Jean Stein's "West of Eden: An American Place" revealed the twisted lives of those who built Hollywood, not the on-screen stars but those who financed the movies and TV shows, made the deals, acquired the talent.
While Hollywood power brokers and wealthy families were Stein's focus, she gave a sad, fascinating portrait of the actress Jennifer Jones, who was married to the top producer David O. Selznick before his death.
A master of the oral history genre, Stein earlier gained renown for her study of Andy Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick and memories of Robert Kennedy's final cross-country train journey. Paris Review editor and author George Plimpton co-wrote or edited those books.
Stein died last weekend at age 83 by leaping from her apartment building on Manhattan's Upper Eastside. She had been suffering from depression, according to the Los Angeles Times.
One of the captivating segments of "West of Eden" involved personal experience: She was the daughter of Jules Stein, founder of MCA, the talent agency that shaped the movie and TV industries. The MCA executive Lew Wasserman was the major powerbroker in deciding which actor played in which TV show during the 1950s and '60s.
Stein's cinematic recollections of her parents' Hollywood parties and growing up in a sometimes bizarre milieu among movie royalty were comic and heart-piercing.
Part of Plimpton's early Paris Review circle, Stein as a young woman conducted a well-known interview with William Faulkner, the source of several famous Faulkner quotes. Another celebrated literary endeavor was editing Ben Sonnenberg's literary journal Grand Street.
Her daughter, Kristina Vanden Huevel, publisher and editor of the Nation, told the The New York Times that Stein was also noted for her dinner parties, where she matched people from the literary world with those from politics and business, making for heated and sparkling conversation.