Shakespeare Bookstore- Vanity Fair, our story too

The word hit the streets last night, inspiring me to finally return to this blog. Mary Duncan, founder and director of the Paris Writers Group announced that Vanity Fair Magazine sweepingly features the iconic Paris shop in its current November issue. There are anecdotes, historical and personal, photos of Sylvia Whitman and visiting celebrities, as well as her father George,  revered inlife and  death.

My husband Jim and I have our share of Shakespeare & Co. stories. Our first tiny studio in Paris, nearing ten years ago, was around the corner on Rue Petiit-Pont. One day we locked ourselves out, a costly mistake in Paris if one has to call a locksmith. Instead we ventured into the bookshop and asked George Whitman to borrow the phone to call our landlady. He graciously agreed. Not long after, as we awaited our rescue at a corner cafe, George rushed out of the bookstore and asked if were published writers, and offered us a bed in the shop for overnight. Alas, we lost our chance to be Shakespeare tumbleweeds, the name given to writers, artists, young employees and vagabonds who bed down throughout the shop. Anther morning we walked home after struggling at a French class and ehe corner cafe waiter excitingly stopped us. “You missed it, he called out. “Bill and Hillary Clinton pulled up in front of Shakespeare this morning but the shop was closed.”

George was known to host Sunday afternoon tea parties in his cluttered fourth-floor flat. He prepared the tea himself in rusty teapots, served in well-used mugs and cups. Jim and I sunk into cushey chairs by a mother-daughter duo from Los Angeles. The mother, an elegant blond said she wrote books and  came for tea every time she visited Paris. After we left I carried the nagging thought she looked familiar. It turns out she was movie star Eva Marie Saint. Everyone goes to Shakespeare.

In his declining years George Whitman could be cantankerous. After one Shakespeare book festival ended, he threw water on lingering patrons, yelling it was time to go home. Other times he operated on all cylinders such as the night he proudly hosted Daniel Ellsberg for a reading. Our friends Linda Lappin of Rome, and  the late Marian Coe of St. Petersburg stand among those who have read their work at this famous  shop.

George was spotted at various church and school bazaars across Paris, accompanied by a tumbleweed helpmate, gathering up cheap donated paperbacks to resell at the store. Now Sylvia remains fiercely protective oh her father’s often juicy reputation and image while keeping Shakespeare& Co. books thriving and alive.





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