Hollywood Park: The Novel


Farrell’s South Side. Algren’s Near West Side. Bellow’s Hyde Park. And now the world can read about Martin Marcus’s Hollywood Park.

It’s true. Hollywood Park, that far North Side neighborhood barely known outside its own vaguely defined borders, has joined the ranks of Chicago neighborhoods immortalized in fiction.

Best of all, Marcus’s Hollywood Park is entirely recognizable as my Hollywood Park. Although Marcus set his story in the early 1930s, more than twenty years before I was born, I knew some of the landmarks mentioned in the book.

Take, for example, the Hollywood Smart Shop, where a character in the novel buys a pair of ice skates. In real life, there was a Hollywood Smart Shop on Bryn Mawr, and it was open in the early 1960s. Same goes for the Dutch Mill candy shop on Bryn Mawr: in the novel and in real life, up until my day.

My all-time favorite Bryn Mawr store, the Hollywood Bowl, isn’t mentioned by name in the novel, but I have no doubt this is a reference to it, or its predecessor:

“Strangely silent was the tiny candy and supply store that served the children from his daughter’s, Joyce’s, grammar school across the street.” (Hollywood Park, p.220)

And there’s the park. Just as this small parcel of Chicago Park District land at Peterson and Jersey was the heart of the neighborhood in real life, the park serves a similar purpose in the novel. One difference, though. In my day, the park was a hangout for kids; in the book, it’s the moms who go to the park every day:

“Even into late November, in good weather they gathered daily with their perambulators on the benches in the small common that the surrounding neighborhood took its name from: Hollywood Park. What dreamer in the Department of Naming had invoked that frothy image for this thirty-two square block jumble of courtyard flats and bungalows interrupted everywhere by gaps of empty lots like a bad set of teeth.” (Hollywood Park, p.36)

The novel tells the story of two related, extended Jewish families. When we meet them, they’ve already been laid low by the Depression and things keep getting worse. I’m well versed in Depression-era images, both from my mother’s stories as well as from books and films, but reading about the near-destitute trudging along the same streets I walked on to go to elementary school made the hard times more vivid and sad.

Even if you’re not from Hollywood Park, you’ll enjoy this novel if you like reading about Chicago in the days of the old ethnic neighborhoods. And if you’re from Hollywood Park: this was our neighborhood, before it was fully formed and yet already what it is in our memories.

Hollywood Park by Martin Marcus. 250 pages. Published 2002.

Available online directly from the publisher (for $3 less than Amazon–such a deal) or from Amazon.

Next week I’ll post my interview with Marty Marcus, the author of Hollywood Park, and some old photographs he shared with me.

Read more Chicago Book Reviews.


13 Responses to Hollywood Park: The Novel

  1. John Erickson March 14, 2011 at 7:18 am #

    In conversation, Marty denied specific identity, but his description of the tailor shop is an exact description of the one next to Braverman’s drug store in the 30s.

  2. Frances Archer March 14, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    John, thanks for mentioning the tailor. I didn’t notice that reference, and I’ll add it to the list of businesses on Bryn Mawr.

  3. Bonnie McGrath March 14, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    even though my stomping grounds were (briefly) hyde park and then (for a long time) uptown and then (for a long time) downtown, and now (for a pretty long time) dearborn park, this sounds like a great book!!

  4. Frances Archer March 14, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Bonnie, I’ll reveal a bit from the interview I am posting next week. The author was too young at the time to remember the Depression, so his research included other Chicago neighborhoods and so the novel is something of a composite picture of the city during the Depression. Thanks for visiting.

  5. Richard Whitman March 15, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    Can’t wait to read the novel! Yes Frances I agree – the Hollywood Bowl was the most memorable shop on Bryn Mar – right across the street from Peterson. Besides candy buttons, licamade and wax fruit juice sticks – you could buy a hotdog with a Kao (remember that cold chocolate drink). And who could ever forget the owners, Helen and Joe.

  6. Richard Whitman March 15, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    Oh yeah – more things you could by at the Hollywood Bowl: chocolate cigarettes, red spaghetti candy, baseball cards and an orange crush.

    One of the coolest places in the 50’s was just around the corner on Kimball – Mitch’s Candy & Toy Shop (later to become Irv’s Barber Shop). Here you could buy really unique toys like the little monster in a box. Not to mention three pieces of candy for a penny! Now don’t get me started about Plotkin’s Pharmacy.

  7. Noel B Perlman March 15, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    For those who don’t yet know, Marty and I are lifelong friends, along with several others from the Peterson class of ’47, so I reminisce as his contemporary. Just two tidbits related to the references above: Us guys formed a then-popular genre called athletic/social club in 7th grade and one year we developed a musical play based on that tailor next to Braverman’s entitled “Sam, the Tailor.” performed it for our parents to everyone’s delight! Also, I remember when Irv Plotkin opened his pharmacy and it was generally considered more kid-friendly than Braverman’s even though it lacked the soda fountain. Ah, memories!

  8. Frances Archer March 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Noel, was the tailor’s name really Sam? I want to include him on my list of Bryn Mawr stores.
    Just to show you how connected this area was, Irv Plotkin’s niece was in my sister’s grade school, and her cousin was my friend. Further, a couple of people from the ’60s mentioned they worked as delivery boys for Irv.

  9. Noel B Perlman March 16, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Frances, I don’t know if the tailor was actually a Sam, but Marty may remember. The play was written by a “sponsor,” Herman Goodman, who was sent to us by the Park District for, I suppose, adult supervision. (Upon reflection, we assumed that there was official concern about gang formation in the area; they needn’t have feared us but they didn’t know that) We had two classes at Peterson for our grade level; the other room had a club, as well. We were the Vulcans, they were the Sovereigns and we often played softball against them. It’s possible that community workers feared that the two clubs could evolve into bitter rivals but that was a gross over-reaction, if true.

  10. Barbara Bramson June 20, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    I live in California and have forwarded all the information to them. I am going to purchase the memories from Amazon. Thank you for the wonder!!!!!

  11. Howard S. Ex October 16, 2012 at 4:10 pm #


    I’m from the class 1946 and we too had a very special club with a not so noteworthy name, called ” The Athels,” meaning, I think athletics, and social. Our colors were black and orange, I think, made out of silk and lined with a thin layer of cotton. Only now, as I look back on our name do I realize the phonetics of our name, LOL. I vaguely remember the Vulcans. It’s ironic that later on in life, I worked on the TV show, “Star Trek,” with many of the characters from Vulcan.

    My father worked as a wholesale drug salesman for many years and we were close with Irv Plotkin from the start. He was a gentleman and very generous to all us kids.

    By the way, Frances, I somehow lost John Erickson’s email address and can’t reply to a message he sent to me. If you would be so kind let him know, so he doesn’t think I ignored him, and send it once more.


  12. Frances Archer October 16, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Howard, I will add your club’s information to my list of social athletic clubs. How exciting that you worked on Star Trek.

    As I mentioned on one of my posts, I knew the Plotkin’s nieces, the Silverman girls.There are a number of people here who worked for Irv Plotkin when they were kids. By all accounts, he was a generous man.

  13. howard Korengold October 14, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    I have the pictures from our performance of “Sam the Tailor” on my computer. Noel played an undertaker and I was a dancing girl.

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