Eve Babitz is a writer like no other—she “is to prose what Chet Baker is to jazz” (Vanity Fair)—and she has influenced a generation of writers and readers with her sophisticated, witty, and delightful work. L.A. Woman is quintessential Babitz, the story of Sophie, a twenty-something blonde Jim Morrison groupie gliding through a golden existence in L.A. and Lola, a German immigrant who settles in Hollywood in the twenties to drive Pierce Arrows recklessly down Sunset Boulevard and who knows that Maybelline mascara cakes and Rudolph Valentino are the essence of life.
Sophie and Lola, like the many other women who move in and out of this electric saga know that while L.A. is constantly changing it is essentially eternal; through their eyes we see the mixture of high culture and low, the promises of youth and the fulfillment of nostalgia, the pink sunsets and the palm trees that are L.A. And through this fantastic tale, Babitz shares what it is to be a woman in what she convinces us is the capital of civilization.
L.A.WOMAN ONE SUMMER MORNING while I was still a virgin though my virginity was on its last legs, I woke up and didn’t want to go to New Jersey. It wasn’t fair that they wanted me to go to New Jersey; I didn’t want to go—I was seventeen and no seventeen-year-old L.A. woman would go to New Jersey if she could get out of it, especially a seventeen-year-old with a boyfriend like mine—a dream-boat who was twenty-five, was under contract to Fox as a leading man, black wavy hair and blue eyes, his father a French leading man who’d once starred in a tearjerker with my Great Aunt Golda and made a million dollars which he lost on a misadventure. Anybody who went to New Jersey just to visit Aunt Helen, I supposed with outraged sensibilities, would have to be nuts. Aunt Helen was nuts to have moved to New Jersey at all, and she was really insane inviting decent L.A. people to visit her on the fucking East Coast.
But my father and mother kept up their demand, even if I did remain in L.A., about the people they would allow me to remain with. I refused hands down. Not my grandmother, period—I mean, staying with my grandmother would be like not being in L.A. at all. My Aunt Goldie’s place was big enough but my cousin Ophelia had been such a drag in those days and gone to such lengths to antagonize her new stepfather by leaving joints around in 1960 where he could see them that he’d become embittered against the entire younger generation of Lubins before my sister Bonnie or I even had a chance to try our hand. I wouldn’t stay with the people across the street who’d been there while I was growing up and whose daughter Shelly Craven was my age and with whom we have everything outwardly in common, because for one thing we didn’t forgive them—they were Stalinists and a line of blood was painted right down the middle of Foothill Drive once they moved in when I was six—and besides, they weren’t home, they were in Rome. Not that I myself wouldn’t have forgiven them for being Stalinists—what I didn’t forgive them for was playing Pablo Casals on the record player and having that melodrama going on in the middle of the afternoon as Molly Craven’s token of cultural refinement. And none of my friends, like Franny Blossom, were people whose families my family would put up with—although Franny’s house, God knows, was a rambling mansion and the whole guest wing was empty since Franny’s “uncle”—who wasn’t really an uncle but who drank as much as her father and mother and thus was a dear family friend—had gone down to Rosarito Beach fishing for three months. But ever since Franny’s father had taken a beebee gun out and begun shooting it at a brass Liberty Bell above the fireplace on the mantel, my mother declared they were “trash” and once she said that, spending even one night was asking for the moon. So it looked like I was going to New Jersey and going to have to spend an entire month on the fucking East Coast.
But I knew I wasn’t even though the next morning was when the plane was leaving. I knew something would save me.
I never would have imagined it would be Lola. Even though once before she slept on our living room couch when she and Luther had a fight and she drove straight down from San Francisco in six hours like a demon, back in the days when it took eight hours for any sane person to drive down.
Yet the moment I saw that intensely dark red hair I knew it was Lola.
Lola had come.
And Lola would understand perfectly why a seventeen-year-old virgin going to summer school at Hollywood High would rather not go to the fucking East Coast for a month. Of all my parents’ friends, Lola was the only one who, even though she was almost beyond her fiftieth birthday, was still L.A. enough to realize that you don’t leave anyone with a smile like my new boyfriend Claude’s for a whole month and expect him to be there when you got back—especially once I showed her his picture, which I happened to have with me when I explained this to her at 6:45 A.M.—and especially when I wasn’t even fucking him before I left so he’d have something to remember me by. Bleaching my hair blond and looking like Sheena, the queen of the jungle, which was how I looked, wasn’t enough, tan or no tan. I simply had to stay in L.A. and learn how to go down on him. But I’d never learn to go down on anyone if Ophelia didn’t tear herself away from the Westlake School of Music and her junkie jazz musicians, which was her idea of fun. And Ophelia promised to tear herself away on Saturday but by Saturday I’d be in New Jersey. And it was something she had to explain in person. Every time she began even attempting to explain on the phone, we both cracked our heads on the floor from falling down and wept tears of depraved laughter. But I didn’t need to tell Lola about all of that, I knew, all I had to do was beg her. Keep it simple.
“You’re here,” I said, waking Lola up.
