I happened upon this Spanish Colonial Revival home in the Los Angeles suburb of Monrovia, a few miles from my neighborhood in Eagle Rock. It was the home to Upton Sinclair between the years of 1942 and 1966, and is where he wrote most of his later works, most notably my favorite – the phenomenally popular, largely forgotten Pulitzer Prize winning Lanny Budd Series. Â
Sinclair moved to Monrovia from Pasadena where – after getting booted out of the socialist reform “EPIC” movement he developed and narrowly losing the 1934 governor’s race amid scandal after scandal- he cocooned himself in this house and wrote the Lanny Budd series, a massive volume of work: eleven volumes of 600+ pages each. Each page is packed with meticulously detailed historical facts, all researched by Sinclair at the local library.
The Upton Sinclair house was built in 1923 by architect F. H. Wallis, who along with his partner S. T. Norton are credited with designing many Los Angeles landmarks including The Financial Center Building, the Temple Sinai and The Los Angeles Theatre.
Lanny Budd is like a thrilling boys adventure series for grown ups, with a fact packed narrative of far fetched story lines and characters. Fictional characters rubs elbows with characters from history, and are caught up in every major historical and political event of the 20th century up to the early 1950’s. I never understood why these books fell our of fashion except for the fact that he is the “socialist superman”. Politics aside, Lanny Budd is one of the more fantastic characters in literature; James Bond, Indiana Jones, Thomas Ripley, and Joe Hardy, all rolled into one.
Lanny is the illegitmate son of an American Arms dealer, a quintessential international man of mystery, intrigue and political maneuvers. A bon vivant with an unwavering social conscience and an ability to play the “everyman” but rich enough to avoid “everyman’s” misery and suffering. He is an agent for FDR and Hitler’s confidante. He’s a serial globe trotter who happens upon every international event: He is in Germany for the Beerhall Putsch and in North Africa when the Allies invade. It was he who told FDR that Mussolini and Hitler were conspiring against Spain. He joins the German underground masquarading as an international art dealer. He meets with Hess in Scotland, has tea with Madame Sun Yat Sen as the Japanese bomb Hong Kong. He is there for the Battle of the Bulge, the Yalta Conference and the 1919 Peace conference in Paris, studies nuclear physics with Einstein at Princeton, is a witness at the Nurenberg Trials, and has dinner with Eleanor at the White House. He is diabolically attracitve to women, but a serial monogymist. He performs recklessly and dangerously, escaping from villains and facsict torture chambers but always eluding capture so to move on to the next installment.
Despite their popularity when first published, the books were out of print until 2001 when they were reintroduced by Simon Publishing.