Sam French Bows Out After Nearly a Century in the City of Angels
Samuel French Film & Theatre Bookshop
The storefront formerly occupied by Samuel French Film & Theatre Bookshop. Photo by Nicole Monet

Samuel French has closed its historic Hollywood film and theatre bookshop—long a meeting place and performing space for LA playwrights. Los Angeles dramatists were “saddened,” “beyond bummed,” “miserable,” and “desolated” upon hearing of the store’s closure.

“Walking into the Sam French store as a playwright was akin to Dorothy’s entering a world of color for the very first time—it was at once breathtaking, intimidating, welcoming and magical,” said Jonathan Josephson, co-creator of LA’s award-winning immersive theatre events Wicked Lit, History Lit, and Mystery Lit. “[When I was] in high school, my mom would drop me off there like it was an arcade.”

The store, said Josephson, was where he bought his first plays and where he has held readings. “It is a little slice of heaven on Earth that I will miss dearly,” he said.

According to Samuel French President Nathan Collins, more than 80% of the company’s retail sales are now made online, making the store’s closing a matter of mathematics.

“Although the community loves the store and its exceptional staff, most people are choosing to buy their books from e-retailers these days,” said Collins. Samuel French, said Collins, will continue “to serve the world online with an unparalleled range of shows to license and scripts to purchase.”

But the digital world pales in comparison to a brick-and- mortar reality, said playwrights.

“Nothing can replace three-dimensional collections of crucial and inspiring work,” said Lee Blessing, author of A Walk in the Woods. “A computer search is at best a tunnel to a single, predetermined goal. A store is a landscape of possibilities.”

Oliver Mayer, author of Blade to the Heat, agreed. “The drip, drip, drip of disappearing venues for our work has hastened to the point that there will soon be no place for us as playwrights ‘to be somebody,’” he said. “There was a time . . . when playwrights were the soul of literature and you could find plays at bookshops with the ease with which you find novels, as it ought to be. Since then we have been shunted and limited. I somehow doubt that online business will create community and truly represent our brand.”

Samuel French opened its first California bookstore in downtown LA in 1929. The bookstore moved in 1947 to its Hollywood location, on Sunset Blvd. (at Stanley Ave.) A second bookshop in Studio City—surrounded by CBS; Universal and Warner Brothers studios; and multiple intimate theatres—operated from 1986 to 2012.

“I used to go to the Studio City shop all the time,” said Nancy Beverly, author of Shelby’s Vacation and the award-winning Web series The Calamities of Jane. “My first TV writing job was on Roseanne, and we shot at CBS Radford, so I’d walk around the corner to Sam French on my lunch hour. More recently, I’ve attended the LA Female Playwrights Initiative’s Saturday confabs at the shop in Hollywood. We’d network, have guest speakers (Winnie Holzman!), do micro-reads of our work and, of course, browse the shelves and add to our book collections.”

Added Beverly, “If Lin-Manuel Miranda can save a bookstore in NYC [the Drama Book Shop], why can’t someone here save this one?”

Mourning the loss of Samuel French, many writers asked a central question: Now that there are no theatre-specific bookstores in Southern California, how can we make our work visible?

“[I] see this as an invitation to take theatre publications to new venues, including indie bookstores and pop-up theatre salons,” said Roger Q. Mason, author of The White Dress. “We will teach each other. We will form theatre reading clubs; we will begin threads amongst friends telling one another what we’re seen or read recently. I have always been of the philosophy that ‘no’ is an opportunity to find ‘yes’ someplace else. It excites me tremendously to see how Los Angeles will continue to find ‘yes’ as a theatre reading, consuming, supporting and performing city in the absence of Sam French.”

[Editor’s Note: At press time, we are pleased to announce a new partnership with Skylight Books. They will be the new, exclusive home of The Dramatist in Los Angeles.]

Joshua Irving Gershick
Joshua Irving Gershick

s plays include Dear ONE: Love & Longing in Mid-Century Queer AmericaComing Attractions, and Bluebonnet Court. He is the winner of the GLAAD Award for Outstanding Los Angeles Theatre and is a Lambda Literary Award Finalist.