June 11, 2016 by John Wilcock
Chapter Twenty-two (part 3):
Los Angeles seemed to call and thus I went south, to stay on the couch of my friend Ellie Vera who said we'd turn my show Wait A Minute! into a technically proficient production. I ran into Jay Levin who'd married my assistant Carole years before and had come West to found the LA Weekly. "I'll give you $400 a month to write something; what do you want to write?" he asked, and so I began turning out a fortnightly travel column for the paper, a gig that ended when Kit Rachlis took over as editor and declared travel "not relevant".
One of my oldest friends, Paula Matisse, had been working in an art gallery along with Caroline Seebohm when I had first arrived back in the Sixties. Both of them are younger than me but somehow I have always thought of them as my big sisters. At any rate I had bumped into them elsewhere over the years, once in San Tropez when Paula was on her honeymoon and on an especially notable occasion when we were sitting in a coffee shop with Warhol and someone from the factory came in with the good news that Andy's movie had been accepted at Cannes for the first time.
Now, freshly here as a newcomer to L.A. it was Paula who nudged me into my next adventure, facilitating my meeting with Eduardo, a hyperactive playboy who was publishing a free weekly called NOW. Its stylish, gaudy cover belied its nondescript content which was parties, models, night-clubs, pr fluff. I told him I could make it "relevant", i.e. containing interesting, informative stories that people would actually read instead of skipping past before they tossed the paper in the garbage. He was interested, but suspicious. How much would all this cost him? My terms were the use of a car and my rent paid somewhere near the office, and he agreed to them readily. We agreed that my services would be a bargain.
We brought in an imaginative Latino art director Gina, who lacking a work permit at the time, was willing to work for very much less than she was worth, and for several months produced a highly readable tabloid. Stories about how Hollywood was failing to preserve old movies; the star-studded history of the about-to-be demolished Ambassador Hotel (where Bobby Kennedy was shot); Albert Goldman’s advice on how to be a biographer; Andy Warhol memories; Isadora Allman’s sex advice column, Ask Isadora; how to cure a cold (and how to get to sleep); a review of the musical about Freud running at a Vienna theater; and my regular column appeared in the early issues. I serialized the dialog Martha and I had conducted on How To Be A Travel Writer; picked up Alex Besher’s Pacific Rim column and “explained” what made humor funny.
We devoted a couple of pages to travel and two more to art (Christo and Jeanne-Claude's forthcoming umbrella spectacular, and James Boggs' hand drawn money) and wrote several nostalgic pieces about the "old Hollywood" about which readers never seem to tire. It may have been the-greatest-paper-without-an-editorial-budget ever produced but, alas, Eduardo didn't take care of business; he never got around to hiring an advertising staff and spent so much of his time attending parties to promote his fledgling model agency that NOW was neglected. It went belly up after six months, forcing me to find another place to live.
In the meantime, my old friend Martha, with whom I'd toured Europe writing books about magical sites, was appointed editor-in-chief of all North American Insight Guides and invited me to produce one about Los Angeles. Arthur Frommer had always emphasized that the problem with marketing travel books was that only a small percentage of people who went to a country could be expected to buy them, and now here was a series, Insight, that were so insightful and pictorial that they were perfect for learning all about a country, state or city without actually having to go there. The books each began with half a dozen essays distilling the essence of a place and then listed all the nitty gritty facts and hotel rates that the visitor needed.
"Thought is barred in this city of dreadful joy" Aldous Huxley once wrote about Los Angeles which Raymond Chandler had denigrated as "a big, hardboiled city with no more personality than a paper cup".
