By Eve Babitz
[New York Review Books]
“I wouldn’t raise my kid in Hollywood.” – Eve Babitz
Eve Babitz is a 20th century fox, a ’60s “it girl,” the West Coast yang to Edie Sedgwick’s East Coast yin. Yes, both of these ladies dallied with scads of famous men, took a lot of drugs and were, well, fabulous. Hey, it was the ’60 fer chrissakes.
Eve and Edie both more or less personified their respective cities, New York and Los Angeles: Edie was the stick-thin waif, the progenitor of heroin chic, a New York ice queen who cavorted with the Velvets/Warhol crowd, whereas Eve was the creamy skinned California Girl who radiated health and confidence while romping with the cadre of musicians (Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons et al) at the nucleus of the then-burgeoning, Topanga Canyon country/rock thing.
Oh yeah, Eve had giant, gravity-defying boobs that she was proud to show. Her first brush with fame came from a photo where she posed nude, playing a game of chess with uber Dadaist Marcel Duchamp at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963. Go ahead: Google the photo and you’ll see what I mean. Or just look at the cover of the newly re-released Eve’s Hollywood. Wowsers.
Originally published in 1974, Eve’s Hollywood is a for-decades-forgotten-or-overlooked (but now revived), picaresque classic of LA bohemia. Babitz grew up in a milieu of fame and sophistication. Her father was a musician for 20th Century Fox (the movie studio) who hung out with movie stars, beatniks and world-renowned classical musicians. (Eve’s godfather, incidentally, was none other than Stravinsky himself.) But Eve‘s inclinations were only a little bit classical and a whole lot rock ’n’ roll, In her teens, Babitz was “so Hollywooded up that I aspired to be a kind of Scheherazade/Sheena combination with Mme. Recarmier and Elizabeth Taylor thrown in.”
Eve’s Hollywood is a collection of vignettes tracing Babitz’s life from childhood through the early ’70s. Babitz may have been something of a groupie, but she was no Pamela Des Barres. She didn’t compete with other chicks for the attentions of famous men. Instead, famous men competed among themselves for her attention. “I felt free to indulge myself in the huge, new, unbelievably diverse world of men who wanted to sleep with me,” she writes. And indulge she did. Jim Morrison, Steve Martin, Harrison Ford and artist Ed Ruscha (who photographed Babitz for his Five 1965 Girlfriends project) are among the many notches on Babitz’s bedpost.
Most interesting among the pulsing plethora of pithy prose of Eve’s Hollywood is “Rosewood Casket,” an entry that not-so-euphemistically chronicles a coke-fueled night with Gram Parsons at the fabled Chateau Marmont. In this chapter, Parsons is (barely) shrouded by the pseudonym of “James Byrns.” So yeah, names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. Still, the chapter is obviously about Parsons, who Babitz, like a female, ’60s vintage Mickey Spillane, describes (as “James,” that is) as “salty and famished-looking from the summer, standing like a raped angel with these dark blue eyes throwing southern aristocratic landscapes all across dark smelly nightclubs where we sat in front of the impossible.”
Curiously, although Babitz and “James” spent hours alone together in a hotel room, snorting a gargantuan pyramid of pharmaceutical cocaine, smoking hash and drinking bourbon, she claims they never fucked. “Had it been anyone else, I would have assumed we would have wound up in bed,” Babitz writes. “With him, I knew it was an impossibility even before his girl friend (sic) came home from being a starlet in a new movie.” Go figure.
Eve’s Hollywood is a well-written, artfully wrought time capsule that captures the smoky, surly LA nights as ’60s idealism gave way to ’70s excess. Sure, it’s a wee bit overblown and melodramatic in certain passages. But how the hell could anyone write about a period of such bacchanalian overindulgence without being a wee bit overblown and melodramatic?
Like an epic poem, Eve’s Hollywood draws the reader into a lilting, hypnotic cadence. Yes, Babitz meanders through the alleyways of consciousness at times. But there’s something beautiful, sad and maybe even a little bit scary in each of these alleys. Babitz is our tour guide on a glamorous, decadent path through an era of Hollywood that may or may not have really existed as it is told – but who cares?
“Hollywood doesn’t exist,” writes Babitz. “I firmly believe, however, that it did exist. And like Rome, we are living amidst the fallen columns and clothes-lined courtyards, in the ruins of the self-enchanted which were once, briefly, more devastating than Caesar’s and still bring respectable families to a hot, windy intersection in August to sigh with unnoticed despondence, ‘…Well …here we are …Hollywood and Vine.’”