Eve Babitz Plays Chess with Marcel Duchamp
This is the start of a new series of blogs by me to be called “LA Writer.” Los Angeles has its own literary scene, some native born, some expatriate, and some just passing through. I plan to make at least one entry in this series each month.
You are a famous French painter and chess master named Marcel Duchamp. It is October 1963, and you are at the Pasadena Art Museum to attend the opening of a show dedicated to your work, mostly from the earlier part of the century. You are seated at a chessboard. Across from you is a nude 20-year-old who is, in many ways, the numero uno L.A. babe of the 1960s. Her name? Eve Babitz.
All you could say? “Alors!”
Eve didn’t win the chess game, but she won the match. It didn’t take long before she was widely known. Her boyfriends included Jim Morrison of the Doors, Ed Rucha, Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, and practically everyone who was anyone in the world of art and entertainment. The chess game was just a start.
She is also the author of a semi-autobiographical, semi-fictional memoir entitled Eve’s Hollywood, which shows her to have been wide awake in a decade in which many were half-asleep at best. Not only is she an excellent writer: She designed scores of album covers for rock bands—and you know that album covers of the time are some of the most memorable icons of the 60s.
Eve Batitz by Ed Rucha
Eve’s style is all her own. It’s the way a beautiful and confident young woman who was on top of the world—but who had a serious brain—would write. For example, about the city of her birth:
Culturally, L.A. has always been a humid jungle alive with seething L.A. projects that I guess people from other places just can’t see. It takes a certain kind of innocence to like L.A., anyway. It requires a certain plain happiness inside to be happy in L.A., to choose it and be happy here. When people are not happy, they fight against L.A. and say it’s a “wasteland” and other helpful descriptions.
That leaves out Woody Allen.
Take, for example, this description as to why quit being a Brownie:
In grammar there is a noun and there are adjectives. Adjectives modify the noun, they alter it and cramp its style. I didn’t want to be a Brownie girl. So I quit the Brownies.
And how’s this for a mission statement:
What I wanted, although at the time I didn’t understand what the thing was because no one ever tells you anything until you already know it, was everything.
Eve Babitz was a gorgeous young woman at the top of the world who knew what she liked and was not afraid to talk about it in a way that was both interesting and all her own. She writes with a supreme confidence in a slightly unorthodox, yet highly workable style, that is highly engaging.
In my review of Eve’s Hollywood for Goodreads.Com, I wrote:
When I arrived in Los Angeles between Christmas and New Years in 1966, I was fully prepared to “put up with” the place while my heart remained in … Cleveland, for God’s sake! I am sad to say it took a number of years before I woke up and let the magic of the place begin to work on me. Those first few years I now regard as “the lost years.” I studied film history and criticism at UCLA, saw thousands of movies, but was oblivious to the flower-scented air, redolent with night-blooming jasmine.
Now I have found a writer who has helped reconcile me to my own past: It is Eve Babitz, whose book Eve’s Hollywood covers my black-out years. Eve was born in L.A. of artistic parents and lived in Hollywood, living life to the fullest—sleeping with the likes of Jim Morrison of the Doors, artist Ed Rucha, and numerous other males known for beauty and/or brains.
Eve’s Hollywood is available in a paperback edition published by New York Review Books.