Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Remembering Samuel French

During quarantine, my mind has been wandering to places I'd like to visit. Unfortunately, one place no longer exists. 

One of the first places I went when I moved to Los Angeles was Samuel French Theater Bookshop on Sunset Boulevard.

I was familiar with Samuel French. While studying at Emerson College in Boston, I visited Baker's Plays (their Boston store). When I was in New York I went to their massive two story store in Midtown Manhattan that had everything for the working actor. 

The Boston store closed years ago. When my husband and I were visiting New York in 2017, I was shocked to learn that the Midtown store was long gone - I didn't see how this was possible. The woman at the Samuel French office said the only brick & mortar store was in Los Angeles. At that time New York actors still had access to the Drama Book Shop. 

When we returned home I made a special trip to Samuel French, simply because I could. In the back of my mind I feared this store would also be closing. The closing happened sonner than later in March of 2019. Many were robbed of a final visit when the store was vandalized two weeks before the scheduled closing; it never reopened.

Like many others, I have many memories of the Hollywood store. When I first moved to LA, I purchased books, guides and directories for actors relocating to Hollywood. I was thrilled that Samuel French was walking distance from my new home. Later, I remember giving the name of an obscure play to an employee who climbed a ladder that reached to the ceiling; a few moments later he returned with the play. Once, I needed a peice of sheet music for an audition. Hollywood Sheet Music (another place long gone) had sold out. They told me to go down the street to Samuel French who, of course, had what I needed. 

Samuel French had been a part of the Hollywood and acting community since 1947. The store lives on online. 

When the LA store closed, there was one last brick and mortar store in London. It too has closed for good. The Drama Book Shop in NYC was also on it's way to closing peranently. A group including Lin-Manuel Miranda purchased the New York Store. "The Drama Book Shop" was open for nearly 100 years, but had been forced to close its West 40th Street location.The Drama Bookshop was scheduled to reopen in March 2020 on West 39th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues. The store's reopening will be something else to look forward to once New York City reopens. 

Many actors, writers, filmmakers and others in the performing arts community often dropped into Samuel French not only for books, but for inspiration and a sense of community. It was a place to go before or after an audition in the area. Later, a small performance space was added. I always looked forward to visiting the store the day after the Tony Awards to purchase new plays for my library. 

Sure, you can still find most items online, but it's not the same. Samuel French Film and Theater Bookshop is now a part of Hollywood's history. I along with so many others will and miss it, and remember it fondly.

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