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Barflies, rejoice: It's Charles Bukowski's birthday

Charlesbukowski_glassCharles Bukowski was born Aug. 16, 1920, in Germany; his family moved to America, and Los Angeles, when he was still a boy.

Bukowski grew up to be a celebrated outsider, a hard drinking poet and author.

"The wine does most of my writing," he said while in his late 60s. "I just open a bottle and turn on the radio, and it just comes pouring out. I only type every third night. I have no plan. My mind is a blank. I sit down. The typewriter gives me things I don't even know I'm working on. It's a free lunch. A free dinner. I don't know how long it is going to continue, but so far there is nothing easier than writing."

Early on, Bukowski collected rejection slips; he worked lousy jobs, as a gas station attendant, truck driver and at cake, cookie and dog biscuit factories. His stint for the U.S. Postal Service in L.A. provided the material for his novel "Post Office," which sold 75,000 copies in America and 500,000 abroad.

Much of Bukowski's work was published by Black Sparrow Press; its founder, John Martin, began the press specifically to publish Bukowski's work. That both Black Sparrow Press and Bukowski were located on the West Coast added to his outsider cachet.

Yet Bukowski did not go unnoticed by the literary or cultural establishment. He received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1974. A biopic about Bukowski was made while he was alive, in 1987 -- "Barfly," starring Mickey Rourke. Bukowski went on to write about the experience in his book "Hollywood." He died of leukemia in 1994.

This fall, the Huntington, known for its rare books collection and Gainsborough painting "The Blue Boy," will host its first-ever Bukowski exhibit. The Huntington now holds Bukowski's papers and literary estate, a collection of upward of 2,700 items. "Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge" will run Oct. 9 to Feb. 14 and feature hand-corrected drafts, photographs, first editions, annotated racing forms and Bukowski's manual typewriter.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Charles Bukowski, circa 1980. Credit: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

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a degenerates degenerate

Love his writing!!

A version of this post, unchanged as of August 17, 2010, incorrectly stated that Bukowski said "The wine does most of his writing," et al. in the late 1960s, when the interview comes from 1987 with Paul Ciotti. (Adding embarrassment to error, the interview appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine -- specifically the March 22, 1987 edition.) Furthermore, the 1987 movie, BARFLY, was incorrectly reported as a "biopic," when, in fact, Mickey Rourke played a character called Henry Chinaski -- not Charles Bukowski. And it's safe to say that BARFLY was hardly RAY, FROST/NIXON, or WALK THE LINE. (Indeed, Wikipedia -- that all-encompassing fount for informational indolence -- doesn't even list BARFLY among its "List of biographical films" page.)

Additionally, the 1989 novel, HOLLYWOOD, likewise featured Chinaski as its protagonist, not Bukowski. In part because it was a novel. Not a memoir. The inability of the amateurish Los Angeles Times "staff writer" to comprehend such basic facts -- easily reconciled against a library or a Charles Bukwoski books collection -- has been duly noted by some ombudsman (assuming she still exists) and drastic action has been taken to prevent such Keystone Kops pratfalls from happening again. At least that's the grand illusion. All this assumes, of course, that the proprietors behind this site approve this comment and even care about getting the facts straight. It is quite likely that they don't. In any event, there are a million stories in the naked journalistic city. This is merely one tale revealing the sad morass that newspapers have dipped into in the year 2010. It only gets worse from here!


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