News Release - The Huntington Acquires Eve Babitz Archive

Mar. 10, 2022

The collection spans from 1943 to 2011, documenting the professional and personal life of the LA author and cultural figure through manuscripts, original works of art, journals, photographs, and correspondence

The Huntington also acquired the archives of two other notable LA women: poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy and actress/artist Gloria Stuart Sheekman

SAN MARINO, Calif.—The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has acquired the archive of Los Angeles author and cultural figure Eve Babitz (1943–2021). An integral member of LA’s 1960s and ’70s art, literary, and rock music scenes, Babitz wrote magazine articles and books that cast a bright light on the decadent, freewheeling artistic milieu in which she counted among her friends and lovers dozens of creative luminaries, including Harrison Ford, Don Henley, Walter Hopps, Annie Leibovitz, Steve Martin, Jim Morrison, Linda Ronstadt, and Ed Ruscha. The archive spans from 1943 to 2011 and documents her personal and professional life with drafts of her books and articles, original works of art, personal journals, photographs she took of her celebrity circle, and more than 500 letters.

“With this spectacular acquisition, The Huntington’s 20th-century literary collections leap into the midst of the cultural revolutions of the ’60s and ’70s,” said Karla Nielsen, curator of literary collections at The Huntington. “Eve Babitz worked at a pivotal moment when the Los Angeles pop art and rock music scenes had captured international attention. Her archive complements our holdings of Los Angeles culture journalists, including Jack Smith, Al Martinez, and Patt Morrison, as well as those of other great authors who worked and set stories here, including Charles Bukowski, Octavia E. Butler, and Christopher Isherwood.”

Highlights of the Babitz archive, contained in 22 cartons, include several drafts and galleys for many of her books and articles, including a handwritten draft of her first and as yet unpublished book Travel Broadens; a draft of her first article, “The Sheik”; and extensive correspondence with her longtime editor at Knopf. The archive also features 53 original love letters that Babitz wrote to actor Brian G. Hutton. There are also screenplays, notebooks, and photographs she took of Martin, Ronstadt, Leibovitz, Gram Parsons, and of the band the Byrds during an album cover photo shoot, among others. The archive also includes several of Babitz’s collages and drawings, address books, and datebooks.

At the end of 2021 and in early 2022, The Huntington also acquired two other archives that document California cultural history: those of lesbian poet Eloise Klein Healy (b. 1943), the first poet laureate of Los Angeles; and actress/artist Gloria Stuart Sheekman (1910–2010).

“The Huntington is already one of the world’s great centers for research on the history of both English-language literature and the history of California,” said Sandra Ludig Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. “With the acquisition of archives documenting the lives and work of these distinctive women writers, we stand by our commitment to build on existing curatorial areas and foster new areas of inquiry—across several centuries and up to the present.”

Eve Babitz

Eve Babitz was born in Los Angeles in 1943 to Mae (Laviolette) Babitz, an artist, and Sol Babitz, a musician. Raised with her sister, Mirandi Babitz, in a world of painters, authors, and composers—her godfather was composer Igor Stravinsky—she attended Le Conte Junior High School and Hollywood High School, both of which would later provide material for her essays. Babitz wrote, “In most high schools, you learn social things along with the rest of it. In mine, I learned irrevocably that beauty is power and the usual bastions of power are powerless when confronted by beauty.” Babitz was never shy about leveraging her own attractiveness, famously writing to Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, “Dear Joseph Heller, I am a stacked 18-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer.” Later that year, she was sitting for a now-iconic photo in which she plays chess in the nude with a fully dressed Marcel Duchamp.

