Louis Menand at The New Yorker:
Didion came from a family of Republicans. She was born in Sacramento in 1934, a fifth-generation Californian. Her father started out in insurance, speculated in real estate, and ended up spending most of his career in the military, a very California trifecta. Turned down by Stanford, Didion attended Berkeley, in an era when campus life was socially conventional and politically dormant. In 1955, she won a guest editorship at Mademoiselleand spent a few months in New York City. A year later, she won a similar contest at Vogue, and she moved to New York in the fall of 1956 and began her magazine career there. Leaving home, she later said, “just seems part of your duty in life.”
Didion worked at Vogue for ten years. She continued to write for Mademoiselle, and, in 1960, she began contributing to The National Review, William F. Buckley’s conservative weekly. She wrote pieces about John Wayne, her favorite movie star, and, in the 1964 Presidential election, she voted for Barry Goldwater. She adored Goldwater. It was hardly a surprise that she found Haight-Ashbury repugnant. Her editors at the Post understood perfectly how she would react. They designed the cover before she handed in the piece.
Didion’s transformation as a writer did not involve a conversion to the counterculture or to the New Left. She genuinely loathed the hippies, whom she associated with characters like Charles Manson, and she thought that the Black Panthers and the student radicals were both frightening and ridiculous.