Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Found treasure in a Chicago used bookstore

While waiting for my son to finish his tacos in a Wicker Park area pub Saturday afternoon, I wandered down the street and came across the Myopic Used Bookstore. It's near Damen and Milwaukee Streets. I'm a sucker for these places. So I wandered in, was astounded at the sheer quantity of books and the incredibly organized arrangement. Also to my surprise, the store was crowded, mostly young people, lining up to buy books. It made me hopeful for the future of reading "real" books.

 I, of course, headed for the Films section to find something on Charlie Chaplin. There were only three books, and I had them all. I finished looking through the Film section, segued over to Military History, specifically the 3 big wars: Civil, Great, WWII. Dozens I'd like to read but knew I never would. Pass. A quick walk-by in the fiction department, then decided to get back to my son.

On the way towards the front door, I glanced into a glass case which held some "special" books... either rare or signed or hard to find. The price tags on them ranged from $50 up. And that's when I saw it. "The Films of Mary Pickford" by Raymond Lee. Signed by Mary.

And here was the clincher: It included a handwritten note from her personal secretary to someone in the Chicago area, fulfilling a request for Mary to sign the book. Mary's inscription in the book read, " To Bob, Cordially Yours, Mary Pickford." The secretary was Esther Helm. The note was written on notepaper with a picture of Pickfair. Her note read, in part, "Your letter and book arrived last Friday and I have today taken it to the post office -- it has been autographed by Mary, and she and Buddy both enjoyed looking at the photo you sent me." It's dated Dec. 11th. The book has "Christmas 1974" written on the inside cover. Also inside the book was an article on Mary from the Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1976.

The connection to Chaplin is certainly familiar to you. Mary, with Doug Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Charlie formed United Artists in 1919. It marked the first time movie stars took control of producing and distributing their own films. Some historians credit Mary with the initial idea to form the company. Chaplin, unfortunately, was still under contract to First National. It would be four years before he could contribute a film to United Artists. Chaplin eventually sold his interest in UA in 1955 after his move to Switzerland, but he maintained ownership of the films he made for them.

Fortune sometimes smiles on us at the most unexpected times. If my son had not stopped at the pub for tacos, if I had wanted to watch some baseball game on the TV sets there instead of taking a walk, if I hadn't turned to look into that glass case, I would not have been able to put a signed Mary Pickford book on the shelf next to my Chaplin books.


  1. Well Gerry that's fantastic! Fate is a mysterious and wonderful thing. I'd love to see the book in person someday. As I'm sure you know Doug and Mary's house Pickfair was within a stones throw of Charlie's house in Bel Air.

  2. You're right, Carl. Fate! I love the connections between Charlie and Mary.. and Doug, who was his best friend. Is Pickfair still standing? I tried to find it years ago when I was researhing my novel, but all I could see was lots and lots of trees along the road. Hollywood privacy indeed.