When Joan Didion’s iconic novel Play It as It Lays came out in 1970, it was widely hailed as the ultimate Los Angeles story. But Didion’s friend Eve Babitz didn’t see it that way: Didion was from Sacramento via New York; Babitz was the real LA woman. So she wrote her own book.
Her book of lightly fictionalized autobiographical sketches published in 1974, Eve’s Hollywood, didn’t get the notice that Didion’s work did, but it was fresh, witty and buzzy. More books followed—some great, some not. But then Babitz became a drug addict. And after she got clean, she suffered a life-changing accident. The books stopped coming.
Babitz is still very much alive at 75 and is enjoying being rediscovered, thanks largely to Lili Anolik’s 2014 Vanity Fair article about her. Anolik has now written a smart, fast-paced meditation on Babitz in Hollywood’s Eve. Unsurprisingly, Babitz remains a complicated subject. Here’s a fractional list of Babitz’s lovers, back in the day: Jim Morrison, Steve Martin, Jackson Browne, Ahmet Ertegun, Annie Leibovitz, Warren Zevon—and so on. She appears nude in a photo with Duchamp, playing chess. Igor Stravinsky was her godfather. For a while, her best friend was the guy who inspired BZ in Play It as It Lays.
But Anolik argues that Babitz’s va-va-voom looks and sexual adventurism belied brains and talent. All those men weren’t exploiting her; she was exploiting them for writing fodder, like Proust and his duchesses.
Anolik’s own writing is jazzy and insightful, and her quest to find Babitz—both physically and psychologically—is an integral part of the book. Anolik notes that many of Babitz’s contemporaries misread her as a 1960s Carrie Bradshaw, yet Anolik sees her as ruthless, unencumbered, unapologetic. In other words, an artist.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.