An important figure in the Los Angeles book world has died. Marylin Hudson co-founded the legendary and long-running Round Table West book and author program. It began meeting in 1977 at the Ambassador Hotel, where co-founder Marilyn Burk was the director of publicity and author of the locale's history. Speakers through the years included Ray Bradbury, Walter Cronkite, Bob Hope, Michael Crichton, even Tommy Lasorda. By the time I spoke to the group about "Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles" in 2006, the gatherings were sparser and at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. Round Table West stopped meeting altogether two years later. Hudson, who lived in Pasadena, died this morning. She had been literary critic of Orange Coast magazine since 1993, and the magazine's editor, Martin J. Smith, had written in 2008 about RTW's demise. Excerpts:
For the uninitiated, Round Table West for years has been one of the largest and most successful book and author programs in the country, named after the Algonquin Round Table, a legendary group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits who gathered for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 until roughly 1929. Co-founders Margaret Burk, Adela Rogers St. Johns and Marylin Hudson, the long-time book reviewer for this magazine, began staging elaborate luncheons in a ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1977. The Orange County chapter began meeting monthly in 1989 at the venerable Balboa Bay Club—lured there by Donna Crean, maven of the Fleetwood RV fortune who, oddly, grew tired of all the time she spent on the road driving to Round Table events in Los Angeles. A third chapter opened in Palm Desert in 1993.
The monthly luncheons in all three places somehow managed to be both sophisticated and ribald, part salon, part vaudeville—but always passionate celebrations of books and their authors. A Round Table meeting might include not only a meal and one of Hudson’s hilariously deadpan astrological forecasts (“You Were Born Under a Funny Sign”), but Maya Angelou reading her poetry, or TV news icon Walter Cronkite talking about his love of sailing, or Zsa Zsa Gabor dishing about Hollywood and quipping “I was Miss Hungary 110 years ago,” or some then-unknown Orange County novelist such T. Jefferson Parker earnestly trying to sell a few copies of his first book—all linked by the rat-a-tat-tat of some killer Viagra jokes. (Once, while nervously awaiting my turn at the podium, I watched the author of a book about tap dancing do a full-on tap routine on the stage during her allotted 15 minutes.)
It was the kind of scene that made invited writers feel like stars, and readers feel some personal connection to the books and authors that define and inform our culture.
Services are pending.