Like father, like son —an inspiring life through letters

Antonia Frank is a Santa Monica journalist
Antonia Frank: In this stirring tribute to his legendary father, Charles Harris (Brick) Garrigues, George Garrigues weaves a lifetime of Brick’s remarkable letters with his (Brick’s) novel/memoir, Many a Glorious Morning, and writes the book his father only dreamed of writing.

On the surface, we see Brick as a courageous newspaperman exposing city graft and corruption, and we see him as a lover, husband, father and liberal activist.

Beneath the surface, though, we see him as a man and artist struggling to discover and express himself. He succeeds, brilliantly, in this book which illumes the combined joys and agonies of relationships between the sexes, fathers and sons and daughters, citizens and governments, and between a writer and his typewriter.

We are also carried along through Brick’s eclectic interests, ranging from history, politics, literature, music, to gardening, and beyond.

And we are treated to the clarity and color of an earlier Southern California, as seen through the eyes of a sensitive child and adolescent who is destined to leave a rich legacy of words, ideas and love as revealed in these letters.

Brick’s son’s memories and his painstaking and thorough research tie it all together. As the son most like his father, George Garrigues is a crusading journalist himself. He has done his father proud with this book. Don’t miss it.

This book will be read for many years to come

Joe Walker is a contributing writer for Greenwood Publishing’s Famous American Crimes and Trials

Joe Walker: George Garrigues has established himself as a new and emerging historian of all things Los Angeles. He skips the well worn issues like the pueblos and Olvera Street and jumps right into the lesser known but eqally important parts of L.A. history like political corruption, racism, commercialism, crime, and many more. His website and his book will be read for many years to come!

A journalist recounts the triumphs and failures of a long, eventful life through a series of letters

Kirkus is the premier review source for U.S. and foreign libraries

Kirkus Discoveries: One of the more interesting ways to witness the effect of time on political and social mores is through a chronicle of personal correspondence. As e-mail and text-messaging have relegated letters to the status of quaint relics, Garrigues’s book serves as a reminder that letter writing was at one time equal parts art form and means of communication.

The author’s father, Charles Harris “Brick” Garrigues, was a California journalist, writer, would-be novelist and lover of women. In this compendium of letters, which dates back to the 1920s and extends through 1973 (the year before Brick’s death), a riveting tale unfolds as Brick romances numerous women, hops from newspaper to newspaper, has children and struggles in vain to complete an autobiographical novel, a task that would consume many years but never quite reach completion.

The bulk of Brick’s letters were written to Fanny Strassman, an intellectual he met in the ’20s who would become his literary agent, though 42 years would pass between their initial days together and their next meeting.

Alongside this correspondence are letters to Brick’s children, various friends and a few ex-lovers, including Dickie, Brick’s first wife (and the author’s mother). Interspersed with these epistles are the author’s remembrances, some of Brick’s articles, and passages from his unpublished novel, Many a Glorious Morning.

The novel fragments lack the lively punch of Brick’s letters, and the excision of a few of the less interesting missives might have moved the proceedings along at a brisker pace.

Nevertheless, with Brick’s letters combining the acute observatory powers of a lifelong newshound with the uncertainty of a brilliant but flawed man, historical events such as the Depression, red-hunting government committees and antiwar protests are rendered with bold, vivid strokes.

A fascinating, if slightly uneven, slice of Americana.

A human being emerges from these pages, to celebrate diversity and a free life

Jon Wilkman is an award-winning documentary producer with a special interest in history.  With his wife and partner, Nancy, he produced, directed and wrote a three-hour biography of Thomas Edison (“The Edison Effect”) for the History Channel and A&E.  Also four one-hour biographies (Charles Lindbergh, Frank Sinatra, Steve Jobs and Andrew Grove) for MSNBC.  A recent project is “With Heart and Hand: The Restoration of the Gamble House.”  He is also the co-author, with his wife, Nancy, of an illustrated history of Los Angeles, “Picturing Los Angeles,” published in 2006.

Jon Wilkman: I just finished reading He Usually Lived With a Female — yes, cover to cover. At times Brick annoyed, frustrated and even bored me, but I found myself reading on, eager to learn how it — and he — turned out.

You (he and you) have produced a remarkable book. The letters alone are interesting reading. He was an amazingly adroit and skillful writer, but in the end, your interwoven contextual comments, and the excerpts from his novel, produce a rare portrait of a man and his life that goes beyond a mere collection of well-written correspondence. Since I only know him from peering over his shoulder as he wrote, I hesitate to offer conclusions, but the book seems to demand them.

I think it holds many life lessons, even if they are impossible or too late for others to learn. In some ways, I think your father knew them, although he too was unable to change. Despite his lively mind and curiosity, in the end, I felt that his self-absorption resulted in a life lived on the surface. In a way he wrote himself out writing about writing and about his own life, rather than engaging in existence more directly — this, despite his youthful adventures as a journalist. To mangle Voltaire, I think it was, “The over-examined life is unlived.”

He seemed to adopt and discard passions (people, ideas and activities) with dismaying ease, yet everything remained in reach of the mirror of himself. Although I realize that economics certainly play a part, I was especially dismayed that he never ventured far from California and Arizona. Talks of trips to visit Toni in New York remained just that — talk. He seemed to show no interest in travel. Wouldn’t an opera lover yearn to see La Scala, a jazz lover New Orleans or Chicago, a writer London or Paris, or an art lover Rome? I know that costs money, but there are always ways — especially for a writer.

