The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce won’t be handing out copies of “Among the Mansions of Eden” to newcomers, but you can bet the book won’t go unread by denizens of the famed community. David Weddle’s alternately affectionate and excoriating portrait of Beverly Hills will strike a chord of recognition among both the showbusiness pros and run of the mill glitzy citizens of B.H. Are the extreme characters from the worlds of entertainment, real estate and fashion on display in “Eden” really the norm on Rodeo Drive or do they just make for bracing poolside reading? The answer will probably only be known to the Wilshire Boulevard shrinks that “Eden” might send a few readers calling on.
Whether he’s lamenting the twilight of the vaudevillians-turned-radio, TV and film stars like Jack Benny, George Burns and Milton Berle who helped create the early vibe and cachet of the enclave, or ruefully sketching the hucksters both crude and smooth, like the late Herbalife mogul Mark Hughes or porno czar Norm Zadeh, Weddle trods confidently in the footsteps of earlier chroniclers of Southern California such as Joan Didion and Raymond Chandler.
He has Chandler’s eye and ear for significant details that define the sad and futile dreams of his real-life characters. As one of the “Land”-selling pro’s of the subtitle explains the social Darwinism of the town, “money doesn’t diminish in a recession, it just changes hands.” And Weddle shares Didion’s skill of acid-etching the not-so-quiet desperation of these high-flying habitues of the “Mansions” of the title. As an illustration of the power of sheer Oedipal drive, Weddle’s final image of Zadeh surveying his lavish empire of racy babes and pricey square footage while futilely railing at the memory of his eternally unimpressed father ranks up there with James Cagney’s “Look at me Ma! Top of the world!!” death scene in “White Heat.” If Weddle’s portraits are any indication, truth in Beverly Hills beats fiction hands down.
At the end of Weddle’s city tour, the reader will be ready to amend Euripedes’ famous dictum: whom the gods wish to destroy, they first give a 90210 zipcode.