All About Eve—and Then Some

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Eve Babitz

All About Eve—and Then Some

An irresistible hybrid of boho intellectual and L.A. party girl, Eve Babitz bowled over every man she met in the 60s, from Jim Morrison to Ed Ruscha. Literary stardom followed and then . . . Seventeen years after the freak accident that shut her down, Babitz remembers it all.

Lili Anolik
BY FEBRUARY 14, 2014

Imagine, for a second, this:

It’s 1959. You’re a girl, 15 years old. Your parents are bohemians before the category becomes a fashionable one. Your dad, Sol, born in Brooklyn, is first violinist for the Twentieth Century Fox Orchestra. First violinist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic too, and a Fulbright scholar. He once got into a fistfight over the proper way to play the dotted notes in Bach. Your mom, Mae, is an artist. A work of art, as well, so beautiful is she, and charming. Your godfather is Igor Stravinsky. He’s been slipping you glasses of scotch under the table since you turned 13, and his wife, the peerlessly elegant Vera, taught you how to eat caviar. Your house, on the corner of Cheremoya and Chula Vista at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, is always full-to-bursting with your dad’s hip musician friends: Jelly Roll Morton and Stuff Smith, Joseph Szigeti and Marilyn Horne. There are tales of earlier picnics along the L.A. River with Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, Greta Garbo, Bertrand Russell, and the Huxleys. The two Kenneths, Rexroth and Patchen, perform readings in your living room regularly. But poetry bores you blind, so you talk Lucy Herrmann, wife of movie composer Bernard—Bennie to you—into telling you stories upstairs. Arnold Schoenberg just laughs when you and your sister, Mirandi, get stuck together with bubble gum in the middle of the premiere of his latest piece at the Ojai Music Festival.

Now imagine this:

You’re a sophomore at Hollywood High. It’s that dead time between classes and you’re in the girls’ room, smoking one of the 87 cigarettes you share daily with Sally. Sally, who before she even transferred to Hollywood High had been through the wringer at Twentieth Century Fox, signed to a contract and then summarily dropped because she’d bleached her hair an eyeball-scorching shade of platinum the night before she was supposed to report for her first day of work, rendering herself superfluous because, unbeknownst to her, the studio had been planning to make her the next natural-type beauty in the Jean Seberg mold. Sally, who finds mornings so onerous she has to chase 15 milligrams of Dexamyl with four cups of thin coffee just to drag herself to first period. Sally, who is rich and surly and sex-savvy and has recently been taken up by a group of twenty-somethings from her acting class, the Thunderbird Girls you call them, if only in your head, knockouts all, cruising around town in—what else?—Thunderbird convertibles, spending their nights on the Sunset Strip, their weekends in Palm Springs with the ring-a-ding likes of Frank Sinatra. Sally, who is your best friend.

The company you keep is fast, which is O.K. by you since fast, as it so happens, is just your speed. No woof-woof among sex kittens you. Not with your perfect skin and teeth, hair the color of vanilla ice cream, secondary sexual characteristics that are second to none. The year before, when you were 14, you went to a party you weren’t supposed to go to. A right kind of wrong guy—an Adult Male, a big beef dreamboat galoot, just what you’d had in mind when you sneaked out of the house—told you he’d give you a ride home. You jumped at the offer. But when you lost your nerve, confessed your age, he pulled the car over to the side of the road. “Don’t let guys pick you up like this, kid—you might get hurt,” he said, undercutting this gruff bit of fatherly advice by laying a five-alarm kiss on you. He drove off without telling you his name. A few months passed and there was your white knight in black-and-white, on the front page of every paper in town. He’d had a run-in with another under-age girl, only this encounter had ended in penetration: her knife in his gut. Johnny Stompanato, henchman of Mob boss Mickey Cohen, dead at the hands of the 14-year-old daughter of his squeeze, Lana Turner. Tough luck for Johnny, but a good sign for you: you caught the eye of the guy who took off the Sweater Girl’s sweater nightly. If that doesn’t make you a movie star yourself it puts you in the same firmament as one, doesn’t it? At the very least it makes you seriously hot stuff.

