Westport, Westwood And 1960s Anti-Semitism

Alert “06880” reader, longtime Westporter — and current Californian — Fred Cantor writes:

A new book, Hollywood’s Eve by Lili Anolik, is generating plenty of media attention. It tells the story of Eve Babitz, a writer, artist and real-life Forrest Gump-type: For years, she crossed paths with many prominent Los Angeles personalities.

Critics now hail Babitz for providing a keen insider’s perspective of the LA scene of the 1950s to ’80s. She grew up there, and spent virtually her entire adult life in LA –except for a short time in Italy, and one year in New York City (March 1966 to March ’67).

What does this have to do with Westport?

In Babitz’s first book — Eve’s Hollywood — she describes visiting Westport on a summer weekend, in 1966.

She had an anti-Semitic experience. She then generalizes about it, comparing Westport to Westwood circa 1960 or 1961. (Many of her high school classmates went to UCLA. Eve chose Los Angeles City College.)

Westwood, where UCLA is, is so insanely crappy you could throw up. It’s so WHITE and it’s so clean and it’s so impervious, and the closest I ever got to that feeling of Westwood was when someone took me out of the Lower East Side in New York one horrible summer day to their mother’s house in Westport, Conn., and their mother was so shocked and repelled by me (she could tell I was Jewish, where her son hadn’t noticed) that she ran slides of his ex-girl friend for 45 minutes after dinner. That’s what Westwood is like.

Eve’s observations about LA back in the day might have been spot on. As for her representation of Westport in 1966, and the comparison to Westwood — well, if you lived in Westport the ’60s, you be the judge.

28 responses to “Westport, Westwood And 1960s Anti-Semitism

  1. Maybe the boyfriend’s mom just thought she was as obnoxious, rude, and repugnant as her writing style suggests.

  2. Anyone who things Anti Semitism has gone from our town, is blid, deaf and totally unobservant.

    • agree Dan. I find the incident at the lacrosse game between Staples and Fairfield Prep very disturbing.

  3. I graduated Staples HS in the class of 1964 and went to Bedford Jr HS before that. I was regularly harassed and even beaten for being “a Jew” by a few of my class mates. It wasn’t many, to be sure. I would not be able to generalize much from this about the town as a whole, although history tells us there was plenty of anti-Semitism in the area (the film “Gentlemen’s Agreement” for example). History also records many liberal opponents of anti-Semitism too. I wrote about how what I experienced in HS effected me in my college application, which helped me get accepted!

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    To think about it and still remember it, makes me sick. However it didn’t at the time. The elementary schools thought they were being magnanimous by having the kids sing Draedel Draedel Draedel at Christmastime. That was just the tip of the iceberg. There was never any anger or outrage. There wasn’t even any sense of “we need to stop this.” Que Sera Sera.

  5. Novelists aren’t required to be historically accurate, of course.

    So many 06880 readers, me included, ended up in Westport precisely because, by the late 1950s, it had a large Jewish population, unlike several other towns which had anti-Semitic covenants a la “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

    As for Westwood, I’d be surprised this was a hotbed of anti-Semitism, knowing how Jewish the whole West L.A. area is today (and was in the ’60s…all you need to do is listen to an Allan Sherman song.)

    As far as middle class Jewish kids moving into urban slum neighborhoods their grandparents worked so hard to move out of, that IS historically accurate of the 1960s!

  6. Babitz, is right on when she compares Westport to Westwood. I was raised in Westwood while living in Los Angeles for 50 years. Lived a stones throw from UCLA..
    When the time came for me to relocate to the NY area I chose Westport because it was similar to Westwood in a variety of ways especially the demographics.
    Westwood was over loaded, when I was there, with successful people. However one must remember Westwood was not defined by streets but by it’s nearness to UCLA.
    I also went to University High School which was the Staples High School of Los Angeles and was a primary feeder school to UCLA.
    Tom Bloch

    • Westwood and Westport may have similar demographics, but geography is way different. Westwood is within LA city limits (15 miles from downtown), and in the midst of a densely populated urban sprawl. Nothing LA is like the NY Metro, of course, but to be geographically similar to Westport, you’d need to be somewhere like Thousand Oaks, or going in the opposite direction, Claremont.

