Obituary for Andreas Brown
Andreas Brown owned and operated the most fascinating bookstore in America, The Gotham Book Mart. Their slogan, depicted on a sign outside the store, was “Wise Men Fish Here.”
Andreas Brown was born in San Diego in 1933. He grew up with two siblings, attended Hoover High School, and graduated with honors from San Diego State University in 1955 with a Bachelors of Art in Economics. He was president of Sigma Chi fraternity, a member of the national and regional champion debating team and honorary speech fraternity, Pi Kappa Delta. After attending Stanford Law School, Brown served in the Army Staff Judge Office, later returning to San Diego to teach speech and coach debate teams at San Diego State University for three years. Brown was a scholar in residence at the University of Texas for two years, researching bibliography, and studied under the direction of Donald Gallup at Yale University. He eventually returned to San Diego to start his own business as a private appraiser of rare books and manuscripts with an emphasis on contemporary American literature.
Brown owned and operated Gotham Book Mart in New York City for forty years, until its closure in 2007. Founded by Frances Steloff in 1920, it was often considered one of the most important independent bookstores in the United States. Brown’s work often took him to New York City and he made a habit of visiting Gotham Book Mart. He struck up a friendship with Steloff, who in 1967 offered to sell her store to Brown. He accepted, closed his business, and moved to New York the same year. Gotham Book Mart was frequented by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Jacqueline Onassis, John Updike, and Edward Gorey, all of with whom Brown developed close friendships.
Brown has actively promoted the appreciation of American art and culture for his entire adult life. He has served on the National Board of Governors of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, is a member of the American Booksellers Association, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, the Grolier Club of New York, and is an active life time member of the San Diego Historical Society. In 2005, SDSU awarded Brown the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.
Andreas Brown, Day 1: Early Life
Dr. Susan Resnik sets the scene of the interview, lists the academic and professional achievements of Andreas Brown, and prompts Mr. Brown to discuss his family. Brown’s family arrived in the Americas around 1630, migrated to Lincoln, Illinois, then to San Francisco, and finally to San Diego where his great-grandfather helped to establish the county medical society. He continues with the history of his maternal grandmother and mother, and her relationship with his father. Brown details his childhood growing up in rural East San Diego, his burgeoning interest in books which began with the tiny local library where he would sneak behind the librarian to read D.H. Lawrence. He describes his time from grammar through high school, discussing the lasting influence of specific classes, including a music class that changed his approach to decoding, a math class that required students to open a bank account, and a graphic anti-smoking lesson. To Brown’s dismay, he was placed in a typing class because of his bad handwriting, but the class ultimately helped land him an intriguing position as a clerk in the appellate court office of the Army, the details of which he briefly describes.
The relationship between his mother and sister was complicated, and effected by his parents’ divorce. Brown and his sibling earned extra money by doing odd jobs such as mowing lawns and collecting bottles. Living in Coronado, the Brown children would sneak onto the ferry, feed dolphins, and get into all sorts of mischief. He moves on to life in National City in the Brick Row, a now famous architectural building, going to the movies, and recalls his memory of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent disappearance of a Japanese family that lived across the street. Brown and his siblings lived with what seemed like an idyllic family for a year in lieu of a children’s home, but they turned out to be a family of ‘holy rollers.’ He depicts his unstable father, and how his paternal grandmother tried to make amends for him and the detachment of his mother.
Brown’s affinity for animals grew from his childhood spent at the zoo and rescuing injured and orphaned animals around his home. He and his brother would wrap snakes around their waists to scare their mother, and climb high in trees. Brown describes string beans disappearing from his childhood garden, before continuing with more details about his love for the Zoo. He moves on to his relationship with his sister and her life story.
Brown returns to discussing his high school days and various jobs he held. He describes the beginnings of his career as a rare book scout, attending auctions and frequenting bookstores. He recounts stumbling on original letters from the early Arizona Territory, and a rare Overland Narrative letter, which leads in to his time studying at Yale University with Donald Gallup, whom he impressed by finding an error in his famous Ezra Pound bibliography.
Dr. Resnik brings Brown back to a discussion of his family’s journey to California, which was motivated by their desire to get away from the south before the Civil War could break out. He details the journey his great-grandfather took, and his time at the medical school in San Francisco where his great-grandfather and great-grandmother met.
