She ‘just loved him’

Linda Lee Bukowski gives thumbs up to Hollywood’s latest take on her husband’s life and work

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 9/14/2006

The legacy of poet, novelist and underground cult icon Charles Bukowski is alive — not only at The Huntington, but also with the release of “Factotum,” a new movie chronicling the drifting poet’s misadventures in labor before his immense talent was recognized by millions around the world.

In the film, Matt Dillon plays Hank Chinaski, Bukowski’s longtime, thinly veiled alias in his books. Adapted and directed by Bent Hamer, the new film’s story is very different from 1987’s “Barfly,” in which Mickey Rourke played an exaggerated caricature of Bukowski, according to his widow.

“Hank would have loved this movie,” Linda Lee Bukowski told the Weekly in an exclusive telephone interview from her home in San Pedro. “I don’t think there’s one thing that I questioned at all when I saw the film.”

That’s quite an endorsement. But more important than the silver screen is the man himself, whose complex legacy Linda has tirelessly preserved in her home and her heart.

Pasadena Weekly: How did you two meet?

Bukowski: I’d been a reader of his for many years, when he was being published in Open City and LA Free Press in the ’60s and early ’70s. I had read all his books and gone to his poetry readings. At one of his readings I decided to introduce myself and it began a friendship that evolved later on into what ended up being our loving marriage. It was interesting because it was at the time he was doing “research” for the book “Women.” He was just curious; I was another curiosity. But he was a curiosity to me, too, because I felt that I knew him in a certain way through his books, and I think I knew him in a spiritual way before I met him. I think people feel that about him because he speaks the truth from the gut.

Why did you decide on The Huntington for his archive?

There are several reasons, but ultimately because of the nature of The Huntington. Just who they are and every single thing they do, whether it’s botanical gardens, archiving libraries, art, landscaping or architecture, they’re the best.

Everyone I’ve met there is so genuine and focused on their particular area, and that gratifies me to have Hank taken care of in such loving hands. Other places were always an option because I didn’t want to let the archive just sit and stagnate.

I love The Huntington, personally, and I’ve been going there for about 30 years. When I met Hank, I had been going there already. He knew I loved that place; he didn’t particularly care to go walking in gardens, but he understood it for me, and it inspired me because after he’d gone I created a little botanical garden myself.

Do you still live in the same house?

Oh, yes. We moved here in 1978. It’s like a living museum. The Charles Bukowski Foundation will continue after I leave this world, and our home here in San Pedro is going to be a museum. Great writers have their little houses; I think Ernest Hemingway has three or four of them around the world. I’ve kept it the same as it was. I haven’t touched his room and dining room. I go dust a couple times a year or just sit in there and turn his old Mac computer on.

What was your involvement with “Factotum”?

I met Jim Stark, the producer, and Bent Hamer, the director. They got in touch with me eight years ago. They both flew out here and came over, and we had a grand time. For some reason we all clicked and connected.

They kept within the parameters of Hank’s truth without elaborating or exaggerating like some people have done in films and sort of made them almost caricatures or cartoonish. But everybody has their own way. It’s hard to walk the line with that because you can go too far in either direction. I think “Factotum” is straight on. I think they nailed it. It was a long haul, but they worked hard and pulled it off. I don’t think there’s one thing that I questioned at all when I saw the film. That’s the neat thing about Stark and Hamer; I trusted them implicitly within the first few moments I met them. I don’t know why. It was this intuitive awareness that they were going to make this happen the way Hank would have loved this movie. “Barfly” was like a fluff piece.

This is wonderful. Now there’s more to come. All of his other books have yet to be made into films. “Post Office” is owned by a film director who’s hopefully getting interested in actually doing it. He’s owned it for about 35 years. He bought it from Hank when he was alive. There’s hope that within the next couple years that will come to fruition. Wouldn’t that be cool? And then “Women.” Can you imagine? Oh, my God. And “Hollywood”?

That’s the thing about his work, there’re so many things to enjoy and laugh at. People take him so seriously sometimes. They take that he’s a mythological dirty old man drunken misogynist so seriously it’s hard for those who criticize him to let that go and read the mastery of his words, for crying out loud.

Do you think success helped Hank later in his life with his writing?

