Lionel Rolfe

The Misadventures of Ari Mendelsohn: A Mostly True Memoir of California Journalism

Ari_Mendelsohn_front_cover_sm2This picaresque memoir by noted author and journalist LIONEL ROLFE recounts the sexual and political travails of the irascible, blacklisted title character, a reporter still harboring his besieged idealistic belief in humanity’s innate goodness and America’s dubious potential for good amid a reality of avarice, pragmatism, cynicism, and materialism. With his usual sharp self-deprecating wit and affable honesty, ROLFE describes Ari’s astonishing array of encounters that run the gambit from the hilarious to the horrific, from the astute to the bewildering, from the desirous to the dangerous, from the death-defying to the life-affirming. As he searches for purpose in a life of drudgery and debacle, along the way Ari must contend with a Military Academy captain with an all-too-avid interests in the students under his “command”; old-time police reporters and the corrupt detectives whom they depend on for the inside scoop; old Stalinists and labor radicals; the long-established, well-entrenched defenders of America’s conservative, God-loving majority; porn stars and gurus false and true and a holographic pin-up; and the all-too-real one-dimensional political operators and kingpins.

Paperback from $11.95 6″ x 9″ 172 pages

Kindle edition $9.00



Literary L.A. – Lionel Rolfe

literary_la-2ed-sm2Expanded From the Original Classic and Featuring the Coffeehouse Scene Then and Now

Beyond L.A.’s self-promotional glitter is a hotbed of writers, bohemians, mad poets, exiles and refugees from every form of oppression – and this book tells their stories. The new additions include • bohemian and apocalyptic streams in L.A. writing • the thriving coffeehouse scene, including the new L.A. poets • additional chapters by John Ahouse. Among the transients, literary gypsies, bohemians and writers in imposed or self-imposed exile are Oscar Zeta Acosta, Charles Bukowski, Henry Miller, Ken Kesey, Carey McWilliams, Charles Lummis, Jacob Zeitlin, Louis Adamic, Nathanel West, Robinson Jeffers, Malcolm Lowry, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, Aldous Huxley, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, and many others.

The first edition of “Literary L.A.” was published by Chronicle Books in 1981. An expanded edition, on which this electronic edition is based, was published by California Classics Books in 2002.

Amazon Kindle/iPhone edition: $7.96

Fat Man on the Left: Four Decades in the Underground

From Booklist

fatman-cov-sm2Why might a reader pick up this anecdotal memoir of an unusual life? Rolfe’s uncle is Yehudi Menuhin; both belong to the Schneersohn family from which leaders of the Lubavitcher movement are drawn. Rolfe has written for several dozen major publications (and been blacklisted out of several dozen more, thanks to his politics). He wrote two books on “Literary L.A.,” where he grew up, and has met, interviewed, and/or interacted with dozens of writers, politicians, actors, rock stars, and other notables over the past several decades. In this volume’s 16 essays, he discusses Menuhin, Frank Zappa, the Communist Party, literary L.A., anti-Semitism, health care, animal welfare, the founder of the Emmy awards, the birds he and his ex-wife (a member of Zappa’s entourage) have cared for as pets, Israel and Zionism, and California, “home” for much of his life.

From Blether Book Review Site

The author has spent the last forty years as a traveling newpaperman in California, writing for everybody from the Los Angeles Free Press to the San Francisco Chronicle. This group of essays explores his travels and the people he has met along the way.

In the post-war era, San Francisco may have been the center of bohemian living, but Los Angeles had quite a thriving bohemian community of its own. His leftist political leanings got him blacklisted by the California Newspaper Association. Rolfe was the only member of the Menuhin family (the virtuoso violinist Yehudi Menuhin was an uncle) to actually work for a living; his politics also got him cut out of the family will. He explores the joys, and heartbreaks, of owning six cockatiels. His parents divorced when his mother wanted to live in London and continue her music career; Rolfe’s father, a worker’s compensation attorney, didn’t want her to tour, even some of the time. He talks about an emergency trip to Los Angeles Community Hospital. It’s a rather old teaching hospital that may not be state-of-the-art in all things, but, Rolfe found it to be full of conscientious doctors and nurses (not something that every hospital can boast), and it survived the 1994 Northridge earthquake, when many other newer buildings collapsed.

I really enjoyed this book. It isn’t just a heartfelt autobiography in essay form, or a history of modern California as seen from the underside of society; it’s more than that. This one is well worth reading.

