Bookstore of the week: Samuel French in Hollywood
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Samuel French is the place to go for plays. Sure, it’s a bricks-and-mortar bookstore with two locations in Southern California -- Jacket Copy visited this one, on Sunset Boulevard at Stanley Avenue -- and it also is, as staffer Gwen Feldman rattles off with practice, ‘the world’s oldest, largest publisher of plays.’
The Samuel French company has been publishing plays since 1830. There was an actual Samuel French, an American who started his business in this country, then moved to England. The first L.A. Samuel French store was founded in 1929 in downtown; it moved to the current Hollywood location in 1947.
In addition to plays, Samuel French carries many books in hardcover and paperback. Biographies of entertainment figures are among those found near the front of the store. Farther toward the back, there are many in-demand books about moviemaking -- how to write, how to perform, and of course, how to direct.
Publishing plays remains the core of Samuel French’s business. On Wednesday afternoon, actors came in asking for specific titles, and the phone rang with calls from near and far. ‘Our big seasons are February and August, because that’s when school is starting,’ Feldman says. ‘Everything from grammar school to UCLA, USC and specialty acting schools.’
Some plays have a recognizable plain cover with the play’s name in large letters, the playwright’s name slightly smaller, a few framing lines and SAMUEL FRENCH printed near the bottom. Others, like the new ‘Race’ by David Mamet, have designs that deviate from the standard, looking more like paperback novels.
Up through the 1970s, Samuel French’s L.A. operations were for selling and licensing plays in the region. Then when Feldman began in 1986, she helped open up the business to be a full-service bookstore, expanding into a retail space next door that used to be a barbershop. Now there are two long rooms, each filled with rows of bookshelves. The farther back you go, the more likely you are to find some books on sale.
While most of the events that Samuel French does in Southern California are in its other location, in Studio City, Ru Paul recently signed copies there of ‘Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style.’ Samuel French Bookshop is at 7623 Sunset Blvd.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photos: Samuel French Bookshop. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg