Remembering George Whitman, Owner of Famed Bookstore, Shakespeare & Company

In 2005, the Sun­dance Chan­nel aired Por­trait of a Book­store as an Old Man, a 52 minute doc­u­men­tary that pays homage to George Whit­man, the Amer­i­can founder of the most famous inde­pen­dent book­store in Paris, Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny. Whit­man died yes­ter­day, at age 98, in his apart­ment above the store.

Sylvia Beach first opened a book­shop named Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny in 1918, and it soon became a home for artists of the “Lost Gen­er­a­tion” (Hem­ing­way, Pound, Fitzger­ald, Stein, etc.). It also famous­ly pub­lished James Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922. The shop even­tu­al­ly closed dur­ing the Nazi occu­pa­tion of Paris. Yet a good decade lat­er, George Whit­man came along and estab­lished anoth­er Eng­lish-lan­guage book­store on the Left Bank and even­tu­al­ly rechris­tened it Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny. Whit­man’s shop gave sanc­tu­ary to Beat writ­ers – Allen Gins­berg, William S. Bur­roughs and the rest. And it’s this incar­na­tion of the fabled book­store that the doc­u­men­tary takes as its sub­ject. Give the doc­u­men­tary some time, and be sure to watch the last five min­utes – unless you already know how to cut your hair with fire. It will give you a lit­tle feel for Whit­man and his well-known eccen­tric­i­ties. RIP.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William S. Bur­roughs Reads His First Nov­el, Junky

Spike Jonze Presents a Stop Motion Film Set at Shake­speare and Com­pa­ny

Jack Ker­ouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

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  • Heard about George Whit­man’s pass­ing ear­li­er this week. Sad he did­n’t make it to 100 like he had report­ed­ly want­ed, how­ev­er, what a life!

    Por­trait of a Book­store as an Old Man is ter­rif­ic. Hav­ing come across it a cou­ple of years ago it was well worth watch­ing again.

    I also post­ed info on the doc­u­men­tary here (, includ­ing men­tion of how Shake­speare & Com­pa­ny fea­tures in Spike Jonze’s recent (and excel­lent) short ani­ma­tion Mourir Auprès de Toi.

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