Brown discusses a couple anecdotes about the Woodrow Wilson Junior High School, including how he helped a boy that was discriminated against, and the terrifying teacher who taught him to write a declarative sentence. Dr. Resnik pushes the conversation towards Hoover High School, prompting Brown to discuss the favoritism shown to wealthier students, how he and another student helped to change the dynamic of the school, and muses on the fact that he was valedictorian despite not being first in his class. Brown was on the debate team at Hoover, and chose SDSU for its debate team and John Ackley, and because he was given a debate scholarship. He goes on to discuss his fraternity, Sigma Chi, his involvement with the student government, specific college courses and professors, as well as his friends, the music of the day, and pranks his fraternity pulled on the neighboring sorority. Brown drew inspiration from Eugene Debs and Clarence Darrow to pursue law, and was awarded a fellowship by Stanford Law School, but found the people there made him miserable. He recounts a moot court case he worked on his second year at Stanford, featuring a vice president of the Bank of America burning to death in a hotel in New York. He explains his decision to leave Stanford to become an assistant to a colonel in the army for 6 months. After he completed his service, Brown returned to San Diego where he became a debate coach and teacher at SDSU, and decided to turn his focus to rare books.
Andreas Brown, Day 2: Career Beginnings
Day 2 begins with Dr. Resnik enquiring about Dr. Sue Earnest, the head of the Speech Arts Department at SDSU, whom Brown greatly admired. He discusses leaving SDSU to pursue rare book trading, his initial desire to appraise books rather than to buy and sell, and outlines the first job given to him by John Howell, a rare book dealer, to appraise former California Governor Pat Brown’s archive. Once Brown began teaching, he was able to start collecting what he was interested in, specifically Clarence Darrow. He starts to talk about Jake Zeitlin, owner of The Red Barn on Wilshire in Los Angeles, and acquaintance of D.H. Lawrence, but segues into an explanation of how the value of a rare book is determined, and the difference between ‘issues’ and ‘states,’ using coin collecting as a parallel. He muses on the irrationality of book collecting, and how difficult creating a bibliography can be, citing his work on Edward Gorey’s bibliography as an example.
The interview changes direction to focus on Harry Ransom, beginning with a recount of the D.H. Lawrence collection Brown unexpectedly came across, which after meticulously cataloging, he sold most of it to Warren Roberts, D.H. Lawrence bibliographer and director of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, a move which made him a major player in the rare book world. Brown moves on to discussing the Brick Row Bookshop in Austin, Texas and its eccentric owner, Franklin Gilliam. He paints a vivid picture of the cultural elite, including Warren Roberts and Larry McMurtry, meeting at the store to see the new shipments, and describes scouring furniture stores outside of Austin for rare books with McMurtry.
Brown explains the circumstances of his grant at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. He compares his expectations of what Texas would be like to the reality, detailing the etiquette in the Sigma Chi house, and describing the new library. He tells a few anecdotes about his time at the University of Texas, including meeting the daughter of Lyndon B. Johnson, and the decisions he made involving the catalog he wrote for the university with the intention of giving the university a more sophisticated reputation.
Brown explains what ‘first state’ means in book collecting and relates it to coin and stamp collecting. To illustrate different states, he talks about The 12 terrors of Christmas by John Updike, illustrated by Edward Gorey, which had many printings, but because Updike kept editing the poem in between printings, Brown is unsure how many different editions exist. In relation to this, Brown also brings up the Hinman collator, which was a machine used to detect differences between editions.
For Brown, the most important venues outside of school where he spent time as a child were downtown or East San Diego, the Zoo, and bookstores. His family faced many difficulties, the magnitude of which he was ignorant of as a child because his mother made an effort to obscure the situation. Brown moves on to talk specifically about different bookstores in downtown San Diego and their owners. He describes his run in with a dealer ‘ring’ from Los Angeles when he was starting out as a book scout. Brown then goes on to discuss his friendship with John Martin, another rare book scout and collector, and the ways they helped each other. He briefly returns to his friendship with Jake Zeitlin, which leads to an explanation of Brown’s pseudonym, Diogenes, before returning to book stores and his friendship with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who helped him to obtain Jack Kerouac’s letters to Neal Cassady, after an interrogation from Allen Ginsberg.
