A new look at Eve Babitz: Artist, provocateur and unlikely feminist icon
How a badass, ex-drug addict groupie became a millennial hero at 75
Even at 20, in 1963, Eve Babitz knew how to make a statement. Back then, her curator boyfriend gave the artist Marcel Duchamp a retrospective in Pasadena, Calif., and made the mistake of not inviting her to the opening party.
So she attended another party at the museum days later. There, a photographer for Time magazine needed a shot of Duchamp playing chess with a young woman. Naked.
Babitz took her revenge.
The resulting image shows Babitz’s face hidden by her hair, her voluptuous body on full display. The photo firmly placed her in the pop-culture firmament — a shadowy figure, true, but an indelible one. That picture is one of the most iconic to emerge from the LA art scene at that time.
It was also classic Eve, writes journalist Lili Anolik in her new book “Hollywood’s Eve” (Scribner), out Tuesday. “[She] was a sex object who was, too, a sex subject, meaning she exploited herself every bit as ruthlessly as … the men exploited her. She wasn’t just model and muse, passive and pliable, but artist and instigator, wicked and subversive.”
Babitz was the daughter of Los Angeles bohemians. Her father, Sol, a Jew from Brooklyn, was first violinist for the 20th Century Fox Orchestra. Her mother, Mae, was beautiful and charming, hosting parties for the various musicians and intellectuals that wandered through the Babitz home. Igor Stravinsky was her godfather; Fats Waller, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Bertrand Russell and Aldous Huxley all had cameos in her childhood.
With the Time photo serving as her de facto coming-out party, Babitz let loose on LA, becoming a groupie to various artists and musicians. She propositioned Jim Morrison within minutes of meeting him in 1966 and liked the man, whom she found to be tender (“He knew in his worst blackouts to put my diaphragm in and take my contact lenses out . . .”) but not his music, which she found to be drivel (“The Doors were embarrassing, like their name . . . Even [Jim’s] voice . . . sounding so sudden and personal and uttering such hogwash.”)
Of this time, she wrote, “I was 23 and a daughter of Hollywood, alive with groupie fervor, wanting to f–k my way through rock ’n’ roll and drink tequila and take uppers and downers, keeping joints rolled and lit, a regular customer at the clap clinic, a groupie prowling the Sunset Strip, prowling the nights of summer.”
She was also working as a photographer and artist, creating collage album covers for Buffalo Springfield, Linda Ronstadt and the Byrds. But what she really became was a sculptor of life, weaving together flamboyant and fantastic experiences, like beads on a rosary.