  7. One of the big objections in Fairfield County to the Merritt Parkway was the fear that it would become an attractive nuisance – and that certain elements from NYC would show up. Westport was never a sundown town like Darien, but there was an understanding for some time that there should be no Jews south of the Merritt.

    • Not sure I understand this, Morley. The towns where Jews began settling in Fairfield County during the Merritt Parkway era were ALL south of the parkway. Besides, as far as bringing “certain elements from NYC,” the New Haven railroad was doing that since the 1870’s.

      • I can’t speak to what other towns did to exclude Jews. Just this one.

        • Still don’t understand. Most of Westport is south of the Merritt, including neighborhoods that were considered very Jewish when my family moved here in the late 50s — like the Sniffen Road and Gault Park areas.

          Yes, Temple Israel and the Coleytown schools are north of the Merritt, but not so for most of the people attending those institutions.

          It is true that back in the 30s and 40s there were anti-Semitic restrictions in Westport. Leo Nevas spoke frequently about this.

          • Mr. Nevas was wonderfully outspoken about some of the things which others wished would remain submerged. Including the effort to prevent Jews from settling south of the Merritt in Westport. But not all of it was dark. His accounting of the infamous hourly rate cabins which once stood where the Westport Inn now stands was humorous and even quaint by today’s standards. I nearly dropped the phone with laughter learning from him about the deal the town made with the cabins’ owner to make them go away. Suffice to say, there’s a reason why the Westport Inn exists at all. In any event, the effort to prevent Jews from settling in Westport had thankfully fallen away by the 1950’s.

            • Still looking for the context on that south of the Merritt thing, Morley. Does it perhaps refer to Stony Brook in Weston – the summer cottage colony dating back to the 30s that was thought by the locals to be a hotbed of Jewish Communist artists? Stony Brook is definitely north of the Merritt, but it’s not in Westport, although close.

              • Peter, I wish I could tell you more about this particular subject as I share your interest, but it was just not really talked about for reasons which, of course, require no explanation. It was only whispered. I have always heard, as you did, that Stony Brook was an “approved” place for Jews to live, but I know not much more than that oral tradition. Having recently read a good book about Sundown towns and exclusionary housing policies, it seems that the idea no-go areas was commonplace nationwide from the 1890’s into the early 20th century.

            • Peter Gambaccini

              I remember those cabins, but I was like 7 or 8 and never spent time figuring out who went there. I was innocent. As to “restrictions” on housing patterns in Westport, all I can add is that Greens Farms Elementary School, which I attended until 1962, had only a handful of Jewish students. But when I got to Long Lots Junior High, which included the Coleytown and Burr Farms populaces, the Jewish percentage was much much higher. Greens Farms had a lot of older housing and families that had been in town for decades (mine was not one), but the kind of restrictions you are talking about, Mr. Boyd, must have also been a factor.

  8. I am one of those Southern California UCLA grads from the 1960 – 1970s when people not infrequently asked me why I chose to attend “Jew C L A” instead of USC. Nuff said.

  9. Sorry, got this all wrong. Just looked up Eve Babitz; sorry to admit I’d never heard of her (despite her lifelong pursuit of celebrity.) She is not a novelist, nor even is she known for her writing ability. I gather her fame and fortune comes from writing and talking about all the stars she has slept with. Not exactly the kind of historical content we’ve been talking about here!

  10. David J. Loffredo

    So now that you’ve Google’d her and you realize she was just an earlier version of Kim Kardashian, maybe, just maybe, the Westport Mom back in the 60’s wasn’t thrilled to have some Hollywood Harlot in her home and it had absolutely nothing to do with her religion. This is Fake News 1960’s style.

    • David, she was hardly a Kim Kardashian. She has earned praise from critics as a talented writer and as someone who successfully captured the LA scene back in the day.

      • Perhaps a cross between Dorothy Parker and Kim Kardashian. The media connections of the former, and the trashiness of the latter?

      • William Strittmatter

        I’m not holding my breath but maybe in 10 years people will be saying the same about Kim Kardashian. However, in 1966, Eve Babitz was busy sleeping around and designing album covers and had yet to be published much less critically acclaimed. Only thing someone in Westport CT would have known about at the time was what their kid told them or if they read about her in the National Enquirer or knew about her nude photo playing chess.

