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West of Eden is the definitive story of Hollywood, told, in their own words, by the people on the inside: Lauren Bacall, Arthur Miller, Dennis Hopper, Frank Gehry, Ring Lardner, Joan Didion, Stephen Sondheim – all interviewed by Jean Stein, who grew up in the Forties in a fairytale mansion in the Hollywood Hills.
The book takes us from the discovery of oil in the Twenties with the story of the tycoon Edward Doheny (There Will Be Blood) and traces the growth of corruption through the syndicates, the mob, and the movie studios – from the beginnings of the film industry to the end, with News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch (who bought the Stein mansion in 1985).
West of Eden is about money, power, fame and terrible secrets: the doomed Hollywood of the late Fifties, early Sixties – ‘the rotten heart of paradise’. Like her last book, the best-selling Edie, this is an oral history told through brilliantly edited interviews. As this is Hollywood, it’s a book full of sex, drugs and celebrity glamour; but because it’s built from the firsthand accounts of people who were actually there, many of them writers, actors and artists, it’s also strangely claustrophobic, seductive, and completely compelling.
Jean Stein’s father, Jules, founded MCA and she grew up in the golden years of Hollywood. At Jean’s coming-out party, Judy Garland sang ‘Over the Rainbow’; later she had an affair with William Faulkner, became an editor at The Paris Review, and was Elia Kazan’s assistant on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Immersed in the demi-monde of New York, she was close to Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, and to Warhol’s muse – Edie Sedgewick – about whom Lou Reed wrote ‘Femme Fatale’ and Jean Stein wrote Edie (1982). That book became an international best-seller, of which Norman Mailer wrote: ‘This is the book of the Sixties that we have been waiting for.’
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