The film of a 1965 party at Moe’s Books that was recently discovered in the Berkeley dump was made by an Academy Award nominated screenwriter who was just starting out in the business when he shot the footage.
David Peoples, who arrived in Berkeley with his wife Janet in 1959 to attend Cal, shot the film of Moe Moskowitz arriving at his store on Telegraph Avenue in a Rolls Royce, dressed in a top hat, tails, and white gloves. Peoples had not watched the film in decades, and was surprised when a friend, who had seen the footage on Berkeleyside, contacted him to say it was on the Internet.
For Doris Moskowitz, the daughter of Moe and the current owner of Moe’s Books, finding out who made the film of the legendary party was a satisfying ending to a story that began when a scavenger brought the found footage into the store in November.
“Finding out that the maker of the film is wonderful guy who was nominated for as Oscar (who happens to be my best friend’s mom’s high-school friend) is surreal,” Moskowitz wrote in an email. “I love having the explanation for why the film feels complete even though it is less than three minutes. It tells a story about my dad that I had in my mind perfectly. (It’s) crisp, composed, complete. Finding him explains why this is so. Another cool thing is that it helps fill in the blanks around who was here at the store in the early days.”
Peoples was also delighted that the two-minute 41 second film – which had never been publicly shown – was suddenly being seen after 50 years.
“I think it’s fantastic, “ said Peoples, 75, who went on to write numerous lauded screenplays, including for the Academy Award-nominated Unforgiven, Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, Lady Hawke, and The Day After Trinity.
When Peoples shot the footage of Moe Moskowitz getting out of a Rolls Royce and striding triumphantly into his store on Telegraph, he was just 25 and at the start of his career in the film business. He had moved from Connecticut to Berkeley to study English, and, after his graduation from Cal in 1962, went to work as a copy boy at the San Francisco Examiner to support his wife, Janet, and their two young daughters.
Peoples had long wanted to be a filmmaker, but had been rejected from film school. He eventually started to volunteer in the film department at KQED at a time when the legendary Irving Saraf, who was influenced by cinema verité and the work down by the Canadian Broadcasting network, led the department. Saraf shot documentaries and news footage all over the Bay Area. Peoples was eventually hired as a film editor at KQED.
The streets of Berkeley in the 1960s were teeming with protests, from the Free Speech movement to the fight for People’s Park to the anti-war movement. Influenced by Saraf, Peoples shot footage whenever he could, including the night that Moe Moskowitz threw a party with wine and champagne at his new store on Telegraph Avenue.
Peoples never did anything with the film. (He didn’t think it was particularly special.) He went on in 1968 to make a film about the Vietnam Way with Country Joe and the Fish, who also lived in Berkeley, and eventually made a living as a freelance film editor.
Peoples soon put down his camera and picked up his pen. He wrote Unforgiven (then called The Cut-Whore Killings) around 1976, but it wasn’t produced until Clint Eastwood made it into a movie 1992. He also wrote and directed Hero and other films.
Peoples’ wife, Janet, also became a screenwriter after working as a nurse and as a teacher at Merritt College, where her students included Huey Newton and Bobby Seal, who later went on to form the Black Panthers. The couple worked together on Jon Else’s documentary about J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Time After Trinity. They eventually decided to set aside their separate careers and write together. (They figured that co-writing would put them on the same vacation schedule.)
In the meantime, after running out of room at his North Berkeley home, Peoples put the footage of Moe Moskowitz arriving at his bookstore and other canisters of film in Extra Space Storage on Cedar Street. It sat there for three decades. In 2014, Peoples decided to empty his storage space. “It was costing me a fortune,” he said.
Peoples tried to find people and institutions to take his film, which was mostly news footage of the 1960s, but was only partially successful. He gave away some film to Urban Ore and some to San Francisco State University. “A lot of the stuff I had to throw out,” Peoples said.
But he didn’t think he threw away the footage of Moe’s party. He thought he had moved it back to his garage. But there was some sort of mix-up with the people helping to dispose of the contents of the storage locker and that footage made its way to the Berkeley transfer station on Second Street.
A scavenger picking through the dump came upon a few boxes of old film in November and saw “New Mo Cut” written on one can. The scavenger, who didn’t want his name used, unrolled the film and saw pictures of what looked like Moe Moskowitz. He was one of the store’s regular customers and he took the footage to the bookstore. Doris Moskowitz then asked Gibbs Chapman, a film technician for the Pacific Film Archive, and a customer, to repair the film.
Doris Moskowitz put the footage up on Moe’s Facebook page and contacted Berkeleyside. She didn’t know who made the film, only that it showed this 1965 party that was somewhat infamous.
Michael Hackenberg, a book dealer, saw the footage on Berkeleyside and emailed John Levy, a friend and client who had lived in Berkeley since the 1950s. He thought Levy, who had also shot footage during the turbulent 1960s, might know who made the film. It took Levy just a few seconds to realize that Peoples must have made the film. Levy and Peoples had been close in the 1960s, but the two men hadn’t seen one another in a decade. But Levy remembered Peoples talking about Moe.
“I knew right away it had to be David,” said Levy. “David was one of the first people I knew who liked Moe. I found Moe a bit rude. He was a character and David liked characters.” So Levy called up Peoples to tell him about the film.
When Peoples saw the film it was better than he remembered. “I thought someone had done a brilliant job of editing,” he said. It turns out “I had done a better job than I thought.”
Peoples thinks the party was to celebrate the opening of Moe’s Books at 2476 Telegraph Ave. Doris Moskowitz is less certain about this. Moe Moskowitz opened his first bookstore, Paperback Books, on Shattuck Avenue in 1959 and kept it there until 1961, according to Doris. He then operated Rambam from 1961-1963/1964 in the space on Telegraph Avenue now occupied by Shakespeare & Co. Moe Moskowitz then moved across the street to 2476 Telegraph and named the store Moe’s Books. In the film, there is a sign hanging off the Rolls Royce reading “Moe’s Books, To the Trade since 1965,” adding credence to Peoples’ memory that the party was to celebrate the grand opening.
Doris Moskowitz is hoping people will help identify those in the film. One of the party’s attendees has already been identified: the bearded man at the end of the video is Max Scherr, who ran the Steppenwolf Café at 2139 San Pablo Ave. for years. He sold it in 1965 for $10,000 and used the funds to start the Berkeley Barb, one of Berkeley’s most famous underground newspapers, in August 1965.
The story of finding the film in the dump and resurrecting it is prompting local filmmaker Siciliana Trevino to make a 15 to 20 minute documentary of the lost and found footage of the party at Moe’s Books in 1965. She is seeking funds to complete the project.
For Doris Moskowitz, finding the film and discovering that Peoples was the filmmaker is a boost to her psyche.
“I feel amazed and so deeply grateful that this could wash up on the shore,” wrote Moskowitz. “If I ever needed a sign that I am in the right place doing the right things by keeping the store going during this very difficult time, then this was it. Like a shot in the arm or sign of support from the universe, I feel so glad that I have stayed here tending Moe’s long enough for this to have arrived.”
“I really loved my dad. I thought that he embodied all the fun in the world and I had been so sad to miss this party, but what could I do, I hadn’t even been born yet.
“I think one reason why the film seems important to others is that it speaks of a time before Telegraph lost its sense of humor. I feel delighted to share it with people who might also enjoy the absurdity of his tux and the surreal buoyancy of his face.”
Film of famous Moe’s Books party found at Berkeley dump (02.20.15)
Moe’s Books gets $7,000 from author James Patterson (6.11.14)
Berkeley’s Moe’s Books honored with historical plaque (02.11.14)