–Paul Lappen

Amazon Kindle edition: $9.00

(Original paper edition, California Classics Books, 1998)



Disputing Rasputin, Despair & Other Maters That Try My Soul

Rolfe_Rasputin_cover_sm2Author and journalist Lionel Rolfe says these essays may be his final summing up. At the moment he feels they are. But Rolfe has published eight books, and he similarly felt this way after each one of them was published, he admits.

Many of his books are focused on California, which he sees as a state of mind as much as the most significant state in the American union. He has worked as a staffer and a prolific freelancers for for some of the most prestigious newspapers in California–the Los Angeles Free Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He was for a decade the last editor of the B’nai Brith Messenger, the second oldest newspaper in Los Angeles until its death in the late ‘90s.

He also was an editor for Psychology Today when that magazine was edited from Del Mar, north of San Diego on the Pacific Ocean. He is the author of the classic Literary L.A., The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey, The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather and Fat Man on the Left.

But these essays do not stay in California nor are they concerned with only California things. In this book he writes about love and despair, death, religion, great music, London, and personal encounters with folks like Eugene McCarthy, Ed Asner, the real “Columbo” and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who was his uncle. He didn’t know Steve Jobs, but he felt some strong connections that put him close to the man.

As in the past, he writes about a large array of those he has known and befriended, the eccentric and the exceptional, the corrupt and the incorruptible, the charismatic and the naive, the utopian and dystopian, the visionaries and victimized, the radical and the reactionary, the (in) famous and the unjustly forgotten.

The son of concert pianist Yaltah Menuhin and Superior Court Judge Benjamin L. Rolfe, journalist and author Rolfe has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, among other nationwide periodicals across the country, and featured in PBS’s documentary America Utopia. A documentary about Rolfe and his book Literary L.A. is in production. He is the author of ten published nonfiction books and one novel. His prior work has been praised by Publishers Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, Booklist, Variety, and as far-flung as the Guardian.

Rolfe speaks regularly at writers’ conferences, public forums, and in university courses on the subjects of literature, music, politics, and culture. He currently resides in Los Angeles.

Amazon Kindle/iPhone edition: $9.00


Reflections from Elsewhere – Lionel Rolfe

reflections_cover-sm2Lionel Rolfe’s paean and expose, tribute to and critique of California’s unique place in the American public consciousness.

A nearly lifelong resident of that fabled state, and having worked full-time since age twenty at some of its most prestigious newspapers (the Los Angeles Free Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle), ten-year editor of B’nai Brith’s Messenger (the second oldest newspaper in Los Angeles) and an editor for Psychology Today, as well as the author of the classic Literary L.A., he offers readers the unparalleled vantage point of the insider-outsider as well as a personal tour of California as it was – is – might have been – and will never be.

Along the way Rolfe introduces readers to an array of those whom he has known and befriended, the eccentric and the exceptional, the corrupt and the incorruptible, the charismatic and the naive, the utopian and dystopian, the visionary and the victimized, the radical and the reactionary, the (in)famous and the unjustly forgotten:

* Aldous Huxley and Laura, the woman who would become his eventual widow, a self-help author, and New Age activist who died at age ninety-six;

* Ted Derby, the world-famous animal trainer, a pioneer of “affection training” rather than bullwhips, whose “stars” included the cougars on the Lincoln-Mercury television commercials and “Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion,” and whose efforts to establish a sanctuary, an “orphanage for wild animals,” would lead to his violent death – not by claws and teeth, but by the “neighborly courtesy” of a gun;

* Robert Addis, the renowned spelunker who explored his first cave at age ten and since then, the wondrous underground underworld of passageways and rooms beneath California proper;

* Art Kunkin, who started the Underground Press Movement (his Los Angeles Free Press would sell 100,000 copies per week at a quarter when the Los Angeles Times sold for a dime) that would sweep the country, still resonating in noble and dubious ways today, and who later became an alchemist and metaphysician residing in a trailer in the High Desert at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree, where several beautiful auditoriums, mediation rooms, and lodging were designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright;

* George Peters, one of the CIA’s alleged human guinea pigs, the holy man hustler who founded the Church of Naturalism and was murdered execution-style;

* Dorothy Healey, the Los Angeles-based radical and anti-Stalinist Communist who became chairwoman of the Southern California Communist Party of the United States of America (Oxford University Press published her memoirs, reflecting her national, rather than regional, influence);

* Bill Parker, the racist Los Angeles police chief who never met an interracial couple he didn’t dislike;

* Oscar Zeta Acosta, America’s best-known Chicano activist next to Cesar Chavez, and the author of Revolt of the Cockroach People, who became the prototype for Hunter S. Thompson’s “the Samoan” in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and who admitted to torching a mini mall and bombing a courthouse (where the only fatality was another Chicano) before vanishing like Ambrose Bierce into the oblivion of Mexico;

* Sam Yorty, the red-baiting, race-baiting opportunistic mayor of Los Angeles; as well as a slew of fascinating cameos by well-known figures.