And you’ve got more than looks going for you. You’ve got brains too. You read all the time—Proust, Woolf, Colette, Anthony Powell. And you’re good at school, even if you spend most of your class time doodling Frederick’s of Hollywood models on the back of your notebook. You certainly have no intention of making a right turn on Sunset after graduation, moving up the road to U.C.L.A., in squarer-than-square Westwood.


Eve Babitz

The bell tolls and you and Sally take final drags on your cigarettes. As you turn to flick the butt out the window, you’re confronted by the same sight you’re confronted by every day except weekends and vacations: the 50-foot-tall mural of Rudolph Valentino, the exquisite Latin androgyne with the almond-shaped eyes and sulky mouth in the role that drove the viewing public into a state of rapture, of frenzy, of insanity—the Sheik, Hollywood High’s mascot. The giant close-up, painted on the west-facing side of the school’s main building, depicts him in windblown headdress and romantic profile, gazing moodily past the football field, out into the distance. Perhaps at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a block away on Hollywood Boulevard. Perhaps at Persia’s desert splendor, oceans away on the other side of the world.

This reproduction of the silent-screen icon, crude as it is, corny as it is, transfixes you. You can’t take your eyes away. Now don’t forget. You’ve got that schizophrenic background. On the one hand, you have your family, representing the East Coast, Europe, High Culture. On the other hand, you have your own immediate context, Hollywood, California: Roadside Beach and pineapple snow cones; the Luau in Beverly Hills where you and Sally buy rum drinks with gardenias floating in them with your fake IDs, bat your lashes, also fake, at men twice your age; Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in matching polka dots and cleavages pressing their palms into the wet cement in front of Grauman’s as you stand in the crowd and look on. And if that weren’t enough, you’re possessed of a naturally romantic disposition. Consequently, the melodrama of the image before you, larger than life, large, in fact, as the movies, grips and beguiles you. The longer you stare, the more susceptible you become to its dark fascination, its trashy-profound glamour.

And then—just like that—your imagination is captured, your sensibility formed. Even if you don’t think much of the movies or the people who make them, your viewpoint from this moment on will be, in essence, cinematic. Hollywood, with its appeal to the irrational and the unreal, its provocation of desire and volatility, its worship of sex and power and spectacle, will forevermore be your touchstone and guiding light. For better or worse, its ethos is your ethos, its values your values. Henceforth, when you look at Sally you won’t see a fun but troubled classmate. You’ll see an ingénue, the kind of girl who turns everyone, you included, into a bystander, a spectator, a fan. To you, high school is the set of a movie, a starry one with a sky’s-the-limit budget, a flashy locale, and legions of luscious extras. But then, to you, what isn’t the set of a movie?

You’re Eve Babitz, future artist and muse, observer and observed, chronicler of scenes, stealer of them, too; and you’re poised to enter a new decade.


Eve Babitz’s claims to fame rest, in large measure, on her claims on the famous. She’s the goddaughter, of course, of one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. Then there’s that photograph of the chess match with Marcel Duchamp, Eve contemplating her next move without so much as a fig leaf for cover. And what about the series of Adams, better known than the original, some of them, to whom she offered her forbidden fruit? Jim Morrison, Steve Martin, Ed Ruscha, J. D. Souther, Stephen Stills, Glenn Frey, Harrison Ford, Warren Zevon, Ahmet Ertegun all took a bite at one time or another.

If that were her whole story, however, Eve wouldn’t be a whole story. She’d be a footnote. A minor figure of glamour in America’s cultural history. A groupie with a provocative pedigree. She’d be Edie Sedgwick, basically: so relentless a companion to celebrity that she became a bit of one herself, the spotlight just naturally spilling over onto her, making her luminous, too. But she’s not. Eve is Edie cut with Gertrude Stein and a little Louise Brooks thrown in.


