Nov 16

‘Full Metal Jacket’ author Gustav Hasford and his book collection

Author Gustav Hasford proudly shows off his book collection. When he toted up overdue fines of $3,000 he was reported to police by local librarians. ©David Middlecamp/The Tribune

If you love old bookstores you know the smell. The scent of bookbinder’s glue, old pages and stories, lots of stories. The aroma permeated the storage locker as I took photos of author Gustav Hasford.
San Luis Obispo storage locker would later yield more than one story.
It began innocently enough.
Hasford had written the novel “The Short Timers” and was one of three writers who adapted it for the Stanley Kubrick movie titled “Full Metal Jacket.”
The movie had opened to good reviews and would soon be Academy Award nominated for best-adapted screenplay.
At the time Bruce Miller was a Telegram-Tribune book reviewer in addition to being a published author and owner of Phoenix bookstore.
From Miller’s July 16, 1987 story:

“I first got to know Gus Hasford about three years ago when he came looking for some books. They were obscure Civil War titles, and some books on Ambrose Bierce, a writer and journalist who drifted around the fringes of some of that war’s biggest battlegrounds. It was a couple of months later that he told me he had written a novel. Bantam Books had just brought out the paperback and he gave me a copy.
He then traveled to Australia and then to London to write the screenplay for the movie. Hasford, Michael Herr and Kubrick share the screenplay credit on “Full Metal Jacket.”

An earlier Telegram-Tribune article written by Steven Churm profiled Hasford who was living in Morro Bay January 31, 1979 shortly after the novel was published. It captured some of Hasford’s raconteur personality.

“Gustav Hasford laughs a lot.
“It’s an infectious laugh that wells up deep inside his imposing frame and bursts forth with the staccato impact of a machine gun. The roar of his rapid-fire chuckle is followed by a wide grin that splits his long, round face. The grin is commonplace these days.”

The Alabama born high school dropout joined the Marines in 1968 when it appeared his draft number would be coming up. Six months later the 18-year old was in Viet Nam filing news reports, a battlefront correspondent with the First Marine Division.
The novel is a fictional account of a combat reporter who must choose between killing his boot camp best friend and survival.

“I wrote for all those veterans who wanted to express themselves, but just couldn’t. “Nobody seems to listen to them, but they know the real story.
“Veterans have either been ignored or made scapegoats for the war. But they didn’t want to go. And when they lived to come home they were hassled and abused. People asked them why they did all those horrible things.”

Cal Poly officer Mike Kennedy holds book — titled 'Collecting Rare Books for Pleasure and Profit' — one of the 10,000 found in a raid on a shed of Oscar nominee Jerry G. Hasford. ©David Middlecamp/The Tribune

Hasford had to fight for screen credit. The writing process involved long phone calls and writing sessions as Herr and Hasford independently delivered pages to the secretive Kubrick.
Hasford was a natural storyteller and happy to give us a window into his creative process.
The storage locker was filled to the roof with banker’s boxes; Hasford claimed it was research for an upcoming work. I remember thinking, “That’s a lot of research.”
Almost a decade after the novel was published the story took an unexpected turn, Gregg Schroeder wrote the March 18, 1988 Telegram-Tribune story:

Book search a bonanza for police

When Cal Poly police served a search warrant at a storage shed in south San Luis Obispo this week, they didn’t realized what they were getting into.
Investigators were looking for 83 Cal Poly library books checked out a few months ago with a library card issued to former Morro Bay writer and Oscar nominee Jerry Gustav Hasford.
Police said they recovered only seven of the books missing from Cal Poly when they raided two lockers Monday that they said were rented by Hasford.
But they also found about 10,000 other books and magazines at the lockers at Alamo Self Storage at 645 Tank Farm Road, some of them Rare antique volumes believed to have been stolen from libraries around the world.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Ray Berrett, university investigator.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable.”
Investigators found so many books, stuffed in boxes with labels ranging from voodoo dancers and Ambrose Bierce to book collecting, police had to return Thursday with a bigger truck to haul them all away.
They also said they found boxes of obscene magazines, research materials and newspaper clippings.
The evidence room is too small at the Cal Poly Public Safety Department, so the close to 400 boxes of books —piled 5-feet high, 8-feet wide and 25-feet long — are being sorted at the Sheriff’s Department.
Investigators spent all day Thursday sifting through the boxes to try to identify where they were taken from. Those books which have their “zebra bars” with computer identification numbers intact are easiest to log, said Wayne Carmack, university investigator. He expects the cataloguing will continue through next week.
Police will photograph the books rather than hold them as evidence —“You couldn’t fit them into a courtroom,” Berrett said — and then return them to their owners.
But returning 10,000 books to libraries won’t be easy.
Police have contacted a world wide book library security network to help determine which libraries are missing volumes.
The FBI will notify countries from where books were taken and, working through embassies, will try to bring charges against Hasford from those countries.
Many of the books had been damaged in an attempt to cut or blot out library identification markings, police said.
So far, they have verified some of the volumes were taken from collections in England, Australia and South Africa in addition to libraries from throughout the United States.
Berrett declined to estimate the value of the books, calling many of the volumes “priceless,” including first edition works by such writers as Edgar Allan Poe.”
“It’s hard to say,” Berrett said. “It would be an ominous figure, to be sure.”
From the United States, Berrett said 150 books valued at $2,000 belong in Sacramento libraries; $1,500 worth of volumes were taken from St. Louis, Mo. Libraries.
Still missing are $2,000 worth of mostly Civil War history books from Cal Poly. The fines for the overdue books from the university total $3,000, he said.
Some of the recovered publications belong to the Cuesta College library.
Police are looking for more books.
“We do know that he’s got some in people’s private garages,” Carmack said, adding that Hasford has another storage locker in another city. Berrett urged anyone with information about more books to cal Cal Poly police at 756-2281.
Police are still looking for Hasford, who has been nominated for an Academy Award for best screenplay adaptation for “Full Metal Jacket” from his book about the Vietnam War, “The Short-Timers.” Sharing the nomination with Hasford are Stanley Kubrick and Michael Herr.
Police don’t anticipate Hasford will turn up in Los Angeles to attend the awards ceremony. But if he does, police may be there too.
“That’s a possibility,” Carmack chuckled. “I guess I hadn’t really considered that.”
Library officials at Cal Poly put a hold on Hasford’s card on Jan. 14 when the value of the materials checked out reached close to $2,000.
The case will be turned over to the District Attorney’s Office for a formal complaint.
“He’s not going to be waling in libraries in the United States,” Berrett said.
“You would think as a writer he’d have more respect for the public libraries,” Berrett said.

Though Hasford first claimed to be innocent he later told probation officers he was sorry for checking out books and not returning them. This was after he claimed in a letter that the Cal Poly books had been stolen from his car.
He entered a plea bargain December 3, 1988 pleading no contest to possessing stolen property. Superior Court Judge Warren C. Conklin sentenced him to six months in jail. He was released early on good behavior.
Hasford’s third novel in 1992 “A Gypsy Good Time” was about a Hollywood rare book dealer pulled into a noir style detective thriller.
According to a website run by his cousin and a February 3, 1993 Los Angeles Times obituary, Jerry Gustav Hasford died alone in a cheap motel on the Greek island of Aegina of complications from untreated diabetes.
His three novels are out of print and paperbacks in new condition are priced at $100 and more on Amazon.

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