Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A.
Until recently, more people had seen Eve Babitz naked than read her, said Lidija Haas in Harper’s. An iconic 1963 photograph showing the 20-year-old sitting nude across a chess table from Marcel Duchamp epitomized her disdain for boundaries. But Lili Anolik’s 2014 Vanity Fair profile offered a better reason to admire Babitz: her autobiographical books, each written in a “languorous, inviting tone” that drops the reader into a Los Angeles sizzling with hedonism. Anolik’s new biography adopts a helter-skelter approach to portraying Babitz, but “the breeziness is a feint: Anolik spent years on research, meticulously filling in the blanks where Babitz or her compadres had been too drunk to remember.” Those efforts have yielded a “perky but wistful” tribute to a unique talent.
Anolik’s chatty style can be a huge distraction, said Dwight Garner in The New York Times. But “what Hollywood’s Eve has going for it on every page is its subject’s utter refusal to be dull.” The daughter of a top Hollywood studio violinist, Babitz knew Igor Stravinsky as her godfather and Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin as family houseguests. In the 1960s and ’70s, she became a friend, lover, and muse to Jim Morrison, Steve Martin, and Annie Leibovitz. When she began writing at about 28, she turned to Joan Didion for help with selling an essay to Rolling Stone. But in books such as 1974’s Eve’s Hollywood and 1977’s Slow Days, Fast Company, Babitz established herself, in Anolik’s view, as the anti-Didion: not a detached observer of her hometown but an enthusiastic participant in its excesses.
Anolik’s “swooning, sometimes madcap” account won’t answer all your questions about Babitz, said Elizabeth Hand in The Washington Post. The book details the disfiguring freak accident in 1997 that turned her into a recluse, but it “skims over Babitz’s post-9/11 turn to conservatism.” Even her rape at age 18 gets only a fleeting mention. Still, Anolik deserves credit for igniting a Babitz revival. “Ultimately, the only writer who could do justice to this brilliant, unruly life story is Babitz herself.”