For one thing, Eve had what artist Chris Blum dubbed “major radar,” a sort of next-order intuition that allowed her to see connections and affinities between people and things that others couldn’t, not until she brought them together. She arranged for an encounter between Frank Zappa and Salvador Dalí. (“One of my favorite things I ever did.”) She put Steve Martin in his first white suit. (“There was this great French photographer, Henri Lartigue. He took pictures of Paris in the 20s. All his people wore white. I showed his photographs to Steve. ‘You’ve got to look like this,’ I said.”) She gave singer-songwriter Michael Franks the title to one of his best-known tunes, “Popsicle Toes,” a phrase she tossed off when they were in bed together and her tootsies got cold. (“Everybody steals my lines.”) And she was the first to pick up on the fact that a Bennington College junior in need of a blurb was a rock ’n’ roll star in disguise. (“[Less than Zero] is the novel your mother warned you about. Jim Morrison would be proud.”) And speaking of her old flame Jim, she very nearly talked him out of naming his band after some goofy Aldous Huxley book. (“I mean, The Doors of Perception. What an Ojai-geeky-too-L.A.-pottery-glazer kind of uncool idea.”) Well, you can’t win them all.

For another thing, Eve could write.


It’s generally reckoned that the 50s weren’t truly over until J.F.K. got shot in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. But, for Eve, it was the end of an era when she saw the words MARILYN EST MORTE!, replete with lurid exclamation mark, headlining the newspapers in Nîmes, France, on August 6, 1962. Eve, still in her teens though not for much longer, was living with her family in Europe, as Sol completed his research on the finer points of Baroque musicology. Her favorite movie star, the one with whom she most passionately identified, had made the permanent, and likely voluntary, fade to black, while she was instead hanging around La Coupole, making voulez-vous coucher eyes. She was angry with herself for not being there. She felt she could have saved Marilyn. Years later she would write, “Marilyn kept putting herself in other people’s hands, believed them. They let her think that she was just a shitty Hollywood actress and Arthur Miller was a brilliant genius.” Eve, though, knew the truth, that really Marilyn was an artist in disguise, the cheesecake stuff just a front, a way of hiding in plain sight.

Taking the death as a sign that it was time to go home, Eve placed a call to her then boyfriend, a married director in his late 20s and so sexy, Eve said, that when he walked into a room full of women “it was like Santa Claus in an orphanage.” He arranged for a flight back to L.A.

While in Europe, Eve had devoted most of her energies to matters amatory. Not all, though. In between pickups she’d written a novel called Travel Broadens, which she likened to Daisy Miller, only her Daisy was from Hollywood, naturally. What’s more, Eve had very nearly gotten the book published after she sent one humdinger of a fan letter to Joseph Heller.

The letter in its breathtaking entirety:

Dear Joseph Heller,

I am a stacked eighteen-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer.

Eve Babitz

Heller, charmed, wrote her back, asking to see her work. She sent him the manuscript. Hoping to make her the next Françoise Sagan, he introduced her to the young editor who’d discovered Catch-22, Robert Gottlieb. The project wound up languishing. Eve was disappointed, of course, but not too deeply. She’d managed to pique the interest of a Major Artist. No mean feat. Even better, she’d done it not by denying her sexpot voluptuousness but by reveling in it. It was the first time.

It wouldn’t be the last.


It was the fall of 1963 now. More than a year had passed since Eve’s adventures abroad. She had a new boyfriend, Walter Hopps, but the same problem: he was married. Hopps, 31, then curator of the Marcel Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum, had neglected to invite her to the private party for the show’s October 7 opening because his wife had unexpectedly returned to town. (Too bad. It was some party, Andy Warhol, Dennis Hopper, and Beatrice Wood, the inspiration for Catherine in Truffaut’s Jules and Jim, all dressed to the nines and sipping pink champagne at the ultra-swellegant Hotel Green.) Said Eve, “I decided that if I could ever wreak any havoc in [Walter’s] life I would.”

She proved as good as her word. Julian Wasser, then taking pictures for Time, approached her at the opening, the public opening, which she’d attended, humiliatingly enough, with her parents. Wasser told her he was looking for a girl willing to be photographed playing chess with Duchamp, who in the 20s had all but forsaken his career as an artist to devote himself exclusively to the game. The only catch: the girl would have to strike a pose toute nue, since the Frenchman’s most famous work was titled Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). In a move so Hollywood it was practically a rite of passage, Eve agreed to bare all for the camera. Only she wouldn’t be doing it for rent money like some down-on-her-luck starlet. She’d be doing it for revenge.

And art.