Babitz’s young adulthood was the stuff of Hollywood fantasy: She partied with Jim Morrison, the Eagles, and other rock and rollers who passed through the Chateau Marmont; hobnobbed with the literati at Joan Didion’s house; interviewed Janis Joplin; and was invited to an endless stream of parties surrounded by the bohemian beau monde of her time. Not just a groupie, but an artist among artists, she first pursued collage, and many of her works appeared in magazines and on record albums. But Babitz wanted to be a writer, and after early encouragement from Heller and Didion, she published her first piece, “The Sheik,” in Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. Two years later, she published her first book, Eve’s Hollywood (1974), and followed it with Slow Days, Fast Company (1977), Sex and Rage (1979), L.A. Woman (1982), and Black Swans (1993). In addition to Rolling Stone, Babitz contributed articles to The Village Voice, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Esquire, bringing to light an “only in LA” world of rock star lovers and over-the-top parties from the epicenter of cool.

“Eve Babitz sought out happening scenes, but it’s her writing from and about those scenes—an alluring blend of tell-all memoir and fiction—that sets her apart,” Nielsen said. “She wrote with candor and a fabulous dry wit about the highs and lows of her life, a life she lived with unapologetic appetite and independence. She also wrote in quite poignant ways about this city that she loved—also unapologetically.” As Babitz sardonically notes in her autobiographical essay “Daughters of the Wasteland”: “It takes a certain kind of innocence to like L.A.”

In 1997, Babitz was severely burned when she accidentally dropped a lit match onto her skirt. She soon stopped writing and disappeared from public life. Then, in 2014, Vanity Fair published Lili Anolik’s retrospective on Babitz, “All About Eve—and Then Some.” That article was followed by a stream of others, which—along with the reissuing of most of Babitz’s books—brought about an Eve Babitz renaissance of sorts. Babitz, who died on Dec. 17, 2021, from complications of Huntington’s disease, found a new generation of readers in the last decade of her life. Many of these readers were millennial women who found Babitz’s perspective, particularly on female sexuality, refreshing. The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times published laudatory obituaries, notable achievements for an author who felt snubbed by the New York literary establishment earlier in her career.

According to Mirandi Babitz, “When I told Eve that The Huntington was very interested in her archive, she said, ‘I would love to be with Blue Boy and Pinkie again, like when we were kids. It’s as classy as the Beverly Hills Hotel so I know I’ll be happy there.’”

The collection will open to researchers after it has been processed.

The acquisition of the Eve Babitz archive is supported in part by a generous contribution from Steve Martin and Anne Stringfield.

Eloise Klein Healy

Eloise Klein Healy was born in 1943 in El Paso, Texas, and spent her early years in rural Iowa, but Los Angeles would ultimately become her home—and her muse. She has published eight books of poetry, including Ordinary Wisdom (2005); The Islands Project: Poems for Sappho (2007); A Wild Surmise: New and Selected Poems and Recordings (2013); Passing (2002), a finalist for both the Lambda Literary Award in poetry and Publishing Triangle’s Audre Lorde Lesbian Poetry Prize; and Artemis in Echo Park (1991), which also was nominated for the Lambda Literary Award. Healy is known for the narrative quality of her poetry, which often explores community, sexuality, and home. She has said her work often deals with the “influence of place on people.” Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed Healy as LA’s first poet laureate in 2012, a testament to her stature within the city’s poetry community. Villaraigosa said at the time that she personified the “truly innovative and imaginative nature of our city’s literary genius.”

In 2013, a few months following her appointment, Healy contracted viral encephalitis, which caused Wernicke’s aphasia, a breakdown in the part of the brain that controls language—affecting her ability to understand words and to speak or write them. “It was a painful thing,” Healy told the San Jose Mercury News. “I was poet laureate, and then I lost my mind.” But with extensive and dedicated therapy, Healy has continued to write, and in 2018, she published a book of five-line poems, Another Phase, which takes its form from the cognitive rehabilitation exercises she used as part of her recovery. Her forthcoming book, A Brilliant Loss, will deal with the aphasia recovery experience.

Healy’s archive consists of drafts of poems and essays, diaries, teaching and editing notes, calendars, personal journals, photographs, correspondence, recordings of poetry readings, and related materials.

