'Neighborhood guy' Shawn Levy talks about his hometown
In a fitting showbiz twist, the definitive book about a notorious landmark on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood was researched and composed on Sunset Boulevard in Hillsdale.
Shawn Levy's ninth book about larger-than-life scenes and celebrities is "The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont." That, of course, is the hotel where John Belushi died in February, 1992. But one movie star's death, no matter how tragic and tawdry, isn't enough to warrant a 325-page book.
The comic actor's death fit a pattern of promiscuity there. Since the 1930's, the Chateau Marmont at 8221 S.W. Sunset Blvd., in Los Angeles, has been a scene in itself, hosting some of the best-known bad boys and girls of Hollywood — from Jean Harlow to Jim Morrison to Lindsey Lohan — and tolerating their antics.
The Hillsdale Library is located at 1525 S.W. Sunset Blvd., walking distance from where Shawn Levy lives. As he has in his other books, he acknowledges the local library system, writing, "I worked with a number of hallowed institutions: the Multnomah County Library (the Central and Hillsdale branches and the indispensable interlibrary loan department) ... The idea that I can order books from overseas for free, delivered to a library two blocks from my house..." he said, then paused to let that idea sink in during a recent interview with the Southwest Community Connection.
"The Hillsdale branch is very friendly and they've got these small quiet rooms," he said. "When I'm tired of looking at my four walls and want to do some work, I sign up for one of those quiet rooms for an hour. It's isolated and you can focus in. It's a great asset."
Levy, 58, is a full-time writer, soccer fan (he calls it football) and film buff. Some of his previous eight non-fiction books have told the life stories of Robert DeNiro, Paul Newman and Jerry Lewis. His best-known work is probably "The Rat Pack," which retold adventures from the unholy alliance of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Levy was the movie critic for the Oregonian from 1997 to 2012. He's lived in Southwest Portland since the early 1980s.
ON SOUTHWEST PORTLAND
"When my partner of six years first started coming to visit me, she said, 'Are you sure this is Portland?' She lives in Upper Hawthorne on the west side of Mount Tabor. I said, 'I live closer to City Hall than you do. I don't know why this is so mysterious.' She lives in a very trendy, Portlandia-type neighborhood. Compared to where she lives, the look and feel of this neighborhood hasn't changed much. You don't see a lot of stuff on Instagram that's "Only in PDX" when you're in southwest. It doesn't have that trendy Portland look. I get it but it doesn't matter to me because I can ride my bike to the stadium (Providence) and be there in 20 minutes. I can walk downtown on Terwilliger if I want, it's beautiful. So what if I have to drive to Salt and Straw and you can walk? I'm a neighborhood type of guy. There you go."
"I've been in the Timbers Army (TA) since the entire Army could fit in Renners Grill (7819 S.W. Capitol HIghway). The TA and the Thorns are the things that make the rest of the world say, 'Wow. Portland's one of us.' I think Portlanders pride themselves on being global citizens and football is one of their things. The Thorns is maybe our greatest achievement as a community. To have literally the largest average attendance for women's sports in any sport in any country of the world is a staggering achievement."
"No, I don't miss it (reviewing movies). I'm burned out on movies. There are great streaming services and all my DVDs — which I love — but I never go out for the movies. I'm waiting for the day when I drive past a multiplex theater and I don't know what any of the movies are that are advertised on the marquee. The movie I've seen most in my life is 'Casablanca.' And the movie I most identify with is 'Chinatown.'"
ON HIS NEXT BOOK(S)
"There are two books in the pipeline. First, "A Century of Death: The Obituary Poems" from University of Hell Press here in Portland. It's a hundred poems I've written based on a year's worth of obituaries in the New York Times. I have a masters of fine arts in poetry. That's coming out in 2020. In 2021, I'll publish "Women Pioneers of Stand-Up Comedy." It's about Elaine May, Ann Meara, Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields and other women making a place for themselves on the stand-up comedy stage."
Shawn Levy will appear at Annie Bloom's Books on Monday, July 22 at 7 p.m. He'll read from his latest book "The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont." Annie Bloom's is located at 7834 SW Capitol Highway.