Monday, March 14, 2016

"West of Eden: An American Place" by Jean Stein (Random House)

ISBN:  9780812998405 Random House

"West of Eden: An American Place" by Jean Stein (Random House)

Hollywood will always be a mystical land that has a tinge of sadness and even worse, tragedy.  Not for me, mind you.  I lived in Los Angeles for my entire life, and I only know the joy of being in this city.  But then again, I'm one of those rare breeds who was born in Los Angeles, and stayed here as well.  On top of that, I'm not in the entertainment business!  But here, we have the roots of what became a certain type of Los Angeles culture.  Painfully rich, the five families that are profiled in "West of Eden," are mostly iconic families and some (at least to me) obscure.   It may be my nature but I find the obscure always the most interesting.  

Jean Stein, who is very much the queen of the oral history narrative, due to her early masterpiece (with George Plimpton) "Edie" has put together a book that is much more personal or in reality, her backyard.   The book covers five families: The Dohenys, the Selznicks, the Warners, her own family, the Steins (MCA), and the fascinating Jane Garland and her family.   What is interesting about Garland, is that she was not only a rich girl from a Hollywood family, but also quite insane.  What is even more insane was that she had a pair of male nurses: Walter Hopps and Ed Moses.  Hopps was the legendary curator and gallery owner of Ferus, and Moses is a great painter.  Both, are very much rooted in the art world history that is Los Angeles.  How these two eccentrics became a caretaker for Garland is both a fascinating tale, and an amazing map from fine art to the world of films.  

Each chapter (on each family) has a sense of sadness, and the reader is introduced to a world that although rich, is actually a landscape touched by  insecurity, madness, eccentricity, and to me, a perfect example of either an era passing or the death of a family's power and presence.  Those who are fascinated by the works of Truman Capote or F. Scott Fitzgerald, will find this book fascinating.  There is a fascination of watching the wealthy turn into dust - but there is also a beauty of that era, that won't be the same anymore.  There will always be the rich, but due to the American promise of riches and happiness - it is usually a bargain that fails in the end.  You get the wealth, but the happiness tends to unreachable.  

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