Absolutely. You can’t deny it. When you physically leave an element that has been oppressing you in certain ways due to circumstances throughout your life, leaving that and finding wider horizons is something that would help anybody. He had detractors on that. People got mad at me because they said I changed him. I said, “Well, I didn’t change anybody.” We don’t do that. We change ourselves. He just saw a larger opportunity to be free from the heavy burdens he was carrying around with him all those years.

Hank was on a certain wavelength; he was just evolving. People got mad because he didn’t keep talking about fucking whores with big fat thighs and all these things, which is fine to have, but enough is enough, and you move on in life. A lot of those people are bitter in their own selves, maybe unsuccessful writers — that’s what Hank would say. He didn’t mind it. He was a great guy. He was the best. Beyond all that wild and crazy stuff, which was there, but he evolved. If you have any kind of sensibility in your life, you evolve. Hopefully it’s positive and in a way that’s loving to oneself and to others. He decided to open a little door of compassion. And I didn’t try to tell him anything or teach him anything. That’s not my thing. I just loved him. He was a man to me, and then he was a writer.

His way

The ‘absolutely honest’ Charles Bukowski finds a home at The Huntington

By Nikki Bazar, Pasadena Weekly, 9/14/2006

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens has officially announced the donation of a significant literary archive of Los Angeles poet and novelist Charles Bukowski to the institution by Bukowski’s widow, Linda Lee Bukowski.
Charles Bukowski, who lived from 1920 to 1994, penned more than 50 novels and books of poetry such as “Ham on Rye,” “Women,” “Hollywood” and “Factotum,” which was recently made into a film starring Matt Dillon.
For the first half of his life, Bukowski worked assorted odd jobs, including a decade-long stint with the US Postal Service. He wrote about his dead-end work, his abusive childhood and his dramatic bouts of drinking and debauchery. He also often wrote graphically of sex and violence, and became known for his potent depictions of “life on the streets” that resonated with readers who felt disenfranchised or marginalized.
By the latter half of his life, Bukowski began to be seriously considered as a great contributor to American literature. His books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into almost every European language.

A ‘stunning’ gift
Sue Hodson, curator of literary manuscripts at The Huntington Library, received a call a couple of years ago from an attorney for Linda Lee Bukowski inquiring about placing a literary archive. Hodson was happy to help, although she knew The Huntington would probably not be able to win a bidding war over the collection. But a year later, Hodson heard from Linda again and, learning it would be a gift, carefully detailed The Huntington’s access policies and preservation tactics.
“Seeing the stuff go out of the house, that’s hard for any donor to do, especially a surviving spouse. It was important for us to recognize that and be aware of it,” says Hodson.
Unlike many university or public libraries, The Huntington does not allow just anyone from the public to access their research collections. Researchers who do not already have a Ph.D. must formally apply for reader privileges, which include providing two references. Once accepted, readers view materials in a specially monitored reading room where bags and pens are prohibited. Readers are able to handle original material, but if the material becomes too fragile, it is retired from use and replaced by a copy.
Beyond its sterling reputation for taking great care with historic works, what also helped was Linda’s longtime relationship with The Huntington as a visitor.
“When she and her husband would drive up this way from their home, he would drop her off here, and she would spend the afternoon in the garden while he went over to Santa Anita and spent the afternoon at the races betting on the ponies. So she already had a great affection for The Huntington. It all just came together,” says Hodson. “The fact that Linda could see her way to make this a gift is just a stunning and incredibly generous thing for her to do, which you don’t often see in this day and age.”
The collection is still pouring in, and even Hodson doesn’t know how big it will eventually turn out to be. In the meantime, The Huntington has received hundreds, if not thousands, of corrected typescripts of poems and also of Bukowski’s popular novel “Ham on Rye” and the screenplay to “Barfly,” a 1987 film based on his life. Many of the typescripts are decorated with original doodles by the author. The archive also contains nearly every first edition of Bukowski’s published books, scores of fine press and foreign editions and several dozen early small press publications containing his work.
One fine press 1968 edition of “At Terror Street and Agony Way” is one of only 75 hardbound editions published by Black Sparrow Press that have
original signatures and illustrations by the author. Early grassroots publications include several issues starting in the ’40s of a small literary journal titled “Matrix,” which Bukowski continued to contribute to even after he became famous. Linda also donated many first editions of books including “Screams From the Balcony,” “Open All Night,” “Betting on the Muse,” “Reach for the Sun” and “What Matters Most Is How Well You Walk Through the Fire,” to name a few.
Additionally, The Huntington has received a number of Bukowski’s fan letters. Many of them, despite the graphic sexual nature of his work, are from women. “He wasn’t handsome, certainly,” says Hodson, “but there was a lot of character and a lot of mystery in his face. He was extremely charismatic, and I think a lot of women responded to that.”

