Lionel Rolfe’s Books

BREAD & HYACINTHS: The Rise & Fall of Utopian Los Angeles with Nigey Lennon & Paul Greenstein (California Classics Books paperback, 1992) “This slender but potent book draws us into an early and unfamiliar era of Southern California, when Los Angeles seemed more like Charcoal Alley than Lotusland. . . . Vigorous, knowing, committed and unafraid, even if a bit eccentric.”

–Jonathan Kirsch, Los Angeles Times

“This brief, useful book illuminates an obscure chapter in the history of Los Angeles and America’s socialist movement.”

–Publishers Weekly

“At intervals of a half-century or so, a utopian spirit was known to move across the century. With its propulsion, people struck out from old houses and old ways for the newer, the better, the purer. . . . Utopia, Fruitopia, or dystopia, Southern California laid claim to: the Elysia nudist colony, which thrived furtively above Tujunga; Gaylord Wilshire, the silk-hatted socialist millionaire and early health-food connoisseur, who published a utopian political newspaper and whose name adorns the richest street in Los Angeles; the Polish actress Helena Modjeska and her titled husband, who started a rustic retreat in Anaheim (it failed because none of its residents knew the first thing about farming); the socialist Llano des Rio cooperative colony, briefly home to Aldous Huxley. “Into this mix comes Lionel Rolfe, chronicler of the yearnings and failings of some quarters of this huge city, a man who met Huxley and all manner of people who don’t come when you think of L.A.–but should.”

–Los Angeles Times Magazine

FAT MAN ON THE LEFT: Four Decades in the Underground

(California Classics Books paperback, 2003) “What makes Rolfe’s book really sing is his resilience to whatever life throws at him, his obvious enjoyment of the stories he interweaves. . . . He responds to the outrages and indignities he chronicles with persistent wry wit, ironic indulgence, and flashes of absurdist humor. . . . What distinguishes FAT MAN ON THE LEFT is how effortlessly it engages the reader on a boundless sea of reflection.”

–City Paper (Philadelphia)

“Why might a reader pick up this anecdotal memoir of an unusual life? 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 sixteen essays, he discusses Yehudi 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.”


DEATH & REDEMPTION IN LONDON & L.A. (Dead End Street Publications paperback, 2003) “Poignant and insightful.”

–Publishers Weekly

LITERARY L.A. (Chronicle Books, 1981)

“It was his last novel, published just before he died in November 1963 on the same day as President Kennedy. Huxley’s death was made remarkable because of his decision to take LSD as he departed. Now Huxley’s days in California are recalled in a new book and given a special echo by the 25th anniversary of an organisation founded by his widow, Laura, who is still energetically putting into practice some of the Utopian principles articulated in Island. “The book is Literary LA, by Lionel Rolfe, son of the pianist Yaltah Menuhin and nephew of Yehudi. An LA-based journalist and writer, Rolfe has compiled an entertaining collection on writers including Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, Malcolm Lowry, Charles Bukowski and Huxley. Rolfe, author of Fat Man On The Left, raconteur and journalist, met Huxley shortly before the writer’s death and recalls that he had said that he stayed in LA because of ‘inertia and apathy.’ “Yet the writing he did there has a fabulous quality to it. Huxley, as Rolfe explains, also wrote for Hollywood, adapting Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice for the screen and turning his short story, The Giaconda Smile, into A Woman’s Vengeance, starring Jessica Tandy. Rolfe wrote, too, about Huxley’s second marriage to Laura Archera, an Italian violinist, film editor and therapist, and how his life with her saw him veer in more and more ‘mystical directions.'”

–Duncan Campbell in the Guardian

Rolfe’s work is archived by the Special Collections Library at USC–s Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection .