I didn't expect to be reminded of Edie Sedgwick, an Andy Warhol protege of the 60s, twice in consecutive months. There Edie was in a 50 year retrospective of video art in the very earliest featured video at Lansing's Broad Museum. And her name surfaced again for me as I read West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein, an enormously engaging and moving oral history of several of the houses and families, and thus the names behind some famous streets and institutions of Los Angeles. Looking at Stein's credits, I discovered that Jean Stein had also co-written Edie: American Girl, one of the few oral histories I enjoyed reading cover to cover. If you know Brooke Hayward's memoir Haywire, some of the families in Eden will be familiar. Surely Jennifer Jones, the ex-wife of actor/suicide Robert Walker (Strangers on a Train), and widow of both David O. Selznick and museum founder Norton Simon, is one of Hollywood's strangest and most enigmatic stars. The glamorous lives of these Hollywood families are heavily laced with mental illness, abandonment, and suicide. West of Eden is a gripping cultural history behind the front doors of a city that through its movies, came to define us to the world.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • An epic, mesmerizing oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles from the author of the contemporary classic Edie
Jean Stein transformed the art of oral history in her groundbreaking book Edie: American Girl, an indelible portrait of Andy Warhol “superstar” Edie Sedgwick, which was edited with George Plimpton. Now, in West of Eden, she turns to Los Angeles, the city of her childhood. Stein vividly captures a mythic cast of characters: their ambitions and triumphs as well as their desolation and grief.
These stories illuminate the bold aspirations of five larger-than-life individuals and their families. West of Eden is a work of history both grand in scale and intimate in detail. At the center of each family is a dreamer who finds fortune and strife in Southern California: Edward Doheny, the Wisconsin-born oil tycoon whose corruption destroyed the reputation of a U.S. president and led to his own son’s violent death; Jack Warner, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, who together with his brothers founded one of the world’s most iconic film studios; Jane Garland, the troubled daughter of an aspiring actress who could never escape her mother’s schemes; Jennifer Jones, an actress from Oklahoma who won the Academy Award at twenty-five but struggled with despair amid her fame and glamour. Finally, Stein chronicles the ascent of her own father, Jules Stein, an eye doctor born in Indiana who transformed Hollywood with the creation of an unrivaled agency and studio.
In each chapter, Stein paints a portrait of an outsider who pins his or her hopes on the nascent power and promise of Los Angeles. Each individual’s unyielding intensity pushes loved ones, especially children, toward a perilous threshold. West of Eden depicts the city that has projected its own image of America onto the world, in all its idealism and paradox. As she did in Edie, Jean Stein weaves together the personal recollections of an array of individuals to create an astonishing tapestry of a place like no other.
Praise for West of Eden
“Compulsively readable, capturing not just a vibrant part of the history of Los Angeles—that uniquely ‘American Place’ Stein refers to in her subtitle—but also the real drama of this town . . . It’s like being at an insider’s cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people, such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller and Dennis Hopper. . . . Mesmerizing.”—Los Angeles Times
“Perhaps the most surprising thing that emerges from this riveting book is a glimpse of what seems like deep truth. It’s possible that oral history as Stein practices it . . . is as close as we’re going to come to the real story of anything.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Enthralling . . . brings some of [L.A.’s] biggest personalities to life . . . As she did for Edie Sedgwick in Edie: American Girl, [Stein] harnesses a gossipy chorus of voices.”—Vogue
“Even if you’re a connoisseur of Hollywood tales, you’ve probably never heard these. . . . As ever, gaudy, debauched, merciless Hollywood has the power to enthrall its audience.”—The Wall Street Journal
“The tales of jaw-dropping excess, cruelty, and betrayal are the stuff of movies, and the pleasures are immense.”—Vanity Fair
“This riveting oral history chronicles the development of Los Angeles, from oil boomtown to Tinseltown.”—Entertainment Weekly (“Must List”)
About the Author
Jean Stein was the longtime editor of Grand Street magazine and a former editor at The Paris Review. She was the author of American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy, an oral history with interviews by Stein and edited by George Plimpton; Edie: American Girl, which was edited with Plimpton; and West of Eden: An American Place, an oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles.
“West of Eden is compulsively readable, capturing not just a vibrant part of the history of Los Angeles—that uniquely ‘American Place’ [Jean] Stein refers to in her subtitle—but also the real drama of this town, as reflected in the lives of some of its most powerful players. . . . It’s like being at an insider’s cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people, such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller and Dennis Hopper. The result is a mesmerizing book.”—Los Angeles Times “Perhaps the most surprising thing that emerges from this riveting book is a glimpse of what seems like deep truth. It’s possible that oral history as Stein practices it . . . is as close as we’re going to come to the real story of anything. . . . In a book that’s a study of the fleeting nature of worldly power, Stein, now eight-two, has grabbed for herself the only kind that lasts: She’s the one left standing, who gets to tell the story.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Jean Stein’s enthralling new oral history, West of Eden: An American Place, brings some of [Los Angeles’s] biggest personalities to life. . . . As she did for Edie Sedgwick in Edie: American Girl, the former Grand Street editor harnesses a gossipy chorus of voices.”—Vogue
“Even if you’re a connoisseur of Hollywood tales, you’ve probably never heard these. . . . As ever, gaudy, debauched, merciless Hollywood has the power to enthrall its audience.”—The Wall Street Journal “Stein expertly orchestrates a chorus of voices—rich and famous and not-so—to create a picture of Hollywood through the lives of five of its most powerful families, drawn to the promise of unmined riches in the oil fields and the fool’s-gold sparkle of stardom. The tales of jaw-dropping excess, cruelty, and betrayal are the stuff of movies, and the pleasures are immense.”—Vanity Fair “This riveting oral history chronicles the development of Los Angeles, from oil boomtown to Tinseltown, told through the stories of five prominent families.”—Entertainment Weekly (“Must List”)
“If there is anyone still laboring under the delusion that great wealth and a couple of palm trees bring happiness, Jean Stein’s long-awaited oral history of Los Angeles, West of Eden, should put that notion to rest. . . . It is probably not an exaggeration to say that West of Eden is the most intelligent, painstakingly researched work of schadenfreude yet produced.”—Katie Roiphe, Town & Country
“In a masterfully conducted symphony of voices, Stein tells the story of a coterie of families—including her own—in Malibu and Beverly Hills, each profile centered on someone who ‘came with a burst of energy from nowhere’ to invent a life of riches and fame. Stein’s polyvalent oral narrative documents the indelible beauty and giddy decadence of Hollywood’s twentieth-century golden age, complete with a parade of glamorous personalities and intrigues worthy of Henry James.”—Interview
“Spellbinding.”—New Statesman “By far one of the best books ever written about Hollywood.”—Gaby Wood, The Telegraph
“Jean Stein’s West of Eden is a stunning exploration of five families who made Los Angeles what it is. Gossipy, dark, rich, mesmerizing.”—Joan Didion “In times past, in an effort to capture the edge and feel of Hollywood during its golden age of glamour and noir, Nathanael West, Raymond Chandler, Carey McWilliams, and Joan Didion stretched language and genre to their limits. Jean Stein and West of Eden belong in this company.”—Kevin Starr, former California State Librarian and author of California: A History “[A] compelling, occasionally gossipy, informative chronicle of the flamboyant personalities from a storybook Hollywood era . . . [West of Eden] rivets.”—Kirkus Reviews
From the Hardcover edition.
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