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  • 12/22/2004

Nathanael West



October 17,1903 -December 22,1940)

West was born in 1903 in New York City, New York to Max and Anna (Wallenstein) Weinstein.  His Jewish family was financially supported by his father, a construction contractor, and spiritually supported by his mother, with her traditional Jewish influence.  West showed no ambition as a young man.  While attending Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island West did not take his studies seriously.  He would draw cartoons and write short surrealistic stories.  During his time at Brown, West became a friend of S.J. Perelman, who later married West's sister.  In 1926, two years after graduating with a PhD, he changed his name from Nathan Weinstein to Nathanael West.  He spent a few years inParis where he wrote his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell.

When West returned home he managed two small hotels, The Kenmore Hall  (1927) and the Sutton Club Hotel (1930-1933).  During this time, West would provide free board to many interesting aspiring writers.  In the early thirties West worked as a journalist.  His experiences as a hotel manager and journalist gave him the inspiration and material for his second novel, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933).

In 1935, West moved to Hollywood and lived in a cheap, small hotel called the Pa-Va-Sed to earn his living as a scriptwriter.  Prior to finding work in the movie industry, West mingled with the outcasts of Hollywood observing and recording their lifestyles.  The foundation of The Day of the Locust is based directly on West's collection of observations.  After F. Scott Fitzgerald's death, West was incredibly distraught and on December 22, 1940 he crashed his car nearEl Centro,California killing both he and his wife, Eileen McKenney.

Literary Works

The Dream Life of Balso Snell - West's first novel, a collaboration of short surrealistic sketches set in a fantasy Western civilization from the inside of the Trojan horse.  This early experiment motivated West throughout his career.

Miss Lonelyhearts - His second novel aboutAmerica's struggle through the Depression.  It tells a story of a male newspaper columnist, pen name Miss Lonelyhearts, who becomes deeply involved in the analysis of letters from his readers.  The advice columnist becomes a therapist, preacher, and rabbi helping those in pain.  By helping others he is able to live in happiness despite the chaos and corruption surrounding him.

The Day of the Locust - Although it did not receive much attention when published in 1939, The Day of the Locust is today, considered one of the best and most revealing novels about Hollywood.  The main character, Tod Hackett, heads toHollywood in hopes of becoming a scenic artist.  TheHollywood scene proves it is not a glamorous world, but is instead a corrupt assortment of second-rate actors, writers and artists twisted and self-absorbed by their own desires.  Tod and two other men, although in Hollywood for different reasons, are all driven by their obsession for the aspiring actress, Faye Greener, each trying to gain her love in their own selfish ways.  The uncontrolled obsession characterized by West's depiction ofHollywood portrays the selfish desires in American life.

Los Angeles and Nathanael West in the 1930's

Hollywood - Thousands of people flocked to Hollywood in the thirties in search of fulfilling dreams of fame and money including the fictional Faye Greener, who becomes the love interest of three very different young men, in the novel The Day of the Locust. Hollywood began making movies in 1911, when the Nestor Company openedHollywood's first film studio.  As the industry grew, the town began to accept corruption and moral indecencies as a way to further their fame and success. West, from living and working in Hollywood, realized that its romantic glamour was artificial and its dirty secrets became a reality.

Ivar Street - The location of Chateau Mirabella where Abe, Tod's friend lived.  Ivar Street is called Lysol Ally and is a gutter filled with hookers and their managers.  The street runs perpendicular toHollywood Boulevard. West, when first arriving in Hollywood, lived in an apartment on Ivar Street.

Hollywood Boulevard - Mentioned several times in The Day of the Locust, this significant street in Los Angeles, was often the center of travel alongLos Angeles for characters in the novel.  This boulevard is also the home of Mann's Chinese Theater, The Palace, and The Pantages Theatre.

Sunset Boulevard - Once a star-studded street, Sunset Boulevard represented the glamour of Hollywood in its early days.  The aspiring stars in The Day of the Locust would frequent this street to surround themselves in the opulence of Hollywood.

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