Non­fic­tion

Hollywood’s Eve

  • Review
By – June 17, 2019

Most New York­ers, giv­en the chance to write about a city they love, would choose grand old Gotham. But Lili Ano­lik fell in love with Los Ange­les via Eve Bab­itz, a then-large­ly over­looked writer. Ano­lik writes a cap­ti­vat­ing biog­ra­phy of a louche it” girl from the six­ties and sev­en­ties and the soci­ety that cre­at­ed her. While Bab­itz cap­tured Anolik’s heart, Hollywood’s Eve” is like­ly to cap­ture yours.

As far as biogra­phies go, it is utter­ly uncon­ven­tion­al, much like its hero­ine. Ano­lik tells us in the intro­duc­tion that the book is a case his­to­ry as well as a cul­tur­al; a crit­i­cal appre­ci­a­tion; a soci­o­log­i­cal study; a psy­cho­log­i­cal com­men­tary; a noir-style mys­tery.” Though warned, we are ambushed by the non-tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tive as the sto­ry unfolds.

Bab­itz is the daugh­ter of two Bohemi­an par­ents, a Jew­ish vio­lin­ist and a Catholic pen-and-ink artist. Born in 1943 and raised in Hol­ly­wood in a home filled with rad­i­cal ideas and star-stud­ded celebri­ties, she was per­fect­ly poised to devel­op her larg­er-than-life per­son­al­i­ty to become the embod­i­ment of the sex­u­al rev­o­lu­tion that flour­ished in Cal­i­for­nia in her time. Bab­itz not only got to know all the Old Hol­ly­wood stars and jazz musi­cians, but also learned how to charm them and delve into their secrets, most often in the bed­room. Beyond pro­vid­ing us with a raw por­trait of Bab­itz her­self, the book also offers an insight­ful depic­tion of West Coast hip­pie cul­ture, when Los Ange­les was indis­putably the pop cul­ture cap­i­tal of the world.

The sto­ry is told chrono­log­i­cal­ly, so we hear about Babitz’s hey­day right at the begin­ning. We read about how she intro­duced Frank Zap­pa to Sal­vador Dali, and con­vinced Steve Mar­tin to wear white suits. As we rise with her myr­i­ad of lovers and fall with her dis­cov­ery of alco­hol and drugs, we begin to under­stand why Ano­lik refers to her as a lewd angel.”

Many read­ers will be seduced by the writ­ing in this book — it is loose, breezy, glitzy, juicy, col­or­ful, man­ic, rich, com­pelling – much like Bab­itz her­self. The anec­dotes of her antic love affairs and her belief in both per­son­al free­dom and sub­stance-fueled hedo­nism eas­i­ly pull you into their mag­net­ic orbit. The tone is relaxed and con­ver­sa­tion­al, and the sen­si­bil­i­ty is utter­ly idiosyncratic.

Ano­lik turned her 2014 arti­cle for Van­i­ty Fair into a full-length paean to Bab­itz, who became an icon of art and sex. Now Babitz’s sev­en nov­els and sto­ry col­lec­tions, which were large­ly ignored when they were first pub­lished, are being reis­sued, and she has become a fem­i­nist icon. Mil­len­ni­als Insta­gram her book cov­ers and choose her works for their book groups. A mini-Bab­itz revival is tak­ing place, includ­ing even a Hulu series on her life. The source of her appeal? Per­haps that she lived life on her own terms, Ano­lik posits.

This is a book that cel­e­brates the things that made Bab­itz suc­cess­ful. So if Ano­lik seems utter­ly non-objec­tive about her sub­ject, she reminds us of what she wrote ear­ly on — her book is a love sto­ry: The lover, me. The love object, Babitz.”

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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