Amazon Kindle/iPhone Edition: $10.00

Scribd edition: $5.00



Presidents & Near Presidents I Have Known

presidents-sm2Lionel Rolfe, the author of Presidents & Near Presidents I Have Known, has written seven books, but none is devoted directly to politics. His books, including such titles as Literary L.A. and The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather, have been about classical music, history, religion, philosophy, literature and culture. But Rolfe has also been a working newsman for years, published in such newspapers as The Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. The Guardian of London described him “an LA-based raconteur and journalist” when heralding his book Literary L.A. Even though he has written widely on politics in newspapers and on websites, he has never penned a book about politics.
Now he writes about person to person encounters with Hubert Humphrey, Ronald Reagan, Eugene McCarthy and Gerald Ford, as well as a huge array of other wild characters. He pegs the perplexing times we live in with deadly accuracy. And he thoroughly debunks Sarah Palin.

Amazon Kindle/iPhone edition: $9.95

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The Uncommon Friendship between Willa Cather and Yalta Menuhin

uncommonfriend_cov_mdThis is an extraordinary story of the friendship between Willa Cather and the author’s mother, piano prodigy Yaltah Menuhin (1920-2001), sister of violinist Yehudi Menuhin. There is currently a resurgence of interest in the remarkable American author Willa Cather (1873-1947), many of whose novels explored women and creativity. This is a personal, yet universal, book which explores Cather’s mentoring of the young pianist. It illuminates the lives and works of two important women artists and raises provocative questions about the effects of social and family constraints on the lives of brilliant women. Against the tumultuous backdrop of America and Europe in the early and mid-20th century, Rolfe presents an engrossing chronicle of his mother’s struggle as a budding musician, her tragic relationship with her parents, and the solace she found when Cather became her mentor. The mutually inspiring friendship, which endured for decades, inspired some the most memorable heroines in Cather’s novels, notably Lucy Gayheart.

“Rolfe opens up his family’s history to examine the creative symbiosis in the cross-generational friendship between Cather and Yaltah” — Weekly Variety, Nov. 1, 2004

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The Menuhins: A Family Odyssey

menuhins_cov_mdThe Menuhins is the story of a miraculous family of great musicians and religious leaders. It is told here for the first time by the nephew of Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist regarded as the greatest musical prodigy since Mozart. Elements of the story have been told before: how two Russian Jews living in San Francisco, Moshe and Marutha Menuhin, raised a brood of child prodigy musicians that astounded the world. It seemed the stuff of legend. Yehudi, with his violin and his younger pianist sisters, Hephzibah and Yaltah, displayed as children a musical gift rarely equaled by the finest musicians.

But few outside the family have known the true dimensions of the Menuhin miracle, for the incredible Menuhin children were not the first prodigies in the family’s unique history. For centuries, the Menuhin line had been producing geniuses, yet the the elder Menuhins withheld the details of Yehudi’s exotic lineage. There was The MaHaRal, a great rabbi and the creator of the legendary Golem; Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Hassidism and the composer of powerful religious songs; and all the great Schneersohns, the hereditary first family of the Lubavitch Hassids.

Although Rolfe, the son of Yaltah Menuhin, often focuses on his famous uncle, he has ventured beyond the Menuhin public image with an intimacy that only a Menuhin could bring to this family portrait. From the ghettos and pogroms of czarist Russia, to the settlements in Palestine at the turn of the century, to the Jewish communities in New York and San Francisco in the twenties. Rolfe takes the reader on his own personal odyssey into the past.

It is often a difficult and painful story, for The Menuhins is Rolfe’s search for his own place in the Menuhin tradition. He tells about the joys and frustrations of growing up a Menuhin: his flirtations with the Hassidic Judaism of his ancestors; his rejection by his grandfather, the volatile anti-Zionist; and his own discussions with Yehudi about everything from Mozart to the perils of white sugar to yoga and world peace.

Amazon Kindle/iPhone edition: $9.95

Scribd edition: $5