What “Hollywood’s Eve” has going for it on every page is its subject’s utter refusal to be dull. “I think I’m going to be an adventuress,” Babitz reports saying as a child to her mother, in “Eve’s Hollywood” (1974), her first memoir. “Is it all right?” It was, and it is.
Babitz grew up under the Hollywood sign. Her father was first violinist for the 20th Century-Fox orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and her mother was an artist. Her godfather was Igor Stravinsky. “He’s been slipping you glasses of Scotch under the table since you turned 13,” Anolik writes, “and his wife, the peerlessly elegant Vera, taught you how to eat caviar.”
When she was barely out of her teens, Babitz posed for a now-famous photograph of herself playing chess with Marcel Duchamp. He was clothed; she was naked. Babitz was beautiful and wild and opinionated.
She was a star of Los Angeles’s bohemian art and music crowds. “Eve was our Kiki of Montparnasse,” the artist Ed Ruscha said. She designed album covers for Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds. She seduced Jim Morrison and many others. Among them was the writer Dan Wakefield, who commented: “Men didn’t conquer Eve Babitz, she conquered them.”
Babitz was 28 and approaching burnout (she termed it “squalid overboogie”) when she began to write in earnest. With the help of Joan Didion, a friend, she sold an essay to Rolling Stone in 1971. Babitz being Babitz, she slept with Grover Lewis, her Rolling Stone editor, and later with the editor of her first book.
Didion’s intervention is interesting because it’s among this book’s contentions that Babitz’s literary career was a reaction to that of her famous friend. Where Didion took a fundamentally dark view of Los Angeles, Babitz had a feel for her hometown’s charms and celebrated them.
Anolik’s writing about Didion and Babitz is graceful until it isn’t. At one point she writes, referring to an earlier conversation with Babitz: “Now, I suppose, is the time to come clean. Eve was right. I do have homicidal designs on Didion. I think ‘Play It’” — Didion’s novel “Play It as It Lays” — “is a silly, shallow book. I think ‘Slow Days’ should replace it, become the new essential reading for young women (and young men) seeking to understand L.A. There. I said it.”
Babitz had affairs with Warren Zevon and Annie Leibovitz and Steve Martin. (She advised Martin to wear white suits.) She once wrote a letter to Joseph Heller, the author of “Catch-22,” that contained two sentences: “I am a stacked 18-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer.” She spent the entirety of her first book advance on a big meal at her favorite restaurant, Musso & Frank Grill, ordering the caramel custard for everyone in the house.