To say that we here at Between The Covers have a few boxes of uncataloged items is a bit of an understatement. While there’s a lot of work ahead, it’s fun going through those boxes to see what you find. The other day I turned up a cool item from the collection of Edwin Erbe, former publicity director for New Directions. It’s a copy of Left Bank This Month magazine with the cover story, “Inside the Beat Hotel” by Verta Kali Smart published in the late ’50s. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t be surprise because it seems that no one else has either.
Information about Left Bank is scarce. What we’ve been able to determine comes mostly from the magazine itself. There is virtually no mention of it in Beat literature or anywhere online, except for the location of one other copy in The Netherlands. The cover claims that this issue is volume 2, number 1, but we suspect this is the only issue ever published. It was printed in London and distributed to tourists in the Latin Quarter in Paris in 1958 or 1959. The editor is Ronald Sheridan but we believe it was produce in large part by Smart, herself a resident of the Beat Hotel, who wrote several of its articles, along with contributions from Gregory Corso, Thomas Tindall, Piero Heliczer, and several others.
The cover story is notable in that it may be the first published appearance of the Beat Hotel nickname given to the flop house located at 9 Rue Gît-le-Cœur. Aside from a wikipedia entry (which should never be taken at face value) giving Smart credit, no one seems to know where the name came from, though Corso is sometimes noted as the source. The article glamorizes the rundown Paris hotel that was the home-away-from home for Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs, who finished his masterpiece Naked Lunch there, as well as, according to Smart’s article, other “well-known actors, painters, professional loafers and some who are just bombed cats!”
And if the nickname wasn’t enough to make the magazine interesting, it’s illustrated with over a dozens photographs by the hotel’s resident photographer, Harold Chapman, also likely their first appearance in print. The photos here as well as many more were later collected in his 1984 book, The Beat Hotel. One picture from the book that’s not in the magazine is of Smart at her typewriter with the following caption: “January 1958. Verta Kali Smith, working on her article, ‘Inside the Beat Hotel,’ for the ‘Left Bank This Month,’ which was sold to tourists at 300 francs a copy, in the streets of the Latin Quarter.” It’s one of the only references we can find to the magazine and likely the source of the wikipedia information giving Smart credit.
So there you have it. That’s pretty much all we know at this time. If anyone can shed some light on this mysterious and little-seen item of Beat history, let us know.