From there he moves on to buying the Gotham Book Mart, a deal which he made with Morris Ernst, a lawyer who represented important writers, including James Joyce, and discusses his importance to the writing world. Brown befriended Ernst’s right hand man, who helped him with some of the complicated legal matters when it came to appraising Tennessee Williams’ archive. He explains how he got the position working on Williams’ archive, and describes a letter of recommendation he got from Barry Goldwater. Brown recounts going to Williams’ home to meet him, appraising his collection, discovering a trunk of journals that Williams thought had been lost, and visiting William’s mother’s house in St. Louis which he describes as fairy tale like.
Brown was friends with Arthur Miller and Inge Morath, Philip Roth, and Saul Bellow, and visited their homes in rural Connecticut to appraise their archives. He speculates on Bellow’s reasons for selling his archive, and specifics about appraising it, including letters hidden in a closet and nearly forgotten, but which contained correspondence from writers such as Gore Vidal. He describes driving through Marshall County, Illinois, with Bellow, who was knowledgeable about Abraham Lincoln and put Brown on the trail of more of his family history. With the help of the historical society in Springfield, Illinois, and its founder, Eleanor Bussell, Brown was able to find the grave markers of his family and a house built by a family member. Brown then details working on Arthur Miller’s archive, and a packet of letters from Marilyn Monroe he found in Miller’s papers, musing on the instability of great artists, leading to an anecdote about Katherine Hepburn.
Brown briefly discusses ethics and prejudice, the cross on Mt. Soledad, anti-Semitic comments made by some members of his fraternity, and the political climate of San Diego.
At an auction in Rancho Santa Fe, Brown helped a young couple that had bought an entire library but didn’t’t know what to do with it. Rather than take advantage of their ignorance, he offered them a fairer price than what they had suggested on the books he wanted.
Dr. Resnik sets up the interview to move into a discussion about Brown’s move to New York and his first visit to the Gotham Book Mart. Brown was on his way to visit the auction houses in England that he visited Gotham Book Mart for the first time and met Frances Steloff. Day 2 ends with a discussion about a hotel opened by Doris Day in Carmel, as well as a description of Nita Simone, and an anecdote about going with Herb Caen to see Ann Weldon perform.
Andreas Brown, Day 3: Gotham Book Mart
Day 3 begins with Brown characterizing his relationship with Jake Zeitlin, and a description of how Zeitlin collected a complete set of mint condition, first edition D.H. Lawrence books, the value of which was destroyed after the Long Beach State Library bought the collection and immediately discarded all of the dust jackets.
Brown describes the beginning of the Gotham Book Mart in 1920 and Frances Steloff, giving an overview of the major problems she faced: the stock market crash in 1929, the death of her husband, World War II, and the rising value of real estate after the war which nearly forced the store to close. He recaps the role Columbia University and the James Joyce Society played in helping the store move instead of closing. Brown then discusses the stipulation Steloff made to convert the second story into an art gallery when she sold him the store, and gives more details about the James Joyce Society.
He illustrates Steloff’s focus on new artists and writers by explaining the difficulty of getting a one-man/woman show, as well as the role Gotham played by hosting shows and publishing parties. Dr. Resnik asks about the writers who worked there before they were successful, leading to a story about Tennessee Williams asking Steloff for a job, and a story about the two weeks Allen Ginsburg spent talking on the phone when he worked at Gotham.
Steloff’s passion for her store was so great that anyone who made the mistake of dropping a book would be harshly reprimanded. To buy Gotham Book Mart, Brown sold his collection to Harry Ransom at the University of Texas. Ransom was bought his collection with the hope he’d gain access to the legendary basement of the store, which Steloff had been stocking with first edition copies of books since the store opened. Brown describes living at the Algonquin hotel when he first moved to New York City and the changes he made to the fifth floor apartment above Gotham where he later lived. Brown discusses the events held in the art gallery, particularly the first exhibit curated by Marian Morehouse Cummings, the widow of E.E. Cummings, whom, because she was wary of Steloff’s mercurial personality and had become good friends with Brown, attended the finalization of the sale of Gotham.
