Evenings With the Boys In the Backroom


“… It’s a brilliant play. It’s so good that I’m even tempted to steal from it myself.” – William Saroyan’s play character

A collection of wonderful stories and memories is the heart of a fascinating play called “Evenings with The Boys in the Backroom” by Peter Adum and Joyce Fante. It’s the Los Angeles version of Gertrude Stein’s 1920s “Left Bank Salon” in Paris where she hosted luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The play, as a staged reading, showcases L.A.’s own 1930s salon of gifted writers set in Stanley Rose’s Book Store, one door east of the Musso & Frank Grill and across from the Brown Derby in Hollywood. The world premiere production will be presented as a benefit for the Friends of the Altadena Public Library in association with The Moveable Theatre Company, which uses volunteer professional actors. The performance is Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 3:00 PM in the Altadena Public Library community room in Altadena, California. (For tickets: 626-798-0833 or www.altadenalibrary.org)

 “From the start, this play has interested and enchanted me,” said Holly Witham, founder and production director of The Moveable Theatre Company. “Call me a 1930s buff, or a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood or a hopeless bibliophile; I am guilty of all these things and from all, can point with enthusiasm to this fascinating story of how some of the best writers of an era socialized, played, fought, gossiped, supported and challenged each other, amid the sometimes cruel, heart-breaking and tough world of Hollywood,” Witham said.

Set in 1938, this original work written a number of years ago, chronicles the friendships between Hollywood book store owner Stanley Rose and some of his most famous customers: John Fante, William Saroyan, Nathanael West and Carey McWilliams.  To help write the play, John Fante’s widow, Joyce, now deceased, shared her knowledge of the intimate details of conversations that occurred in Stanley Rose’s back room behind the book shop. This is where Rose’s successful friends talked, drank, played cards and discussed ideas which would inspire their most famous works. The scene was like a “Who’s Who” of the Los Angeles literary scene during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

For example, William Saroyan wrote the Pulitzer Prize wining play, “The Time of Your Life.” John Fante, a novelist, wrote “Ask the Dust” among others and Nathanael West wrote bitter, satirical novels like “Day of the Locust.” Carey McWilliams, an attorney and “muckraker,” wrote works including “Factories in the Fields” and one of the finest histories of Southern California.

The play paints the picture of the bookstore’s backroom which was an “art gallery” (original Picassos), but retained the intimate atmosphere of the old speakeasy days. Bookstore owner, Stanley Rose, was characterized by playwright Peter Adum: “He was quite unique. Here was a hard-drinking, semi-literate, bootlegger who fed, nurtured and encouraged the writers who became his best friends. He wasn’t Gertrude Stein, but he was very much the ‘den mother’.”  One of Rose’s lines in the play says a lot: “I sell books. I don’t read the damn things….”