The Venice Beat Poets –The Great River Outside the Mainstream – LAWRENCE LIPTON

By Jim Smith

Lawrence Lipton was something of a father figure to the Beat poets of Venice. He was reviled by many of the poets for his manipulations and commercialism. Yet, they gravitated to his home at 20 Park Avenue, which became the center of the “scene” in Venice.

In contrast to the Beats in San Francisco and New York, many of those in Venice just wanted to be left alone to grasp the nature of reality, to paint and write poetry.

Lipton, on the other hand, wanted the whole world to know about this new way of living that was developing in Venice. Fifty years later, it is still a fair question to ask if Lipton invented the Venice Beat scene, or if the scene invented Lipton.

His book, The Holy Barbarians, told the world about Venice, and in the summer of 1959, much of it seemed to be descending on the community to gawk at the scruffy characters who inhabited the beachfront.

Lipton’s success meant the demise of the “slum by the sea,” as he called Venice. But it also meant that our poets achieved lasting recognition, something they didn’t care about, but ensured that their artistic gift would be a model for generations to come. Without Lipton, many great poems could have been tossed in the trash. As John Arthur Maynard observed in his book, Venice West: The Beat Generation In Southern California: “No one had done more than Lipton to turn an obscure and sincere doctrine of poverty and art into a recognized alternative to conventional life.”

Lipton was considered a charlatan and a huckster by some – and his friendship with Clifford Irving, who wrote a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes, didn’t help – but others, including poets Kenneth Rexroth and Allen Ginsburg accepted him as a peer. Stuart Perkoff reportedly commented that Lipton’s book would have been better named, Holy Horshshit. Irvine moved into 20 Park Avenue when Lipton, for financial reasons, in his declining years was forced to move to Burrell Street in the Oxford Triangle.

Even so, The Holy Barbarians, remains the definite book about Venice and about an artistic peak in the Beat Generation.

In addition, Lipton wrote a number of mystery novels in the 1930-40s, and later, wrote Brother the Laugh is Bitter, In Secret Battle, and The Erotic Revolution. His poetry books include, Rainbow at Midnight and Bruno In Venice West.

In his later years, Lipton became editor of an arts supplement in the Los Angeles Free Press and wrote a column, Radio Free America for the paper. He reported on the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago for the Free Press. While attempting to join Allen Ginsburg at a demonstration, he was badly beaten by Chicago police. He never fully recovered from the injuries and they likely hastened his death a few years later.

Lipton was born in Poland, Oct. 10, 1898, and died in Venice on July 9, 1975. His third wife, Nettie Esther Brooks, shared his Venice years, and died in 1986. At the time of her death, Nettie Lipton was in the process of selling her husband’s writings to the University of Southern California. She wanted to establish an endowment for young poets in Venice. Unfortunately, she died before the fund could be established.

Lawrence Lipton is survived by his son, James Lipton, who since 1994 has been the host of Bravo TV’s Inside the Actors Studio.

More information about Lawrence Lipton can be found in Maynard’s history of the Beats, Venice West, and by visiting the two Lipton archives at UCLA and USC.


“What shall I say?
Between two worlds
we hang. Between the agony
of dying and the fear of birth...”
–Lawrence Lipton


From The Holy Barbarians:
The luxury hotels along the beach front promenade, too costly to tear down at present-day wrecking prices and not profitable enough to warrant proper upkeep and repair, stand like old derelicts, their plush and finery faded and patched. In their dim lobbies sit the pensioned-aged playing cards and waiting for the mailman to bring the next little brown envelope. Pension Row. Slum by the sea. Two, even three, one-story houses on a narrow lot, airless and lightless in a paradise of air and light. Night-blooming jasmine amidst the garbage cans.

–Lawrence Lipton

Posted: Thu - May 1, 2008 at 06:57 PM