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Paul Coates

January 30, 2008 |  6:37 pm

Paul_coates Jan. 30, 1958

Memphis Harry Lee Ward, Hollywood's oldest newsboy and foremost collector of literary works, once made the observation to me that:

"Parkey Sharkey is far more literary than you are, sir."

It wasn't a comment meant to degrade me. This I'm sure of.

First, because Memphis and I are very good friends. Such good friends, in fact, that on one occasion he admitted grandly that I was his favorite columnist on Page 2, Part II of the Mirror News.

And second, because Memphis regards Sharkey as a literary equal to many of the famous masters whose volumes are stacked ceiling-high in his small living quarters.

Just last summer, in fact, Memphis put out $25 of his limited earnings to purchase Parkey's autobiography.

The amount comes to about $5 more than Memphis' total expenditure for the combined works of Whitman, Poe and Longfellow.

So you can see that, at least in Hollywood's foremost collector of literary works, Parkey Sharkey has an avid following.

Parkey's greatness, according to Memphis, stems from his ability to write with "a vital and human ruggedness."

1969_0921_parkey "His illiterate writings," Memphis says, "touch the mind and heart of everyone."

And that's pretty much the way I feel about Parkey.

I receive, on the average, two or three letters a week from him.

His spelling's terrible. His penmanship's lousy. But in the letters is a rich, unconscious humor born of Parkey's valuable inability to categorize his thoughts. When Parkey is angriest, he's funniest.

--Which is fortunate for me, because most of Parkey's letters to me are written when he is angry at something or somebody, either animate or inanimate.

A few months ago, after much quibbling, Parkey repurchased his life story, "The Parkey Sharkey Taxi Story," from Memphis Ward.

The price was, again, $25, although I'm not sure whether Parkey has completed payments yet.

Since then, Parkey has been acting as his own agent, with headquarters in the Palo Alto City Dump, where he resides in a small shack when he's not getting along with his wife.

He has had some serious literary discussions with "the professor," a close friend who is, actually, a professor at Stanford University.

On the professor's advice, Parkey reworked parts of it. He added episodes which appealed to the professor and to various barroom associates.

And he submitted it to some New York publishing houses.

The first few turned it down.

But the last one was quite enthusiastic. The publisher wrote him a letter overflowing with praise of his talents, calling him everything but a 20th century Shakespeare.

Attached to the letter was a contract for Parkey to sign and consummate the deal.

Summed up, it said that the publishing house would roll off a couple thousand copies of Parkey's book if he would pay the house a sum of $1,500.

Friends have explained to Parkey that if a publisher were really enthused about his autobiography, he would pay Parkey for the privilege of printing it.

But Parkey prefers, so far, to ignore their advice. A letter I received from him yesterday states:

"Paul, I gave your name to this New York Publisher who is going to print my book. Don't get worried. I just gave your name as a ref.

"I think he has come down on the price of the book quite a bit since I mentioned your name to him.

"I think if I keep after him he may pay me for publishing my book. Instead of me paying them.

"Groucho Marx mentioned me in the Saturday Evening Post last May. He described me but did not use my name.

"Paul, I am never going to get rich with my taxi, that's why I want to get my book on the Market.

"I went over to see the proffeser last night, he told me to keep after this publisher until he wants to pay me for my book.

"I had another fight with my wife at the hotel again. She kicked me out again and I had to sleep in my taxi.

"Paul, I was thinking if I could get about a thousand letters from your readers saying they'll buy my book I could send them to my publisher, he might pay me for my book.

"What do you think of this idea? When I sell my book I am moving to the mountains."

I'm sending my letter today. And if you haven't read any good books lately, I'll forward yours.

[Note: The Times' obituary on Parkey Sharkey appeared Sept. 21, 1969--lrh].