Wasser had a reputation as one of the most exciting young photographers on the scene. When asked why he chose Eve, he said, “I knew she’d blow Duchamp’s mind. She had a very classic female body.” The artist Larry Bell was even more direct on Eve’s appeal: “She had the biggest tits in Hollywood!”

At eight the following morning, a nervous Eve entered the museum. She hung around while Wasser set up, her mother’s advice ringing in her ears, Never put anything in writing or a photo, along with her father’s, Take his queen. At last, Duchamp arrived. Wasser gave her the signal. Eve took a deep breath and dropped her smock.

The resulting photograph achieved its intended effect: it got Hopps to return Eve’s calls. It achieved an unintended effect, too, becoming one of the most enduring images of postmodernism, showing up years later on posters for the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and used in promotional catalogues and advertisements for Pacific Standard Time, the sprawling, grand-scale series of exhibitions in 2011–12 that commemorated the birth of the L.A. art scene. In the photo, Eve sits at a table. Appearances might have been deceiving. She might have had something on—the radio, for example, or Chanel No. 5—but you sure can’t tell from looking at her. Opposite her is the dada of Dadaism more formally attired in a black suit and heavy-rimmed spectacles. Both figures are intent on the chessboard between them. Legs crossed at the ankles, chin propped on her elbow, hair forming a curtain, blocking her face, Eve is a vision of innocence and carnality, the American dream made sun-kissed nubile flesh, as if sprung from the imagination of the European aesthete-satyr sitting across from her.


Eve had certainly progressed since her Hollywood High days. No longer content to be a mere looker-on, part of the audience, she was a player now. She wanted all eyes on her and she got them. Posing for this photo constituted an intensely exhibitionistic act, no doubt about it. Yet it was a private one as well, since she was exhibiting herself to the world so a single person would see. Nor did she take credit for her coup. By printing a shot that concealed her face when most of them didn’t—Wasser allowed her final say—she was opting to be The Girl, just as with Heller she was opting to be The Stacked Eighteen-Year-Old Blonde, a symbol rather than an individual, an exploitable sex object, only one that she exploited every bit as ruthlessly as any of the men did. Said Eve, “[Walter] thought he was running everything and I finally got to run something.”

Eve was learning how to be a pinup on the surface, an artist underneath. Just like her idol, Marilyn.

And now for what Eve would call her “groupie-adventuress” phase. It could be argued that, by the time of the photograph with Duchamp, she was well into it. After all, she’d already cut quite a swath through the cute young hunk L.A. artists: Kenny Price, Ed Ruscha, Ron Cooper. But post-photograph, she went on a tear that lasted nearly half a decade. Said Earl McGrath, former president of Rolling Stones Records, “In every young man’s life there is an Eve Babitz. It’s usually Eve Babitz.”

Rock ’n’ roll had been around awhile when a 24-year-old Eve walked through the doors of the Troubadour, a club in West Hollywood about to become the club, in 1968. She’d never paid much attention to the music, though, apart from the Beatles, and the Beatles were really her sister’s thing. (Ringo was a notch on Mirandi’s lipstick case. She’d seduced him at a party in Bel Air when the band was in town to play the Hollywood Bowl during their first U.S. tour. No slouches, these Babitz girls.) Well, the music had her attention now, every bit of it. This was a whole new scene and she needed to figure out a way to get herself on it. She’d write in Rolling Stone, “I posed as an album-cover designer and photographer. . . . That I today have some album covers and photographs to show for myself is a monument to the attention-to-detail of my disguise.” Eve here is being typically understated about her achievements. She created now iconic covers for Buffalo Springfield (Buffalo Springfield Again), the Byrds (Untitled), and Linda Ronstadt (Heart Like a Wheel).

But her point is taken. The art of seduction seemed to be the art she was most interested in practicing, singer-songwriters her particular weakness. Not that she was categorically opposed to giving non-musicians a tumble. In spite of her prejudice against actors—“They’re so horrible. If they aren’t talking about why they aren’t stars, they’re talking about security”—she had a brief romance with Harrison Ford. Maybe because he was making a living as a carpenter at the time. And maybe because, like the old joke goes, carpenters know how to nail it. Said Eve, “The thing about Harrison was Harrison could fuck. Nine people a day. It’s a talent, loving nine different people in one day. Warren [Beatty] could only do six.”

