A free story from Nathanael West

Share via

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Although Nathanael West was not a well-known writer in his time, he wrote two lasting novels -- “The Day of the Locust” and “Miss Lonelyhearts” -- before he was killed in a car crash in 1940 (he was on his way to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s funeral). “The Day of the Locust” is a classic L.A. story, in which a bright young man comes from the East Coast only to have his dreams dashed on the shores of sunny, feverish, malevolent Hollywood.

West did work in Hollywood and was fairly successful at it. The Library of America explains:


By the end of 1934, the cumulative royalties for his first three books totaled $780; he made far more selling the movie rights for his largely unread fictional works, and he pulled in $7,500 for a film treatment (“Flight South”) that was never even produced. Yet he initially found his day job taxing; shortly after he started his screenwriting gig with Columbia Pictures in 1933, he wrote to a friend: “This stuff about easy work is all wrong. My hours are from ten in the morning to six at night with a full day on Saturday. They gave me a job to do five minutes after I sat down in my office -- a scenario about a beauty parlor -- and I am expected to turn out pages and pages a day.”

The Library of America is making a West story from its compendium “Nathanael West: Novels and Other Writings” available for free download. “Business Deal” is a story set in the office of a Hollywood studio executive; it appeared in the short-lived satirical magazine, “Americana,” which also published works by James Thurber and e.e. cummings. “Business Deal” begins:

For an hour after his barber left him, Mr. Eugene Klingspiel, West Coast head of Gargantual Pictures, worked ceaselessly. First he read The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and The Film Daily. Then he measured out two spoonfuls of bicarbonate and lay down on the couch to make decisions. Before long Mr. Klingspiel had fallen into what he called a gentle reverie. He saw Gargantual Pictures swallowing its competitors like a boa-constrictor, engulfing whole amusement chains. In a delicious half-doze, he found himself wondering whether to absorb Balaban & Katz; but finding no use for Katz, he absorbed only Balaban, and turned next to Spyros Skouras and his seven brothers. Perhaps at the outset he ought to absorb only three of them. But which three? The three in the middle or two on one end and one on the other? Finally he arranged the eight Skourases into a squad of tin soldiers and executed five at random. The repeated buzz of the dictograph cut short his delicious sport. He flipped the switch irritably. “Who is it?” “Hwonh hwonh hwonh hwonh hwonh.” “I’ll see them later,” said Mr. Klingspiel. “Send in Charlie Baer.”

The Charlie Brown voice presaging aside, the story reads big and broad, and the screenwriter gets a leg up on the studio head. In that, it may be less satire than Hollywood fantasy.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.