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Harry Oliver [1888-1973] was a near-legendary Hollywood art director [twice Oscar-nominated, one of the first people ever nominated for an Academy Award]; a designer, showman, newspaper columnist, self-publisher, and desert character [i.e. liar, joker, mirage salesman, press-agent to a ghost, etc].
He lived part-time around Borrego Springs CA in the 1920s and '30s, then moved full-time to Thousand Palms CA around 1940. Here he built Old Fort Oliver and, for decades, sporadically published the DESERT RAT SCRAP BOOK , "The only 5-page newspaper in America, and the only one you can open in the wind."
Harry collected and promulgated some of the best lore and lies ever written about the West. His paper had a small but global following, and was cited in B.A.Botkins' classic TREASURY OF WESTERN FOLKLORE.
As an art director / set designer, Harry strongly influenced the Expressionism of F.W. Murnau [NOSFERATU, SUNRISE, TABU]. Harry's film credits include such classics as SPARROWS, 7th HEAVEN, STREET ANGEL, THE RIVER, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, SCARFACE, VIVA VILLA!, and THE GOOD EARTH. As a designer of commercial symbols [the Van De Camp Bakery windmill and the Willat Studios Witch House], his work is world-famous in Los Angeles.
As a designer of western scenes, [1936 World's Fair - Gold Gulch] and hoaxes [scattering weathered peglegs around the Salton Sea area], he was hilarious. (Note: For more on Gold Gulch, search here.)
As a public figure, he at least has a street named after him, even though Old Fort Oliver was replaced by a [shudder!] mini-mart.
Growing up in the '50s and '60s on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles, some of my favorite times were when I'd visit the "Ghost Towns" at Calico or Knott's Berry Farm [now both thoroughly ruined], delving into the "Print Shops" for funky/historical-looking documents and the latest DRSB. And running around like a wild boy, of course, but that's another story...
I've collected a few issues, including all of those from the first year . It's my intention to scan these, reproduce the text as documents, and place them on this site - and I encourage anyone with other issues to either loan them to me for scanning and OCRing, or email me their scans. Of course, I might be persuaded to buy or trade copies too, eh?
Harry Oliver archives and links
Here are some H.O. resources, slowly being pieced together by the nacent Harry Oliver Fan Club [HOFC] and DRSB discussion forum. Membership is by action - join the forum and send in some images, texts, sounds [yup, Harry made a record], memorabilia, links, etc. Here's what's on hand at the moment:
- Archive of Desert Rat Scrap Books
- Explanation of the construction of DRSBs
- MP3s of Harry's DRSB recording
- The DRSB discussion group
- Mention of Harry in Phil Brigandi's history of Borrego Valley (and with pictures)
and in an article on Anza-Borrego State Park history
- Phil Brigandi's account: HARRY OLIVER in BOREGO
- Greenfield Lawrel's profile: KING of the DESERT RATS
- My essay on HARRY OLIVER and the Wild West Mythos
- At Dick Oakes' PHANTOM RANCH site:
DRSB Bits and DRSB Covers
- Harry originated the PEGLEG SMITH LIARS’ CONTEST
- "Let those who seek Pegleg's gold add ten rocks to this pile"
- "Nobody ever drowned himself in sweat"
- "You been cheating me a long time, eh?"
- Quote from Harry in a list of quotes on war:
" I don't blame our Indians for being discouraged. They are the only ones to be conquered by the United States and not come out ahead. "
- Harry built the Gold Gulch boomtown for the 1935 San Diego World's Fair
and designed the Aladdin Stage at the Quality Inn Indio motel (click on MORE).
- An index from the College of the Desert [CoD] library lists some books re: Harry:F 868 Oliver, Harry B6 O5 Desert Rough Cuts; A Haywire History of the Borego Desert. Pictures by the author, many are woodcuts. Los Angeles: The Ward Ritchie Press [c1938] 64 p.: illus. PN 6161 Oliver, Harry O664 The Old Mirage Salesman; A Whimsical Desert Digest of Refreshing Nonsense Heralding the Life of the Southwest's Foremost Story Telling Desert Rat, Harry Oliver. Palm Springs: Printed by Printery, 1952. 111 p.: illus. PN 6161 Stohler, Betty J O664 Z8 A Kiss for the Desert from Harry Oliver. 1978 Indio, CA: Desert Printing, c1978. 203 p.: illus.
- Covers from A KISS FOR THE DESERT From Harry Oliver,,
an amusing biography by Betty Stohler.
(A few of Ms. Stohler's sketches are reproduced around this site.)
- Other images and goodies by and about Harry Oliver
- Some related (south)Western [but not strictly Oliverish] materials
- Google-search for HARRY OLIVER & DESERT RAT SCRAP BOOKS & images
- Search AbeBooks for HARRY OLIVER DESERT RAT (bookdealer network)
- Search eBay for HARRY OLIVER (online auctions)
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