Brown speculates on the meaning of the “Wise Men Fish Here” sign that hung in front of Gotham and the story of the original sign, which was stolen and then returned many years later. He goes on to recount working in the bookstore and describes the publication parties. In comparison to other galleries, the Gotham Book Mart gallery that took a much smaller cut of the profits, because for Brown and Steloff the payoff was seeing the writers become successful.
Brown moves on to discussing customers, starting with Jackie Onassis. He recounts her first visit to the store, and the first time he worked with her on an art book at Viking. He tells a story about helping Caroline Kennedy get out of trouble with her mother and discusses her later success. He recounts going out with Onassis and two of her friends to a ballet and P.J. Clarke’s. Brown describes a beautiful book by Russian artist Boris Zvorykin, which he showed to Onassis who had an interest in the Russian Czars. She sold it to Viking, helping to put her at the forefront of the art book world. He then discusses the rest of the Kennedys; briefly talking about Caroline’s success, John Jr.’s academic struggles and roller skating, and the accidents that took the lives of so many of the Kennedy men. He returns to Onassis’s interests and Maurice Templesman, who went to the bookstore on behalf of Onassis near the end of her life and became a dedicated customer himself. The last thing discussed about Onassis is her memorial, and Brown’s apparent resemblance to the Kennedys.
J.D. Salinger was another regular customer of Gotham. Brown speculates on his reclusiveness, interest in religions, and his friendship with Frances Steloff, with whom he loved to discuss religious philosophers. He goes on to discuss the Edward Gorey exhibit at SDSU and Connie Dowell.
Brown moves on to discussing the torrid life of Joanne Carson, detailing how he met her while selling Truman Capote’s art, and got tangled up helping her avoid tax court by letting her invest money in Gotham. He describes Joanne’s home in Los Angeles, and lists the suspicious things about her, including her ‘doctorate’ which she used to buy drugs from different pharmacies across the country, her constant testing of him, and later suing for the money she had invested in Gotham after she got in trouble. He details the court case, and Joanne’s actions, which showed her to not only be melodramatic, but also a pathological liar. The court proceedings revealed Joanne’s involvement in drugs, and her affair with the son of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, who died after taking pain killers for injuries he had sustained on the way home from a visit with Joanne. He then details Truman Capote’s death in her home. Despite losing the court case, Joanne and her lawyer went to The New York Post and told them that they had won.
Brown briefly returns his focus to an interview of Salinger, discussing his military service and marriages. He then describes Truman Capote and his few visits to Gotham Book Mart. Brown talks about clearing out Capote’s apartment after his death and the unique items they found including “Snake Bite Kits,” correspondence with Andy Warhol, and manuscripts.
The conversation shifts to John Updike, an overview of his life, his visits to Gotham, the fictional history of the settlement of Brazil he wrote, and a recap of the anecdote about the Christmas book Updike collaborated on with Edward Gorey. Brown adds that Gorey disliked Christmas, and talks about the Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol spoof that Gorey wrote for The New York Times.
The discussion then turns to Patti Smith, who visited Gotham everyday on her lunch hour while working at Scribner’s Bookstore. Brown gives a brief overview of Smith’s life, and recounts her visit to his office to ask for help publishing her first poems. He details the process that new poets have to go through to get published, and describes telling her that the Gotham Book Mart was going to publish her first book. He continues with a description of the tiny venues she perform in on the East Side, watching her career taking off, and discusses her decision to end her career to be a mother, and to restart after losing her husband.
The discussion moves on to the publishing ventures of Gotham Book Mart, including small flipbooks Edward Gorey printed in Cape Town and mailed to Gotham to be sold. Brown convinced Gorey to illustrate T.S. Eliot’s poem Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats because Gorey loved the book, though he refused to see the musical version of it. The discussion of cats continues, with a description of the Gotham Book Mart cats, including Brown’s huge orange tabby, who had a half page written about him in the New Yorker.
The conversation shifts to Edward Albee, who was a steady customer of Gotham and a secret art collector particularly fond of elephants. He moves on to talking about Ferlinghetti, who he had befriended in L.A. and was thrilled that Brown had bought Gotham.