I think the excerpts from his novel are beautifully written and often moving, but as he realized, he was trying to understand himself, not necessarily to create or explore an outside world for others to share. Still, I found the excerpts wonderful reading.

In contrast to this self-absorption is a admirable ability to revel in the success of friends, with no hints of envy, as one by one they go on to success he never achieves. His ideas for books seem so patiently uncommercial, or even artistic, I found myself almost impatiently talking to the page — “Brick! Who in the world would want to read a book like that?”

For one who celebrates creativity and the free life, and is constantly bemoaning the encroachment of a bourgeois existence, I also found it interesting that he enjoyed puttering in his suburban garden and made extra money doing tax returns. It’s a contrast that only a novelist could make believable, and yet it’s true.

What’s most valuable to me about your book is how a human being emerges from these pages. As your wife [Vivian] warned, he’s not always likable, but he’s alive and breathing. He was such a wonderful writer I sometimes wish he would have been more of a conventional diarist, detailing and commenting on the events of the day. If he had, I think this book would be one of the most important volumes ever produced about California and Los Angeles. Even so, it is still a very valuable and useful work.

It indirectly reveals a lot. I was fascinated by his accounts of the cultural and artistic life of L.A. in the 20s and 30s. I didn’t know that the city had such an active opera, for example. Certainly his adventures in politics and local corruption are more than revealing. However, as I think we’ve discussed, I’m still frustrated with his mysterious allusions to a “one-eyed man” in the St. Francis Dam story, but again he vividly expresses an attitude of the day.

Interestingly, I share many of your father’s interests, and as a writer, activities as well. I’ve been a jazz fan since I was ten (I’m 63 now), and all music, including opera continues to sustain me. Like everyone, I’ve had my share of misadventures and missed opportunities. Perhaps that’s why I’m so hard on his sometimes seeming lack of engagement and too often cavalier treatment of the women he’s known (I was both surprised and not surprised about the rapid arrival of Peggy in his last years).

But at the same time, this impatience is a spur to live a better more sensitive life, and I can’t think of a more invaluable gift from a book. Thank you for it.

All the best,


PS: I would have loved so see pictures of the people in Brick’s life — especially Toni, Dickie and Naomi. If they exist, could you post them on your Web site? Also, I’d love to know what happened to Toni. If it’s there I may have missed it.

Icon has sprung to life once again

Jim Smith has been a union organizer and is a journalist and community activist in Venice, California. The review is from the Free Venice Beachhead.

Jim Smith: Have you ever read a book and noticed that the plot seems very similar to your life? Well, me neither, until I read He Usually Lived with a Female, a biography of C.H. “Brick” Garrigues (pronounced “GAIR-uh-gus,”) by his son, George.

Brick, so-called because of his red-brick hair, was born in 1902. He worked for several newspapers including the Venice Vanguard in 1922. He became well known in Los Angeles in the 30s because of his exposure of graft in the District Attorney’s office.

Brick became an organizer for the Los Angeles Newspaper Guild about 50 years before I started organizing for the same union. I know Brick’s name at the time. He was one of the original founders of the Guild, whose remarkable feats made him and his comrades seem about 10 feet tall. But Brick and the others were one-dimensional icons, in spite of the stories about them by the few survivors of those days.

Now, Brick has sprung to life once again, thanks to the diligent work of his son, George Garrigues. . . ..

The format of He Usually Lived with a Female is letters by Brick —- a prolific writer —- with commentary by George. Some of the letters are intensely personal, while others are political and topical. Readers will learn about daily life in L.A. and Venice in the early 20th century, and about the loves and insecurities of a very talented writer. Although a true story, it reads like a novel. . . .

An unglamorized view of L.A. history

M.R. Estarte is a San Francisco blogger who reviews for

M.R. Estarte: George Garrigues uses the medium of letters to depict a history of LA through a native’s eyes. An emerging voice of California history, Garrigues brings the sides of LA to life, the down and gritty, and beyond the glamorized versions most of the world thinks is LA. Must read for all those who left their hearts in California. The Father and Son theme here beats the John Irving’s take on the very same theme West-Coast style.

He was a far better writer than he gave himself credit for

As a fledgling writer in the 1960s, Mimi Melnick carried on a lengthy jazz-oriented correspondence with Brick Garrigues, who was then a music reviewer for the San Francisco Examiner. She is an emeritus trustee of the Los Angeles Jazz Society.

Mimi Melnick:Just a note to tell you how much I enjoyed Brick’s book, also to thank you for further acquainting me with the man who was my pen pal for so many years.

I recognize the person I knew from 1959 onward, but the young Brick was someone I did not know. And I was delighted to meet him. My — what a dynamo, a ladies’ man, and a highly complex individual he was. He was a far better writer than he ever gave himself credit for; how fitting that you finally exhumed his long-forgotten novel, wove it into the narrative, and set it in print.

What a great deal of research you undertook in compiling the book, not only in excerpting Brick’s files but in the man book, author and topic references you added in the footnotes.

All in all, He Usually Lived With a Female was a labor of love as well as a skilled job of editing and composing. Congratulations to you and Viv on the publication of this important project.

P.S. I liked reading about young George also.