UNLIKE MANY New Yorkers I had no prejudice about LA. I'd always admired its freewheeling sense of anything-can-happen-here and in common with so many others was captivated by a city that thrived so much on fantasy. LA's best-known history is that of the century-old movie industry and people never tire of hearing all the old legends and scandals recycled again and again. Nor did it take long to twig that what visitors wanted to see most was not surfers or the Pasadena Jet Propulsion Laboratory but...a movie star! And if that wasn't possible they'd like to see some place where the stars went—or even where such a place once had been. Even the locals, unlike blasé New Yorkers, are star-struck: it goes with the territory. While visiting the old Max Factor museum one day, the curator pointed up the block to a bank at Highland and Hollywood Boulevard and asked: "D'you know what used to be on that corner?" I had done my homework and, yes, I knew that it had been the site of the old Hollywood Hotel from which gossip Louella Parsons had conducted her daily radio show. It had been demolished nearly half a century before. "True", the curator said, "but you know I still see tourists who come and gaze at that corner for five minutes at a time".
Santa Monica-born Steve Harvey, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, loved this sort of thing even more than myself and was always featuring it in his column Only in LA. The Hollywood Hotel, he reported, was the scene of Hollywood's shortest marriage on Nov. 5, 1919 when Rudolph Valentino was locked out of his honeymoon suite there by actress Jean Acker whom he'd married only six hours before. Another Hollywood couple, Steve reported, stopped their wedding ceremony for two hours to have rings tattooed onto their fingers. Only in LA, indeed. Valentino, incidentally, used to be listed in the local phone book here along with other such accessible personalities as Wyatt Earp, Cecil B. De Mille, Clark Gable, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In once-informal Beverly Hills, Jack Benny used to answer the door himself at his home on North Roxbury Drive and it was well known that Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, and Greta Garbo all lived only a block or two away.
MY TASK AS writer/editor of the book about LA was how to define this indefinable city. There's No Business but Show Business was an obvious topic as were essays about whacky religions, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, body worship and a history of the movies. With the help of a knowledgeable local writer, Nancy Gottesman, I commissioned several stories and devoted myself to exploring the neighborhoods and assembling an essay, Automania: Californians and their Cars.
I was to be no exception to this rule. I set off in my Honda to explore this fabulous city, driving along every boulevard and major street.
Manhattan Memories is available at amazon.com.
An updated A Guide to Occult Britain, complete with new illustrations, is also available at amazon.com.
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Now Available in Print!!
Don't let a real-life comic strip sneak by unnoticed. This one's too unusual (and brilliant) for that!
also available on amazon.com...
National Weed (1974, issue #3)
Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook
Over the past year, my combined medical and support costs from a stroke I had in April 2014 have been more than $100,000. If you'd like to help, use the Paypal donate button, or better yet, buy my books, and thank you. —JW
Now on Boing-Boing!
An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
This IS a book-length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.
January 2, 2011
A way with Andy Warhol : John Wilcock recalls life in iconic pop artist's inner circle
During a journalism career that began when he was 16, John Wilcock has interviewed celebrities — Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Bob Dylan, to name a few — was part of enigmatic pop artist Andy Warhol's intimate circle in the 1960s, traveled to exotic locations all over the globe, has written dozens of books ranging from frugal travel to magic, was one of five founders (Norman Mailer was one of them) of the Village Voice and co-founded Interview magazine (still in circulation) with Mr. Warhol.
“The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Jewcy Top 10 Art Books of 2010
This brilliant remake of a pop primary document is brought to you by John Wilcock, probably the Most Interesting Man in the World in the realm of writers. The Village Voice cofounder had also edited Warhol’s seminal mag Interview in the 70s. The fruit of the book is in the genius of its redesign. After 40 years out-of-print, the newly edited edition is “beautifully redesigned in a bright, Warholian palette” that surrounds a trail of Harry Shunk’s internationally Pop-art-informed camera as well as transcribed interviews with those closest to Warhol that ultimately make up an oral history of the artist’s Factory period. By looking at him through the scope of his peers, this book is the equivalent of Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum in illuminating qualities of Warhol’s warped mirror on which our American culture was briefly reflected.
Monday, November 15, 2010
A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,
It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my Săo Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.
By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.
“A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego.”