Editor’s Note: Continuing on from yesterday’s post about the Literary Renaissance here in New Orleans, Kelsey Scurlock transitions from literature in books to that in the pages of magazines and on the screens of Hollywood.
Western Union Telegram from Cedric Gibbons to Charles Johnson. From the Kuntz Collection at Tulane University.
Literary publishing flourished in New Orleans during the 1920s, and the Double Dealer was one of New Orleans’ most cherished literary magazines. It was published in 1921 and named after a William Congreve play, and the main editor was Julius Weiss Friend.
One of the main reasons why the Double Dealer started was because of H.L. Mencken. Mencken, a southern literary critic, wrote an essay titled “The Sahara of the Bozart,” which ridiculed the literary culture of the South and “dismissed the entirety of the southern United States as a cultural desert” (1). He wrote this essay in 1917. Mencken often criticized Southern literature despite the improvements in its literature in the late 1800s. This essay not only caught the attention of Friend and others, but it also motivated them to start the magazine and showcase selected Southern literature.
Unlike many literary magazines at the time, the Double Dealer published many women and African-American writers. The Double Dealer also started to publish works of Faulkner and Hemingway that circulated around the South. It was the initial small magazine publisher of New Orleans but the trend continued into the 1960s, even though the Double Dealer was discontinued in 1926. The Double Dealer was significant to New Orleans and the South because it proved that literary talents existed in the South, and it helped contribute to the success of many famous writers such as William Faulkner, Ernst Hemingway, and Robert Penn Warren. But, it wasn’t the only printing game in town.
In the early 1960s, Jon Edgar Webb and his wife Gypsy Lou Webb started the Loujon Press at their residence 1109 Royal Street (2). The Loujan Press published the Outsider. This magazine was published a little after the acclaimed literary renaissance in the South, but it still conveys the literary richness the South developed. The Outsider is famous for publishing Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. This magazine contributed to the success of Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. The Webbs were highly dedicated to their magazine, so dedicated that they printed each page individually on an archaic hand-press. The presses were hot and the stories were overflowing, which means that Hollywood was soon to follow.
Much like today, in the early 20th century, New Orleans and Hollywood had a strong business relationship. Hollywood communicated with New Orleanians frequently about literature since there were many book shops open in the French Quarter as a result of the Southern Renaissance. One of those shops was the Old Book Shop owned by Charles Thompson at 134 Royal Street. The Louisiana Research Collection has telegrams and notes from him, two telegrams are from Cedric Gibbons, who was an Irish art director and production designer for many movie studios in Hollywood. Gibbons in the telegrams asks Johnson for books that had photos of interior and exterior architecture of New Orleans and photos of levees and river fronts. These telegrams convey that a owner of a small book shop in New Orleans was doing business with famous Hollywood movie-makers because his literary collection was so extensive.
It wasn’t long after that films–whose titles came from the writers living and soaking in the culture of New Orleans–hit the big screen. Going from a writer’s notebook to a page in a magazine and then possibly into a book before landing on film, the writers of New Orleans have immortalized the city in a way that only those with pen and paper can do.
1 Jeff Weddle, In Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of The Outsider and Loujon Press (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999 27.
2 Jeff Weddle, In Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of The Outsider and Loujon Press (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999 100.
The full article was originally published on February 6, 2015. It has been edited, and for a full view of the 2015 article, click here.