjects and sock away copious amounts of booze before (and after) Prohibition kicked in.
But I always thought of salons as events staged by other people in other times . . . until now. Social historians Kim Cooper and Richard Schave have started a monthly literary salon and are holding it at the most appropriate venue in Hollywood: Musso and Frank Grill which is Hollywood’s longest-running restaurant (opened in 1919.) During the 1930s and 1940s, Musso and Franks was a mecca for the town’s serious writers, attracting the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, John O’Hara Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, Nathanial West, Budd Schulberg), and Dashiell Hammett.
Kim and Richard know of what they speak. They run a great tour company called Esotouric through which they do fascinating bus tours around L.A. focusing on true crime (their Black Dahlia tour is especially interesting). They also write a blog called The 1947project.
I was brought to their attention by a new friend of mine, Philip Mershon, owner of Felix in Hollywood Tours, who I’ve met through Facebook. We each post daily photos—I post old photos of Los Angeles, he posts old photos of movie stars—and started commenting on each other’s posts. Philip was one of the first readers of my novel, The Garden on Sunset, and was the first person to leave a (rave!) review on Amazon. Before I knew it, I was having coffee with him at the Audrey Café, an Audrey Hepburn-themed café just off Hollywood Boulevard with Philip, Kim, and Richard.
It turns out that the theme of their salon for July 2012 is the Hollywood careers of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker. Both of these legendary names were lured to Hollywood by the promise of tons of filthy lucre and met with varying degrees of success. Parker co-wrote the screenplay for 1937’s A Star is Born and a Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy vehicle, 1938’s Sweethearts. (I know! Dorothy Parker wrote the screenplay for a MacDonald/Eddy movie? REALLY???)
On the other hand, despite his $1000 a week MGM contract, Fitzgerald never really quite got the hang of screenwriting. His only screen credit was a Robert Taylor/Franchot Tone/Robert Young WWI picture, 1938’s Three Comrades. He took a shot at Gone with the Wind as well as half a dozen other pictures (including 1938’s Marie Antoinette and 1939’s The Women) but by then he was too mired in debt and alcoholism to really accomplish anything before dying of a heart attack in December 1940.)
However, what Fitzgerald and Parker had in common was that they both stayed at the Garden of Allah Hotel. A-ha! thought Kim and Richard. Perhaps Martin could come along and set the scene before David Kipen (author of Los Angeles in the 1930s: The WPA Guide to the City of Angels) speaks about Fitzgerald, and Adrienne Crew from the Dorothy Parker Society West speaks about Parker.
“You better believe I could!” I replied, and then wondered how I would concertina the five years I’ve spent researching and writing about Alla Nazimova, the Garden of Allah, and my Garden of Allah novels into ten minutes. GULP! On the other hand, I have four months to winnow down my spiel. Come to think of it, I first have to come up with a spiel, and then I’ll have to winnow it down to a succinct albeit fleeting ten minutes.
If you’re able to make it, I’d love to see you there!
What? Literary Salon, hosted by LAVA – Los Angeles Visionary Association
Where? Musso and Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90028
When? Monday, July 23rd, 2012, 6pm to 11pm
How much? $100 per person, includes dinner