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Celebrating Jim Tully—In Hollywood

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by Leonard Maltin
October 8, 2012 1:00 AM
1 Comment
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The LAVA Salon at Musso & Frank is the brainchild of Kim Cooper & Richard Schave, proprietors of literary and historic tour company Esotouric -- Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, James M. Cain's Southern California Nightmare, Charles Bukowski's Haunts of a Dirty Old Man, John Fante's Dreams from Bunker Hill -- who through 2009-10 hosted a free cultural Salon on the last Sunday of the month at Clifton's Cafeteria. With the new series, LAVA expands its congenial, intelligent and unpredictable cultural programming into Hollywood with a quarterly literary Salon event held in Musso & Frank on a night when the restaurant is closed to the general public. Seating is extremely limited, and these intimate gatherings always sell out.

On Monday, October 15, you are invited to join Jim Tully's biographers Mark Dawidziak and Paul Bauer for Jim Tully: A Hobo in Hollywood, a night spent exploring a fascinating Hollywood literary figure who star blazed brightly through the 1930s, and unaccountably faded after his 1947 death.

The son of an Irish ditch-digger, Ohio-born Jim Tully (1886-1947) hit the road in 1901, spending most of his teenage years in the company of hoboes. While chasing his dream of becoming a writer, Tully rode the rails and worked as a tree surgeon, boxer, and newspaper reporter. All the while, he was crafting his memories into a dark and original chronicle of the American underclass. When he began to set his experiences onto paper in a style that was hard-boiled before the genre existed, he became a literary sensation.

At October's Salon, Jim Tully's biographers Mark Dawidziak and Paul Bauer will seek to answer the fundamental question: "Why isn't Jim Tully still a household name?" Tully exploded onto the scene with a stream of critically acclaimed novels, among them "Beggars of Life" (1924), "Circus Parade" (1927), "Shanty Irish" (1928), "Shadows of Men" (1930) and "Blood on the Moon" (1931). Yet the books were out-of-print for decades, their author forgotten.

To answer this question, Mark Dawidziak and Paul Bauer must look to the Hollywood of 1912, to the sleepy little suburb that Tully found and watched grow up around him, as he built his incongruous twin careers as motion picture publicist and independent writer. From his piercing insights into and deep ambivalence toward his longtime employer, Charlie Chaplin, to anecdotes of great friendships with W.C. Fields, Jack Dempsey, Damon Runyon, Lon Chaney, Frank Capra, and Erich von Stroheim, Tully exhibited a lust for life which was only surpassed by his devotion to his craft. By 1930 Tully was a major American author, and had launched a parallel career as a successful journalist. Both his novels and journalistic exposés shook the country and his peer group in Hollywood.

But Tully's novel "Ladies In The Parlor" (1935), was declared obscene and most copies destroyed, and Chaplin successfully prevented Tully's publisher from releasing a biography of the actor. By the mid-1940s, crippling physical ailments and family heartbreak left the writer on the ropes. With his death in 1947, his name quietly slipped from the front ranks of American Letters and into obscurity.

Since 2009, Kent State University Press has been rectifying this long neglect with a series of Tully reprints. And in 2011, it published Mark Dawidziak and Paul Bauer's definitive biography, Jim Tully: American Writer, Irish Rover, Hollywood Brawler, drawing on new information found in the Tully papers at UCLA Special Collections.

The time is ripe for a revival of interest in this fascinating American character, and we invite you to play a part in it at the October Salon and at all of the October TULLYFEST events.

Also appearing at the Salon is Howard Prouty (Acquisitions Archivist at The Academy Foundation/Margaret Herrick Library and proprietor of

ReadInk) with the latest in his popular series of talks on a famous Los Angeles book seller with a history of Hollywood's landmark Pickwick Bookshop. And before and after the formal dinner and Salon presentations, guests will mingle with Hollywood historian Philip Mershon (proprietor of The Felix in Hollywood Tour Company).

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1 Comment

  • Jim Reinecke | October 9, 2012 5:26 PMReply

    Couldn't help but notice the fine print in the displayed newspaper ad for LAUGHTER IN HELL that the supporting cast includes two actors that appeared in contemporary films about the brutalities of chain gangs; namely, Berton Churchill (I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG) and Tom Brown (HELL'S HIGHWAY). Now that this film has returned to circulation (albeit limited) it would be another candidate for a third edition of the Classic Movie Guide (Yes, I'm still hoping that this much needed book will see the light of day before somebody finds, say, CONVENTION CITY---and, as you may have gathered from some of my earlier posts, that film is my personal Holy Grail among lost movies).

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