It’s at this point in her story that the comparisons to Edie Sedgwick start to become inevitable, Eve seeming to offer herself as an alternative version of Edie: L.A. to Edie’s New York; Chateau Marmont to Edie’s Chelsea Hotel; Ruscha, Hopps, and Morrison to Edie’s Warhol, Morrissey, and Dylan; Jewish Princess to Edie’s Wasp debutante. But a crucial difference—one of many—between Eve and Edie is that Eve was bedding these guys before they’d made it. And it’s not star fucking if they aren’t stars yet, is it?

As Steve Martin, then a young banjo-playing comic and Troubadour regular, explained, “Nobody was famous yet. Eve knew who the talented ones were.” Eve was assured in her taste, no question. She knew what she liked and why. Her account of her affair with Jim Morrison is simultaneously gaga and coolheaded. She would write, “Being in bed with Jim was like being in bed with Michelangelo’s David, only with blue eyes.” If she venerated him as a love object, though, she rejected him as an artist: “[Jim’s] voice was embarrassing, sounding so sudden and personal and uttering such hogwash.” Eve might have been a hopeless romantic but she was also nobody’s fool.


By the end of the decade, Eve knew everyone. She was at every party, every event. “Life was one long rock ’n’ roll,” she’d say of those days. Even fun, though, can get to be a drag if you have too much of it. Writer Dan Wakefield, Eve’s big romance during this period, said, “Our year together was one of my favorite years, but I couldn’t have lived through two of them. My God, the decadence!” By 1971, Eve was suffering from a condition she termed “squalid overboogie.” It was time for a change.

Shifting her attention from photography back to prose, she began writing a piece about her alma mater titled “The Sheik.” When she was finished, she showed it to Joan Didion, whom she knew through Wakefield. Said Eve, “Joan and I connected. The drugs she was on, I was on. She looks like she’d take downers, but really she’s a Hell’s Angel girl, white trash. . . . [Joan] was all the rage then. Grover [Lewis, an editor at Rolling Stone] asked her to write for him. She couldn’t, because of her contract with Life. She recommended me.” Eve sent the piece to Lewis. Lewis sent Eve a check. She could scarcely believe it. Rolling Stone was, at the time, the hottest thing going, “just too fabulous and hip for words.” Best of all, it was publishing her work.

At the tail end of her ingénue days, 28, the age at which Edie’d OD’d, Eve had been discovered. No more cameos, wowie but uncredited. No more second-banana supporting roles. (Why should she spend her time and talent making a bunch of rock ’n’ rollers look good?) From here on out, it would be star turns and nothing but.


Eve’s right in the phonebook, yet I found it near impossible to reach her. I sent her several fan letters on postcards featuring movie stars for whom I knew she had a particular regard: Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando. Nothing. Not a peep. So I gathered together my nerve and picked up the phone. No answer, ever.

And it wasn’t just me who couldn’t get anywhere with her. Art critic Dave Hickey attempted to mount an Eve Babitz revival a few years ago. Then a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Hickey had assigned his students several of her pieces, and they’d flipped. He got in touch to see if she’d come speak to the class. The request didn’t go over so hot. “She told me to fuck myself,” he informed me cheerfully. “That’s O.K. She blows everybody off these days.”

She did? Why? What had happened? What had caused this most profoundly and abidingly social of creatures to go J. D. Salinger? Howard Hughes? Norma Desmond? An accident, as freakish as it was horrific.

Driving home from a party in 1997, Eve had dropped a bit of ash from the cigar she was smoking onto her skirt. Seconds later, she was up in flames. Her face was spared, but she suffered third-degree burns over half her body. The doctors gave her a 50–50 chance of survival. The odds wound up breaking in her favor, and she pulled through. Her life, though, was forever altered. Whether from discomfort or lack of interest, she stopped going out, turned increasingly inward, increasingly reclusive.

Lacking Hickey’s grace, I refused to take a hint and persisted in my quest. At long last, I managed to establish contact. Or, rather, I managed to establish contact with those with whom Eve was still in contact: sister Mirandi; Paul Ruscha, younger brother of Ed, her on-again, off-again one and (semi) only from the early 70s to the mid-90s; cousin Laurie. Either Eve got curious or she decided it would be faster to get rid of me if she just did what I wanted, because she sent out word that she was willing to meet. I booked my ticket to L.A.