  11. I’m very sorry to hear about others’ anti-Semitic experiences in Westport during the sixties. I thankfully never experienced a single instance of anti-Semitism—and the clear majority of my friends were not Jewish.

    Below is what I submitted to the Westport Historical Society as part of its current exhibit, which I think is relevant to this discussion:
    “My family moved to Westport in the spring of 1963 from Fresh Meadows, Queens. My older brother Marc was in 8th grade and I was in 4th grade. The primary motive for the move was that our neighborhood high school in Queens was overcrowded.

    So naturally the excellent reputation of the Westport school system in general and Staples High School in particular played an important role in my parents’ decision.

    But there was another consideration as well: the fact that Westport was very welcoming to Jewish families at a time when that was not true of all nearby towns which also had superb public schools.

    What my parents wanted for my brother and me was to live in a town where there was a Jewish presence but where we were clearly in the minority—because that’s what the most of the real world was like (in contrast to our neighborhood in Queens where Jews constituted a significant percentage of the community).

    The Jewish population in Westport was roughly 12% of the total in 1960 (based on statistics from the 1960 census and the American Jewish Yearbook of 1961).

    So Westport seemed to be a perfect fit. And my entire family ended up being very happy with the move here, as evidenced in part by the fact that I am a Westport resident 56 years later.”

    Re anti-Semitism existing in the town now: there will always be bigots, no matter where you live, and the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups have continuously documented and battled hate groups and instances of hatred for decades all over the country. But Westport has hardly been a hotbed of white supremacy or anti-Semitism notwithstanding occasional instances of bigotry over the years.

  12. Bonnie Bradley

    Fred, to me your comment is the most rational and reasonable of all above.
    What you pointed illustrates how I understood the issue in Westport growing up and if we’re to focus on the ’50s -60s’ it was not an issue I ever heard much about at all. Learning that boys were bullied in school because of an ethnic/religious issue saddens me greatly..

    Speaking of that era, just for an example, Leo Nevas was one of Westport’s most respected lawyers, for his brilliant mind, his fairness and willingness to give his time and effort for the betterment of our town. To my knowledge no one ever said “… but of course he’s a Jew.” Ridiculous – he was seen as another, equal human being, albeit an extraordinary one.

    I did not attend public school but the Bolton School (GFA), girls’ school.
    There was a Jewish girl in my tiny class, daughter of a respected, even revered, physician of many years in Westport. The family lived on Old Hill. There was nothing remarkable or notable about this.

    Admittedly, there were over the years certain “restrictions” at country clubs in Westport – Christian and Jewish. Just their existence alone might have caused a rift. My family never belonged to either so I’m not so sure about what that was all about. Longshore was the “Jewish” Club.

    Anyway, it seems that there will always be some mumbling, cranky, negative old-Yankee or newly-entitled shortsighted folks, frightened of the unknown in our midst. What I think is that this harkens back to the organization of religious groups (“our way or the highway”) and strictly patriarchal societies. Too bad that seems to stand in the way of humanity.

  13. Im sure it happened like she said if did But I find it very hard to believe that could have been The Norm for WSPT then, (or anytime since then for that matter), Because my grandparents and their siblings were big fans of WSPT AND actively very against prejudice, based on skin color or religion, based on anything really. By the time I came along in 1970’s I was well aware that they loved going out to WSPT for days to stay with friends, recommended WSPT as A Go To for friends who needed a nyc escape buy to still be close to nyc, they never would hav enjoyed and recommended WSPT to friends if there was any working prejudice against anyone Jewish or black, or really anyone, Jewish or not, considered a ‘WWII refugee’. Too bad I can’t share photos of 3 bears esp, those photos would very well show how enthusiastically inclusive WSPT has always been, incl back then.

  14. Robert Moses of New York deliberately built a system of parkways around New York with bridges too low for busses to get through to keep non-whites from coming to the suburbs, and Connecticut followed through with the low bridge design. His original purpose was to keep non-whites from Jones Beach, but all parkways followed the same pattern.
    A by-product of this is that Connecticut, Westchester and Long Island i commuters rely primarily on trains to get to work while New Jerseyites are more likely to use buses.

  15. I should add related to the main topic that the Patterson Club in Fairfield did not have Jewish members until the late 1950s.