Every Wednesday, L.A. Weekly focuses on a woman making a difference in Hollywood. For this #WomanCrushWednesday, we spotlight trending #Girlcrush Eve Babitz. The iconic L.A. writer and 1970s “It Girl” has made a resurgence with reissues of her now-cult classic novels, including Black Swans and Sex and Rage. At 75, Babitz has become a social media favorite of millennial women; she has a show in the works with Hulu, based on her cherished L.A. Woman book, and her star is rising yet again in Hollywood.
The parties of Eve Babitz’s youth, where prescription pills decorated the floor like confetti, meet a minacious cloud of social sobriety forcing its way through the Los Angeles sunlight in Black Swans, a collection of nine essays reissued last month by Counterpoint Press. All that was aglow, contoured and highlighted in her previous fiction works based on her “fast” life in her 20s, where we get to ride shotgun on her adventures as a fervent and integral patron of the L.A. scene, has literally burst into flames. This is partially due to the AIDS epidemic, the Rodney King verdict and the L.A. riots that collided with Reaganomics and life in a material world.
But mostly it is age. Black Swans finds Eve in her 30s and she’s all grown up. Her fabulous companions are still impeccable dressers, with lithe bodies and doll-like features, yet they need to be hemmed and altered. It shows in their receding hairlines and wrinkles that can be masked but take longer to conceal. Chasing down youth takes effort in a city that seems to be at work only sometimes and hides its age by tearing down the old in favor of brand-new.
Born into a Bohemian clan under the Hollywood sign where stars rise and fall to fame, despair or a cocktail of both, Eve Babitz’s childhood home was frequented by movie sirens, leading men, artists and intellectuals alike. As with most L.A. natives, she grew up fast, but unlike her neighbors, she fell head over heels in love with her City of Angels, which was at that time a rare thing for one to admit or, in writing, profess.
“The two girls grew up at the edge of the ocean and knew it was paradise, and better than Eden, which was only a garden,” she writes in her 1979 now-cult classic, Sex and Rage: Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good Time, which was reissued by Counterpoint last summer.
The quintessential “It Girl,” writer and wild child paints pictures with broad strokes in dreamy pastels of Hollywood’s magic hours in the late ’70s through the early ’90s in her signature gossip over brunch or drinks or bedsheets at Chateau Marmont. Confessionals begin as airy tales of trysts, tango lessons, men and well, more men. But in Black Swans, tales take darker hairpin curves when death, despair and the one true question that haunts every Angeleno are woven into the narrative: What is one’s place within the Hollywood landscape and social stratum when youth begins to fade?
“Hollywood is based upon, which, as anyone can see, is and has always been beauty. … And age is a disaster.”
While some critics of Babitz wish that she had chosen a wider lens to probe beneath the surface of her stories about loss, jealousy, infidelity, politics and persona versus person, we all know that a wide lens is universally unflattering. The uncommon is per usual for Eve.
This may be one of the reasons why millennials are Instagramming the hell out of Black Swans’ kelly green and pink cover, inspired by the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel wallpaper. The IG platform and Twitter are flooded with artfully curated images of the book in beds with coffee cups, Warby Parker eyeglasses, white sheets with nubby, woven blankets “thrown” into the frame, cocktails keeping it company at hip eateries, bars and cafes, and, at least once, suspended in between the
leaves of a fig tree, 2018’s plant du moment.
Millennials are finding her stories relatable and quoting passages on social media as affirmations of “it’s complicated” relationships, and reveling in both the blasé L.A. stereotype of never knowing what day it is despite having online calendars, Wunderlists and Evernotes at their fingertips (“Albert and I have lunch about once a year. Like clockwork, when we remember.”). Then there’s that eternal sunshine (at least on the outside) of, arguably, the most weather-envied city in the country. (“I guess that is what they mean by “character” on the East Coast: leaving summer behind.”).
Now, at a time when being a woman is undeniably more political than ever, what is it about Babitz and her free-spirited life and writing that appeals to these new readers? For one, it seems this next generation is emboldened by her proclivity toward sex and owning her sensuality, the idea that women can enjoy sex without attachment. Babitz breaks the third wall and speaks to them.
“There’s one thing about being in a bad relationship for longer than you should just for sex: when you get out, all you can think about is sex, and my advice to you is — for great sex, get a vibrator (or do it yourself) … don’t go trying to get the person back.” If there is one hashtag that sums up Babitz’s writing, it is #nofilter.
There is also a wandering in Babitz’s world (she once told her mother that she wanted to grow up to become an adventuress) that embodies the spirit of today’s popular wanderlust mantras inked on inside forearms, such as “All who wander are not lost”; “Love her but leave her wild”; and “beach hair, don’t care.” A glamorous life like Babitz’s is attainable by setting yourself free from schedules, 9 to 5–ing and loveless relationships while indulging in the luxury of being not lonely but fiercely protective of “me time.”
According to her recent interview in Vanity Fair, Babitz is tickled by the rise of young fans who are obsessively devouring and hashtagging their Black Swans reading experience with #sundaybrunch, #californialove and #findyourmuse. Yet she claims to have no advice to bestow upon the new generation of glamfams, fitspos and girls with #squadgoals. She is glad that social media did not exist in her time, spoiling the secrets of hidden L.A. and an escapism that a pre-internet world afforded her. Her world was not about checking in but checking out.
At last month’s Black Swans re-release party held at the New York Public Library, Babitz’s longtime agent, Erica Spellman, suggested that the celebrated author may have written 70 pages about the accident in 1997 that left her lower half covered in third-degree burns. Although Babitz says she isn’t a recluse, the once seen-and-be-seen writer (who was known for stopping traffic with her beauty and is most famously recognizable in a black-and-white photo playing chess with Marcel Duchamp in the buff), has become private ever since. Babitz was a no-show at the event.
The young literary and screen darlings who were in conversation that night — Stephanie Danler, the bestselling author of Sweetbitter and creator/executive producer/writer of its television adaptation now airing on Starz (who also wrote an elegant foreword for the Black Swans reissue); the co-founder of online platform Belletrist, Karah Preiss; New York staff writer Jia Tolentino; and Girls actor Zosia Mamet — urged the rapt crowd to tweet their support for the author to complete the story.
Whether or not she answers that call (one may envision Babitz possessing a French phone with its seductive curves and finger-curling dial), Hulu has secured rights to develop her fictive memoir L.A. Woman, a coming-of-age comedy from Casual executive producer/showrunner Liz Tigelaar, director Lynn Shelton and producers Elizabeth Cantillon and Amy Pascal. If the likes and loves of lifestyle blogger–esque photos on social media are any indication, her core demographic will be obsessed with the show, and, once again, all eyes will be on iconic L.A. woman Eve Babitz.