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At Larry Edmunds Bookshop, movie memories have a long shelf life

Los Angeles Times

Jeffrey Mantor, who has a sizable tattoo of Rita Hayworth on his left bicep and one of Anita Ekberg from “La Dolce Vita” on his right, is standing by a long row of beat-up filing cabinets containing thousands of headshots. When he begins pulling out pictures, it’s as if he’s reaching straight into the heart of Hollywood’s golden age.

Photos of beauties including Dorothy Dandridge, Kim Novak, Mae West and Lauren Bacall are all signed. There’s even an autographed Bette Davis headshot dated Oct. 15, 1937, that bears the photographer’s Warner Bros. stamp.


FOR THE RECORD:
Larry Edmunds Bookshop: An article in the March 5 Calendar on Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood said the store was once owned by Milt Luboviski. Luboviski was a co-owner. His wife, Git, who is now known as Git Polin, co-owned the store for 55 years. —


Mantor is the owner of Larry Edmunds Bookshop, which was founded in 1938 and specializes exclusively in movie books and memorabilia. For Mantor, the tattoos, which he got done at a parlor down the street from his store on Hollywood Boulevard, symbolize a love of the classic films that are his stock and trade.

But the nearby tattoo parlor also symbolizes one of the challenges to his shop’s existence. A mecca for bookstores and well-heeled customers during the early to mid-20th century, Hollywood Boulevard has slowly been taken over by tattoo parlors, ritzy clubs, kitschy tourist traps and corporate giants like Hooters and Hard Rock Café, which cater to a different clientele.

Then there’s the specter of the Internet, which has revolutionized the way America shops. Larry Edmunds traffics in pop-culture nostalgia, which — as evidenced by the swift march of hipster culture into the mainstream and it’s near pathological reverence for all things retro — is not a market on the verge of extinction. However, the boom is online — on EBay and Amazon and sites like them, where customers can bid and buy with the click of a mouse.

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Mantor still buys his stock the old-fashioned way. People bring in their collections — books, posters, lobby cards — and he purchases them right over the counter. Having an eye for the overall value and authenticity of an item is a skill, one that Mantor has honed over two decades. He began working at Larry Edmunds in 1991, after a stint working down the street at Book City, which is now a gourmet Mexican restaurant.

“It’s tough to be in a specialty business where I spent 20 years learning to do what I do for a living only to have someone come along and type something into a search engine to get the same information,” says Mantor, who moved to L.A. from Reno in the 1980s to study film and play rock ‘n’ roll. “That’s the problem with EBay; everybody thinks they’re a dealer.”

Mantor winds his way through the shop’s narrow aisles pointing out noteworthy collectibles as he goes. There’s a signed 1962 autobiography of Joan Crawford titled “A Portrait of Joan,” ($200); a restored James Bond “You Only Live Twice” subway-style poster, ($1,000); Barbara Stanwyck’s personal bound copy of “The Night Walker,” ($150); a bound collection of John Travolta postcards from the 1970s ($3.95); a 2002 copy of the 1941 classic Hollywood biz novel “What Makes Sammy Run?,” signed by author Budd Schulberg ($125); loads of back issues of classic fan magazines and American Cinematographer magazines; and nearly 2,000 biographies and autobiographies, from Abbott & Costello to Vera Zorina.

However, Larry Edmunds doesn’t just carry the classics. “They’ve always tried to maintain a stock of every new film book that comes along,” says author, film historian and former Hollywood Heritage president Robert Birchard.

Birchard has been visiting the shop since 1963 when he was a kid. His favorite Larry Edmunds-procured item is a letter written in 1912 by New York-based Kalem Co. President Frank J. Marion to the director Sidney Olcott proclaiming that Hollywood was no longer a good place to shoot films.

“Everyone in the business now has one or two companies out there,” reads the letter, “and the suburbs of the city are fuller of picture takers than the woods of Coytesville [New Jersey].”

Birchard can rattle off with ease the many bookstores that used to line Hollywood Boulevard. There was Stanley Rose where the Vogue Theater now stands, Cherokee, Pickwick and Book City, to name a few.

“There were still a lot of picture people in the area leading up to the 1960s and there was a lot of production in Hollywood proper,” says Birchard, so the stores naturally attracted industry types. However Larry Edmunds was the first shop that began specializing exclusively in movie books. According to Birchard it was the wife of the shop’s second owner, Milt Luboviski, who hit on the idea in the 1950s.

“There weren’t a lot of books about film at that time. But they were well-positioned when there was a boom in movie books in the 1960s,” says Birchard.

The store doesn’t just appeal to book lovers, though. Memorabilia collectors account for a good chunk of its business. The obsessed kind who need to have every poster, magazine and lobby card that speaks to their chosen fixation.

“We had a customer who used to collect pictures of women in danger — who were being captured by men in gorilla suits,” says Mantor. “I guess that’s one that stuck with me.”

There was also a guy who collected pictures of men in garters. When someone has a highly specific request Mantor and his staff, including a poster and photo specialist named Mike Hawks who has worked at the shop for 27 years, keep the request on file and call the collector when related merchandise comes in.

Most collector requests are tamer, though. Actor Rodger Arlen was at the shop last month buying a poster for the Clint Eastwood film “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Arlen has been collecting Eastwood memorabilia for about 10 years.

“This is the place to find a good old poster,” he says while standing by the cash register, a parade of bizarre humanity breezing past on the dirty boulevard outside the front door. “Original movie posters are addictive. They’re like crack!”

Also addictive? The sense of history that overwhelms you as you browse through the store’s forgotten treasures. As a lovingly assembled repository of an undigitized era, Larry Edmunds Bookshop traffics in the tangible.

“There’s still something about holding a book in your hand, picking it up and reading it,” says Mantor. “I wouldn’t get the same enjoyment out of a Kindle.”

jessica.gelt@latimes.com


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