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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023


By FRANK SWERTLOW Staff Reporter In a book world dominated by supermarket-sized discount stores, the Samuel French Theater & Film Bookshops has found a quiet niche in the Studio City. Located near the CBS Studio Center, the store is frequented by aspiring screenwriters, directors, actors and makeup artists, as well as by people already in the industry who need to pick up a script or reference guide. “There is a huge demand for this information,” said Gwen Feldman, who manages the store at 11963 Ventura Blvd. “Everybody wants to get into the business.” Among the more popular titles are “Back to One: The Movie Extra’s Guidebook,” by actor-author Cullen Chambers and “LA 411,” a reference guide that helps film and TV producers find everything from sound stages to location caterers. The store also has “Zen and the Art of Screenwriting” by William Froug and classics on acting technique by Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner and Uta Hagen. “Michael Jackson likes to come in and buy stacks of books on Disney and film production,” Feldman said. “The last time I saw him he was wearing surgical clothes with a mask. He orders books and has an account with a code name.” Much of the trade is in scripts, however. “Laurence Fishburne comes in,” she said, “so does Kevin Spacey, Faye Dunaway and Shelly Winters. Everyone uses us if they want a copy of a play or a published script.” Samuel French Inc. first opened its doors in New York in 1830 and is the world’s largest copyrighter of theatrical plays. Its clients have included Neil Simon, Anton Chekov, Samuel Beckett, Maxwell Anderson, Edward Albee, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Agee. Community playhouses, high school productions and dinner theater operations all pay royalities to French in order to stage a French-licensed play. “People have the idea that copyright is meaningless,” Feldman said. “They don’t realize that copyright is a playwright’s life blood.” French, which operates bookstores in London and Toronto, came to L.A. in 1929 to monitor theatrical productions in the Western states. The Sunset Boulevard location opened in 1947 and the Studio City shop in 1987. “I think the feeling was that people on this side of the hill didn’t go over to the other side,” Feldman said. Feldman admits that she is amazed at some of the requests she gets. Not long ago, she said, a man called from Russia saying he did not have enough money to buy a batch of plays. He asked if he could borrow the scripts for a few weeks and mail them back. Feldman took a pass. “Someone recently called and asked for ‘Ed Opus by Rex,” chuckled Feldman, who was able to discern that the caller really wanted the Greek tragedy “Oedipus Rex.” Feldman says she and her colleagues have to remain vigilant against poachers who rush to the photocopy machine and run off dozens of copies of a play they want to produce. To monitor unauthorized productions, she and her staff scrutinize local papers throughout the Western United States. Her counterparts in New York and Toronto do the same for the East Coast. If they find a rogue production, they take swift action. “The copyright police go out and we start writing letters,” she said. “A lot of people also don’t realize that if you license a play you have to follow the script and don’t make any changes. If they do, the authors come down on us.”

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