The next subject of discussion is Woody Allen, with whom Brown was fascinated. He gives an overview of Allen’s life, describing his and Mia Farrow’s visits to Gotham, and lists other stars that visited, including Dylan Thomas, Salvador Dali, and Eugene O’Neil. Brown mentions letters between D.H. Lawrence and Bertrand Russel that Steloff kept for many years, and Emanuel Romano, a painter who exhibited at Gotham. The discussion turns to Jack Kerouac, Brown’s involvement in selling his archive, and the problems he ran into after Kerouac and Kerouac’s mother died. He tells a similar story about the time he was called in the middle of the night to help smuggle William Burrows’ archive into Lichtenstein.
The conversation then turns to what Brown considers one of his most important accomplishments: Contacting Samuel Beckett for unpublished materials to help raise money for the widow of Beckett’s favorite actor, Jack Carter Kelly. Initially, Beckett said he didn’t have anything, but later sent a manuscript for the short story “Imagination Dead Imagine,” and the untitled manuscript of a one man play Kelly had performed, later titled Beginning to End. Brown also reached out to Edward Gorey, a fan of Beckett, to illustrate the manuscripts, and describes working with the two artists. Day 3 ends with a discussion about Kelly and Beckett, and the rarity of the Gorey illustrated Beckett books.
Andreas Brown, Day 4: Edward gorey
Brown begins the discussion by situating his discovery of Gorey’s work in California in 1953 while scouting for rising stars, then summarizes Gorey’s first book The Unstrung Harp. He relates the book to Gorey’s habit of collecting odd items from yard sales such as miniature trains and frogs. Brown finishes paraphrasing the book, and moves on to discussing Gorey’s opinion of the book and the public’s reception. Brown notes aspects of the book that piqued his curiosity and lead him to look for deeper meanings and influences on Gorey’s work, which turns into a long discussion about Lewis Carrol, framed by a discussion he had with a couple from the Lewis Carol Society. He explains his desire to keep the connection between Lewis and Gorey secret from academics in general, and explores the themes of Gorey’s books. The conversation turns to Lewis Carrol’s family history, including his father’s position in the church and Carrol’s rebelliousness, with Brown drawing a comparison between Carrol and his father, and the beatniks and traditional poets of the 1950s. He describes Carrol’s childhood, speculating on his obsession with a particular number, claiming this obsession had to do with the spread of industrialization and his family’s move from the countryside into town. Brown reiterates his desire to be the first to publish work on the Carrol-Gorey connection.
From there he moves into a discussion about British royalty and Gorey’s use of Victorian and Edwardian styles in his illustrations, the differences between the two periods, and draws another comparison with the beatniks. Related to that he brings up the influence of power and wealth, returning to his time in law school helping the son of a rich family in San Francisco to finish his law degree, and recaps his decision to go into the book trade, including how Joseph Campbell’s mantra “follow your bliss” inspired him.
The conversation shifts back to Brown’s Gorey’s work and Gotham Book Mart, particularly Phil Lymon, a manager at Gotham, who was somewhat exploited by Steloff. He describes his first meeting with Gorey at Gotham Book Mart, shortly after he took over the store. He discusses Gorey’s early career working at the Mandrake Bookshop in Cambridge and his first one-man exhibit in Oakland, California. of which very little record exists. He moves on to discuss The Cartoon Museum that was in the Bay Area, the connotations of different words, and his mission to have Gorey considered an artist rather than an illustrator.
The discussion briefly returns to Brown’s early career and the influence of Aldous Huxley, before turning to the New York Public Library where Joseph Campbell’s archive was donated. He recounts the changes made to the library over the years, including the closing of the Asian room where he often read. He talks about Brooke Astor, a library donor and frequent customer of Gotham, which segues into a related anecdote about an amusing John Locke quote condemning people in the book industry that lead to a popular Gorey illustration. The sender of the quote was Willum, a priest and friend of a woman for whom Brown had built a library. The conversation returns to Joseph Campbell, Jacqueline Onassis, and how students prepare for big tests.