“Yes,” she agreed, painfully—she’d gotten to L.A. at 2:00 A.M.
“Please, Lola,” I begged, at 6:47 A.M., “you’ve got to stay.”
“Well, I—” She laughed. Since she never drank, she never woke up with hangovers and waking up was much easier for her than it was for Franny’s parents.
“Stay with me,” I said, shooting my picture of Claude smiling straight into my pitch. “For a month, Lola. Oh, please. Please! Can’t you?”
“A month, why I—” Lola said, her mouth dropping open—but smiling—still insane enough by her fiftieth birthday to think this was a good idea basically. Besides which, she could not resist begging.
“They want me to go to the fucking East Coast!”
“That’s right,” she said. “To visit Helen.”
“But I don’t want to go,” I explained, “I want to stay here”—she looked at Claude’s picture, her eyes widening—“with Claude.”
“He’s a doll,” Lola said.
“Of course,” I admitted, “it is touched up. The studio didn’t like his nose like it was. But otherwise he’s really this way.”
Lola pulled her reading glasses out of her purse beside the couch and scrutinized Claude’s face with more objective detachment. I waited, not breathing. Of course, Claude’s black wavy hair from being French wouldn’t go against him. They all had black wavy hair back in those days, back when they were dancing and touring with Teretsky, marrying the wrong people. All the wrong people marrying each other had black wavy hair and the absolutely impossible men had the same kind of grin beaming ravenously out of Claude’s autographed eight-by-ten glossy. So surely Lola would save me and stay while I perilously endangered my future, wrecked the vacation, and threw away the possibility to travel someplace halfway decent and see a Real City—New York—finally, which all my life I’d been told I had to do. For a bloodthirsty smile like Claude’s, combined with how black his wavy hair was, threw the whole fucking East Coast into shadow. For compared with the trouble I could be in in Hollywood over the next month, all the evil companions I might fall in with in New York just paled. In fact that summer, if I’d been asked, everything paled by comparison to me then when I thought of going anyplace outside L.A. Just bothering to go someplace other than Santa Monica was incomprehensible when I could just wake up every morning at dawn, yank on my bathing suit still on the floor from the night before when I’d yanked it off, hurry down to Hollywood and Gower to catch the 91S bus down Hollywood Boulevard and then Santa Monica Boulevard to Beverly Hills and transfer to the 83 going straight out to the beach untilfinally there I’d be, at 8:00 A.M. or so, able to feel the cool sand get warm as the morning sun glazed over the tops of the palm trees up on the palisades while waves of the ocean crashed down day after day so anyone could throw himself into the tides and bodysurf throughout eternity.
“Your poor mother,” Lola sighed, resigned.
“She said I had no one to stay with,” I said, determined. “She has to let me. If you’re here, she has to.”
“Well,” Lola said, “it couldn’t hurt Luther to know I can stay away for a month. But you tell your mother. It has to be okay with her, you know? Gee, I never imagined I’d be staying here with you a whole month—and in the same neighborhood as me when I was growing up. You know, our old house isn’t far from here.”
“Oh, Lola, thank God you’ve come,” I cried, although I’d known something had to save me—of course, I never would have dreamed someone as good as Lola, my parents’ only halfway-up-to-date friend from the olden days, would be part of the deal.
I mean in those days, as far as I was concerned, all the Trotskyites and Stalinists and Republicans and Democrats and anyone else wearing a suit on the cover of Time magazine because of politics could go jump in a lake, and yet somehow, in the very midst of it all, there stood Lola. Picketing. Great legs, a figure which, when I was seventeen, I watched men drive into telephone poles over, a bizarre use of earrings, an altogether Cleopatra-girl slink to every move in her whole body, a demonically objective attitude about sizing things up and speaking her findings with a voice touched with nothing more than a glow of detached amusement over details she’d recount, laying to waste listeners, speechless when she told them, “Oh, didn’t you know, she and her father bathe together. How old do you think she is? Thirty-seven. The mother, you know, she died when the girl was only a child. No one, I guess, wanted to tell him—or her—I mean bathing! Together. Or am I too old-fashioned?”
But of course she had never been old-fashioned enough to most of the people my father knew when political criteria were his pride and joy, although oddly enough in the end she was the only one we ever really wanted to see after all. Because old-fashioned she never became.
Eve Babitz was born and grew up in Hollywood. She began to write in 1972 after designing album covers for such artists as Linda Ronstadt, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and Lord Buckley. Her articles and short stories have appeared in Vogue, Rolling Stone, Esquire and The New York Times Book Review. Her books include Eve’s Hollywood, Slow Days, Fast Company, Two by Two, and Sex and Rage.
"What truly sets Babitz apart from L.A. writers like Didion or Nathanael West... is that no matter what cruel realities she might face, a part of her still buys the Hollywood fantasy, feels its magnetic pull as much as that Midwestern hopeful who heads to the coast in pursuit of 'movie dreams.'"
– Los Angeles Review of Books
“Eve Babitz is to prose what Chet Baker, with his light, airy style, lyrical but also rhythmic, detached but also sensuous, is to jazz.”