In Lili Anolik's Hollywood's Eve, Eve Babitz is the key to the secret history of L.A.
Lili Anolik introduced a new generation to avant-garde literary star Eve Babitz in a 2014 Vanity Fair article. It was the jumping-off point for Hollywood’s Eve — a dishy, splashy biography filled with more celebrity cameos than a table at the Polo Lounge.
Through the ’60s and ’70s, Babitz (author of Slow Days, Fast Company and others) drank, smoked, and collaborated with Hollywood’s biggest stars, a fixture of the L.A. scene. “She’d reveal these hidden connections between remarkable people,” Anolik tells EW. Hollywood’s Eve dizzyingly traces Babitz’s life; Anolik tracked down each juicy anecdote, hunting for the big names Babitz would mention to her offhandedly, or detail in her writing work. In the book, Anolik also grapples with her own Babitz obsession: Right up front, she says this isn’t a biography in the traditional sense, but more of a quirky love story.
In a wide-ranging interview with EW, Anolik breaks down the journey to Hollywood’s Eve, its many A-list name-drops, and what Babitz’s story reveals about a city that’s still of endless fascination. Read on below. Hollywood’s Eve is now available for purchase.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does this book reveal “the Secret History of L.A.,” as the subtitle indicates?
LILI ANOLIK: At least when I found her back in 2012, Eve was a hidden figure. When you probed, when you got to know her, when you were asking a lot of questions, she’d reveal these hidden connections between remarkable people. For example, Eve was part of this Earl McGrath scene that Joan Didion was also part of, that Harrison [Ford] was also part of. I remember [Babitz] telling me a story about how she was having a party at her furniture-less apartment where everyone would eat on the floor. Joan Didion was there and Michelle Phillips. Michelle Phillips was lying down on the floor and told this story about a friend of hers who [tried] committing suicide, but not successfully. Joan Didion calls her the next morning and asks if she can use that as the ending for the book she’s working on — which is Play It as It Lays.
So you’re finding out all these backstories and secret stories of how L.A. was constructed then. People’s relationships with one another and how they were influencing each other. It was hidden. It was underground.
You contrast Didion and Babitz as chroniclers of L.A., which, at least in my early conversations with others who’ve read the book, has been a bit divisive.
You mean because I’m tough on Didion?
Look, Joan Didion is great. She’s empirically great. She’s a great stylist, she’s a great writer. But sensibility-wise, I don’t match up with her. I match up more with Eve. Didion and Eve — it’s night and day, yin and yang. I think [Didion’s] White Album and [Babitz’s] Slow Days, Fast Company should be read together almost. I think both books are L.A. masterpieces. And they’re illuminating; they illuminate each other. Eve’s Los Angeles is much more funny, much more casual, much more loose. And Joan’s vision of Los Angeles, to me, is much more rigid. She sees it as Sodom and Gomorrah, as a place that looks like paradise but is really hellish. She has a very different vision of Los Angeles, even as the writing is of the same era and the same theme. It’s two radically different viewpoints of the same place. For me, they feed off of each other. They’re linked for me, and I’d imagine they’re linked for other people at this time and place.
What is your relationship to L.A.? You’re based in New York; did you ever live out here?
Yes, after I graduated from college, I lived in Los Angeles from 2000 to 2001. One calendar year.
So what was your relationship to it then? And how did it change having embarked on this investigation, really, of the city?
Oh, gosh. I was living Beverly Hills-adjacent and I was working at Michael Ovitz’s new management company that went under really quickly: Artists Management Group. [Laughs] I loved the city. I went to Princeton and it seemed uptight to me; I liked it just fine but it seemed like an uptight place. To me, Los Angeles was sunny and loose and great. It was a company town: If you worked in the industry, you had a lot of friends already. But I didn’t understand it all. Just geographically, I would walk to work and have no sense of it. We were assistants to agents, and we all worked in the mailroom; we’d hang out on the weekends and I remember going to Barney’s Beanery a lot, which is wild to me because that’s where Eve spent all her time in the early ’60s! That’s the place where all the artists hung out. I was too dumb and too clueless to understand anything about the city at that point.
My brother went to business school there, and I would stay with him a ton. Once I started working for Vanity Fair I also started working there a lot. But Eve was my passport into the city. Having her explain things to me: She’s like the insider’s insider. She would explain things to me and then I would get it. She was like a guide in that way. I didn’t call the book Los Angeles’ Eve; I called it Hollywood’s Eve because she’s so specific. She was in Hollywood or West Hollywood [almost] her entire life.
