On April 3, 1982, barbarians broke into the Hollywood Branch Library and started a fire that burned it down.
Almost all was lost, including three-quarters of the library's 90,000 books and its unique and largely irreplaceable theater-arts collection.
The loss was immeasurable; I once heard the late Will Durant say that all the books studied by him and his wife, Ariel, in the preparation of their monumental series, "The Story of Civilization," had been obtained through the Hollywood branch.
Now, thanks mainly to a $3.24-million grant from the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation, the Hollywood branch is being rebuilt and will open early next year.
Naturally, like libraries everywhere, it needs money. A check is the best way to give money, but there may also be some merit in an idea proposed by Walter A. Marco of Studio City.
He points out that there are thousands of books lying about forgotten on private bookshelves. If those were contributed to branch libraries, they could be sent on to the Hollywood branch, to help rebuild its collection.
Any branch library will accept books, though obviously they don't need 10,000 copies of "Valley of the Dolls" and a carload of old Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Books that fill a need in the system will go to the branch that needs them. Otherwise, they may be sold through public sales sponsored by Friends of the Library groups at the various branches.
Just to start the ball rolling, I would like to offer the library a few books of mine, if it wants them.
First, I have 17 novels by the late Robert Nathan, mostly first editions. They are from the private collection of a Glendale woman who had to give them up when she left her apartment for a rest home. Knowing how much I admired Nathan, she gave them to me.
I would be glad to part with them if they might help to revive interest among the young in this forever-young writer's work.
Also, I have 26 books of the late H. Allen Smith, the great American humorist--among them "Low Man on a Totem Pole," "To Hell in a Handbasket" and "How to Write Without Knowing Nothing."
That last one has served as my guide and inspiration.
All of these books are autographed by Mr. Smith to the equally infamous Fred Beck, whose own wit used to appear in the Farmer's Market ads in The Times.
Smith and Beck were friends, and Smith always sent Beck a copy of his latest book, autographed. In time, Beck moved out of his house into a small apartment and had to trim his library accordingly. He wrote me a letter, signed "Occupant." He said he would like to give the Smith collection to me and proposed that we meet on a certain day, at noon, on the Malibu Pier.
I drove out to Malibu on the appointed day and waited on the pier until a rather short, pink, owlish man came up to me and said: "Are you Jack Smith?" He had the books in his car, and we transferred them to mine.
I also have a set of the Durants' "Story of Civilization"--a second set that I don't need. The Book of the Month Club sent them to me one day by accident. They just turned up on my front porch in two cardboard boxes. I wrote BOMC telling them that I hadn't ordered the books and didn't want them, but they never answered. I wrote again, in desperation, and still received no answer. It was obvious that I was corresponding with a computer that was out of order.
Finally, I heard at last from a person who said that it would be too much trouble for them to take the books back. So why didn't I just turn them to some noble purpose?
If they could find their place in the Hollywood Library, I would consider that a noble purpose. What could be more fitting in that collection than a set of books that owed their origins to the library itself?
Finally, I am willing to give the library a complete set of my own eight books.
However, I don't expect to do that without some recompense.
I'd be happy with a small bronze plaque and a bust.