She suggested lunch at a restaurant in her neighborhood—a burger joint, only fancy. I arrived early, waited nervously for the woman who once said she believed “that anyone who lived past thirty just wasn’t trying hard enough to have fun,” now 70. Suddenly, there she was. She was no longer glamorous-looking, her hair frankly and unapologetically gray, the cut short and blunt; her clothes a way of being not naked and nothing more. She told me she was starving.

No exaggeration, as it turned out. Our grass-fed burgers and russet potatoes fried in truffle oil arrived and she barely came up for air. I remembered Paul Ruscha’s description of her M.O. at fêtes during her party-girl heyday: “She’d bypass the host or hostess and first head to the buffet table and dive into it like Esther Williams on Dexamyl. She’d bolt if something made her uneasy, then barge back in and demand that I take her home. I’d ask her why. After all, we’d just gotten there, and she’d say, ‘So we can fuck!’ ”

Once she’d cleaned her plate at lunch, Eve was similarly hot to trot. We talked a bit on the way to the car and in it. The conversation, though, never really got off the ground. We couldn’t get any rhythm going, any flow. I was uptight and over-eager. And she seemed not quite all there, her few remarks directed to an invisible point above my head or to herself. I turned onto her street and she was out the door in a flash, practically before I’d braked, disappearing into her building without so much as a wave.

We had better luck when I was back in New York and called her on the phone, which she was now, thankfully, answering. Eve has a great voice, girlish and lilting, and is an easy laugher. And small wonder if she prefers her communication to be disembodied these days. Talking about the past, her stories are sharp and funny, her recall excellent. (On meeting Andy Warhol: “There was a party of some kind, a benefit, if you can believe it. Yoko Ono was there. Her job was to make crêpe paper curl and then throw it all around so it was like prom in a high-school gym. It was so goddamned packed I couldn’t move. I was on LSD.” On seeing Joseph Cornell’s work for the first time: “I went to one of his shows. It was great. I was on LSD.” On her cocaine addiction: “I got really thin. I was a size seven and these extremely weird people were attracted to me and I thought they were just sick.”) And once you push past the political stuff—her views have taken a sharp right turn in the last decade, which is her own bee’s wax and her prerogative, only it’s hard getting her to give the subject a rest—she’s terrific on the present too. She tells me about the book she’s reading, Life, Keith Richards’s autobiography (“The reason Keith doesn’t die is because he doesn’t mix his drugs”), why she isn’t writing (“I’d rather do nothing for as long as I can stand it”), what her skin looks like (“I’m a mermaid now, half my body”).

This last remark is the one that knocks me out the most. I love it not simply because it shows how tough she is, how un-whiny, but because of its sneaky eroticism. She’s comparing her burned epidermis—a painful and grisly condition, a disfigurement—to the scales on the tail of a mermaid, the femme fatale of the sea. As an image, it’s grotesque and romantic at once. Not just sexy, perversely sexy. Not just perversely sexy, triumphantly perversely sexy.

On the phone, she talks like she writes.


Eve’s piece on Hollywood High was featured in the October 2, 1972, issue of Rolling Stone. A book deal soon followed. Seymour Lawrence, responsible for publishing such luminaries as Katherine Anne Porter and Kurt Vonnegut, would be her editor. Friend Annie Leibovitz would shoot the cover: Eve, in nothing but a black bra and a white feather boa, ready, as ever, for her close-up.

So what’s her writing like? Eve is to prose what Chet Baker, with his light, airy style, lyrical but also rhythmic, detached but also sensuous, is to jazz, or what Larry Bell, with his glass confections, the lines so clean and fresh and buoyant, is to sculpture. She’s a natural. Or gives every appearance of being one, her writing elevated yet slangy, bright, bouncy, cheerfully hedonistic—L.A. in its purest, most idealized form.