I’m interested in that generally, too. So many Hollywood icons are in this book! Were there any stories or encounters that intrigued you the most? And how did you track them all down?
I was falling down rabbit holes all the time. I wasn’t able to write a lot of this, not in the book, but: After I established a relationship where I took her to lunch and we started to talk on the phone all the time, [Babitz] would always take my calls and she would always answer my questions. But I always had to know exactly how to phrase the question to get a real answer from her. She never volunteers information. It’s a wild thing. She’s totally open, but you’ve got to know exactly how to ask her stuff. When I started this book, obsession, whatever you want to call it — there was so little out there about her. I used this [underground paper] called the L.A. Manifesto that an old boyfriend of Eve’s gave me. It was a one-issue thing [Babitz started] that was supposed to be ongoing. It had work in there by Steve Martin, Carrie Fisher, by the Eagles, Ronee Blakely. All these people. I used it to track people down and ask them what their relationship to Eve was, through this book. Eve wasn’t just going to tell me. I fell into rabbit hole after rabbit hole with this because everybody you met was so interesting. You’d get these little stories, these little glimpses.
Going over notable figures like that, and her relationship to them, did you feel any trepidation? There’s that moment in the book where you mix up whether she told a New York Times reporter or Teddy Kennedy that her grandmother was a pothead.
Oh my God! Yes. She would tell me stuff that was so outlandish: Like that Harrison Ford was doing pot at Barney’s Beanery out of a bass-fiddle case. Something crazy like that, it’s so ridiculous. But then I’d hear it from Michelle Phillips and I’d hear it from others — it would always turn out to be true! [Laughs] And weirdly accurate. Or sometimes it would be slightly inaccurate and you just had to chase it down. Like when she told me she was in The Godfather. We watched The Godfather and The Godfather II. It’s exhausting work because you’re looking for her in a crowd scene.
Yes! I loved the way you described that moment when you’re suddenly like, “Oh!”
Exactly! You keep watching and keep watching, and then she’s there. It’s Godfather II. She got it wrong. But there she is. Her memory is really good, but she’d sometimes flub the details. I was anxious about fact checking. But if she said anything really scandalous, I’d always make sure I got it from a couple of sources.
Which ones did you feel you needed backup the most on?
The Harrison Ford one, for sure. I remember chasing down Steve Martin about the white suit. [Editor’s Note: Anolik reveals in the book that when she dated Martin, Babitz was the person who first put the comedian in his iconic white suit.] That seemed like a crazy thing, too. Those were the big examples, and then The Godfather; that sounded crazy. But the weirdest things she told me would turn out to be true! She was weirdly reliable.
She grew up in a home visited by big Hollywood artists and intellectuals, she’s dating Jim Morrison and Steve Martin. It’s there the whole time. Were you totally ready to lean into that Hollywood glam factor, in terms of telling her story?
I don’t know, if you’re writing about Eve, if you can avoid that. Because it’s the milieu. She was [almost] always with these people before they were famous: Steve Martin when he was just starting out at the Troubadour as a comic and musician. Or the Eagles before they were the Eagles. Harrison Ford when he was in his pot-dealing phase. My sense is that Hollywood was a much smaller world back then, and she was part of it. I don’t know if you could write about Eve without famous names. She’s designing album covers for bands that go on to be famous. How would you do it?
So how would you describe your relationship to Eve now? Has it evolved?
I read these books by her back in 2012 and I was totally infatuated. I chased her. It has the rhythms of a romance: I felt like I had to meet her. It was a pursuit that went on for a couple of years. She’s so unwilling to be pursued. Then she gave in and agreed to meet with me, and we became close. She was always my subject. When she sent word to her old boyfriend that I could take her to lunch, I had an assignment for Vanity Fair at that point. She was always my subject; it was never a personal thing. It wasn’t just that I wanted to be her friend. I wanted to write about her. So I always came at her in that way. The way it evolved is we got closer.… I don’t know if it’s that my curiosity is unappeasable, but even at this point, when I’ve stopped writing about her — the book is done.… She’s irresistible to me, totally fascinating. I hear [new things] and then I have to call her and then we’ll have to go over that. But we still never have a give-and-take conversation. It’s me asking her questions. Endless questions.
This interview has been edited and condensed.