“The archive documents a Los Angeles–based career that has been as distinguished as it is long, beginning with Healy’s involvement with the Women’s Building and Beyond Baroque in the ’70s and ’80s to her appointment in 2012 as the city’s first poet laureate and beyond,” Nielsen said. “From her confessional early lyrics about lesbian desire to the more experimental verses of the past few years, her poetry is always intimate and fearless, personal and local, but describing a world with broad significance.” Healy’s poem “The Beach at Sunset” deftly weaves together emotion and urban infrastructure: “No matter what else is happening, / this is California. You’ll have your cancer / at freeway speeds. I’ll drive and park / and drive at park. The hospital / when I arrive to visit will be catching / the last rays of the sun, glinting / like an architectural miracle realized.”

Gloria Stuart Sheekman and Arthur Sheekman

Gloria Stuart was born in Santa Monica, California, in 1910 and lived a long, spirited life to the age of 100. Beginning in 1932, she was featured in dozens of films, but it was in 1997, at age 87, that she received her greatest fame, for her Academy Award–nominated performance as old Rose Calvert in the film Titanic.

Stuart’s interest in acting developed at Santa Monica High School and continued at the University of California, Berkeley. She then went on to live a bohemian lifestyle in Carmel, working as a journalist and actor. Discovered in a Pasadena performance, she signed a contract with Universal Studios and starred in such notable productions as James Whale’s classic horror films The Old Dark House (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933). On the set of Roman Scandals, a comedy with Eddie Cantor, Stuart met Arthur Sheekman, one of the film’s writers, whom Groucho Marx called “the Fastest Wit in the West.” They married in 1934 and were active together in the lively Hollywood social scene. The substantive roles that Stuart sought eluded her, however, and after a trip around the world, the couple moved to New York. While he wrote for the Broadway stage, she performed in summer stock, including as Emily in a production of Our Town, with its playwright, Thornton Wilder.

By 1943, the Sheekmans had returned to Southern California and taken up residence at Hollywood’s legendary Garden of Allah. There the couple’s joie de vivre and Stuart’s culinary talents made their dinner parties in great demand. Stuart had formed a close friendship with renowned food writer M.F.K Fisher, and during wartime, the two women found pleasure and comfort cooking together. Among the highlights of the Sheekman papers are 543 handwritten and typed letters from Fisher to Stuart and Stuart’s daughter, food writer Sylvia Thompson.

Stuart stepped away from acting in 1946 and turned to the visual arts. She became a decoupage artist and a painter, and her naïve-style canvases were the subject of a sold-out solo exhibition at New York’s Hammer Galleries in 1961. She later learned letterpress printing, producing fine-press books under her imprint Imprenta Glorias.

Stuart was an artist, a printer and book artist, and a cultivator of bonsai, aligning with all three collecting areas of The Huntington: art, library, and gardens. In fact, she donated two of her bonsai trees to The Huntington’s botanical collection.

The Gloria Stuart and Arthur Sheekman papers document Stuart’s life from her youth in Santa Monica through her 100th birthday. The materials include her letters to family, datebooks, photograph albums, and scrapbooks, as well as unpublished writings, including a play on Benjamin Franklin. A particularly evocative item is a book in which Stuart listed her dinner party menus for guests (chicken pot pie for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and grilled grapefruit with sherry for writer and actor Robert Benchley). There are also letters that Sheekman kept from his good friend Groucho Marx and copies of Sheekman’s screenplays. The varied materials provide a record of the Sheekmans’ careers and a unique window into California creative life in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.

About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is a cultural and educational institution of global significance. Building on Henry E. and Arabella Huntington’s renowned collections, The Huntington supports research and promotes education in the arts, humanities, and botanical science through the growth and preservation of its collections; the development of a community of scholars, school programs, and partnerships; and the display and interpretation of its extraordinary resources for diverse audiences. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, California, 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Visitor information: huntington.org.

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