L.A. is, in fact, her favorite subject matter. It’s the height of irony that Joan Didion should have been the one to give her a shot at the big time. Their views on the city couldn’t be more antithetical. Didion—small, unsmiling, fragile, a lifelong sufferer of migraines—sees it as a spiritual and intellectual wasteland, a place where “a belief in the literal interpretation of Genesis has slipped imperceptibly into a belief in the literal interpretation of Double Indemnity,” where the Golden Dream turns into God’s Worst Nightmare as quickly as the Santa Anas whip down the San Gorgonio Pass. Her sensibility is doom and gloom with the style to match: dry, measured, spare, with a tight-lipped control of emotion, lots of white on the page.

Eve, on the other hand—curvy, sunny, resilient to the point of indestructibility, only gets headaches when she gets hangovers—sees the city as “a gigantic, sprawling, ongoing studio,” loving it for its “spaces between the words, [its] blandness and the complete absence of push.” Eve is the true spirit of L.A., the pleasure principle incarnate. And, as with Didion, her style is reflective of her sensibility: giddy, gushing, conversational, infused with a kind of hip, happy innocence, sentences that run on and on and on, unable to catch their breath.

Eve is easy to dismiss because she doesn’t wear her seriousness on her sleeve. Her concerns are the seating arrangements at dinner parties, love affairs on the skids. She offers up information commonly known as gossip. Girl stuff, basically. (By that standard, of course, Proust was writing girl stuff, too.) But her casualness has depth, an aesthetic resonance. She achieved that American ideal: art that stays loose, maintains its cool, is purely enjoyable enough to be mistaken for simple entertainment. It’s a tradition that includes Duke Ellington, Fred Astaire, Preston Sturges, Ed Ruscha, and, it goes without saying, Marilyn Monroe.


Eve went on to write seven books, a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, though the fiction is really nonfiction tricked out in dark glasses and a glued-on mustache. And while she never managed to acquire a husband—no Arthur Millers cramping her style—she did manage to acquire several high-pedigree fans in addition to Heller and Didion. Dave Hickey, of course. Vanity Fair columnist and culture critic James Wolcott too: “Eve remains a one-of-a-kind writer. . . . [Her] out-of-print titles still beckon and glimmer with humor and seduction.” Yet she never quite broke through, never became a genuine star. She stayed a B-movie vamp. A Dorothy Malone rather than a Marilyn Monroe.

How come? Why is Eve a cult, not a phenomenon, her work under-discovered and under-read? Hickey offered the following explanation: “Maybe she’s overlooked because her style is so serene. You never feel a hesitation.” In other words, Eve makes it look too easy. What’s more, she seems to encourage the idea that writing for her is a form of slumming: “When men I had once thought of as wise daddies asked me ‘How do you write?’ . . . I would just smile and say, ‘On a typewriter in the mornings when there’s nothing else to do.’ ” It’s an obviously coy response, not meant to be taken seriously, though some people would, and it’s pure Eve. Admitting to toil isn’t just against her scruples, it’s against her style.

Her agent, Erica Spellman-Silverman, takes a different view: “I called her F. Scott FitzBabitz. She really got the time—L.A. in the 70s. Captured it perfectly. In the 80s, though, things started to change.” And not for the better. Not for Eve. The advent of cocaine caused overboogie to sink to untenable depths of squalor. Said Paul Ruscha, “She’d blown her book advance on coke, fucked up her nose. She called me, begged me to come over. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There wasn’t an inch of floor not covered in bloody Kleenex. The cats were running around high.” It was time for Eve to join A.A., not just for alcoholics, according to her.

And the 90s, thanks to that cigar, were an even bigger nightmare. Eve was predictably without health insurance. Her medical bills ran into the hundreds of thousands. To raise cash, Mirandi, Laurie, and Paul, along with screenwriters Michael Elias and Caroline Thompson and artist Laddie John Dill, arranged a benefit at the Chateau Marmont. An auction was staged with works donated by, among others, Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, and Dennis Hopper. The ghost-of-amours-past invitees included Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, and Ahmet Ertegun.

Afterward, Laurie reported back to Eve, still in the hospital, to tell her how this group of guys had really come through for her, Ford and Martin coughing up $50,000 apiece. A prostrate Eve, in full Camille mode, raised her head. Through cracked lips she croaked out the words “blow jobs” before collapsing back on the pillow.


Eve has not written a book since the fire. She did, however, have a new set of business cards printed up:

Eve Babitz Better red than dead.

She still lives in Hollywood.


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