The conversation shifts to Brown’s work with Gorey, starting with his exhibit in the Gotham Book Mart Gallery. While working in the Gorey archive, Brown found Gorey’s diaries from his time in the army in the 1940s, which had lists of his orders from Gotham. He discusses Gorey’s love of theater and the ‘entertainments’ he performed during summers in Cape Cod, which while delightful, were incomprehensible to the audience. Gorey sewed stuffed animals which he called ‘figbashes’ to sell at the ticket counters to help pay for the plays, and Brown muses on the toys’ odd name. The conversation then shifts to Brown’s manager, Gina Gui, and segues into a discussion of Middlemarch, religion, and Charles Darwin.
The conversation returns to Brown’s and Gorey’s first meeting in Gotham, the exhibit space, and Gorey’s reluctance to have publication parties. He speculates on Gorey’s army years and habits, such as collecting every major recording of a piece of music he liked and reading every translation of a book. He also describes how Gorey signed his work, and the problems forgery poses in the future. Dr. Resnik enquires about the Gorey Store, which Brown explains as a sort of ware-house distributing the work of Gorey and other illustrators. He goes on to discuss some of the issues with this, such as the misuse of Gorey’s name and work, the screening process they use to minimize problems, and tricks the person in charge of the Gorey Store has tried to pull. Brown also explains some of the problems posed by Etsy in relation to Gorey’s art work and name.
From there the discussion turns to the Gorey House in Cape Cod. He explains how it is funded, and describes the controlling manager, Rick Jones. After a brief digression about Gorey’s time at Harvard living in the Elliott House with Frank O’Hara, Brown returns to describing Gorey’s house on the Cape, his responsibilities after Gorey’s passing, and reminisces about Gorey’s friendship with Gotham employees, including the trips they would take twice a year to visit Gorey and help him sign books. Brown moves on to a discussion about selling books from celebrities’ estates, including ones owned by Gloria Swanson and James Cagney. He then talks about how Steloff came up with the price for the building after hearing how much the neighboring building sold for from the ladies running the Salvation Army shop. This segues into a conversation about Steloff’s jealous half-sister sending nasty letters, and a girl Steloff had hired taking an interest in Brown and causing problems.
As Gorey’s books went out of print, they became more expensive, preventing young collectors from affording his early work, so to help remedy this, Brown convinced Gorey to publish his first 15 works in one book. He explains the influence of silent films on Gorey’s work which Gorey had explained to him. The next project that Brown fought over with Gorey was a production of Dracula. Originally Gorey had performed it in Cape Cod as one of his entertainments with locals, but it was also attended by famous New York theater owners, the Schuberts, who saw its potential and wanted to do a bigger production. Gorey didn’t want to be involved, but after insulting the people that wanted to do it, and much encouragement from Brown, he agreed to design the costumes and sets. The show proved to be extremely successful and Brown attributes part of its success to Liz Smith, a journalist and customer of Gotham. He explains Gorey’s financial earnings from the play, and describes how he was able to convince Gorey to see a performance after 6 months by having him wait until the lights had gone down to enter, and leaving before they went back up, and goes on to describe a few scenes and sets. The Schubert’s attempted to please Gorey by titling the play “Edward Gorey’s Dracula,” but this nearly led to a legal fight with the lead actor, Frank Langella. Brown describes a particular trick performed on stage where Dracula bursts into flames and disappears, as well as the final scene and the reaction of the audience. He goes on to talk about his friendship with Liz Smith and tells an anecdote about Smith, Brooke Astor, and the heir to one of the Guggenheim fortunes, Iris Love.
Dr. Resnik moves the discussion to Connie Dowell, former dean of the SDSU library, with whom Brown worked on the Gorey exhibit. He begins by expressing his desire to keep Gorey’s name in front of the public after his death, and describes convincing Dowell to host the exhibit and the review written by The L.A. Times. He discusses working with Dowell, and talks about her relationship with her husband who was a major figure in the field of oceanography. Brown moves onto a Gorey collector living in Hawaii who donated most of his collection to the University of Hawaii, but after inheriting a lot of money began travelling, collecting more art, and composing.
