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 US 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 25 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.
Read by Scott Brick, Paul Boehmer, Tara Sands, Cassandra Campbell, Arthur Morey, Mark Bramhall, Kathleen McInerney, Ann Marie Lee, Fred Sanders, Jorjeana Marie, Keith Szarabajka, Will Damron, and Bruce Mann.
"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)
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- Ruth Bain
An Engaging Thread in Hollywood History
Jean Stein's "West of Eden: An American Place," at first seems unimportant... an odd assemblage of oral history snippets curated by a grown up industry child (now 82 years old). By the book's end, however, I was converted, having understood that valuable insights can be gleaned from this unique effort. The author's father was Dr. Jules Stein, founder of MCA Universal, and a Hollywood icon and pioneer in talent representation and television and motion picture production. Jean Stein is perhaps one of the last articulate witnesses to the tail end of an era that started when a handful of immigrants created an industry that has now become one of the largest in the world. For this reason, her perspective illuminates some subtle and perverse undercurrents of the out-sized history of Los Angeles and its showcase enterprise. Some of Stein's inferences: being good at business does not necessarily equate with being good at relationships - your associates, your spouse, your children. Children of the powerful start life with extra baggage and some don't have the coping mechanisms to survive. Some go completely mad, some end it all. Ego and vanity in Hollywood is in a class by itself and the collateral damage is all around. The Angelenos Stein chooses to profile - oil and railroad barons, their mentally disturbed offspring, a legendary actress and a couple of moguls - are all a bit notorious, and could have been plucked from the firmament of Nathanael West's "The Day of the Locust."
I'm a student of the early days of Hollywood and I've enjoyed reading many important biographies: A. Scott Berg's "Goldwyn," Neal Gabler's "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination," Irene Mayer Selznick's "A Private View," Norman J Zierold's "The Moguls," among others. For the most part, these are exhaustively researched masterpieces. Stein's is not one of them. Rather, through her work, we gain a sense of the ephemeral nature of huge success, even groundbreaking innovation like her father's.
When Jules Stein's widow Doris died in 1984, their large, beautiful hilltop Beverly Hills mansion "Misty Mountain," was snapped up by Rupert Murdoch in a hastily brokered deal on the condition that all contents -- furniture, china and silverware, even family mementos and photographs all come with it. Like a hermit crab, Murdoch was able to step into a home and lifestyle that spanned half a century of Hollywood history.
This is a book for industry types, Beverly Hills brats with a sense of history and I suppose people like me who are endlessly curious about early Hollywood, love LA, and rue the morphing and consolidation of this gem of an industry to into the corporate machine it has now become.
- Book Dad