ILAB Rare Booksellers on Video: Gordon Hollis
“My bookshop Golden Legend specializes in rare books and prints in theatre, dance and costume. This interest in the performing arts certainly comes from living in Los Angeles and having a store for many years in Hollywood, not a half mile from Schwab's drugstore where Marilyn Monroe was discovered. Because my own personal passion is for antiquarian books and prints, I've coupled my two interests by dealing in antiquarian books on the history of entertainment, or "Spectacle" - as my French friends put it. My customers are not usually Hollywood celebrities but research libraries from as far away as Stockholm and Taipei, and collectors including historians and authors. One of my favourite collectors is the very first teacher of Russian ballet in Japan; another is the scenic designer for a Shakespearean repertory company.
I have books on my shelves which describe the fireworks displays created for the birth of the Daupin in 18th century France, and others which picture the sets and costumes for pastorales (early light operas) in 17th century Italy. These books come vibrantly back to life when one looks at the long history of public performances. After all, todays popular Cirque de Soleil had its inspiration among the street entertainers of medieval Paris; and movies like Gladiator are not the invention of Hollywood, but are the modern incarnations of mock battles staged during marriage festivals in renaissance Florence. I do, of course, get modern material. Most recently, I acquired a series of letters from Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy to the ballerina Margot Fonteyn. One letter from 1962 invites Fonteyn to dance at the White House, another, from a few years later, contains includes thank you notes from Caroline and John Kennedy, Jr. for tickets to Fonteyn's box at the Royale Ballet.
I never dreamed of becoming a rare book dealer. Probably, my first step was in the late 1960s, when I got a job in New York with a publishing company that was planning to publish facsimile copies of every book printed before 1502. I thought the idea was fantastic, and clamoured to be involved in the project which, unfortunately never fully developed. In the mid 1970s, after graduate school at the University of Chicago and a few years teaching at a state college in Colorado, I again took to book selling - this time, not with a publishing company, but with my own little, first edition business, from Boulder, Colorado. But, it wasn't long before early printed books called to me again. After coming to Los Angeles in the early 1980s to work at a rare bookshop, I stuck out on my own, and soon began working with the performing arts material. Because I have a long background in the rare book field, I frequently have other kinds of material, as well including illustrated books, original prints, and occasionally first editions and autographs. My new acquisitions are often listed on my website." (This article was published on the ILAB site in 2003)
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