An ‘odd’ fit?
In 1965, John Martin was new to the world of publishing and sought out Charles Bukowski, then working at the Post Office, and recruited him to join the upstart Black Sparrow Press. A few years later, Martin offered Bukowski part of his own salary as a monthly stipend to help the then-budding author quit his job and dedicate himself entirely to writing. A relationship was born, and Bukowski would stick with Black Sparrow for the rest of his life.
Bukowski’s writing, he said, found a way of connecting with all sorts of different people.
“The whole drift in American letters has been communication — clear, concise, accurate communication — and that’s the way that Bukowski wrote his novels, his short stories and his poems: without any artifice, without any desire to implant hidden meanings or dodge issues. He had the talent to articulate what he felt and saw, so that made him very important, and it changed the whole course of American poetry,” says Martin, now retired from publishing.
Yet, it’s the graphic nature of Bukowski’s work that may have some raising their eyebrows at
The Huntington’s latest addition. Hodson is quick to dismiss the suggestion.
“The Huntington has this very staid, proper, conservative image, and Bukowski is anything but, and we like the fact that he’s here. It pushes the envelope a bit, and that’s good for us. We’re not all Jane Austen and high tea here; there’s more than that. The overwhelming response I’ve gotten from people is completely positive,” she says.
Martin also believes the two are a good match.
“Bukowski does have a reputation as ‘the outsider’ and as ‘the rowdy poet,’ but that’s exactly what they said about Walt Whitman a hundred years ago; his work was once referred to as ‘barbaric yawp.’ Now, of course, we know that Whitman was the most important poet of the 19th century in America, and who knows where Bukowski will end up? It could be the same thing,” he says.
Still, Hodson acknowledges that some of the material may present a challenge when it is displayed as part of the debut Bukowski exhibit, slated for late 2010.
“I do have to think about the fact that families come through and that school groups come through. However, we’re not in the business of censorship here. I don’t know yet in every detail how we’ll handle it, but I’m not going to censor or sanitize or lighten Bukowski. He is one of the most important and original writers in American literature, and we can’t pull the teeth. He is what he is.
“We collect authors that we think have a lasting legacy as writers, whose works will stand the test of time, and who are worthy of research and study and appreciation by the public. Bukowski fits all of those, so I’m not concerned if people disagree with us,” she says.

Mass appeal
Like it has in other controversial exhibits, such as the one on 20th-century novelist Christopher Isherwood that elicited criticism because the author was gay and not part of the typically accepted literary canon, The Huntington may provide a forum for visitor comments that can later be incorporated into the collection.
Naysayers aside, Hodson predicts that this will be one of the most popular collections at The Huntington. Already she has received numerous letters, emails and phone calls from people excited to get at the archive, which won’t be available to researchers for at least a year, if not two. And a sold-out Sept. 20 event in celebration of Bukowski was two-thirds filled before The Huntington even made an official announcement.
“I’ve just been stunned by this,” Hodson says of the overwhelming response, “and yet in retrospect I shouldn’t have been. His writing speaks to the common man and woman. I had an archivist, a colleague of mine, email me after we made the announcement. He said that at one point in his life, when he was working a dead-end job, very much as Bukowski did, he would paste Bukowski’s poems on the walls and that would help get him through those hard days.”
Perhaps part of his appeal, says Martin, has something to do with the man himself.
“I used to tell people who had this erroneous view of Bukowski, ‘I never saw him drunk, I never heard him raise his voice, I never saw him angry.’ Granted, everybody has a private life that people don’t see, but I never saw any of those things. I considered him the most intelligent, kind, careful, honest person I’ve ever known. If I really needed the answer to a difficult question and there was one person I could ask, the only person I know who would give me an absolutely honest, straight, unadorned answer would be Bukowski, because that’s the way he thought and that’s the way he did things,” he says.