“Words are magical in the way they affect the minds of those who use them.” Aldous Huxley

The erudite Mr. Huxley made his home in the Hollywood Hills. Besides writing a number of seminal works, he wrote screenplays. He also really loved Los Angeles, unlike a lot of writers who made a tremendous amount of money here (working for the film industry) but couldn’t help harping on the city.

In her memoir Kiss Hollywood Goodbye Anita Loos recalls her friend Aldous Huxley’s ‘childish love for picnics’. One excursion he organised ‘might have taken place in Alice in Wonderland’. Huxley had gathered a choice selection of his Californian friends: Charlie Chaplin and his wife, Paulette Goddard, dressed ‘in a Mexican peasant outfit’; Greta Garbo, wearing a ‘sloppy pair of men’s trousers and a battered hat with a brim that hid her face’; the visiting Bertrand Russell; Christopher Isherwood; and Huxley’s favourite mystic, Krishnamurti, accompanied by a retinue of Theosophists and vegetarian catering ladies in saris. While his guests looked like pixies ‘on a spree’, according to Loos, Huxley himself resembled a ‘giant from some second-rate circus’. He had indulged his taste for the seedy parts of the city by choosing ‘the dusty bottom of the Los Angeles River, drier than a desert and strewn with rusty cans and pop bottles’, as an anti-pastoral setting for the picnic…

Like many British writers in the 1930s, Huxley had been lured to Hollywood by the easy money supposedly on offer from the studios, which liked to parade a certain literary pedigree. A month after Huxley’s arrival in 1937, P.G. Wodehouse left, but J.B. Priestley, Hugh Walpole and Anthony Powell were all hawking their wares with varying degrees of success (Powell was hindered by the fact that his agent had dropped dead on Hollywood Boulevard a few days before his visit). Unlike Huxley, these other English writers found Los Angeles unappealing: ‘No wars, no politics, no deaths make any effect here. We are all on a raft together in the middle of the cinema sea! Nothing is real here but the salaries,’ Walpole wrote.

Source: Alex Harvey reviews ‘After Many a Summer’ by Aldous Huxley, ‘Time Must Have a Stop’ by Aldous Huxley and ‘The Genius and the Goddess’ by Aldous Huxley · LRB 5 May 2016

Walpole came to Hollywood to write the script for David Copperfield. Powell worked a very short stint for Warner Bros., spending about half a year in Hollywood. P. G. Wodehouse stayed seven years in Hollywood and had this to say, “I think Californian scenery is the most loathsome on earth – a cross between Coney Island and the Riviera, but by staying in one’s garden and shutting one’s eyes when one goes out, it’s possible to get by.” J. B. Priestly found it disconcerting that Hollywood movies were aimed “at a not very bright boy or girl of about fifteen.”

Now, back to Huxley and some important points of his:

“A mere matter of words,” we say contemptuously, forgetting that words have power to mold men’s thinking, to canalize their feeling, to direct their willing and acting. Conduct and character are largely determined by the nature of the words we currently use to discuss ourselves and the world around us.

What do you think?

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  1. George Kaplan
    August 9, 2017

    Huxley’s words about words remind me of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, this now-discredited (mostly) principle states that a person’s worldview or understanding of the World is dictated by the language/words they use. Truly I think there is much that supports this; take, for example, those who only use a limited number of narrow colloquial terms out of a wish to fit in or fear of sounding “different” /highfalutin or a lack of education or sophistication, many of them are unable to consider anything outside a particular narrow field of comprehension and are often antagonistic to anyone or anything outside or antithetical to that. Consider also the kind of person who uses phrases such as PC or SJW (Social Justice Warrior) – almost always in their initialized forms – as terms of abuse. Bullies pretending that they are the bullied. Words form the World or worldview and the willingness to think about what our words or actions mean dictate if the World improves or not.

    • August 11, 2017

      Yes. And to think right now two like-it-or-not “leaders” are having a war of words that’s putting the entire world on edge, while their keepers and handlers are scrambling through diplomatic back-channels to mitigate the damage.
      On a less cataclysmic note, I wonder how this word theory applies to people (young people especially) who communicate mainly by text? Something to ponder. I’ve seen some of these abbreviated, short hand, messages and I’ve watched their flattened affect and sometimes clueless interaction in real face-to-face social contact — it’s worrying.

  2. September 13, 2017

    Thanks for posting this, Vickie. Aldous Huxley did indeed love Los Angeles, not least because it allowed him the intellectual freedom that was lacking in England, where he was always in the shadow of his famous family. I was the last person to interview his widow, Laura Archera Huxley, who talked about the “strange, solitary” atmosphere of Hollywoodland, where they made their home. It’s no coincidence that his most productive years were spent in its sheltering embrace.

    • September 13, 2017

      You are most welcome. Christopher Isherwood wrote of visiting a friend of his named August in 1940, who lived with two aged spinsters on the beautiful border of Hollywoodland and the deep forest (I will have to find the passage). He talked a lot about the wilderness that surrounded the city, something he marveled at by the sound of it.

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