The conversation returns to Gorey, focusing on his humble personality, and after a brief digression about Jason Epstein, Brown gives a few examples, such as Gorey’s reluctance to license his artwork and his insistence that his first book failed despite getting a second printing. He digresses briefly into a story about a bad joke he made about Joyce Carol Oates, and describes the picture of his three cats in the store that he turned into a card. From there he discusses Gorey’s trust and will, which stated that his estate is to be left to animal shelters with an exception for two of his closest friends. The conversation segues back into the beginning of Gorey’s career after he graduated from Harvard and moved to New York City to work in the Art Department of a publishing house. Brown describes the house in Cape Cod where Gorey would spend his summers cramped in a small attic in contract to the huge home he was later able to afford. He talks about Gorey’s eccentric collecting, his habit of leaving worn out stuffed animals in people’s cars, and the community’s habit of leaving stuffed animals and kittens on his doorstep.
Brown then returns to Gina Gui. He recaps hiring her, describes her life story, details the work she did for Gotham, and discusses Gui’s decision to leave Gotham for the Rauschenberg Foundation. Day four ends with Brown emphasizing how important Gui was, and a description of the painting Rauschenberg gave her for her birthday.
Andreas Brown, Day 5: Francis Steloff
Gotham Book Mart was first located across from a big commercial theater, which helped to make the store popular with people like Martha Graham and Rudolf Valentino. Brown describes Gotham Book Mart’s second location in what would become the diamond block, and how Steloff decorated the garden with art by Alexander Calder. He moves on to the third location of Gotham, Columbia University’s role in finding the building, as well as the changes Steloff requested Brown make when he took over the store. Brown describes working with Steloff, her travels once she sold the store, and her death in 1987 at 101 years old. He reviews Steloff’s family history, focusing on her father and Saratoga Springs. He describes her childhood working as a flower girl, her younger brother, and the family that wanted to adopt him but adopted her instead, which segues into her 100th birthday party. Steloff left her adopted family after a couple years of the step-mother’s abuse, and became a domestic worker in Manhattan until she got a job in the book department of a store in Brooklyn, which inspired her to open her own bookstore. Brown discusses Steloff’s husband, David Moss, their relationship, and his tragic death. He also describes the creative method she used to move her store to its third location.
The conversation turns to Gotham Book Mart’s last move after Brown sold the building to pay off Joanne Carson, and how difficult it was to find a new location. The new building had been built for a descendant of the Lehman family and occupied by H.B. Krauss Rare Books. He describes the building, starting with the first floor rare book displays and the walk-in safe, the second floor where the Krauss scholars had worked, the third floor that became the new home of the Joyce Society, and the fourth and fifth floors used for the bookkeepers and assistants, as well as for storage.
Brown explains contiguous air rights, using the Grolier Club building as an example, and also explains that because he had a minor holding, he had no power over Gotham’s building. He discusses the plan to turn Gotham into a nonprofit cultural center and the people he worked with to do that. The majority shareholder, Edmondo Schwarz, was extremely difficult to work with and refused to sell the building, so this plan never came to fruition. The president of the Poetry Society and owner of the Dreyfus Fund was willing to work on achieving the same goal, but Schwarz refused to meet with him, leading to the slow death of Gotham Book Mart. After Gotham closed, Brown lost all the money he had invested and left Leonard Lauder, then turned his focus to the Gorey Charitable Trust though his co-trustee didn’t pay him fairly.
He moves on to his expectations for the future of the book trade, including his plan to live to see the 100th anniversary of the Gotham Book Mart. Brown discusses Jeff Bezos and what he’s done with Amazon and The Washington Post, speculating on Bezos’s decision to put his second brick and mortar store in La Jolla. Brown tried to improve his own computer knowledge by taking a class at the Apple store near his home but gave up.
Dr. Resnik turns the discussion to SDSU, leading Brown to talk about his fraternity brothers, and the honorary doctorate awarded to him. He talks about visiting Connie Dowell at Vanderbilt University and the work she did there after leaving SDSU, including renovating rooms and having a new structure built for the Special Collections. The interview ends with a recap by Dr. Resnik of the many roles Brown has played throughout his life.
Interview digitally recorded by Susan Resnik, Ph.D from May 12017 through May 5, 2017
For more from Andreas Brown, find his speech to the Friends of the SDSU Library in 1990 here
ARTICLE CREDIT: https://library.sdsu.edu/scua/sdsu-oral-histories/brown