At 76-years-old, Eve Babitz, the Los Angeles icon and underground legend is having quite the revival. In the bloom of her youth, Babitz was famously photographed in Life Magazine playing nude chess with the artist Marcel Duchamp. By the time she turned 20, the voluptuous 'it' girl had already bedded some of the world's most celebrated men.
Born to a bohemian family in the Hollywood Hills, she cut a sensuous swath through Tinsel Town during the 1960s and 1970s: 'I was 23 and a daughter of Hollywood, alive with groupie fever, wanting to f*** 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 nights of summer.'
Eve Babitz (pictured in 1959) was raised Hollywood, California by a mother who was an artist and a father who was a musician in the 20th Century Fox orchestra, her godfather was the composer Igor Stravinsky. Acknowledging her sex appeal she wrote in her 1974 memoir: 'I looked like Brigitte Bardot and I was Stravinsky's goddaughter'
Her cool and unapologetic honesty brought Eve some much deserved early literary attention when she published her 1974 memoir, Eve's Hollywood - a book that is now considered a masterpiece of candor and a brilliant evocation of an era. Her literary debut was followed by more parties, drugs, trysts and six other books in succession.
Two decades of pathological partying had almost razed the self-described 'rock 'n' roll adventuress' by the '80s – Eve had to get sober or die. 'All I took was speed, painkillers like Percodan and Demerol for fun or Mogadons,' she said in 2014. 'Oh, and LSD or mushrooms or mescaline if it was a nice day.'
Over time, Eve Babitz lapsed into obscurity. A freak accident in 1997 left her body covered in third-degree burns from the waist down with a 50% chance of survival- Babitz said she lost the will to write after that.
But eventually, it was the writer, the unsparing observer of her own life with a celebrated sense of gallows humor that emerged from Eve's scorched garden. The chronicle of her excruciating ordeal, in a never-before published essay will be featured in this Saturday's edition of Air Mail- the newly launched online news service, co-founded by Graydon Carter and Alessandra Stanley, formerly of The New York Times.
After Babitz made her debut posing naked for a photograph while playing chess with Marcel Duchamp, she tore through Hollywood's most celebrated actors, artists and musicians. 'I was 23 and a daughter of Hollywood, alive with groupie fever, 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 nights of summer', Eve confessed
Babitz pictured in 1959 was a student at Hollywood High School. 'People don't know what it was to suddenly possess the power to f*** every single person you even idly fancied, they don't know the physical glamour of that – back when rock 'n' roll was in flower'
To put it simply, Eve Babitz set herself on fire. She had just finished Sunday brunch in Pasadena with her family; they took one car and she drove alone - excited to smoke her cherry flavor cigar that she said made her 'feel like Clint Easton.' Still driving the same 1968 VW Bug that Steve Martin had given to her many years before; Eve accidentally dropped the match while trying to light her smoke - her body was instantly engulfed in flames.
She threw herself out of the vehicle onto a patch of grass - setting it on fire along with a few bushes in the process. Her pantyhose melted to her skin, her skirt vaporized and her legs were scorched to a crisp. 'The thing is, this wasn't the first time I had been nakedly embarrassed in Pasadena,' said Babitz, in her typical deadpan manner.
Of course, the first time was in 1963 when she posed nude for the legendary chess playing photo with the Marcel Duchamp. It was revenge on her married boyfriend, Walter Hoops - a curator for the Pasadena Art Museum who failed to invite Eve to the opening party for the Duchamp retrospective. The photo became one of the most enduring images of the twentieth century and it served as Babitz's unofficial coming-out party. 'Walter thought he was running everything and I finally got to run something,' said Babitz in her 2019 biography written by Lili Anolik.
Half-naked and completely charred below the waist, Babitz got back in the car, she said her hands felt like fire but she was able to shift, steer and brake her way back to her mother's house in Glendale where she was living at the time. After many years devoted to raucous partying, Eve contemplated the irony of possible death-by-hapless accident at the age of 54: 'Had I managed to avoid all the damage I had done up to this point, breaking hearts, being unreliable, only to hit that brick will because of a match?'
Eve (right) poses with her parents, Mae, Sol Babitz and little sister, Mirandi. Babitz's parents were bohemian intellectuals that constantly entertained their close family friends Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Bernard Herrman and Aldous Huxley
Speaking of her godfather Igor Stravinsky, Eve wrote in her memoir: 'He was tiny and happy and brilliant and drank. He used to slip glasses of scotch to me underneath the coffee table when my mother wasn't looking when I was 13. At my 16th birthday party, I wore white (very low necked white, of course) and he slipped rose petals down my top when my mother wasn't looking'
Babitz essentially disappeared after she got in a freak accident that put her in the hospital for three months and left her body covered in third degree burns. She speaks about the harrowing event in her never-before published essay that will be featured in Air Mail
Waiting in the driveway was Eve's sister Mirandi. 'My skirt caught on fire, can you believe it? I'm going to put aloe on it,' explained Babitz as if her skirt had inexplicably and spontaneously combusted on the drive home. Eve still had plans to go dancing that evening with her former boyfriend, the artist, Paul Ruscha. In her former heyday, she had also charmed the literal pants off of Paul's brother, Ed Ruscha: 'Eve was our Kiki of Montparnasse,' he said.
At a young age, Eve learned to capitalize on her assets and sexuality for access to men and as a teenager she wrote to Joseph Heller, the author of Catch 22 who was twice her senior. The letter in its stunning entirety read: 'Dear Joseph Heller, I am a stacked eighteen-year old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer. Eve Babitz.' Needless to say, it grabbed his attention and he introduced Babitz to his editor. Lili Anolik wrote in Vanity Fair: 'She's managed to pique the interest of a Major Artist. Even better, she'd done it not by denying her sexpot voluptuousness but by reveling in it.'
Plans for the dance floor