At the peak of what some have called the “Babitz Renaissance,” Vanity Fair Contributing Editor Lili Anolik has published a 277 page semi-chronological confessional that verges on a love letter about the Los Angeles icon Eve Babitz in “Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A.”
You may have heard of Babitz before, and if you haven’t, you’ve likely seen the wildly famous photo of her completely naked at twenty years old, playing chess in a museum with fully-clothed Marcel Duchamp. Author of Slow Days, Fast Company; Sex and Rage; and Black Swans, Babitz was an artistic icon in ‘60s and ‘70s Hollywood. Her autobiographical novels romanticize L.A. and her life in the depths of the art and entertainment industry.
For the majority of her career, Babitz has been on the cusp of literary stardom. In the ‘70s, her sales were minimal because critics deemed her prose superfluous. Anolik claws back at critics in defense of Babitz, comparing the timeless themes of Babitz’ work to that of F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Their work has aged beautifully. Looks, in fact, better as the years pass, their frivolity, in retrospect, profundity,” Anolik writes.
Anolik’s admiration of Babitz is beyond contagious; you may find yourself as hopelessly enraptured with the subject as the author so obviously is. In the first few pages of the book, Anolik warns that a book itself can in fact be infatuated, such as the case with “Hollywood’s Eve.”
Injection of her personal voice gives Anolik’s narrative an air of intimacy, as if she is offering up pieces from her personal diary. As she phrases it, “Hollywood’s Eve” “is above all else a love story. The lover, me. The love object, Eve Babitz, the louche, hayward, headlong, hidden genius of Los Angeles.” While Anolik shamelessly writes with rose-colored lenses for the Hollywood icon, she maintains honesty and refuses to glorify Babitz’s destructive behavior. The intoxicatingly provocative stories of Babitz’s life will fill you up, making it impossible to think about anyone or anything else, much less drift to sleep.
Through close analysis of Babitz’s writing and years of building relationships with her family members, Anolik mastered the ability to write about Babitz’ plethora of contradictions with refreshing fervor that is just as thrilling as the subject herself. Simultaneously caught in a detached daydream and deeply submerged in her own glamorous and risky reality, Babitz would embrace every impulse that struck her.
“Eve was a sex object who was, too, a sex subject, meaning she exploited herself every bit as ruthlessly as either of the men exploited her,” Anolik writes. “She wasn’t just model and muse, passive and pliable, but artist and instigator, wicked and subversive.”
Anolik repeatedly asserts that Babitz never slept with anyone for prestige; everything she did was purely for fun, whether it led to semi-regular visits to the abortion clinic in Tijuana, or to the misuse of dexamyl, quaaludes, speed, ritalin, opium or an addiction to cocaine that left her bloody and belligerent in the bed of Paul Ruscha (the younger, more sporadic and lively brother of American pop-artist Ed Ruscha).
Anolik decodes the avant-garde author with grace, but her idolization at times becomes exclusive and reductive, as if there was only space for one writing it-girl in 1970s L.A. She bitterly criticizes Joan Didion who brought Babitz into the literary scene in the first place and pits the two authors against each other, all but declaring that Babitz bashed Didion by proxy in her thinly-veiled autobiographical writings. Babitz herself credits Didion for her literary discovery, and, as Anolik speculates, is grateful for Didion’s “Play it As it Lays” as a jumping off point for Babitz’s career as a writer. While most of the time, Anolik’s speculations are insightful, this one was a far leap and without a solid landing.
On thrillingly intimate terms with the subject, Anolik directs her obsession into a seemingly impossible mission of honing Golden Age L.A. into a compelling philosophical investigation. Anolik forefronted the Babitz Renaissance. Babitz spent her entire life living ahead of her time — until now. Anolik has turned the enigmatic octogenarian into an overnight success.