Blogging the Wolfe Book, the Face Is Familiar
I’m blogging in real time as I read Donald H. Wolfe’s “The Black Dahlia Files: The Mob, the Mogul and the Murder That Transfixed Los Angeles.” Wolfe is using the “Laura” format in which the anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative is told in flashbacks. We’re at the point in the story where Elizabeth Short has left Los Angeles for San Diego in December 1946, about a month before she was murdered.
Wolfe is talking about Elizabeth Short’s stay at the Chancellor on North Cherokee. Everything seems to be lifted more or less from newspaper accounts.
Holmes, I don’t even need to ask. The end notes.
Well, Watson, Wolfe says he consulted the Oakland Tribune, Jan. 21, 1947, a bit unusual. Most people don’t bother with the Oakland papers as they’re hard to get. Let’s check his work. He says that’s where he got this quote:
“She had lots of telephone calls, mostly from a man named Maurice, and she was out almost every night. The morning she left, she was very anxious about something. Beth said to me: ‘I’ve got to hurry! I’ve got to get out of here.’ ”
Let’s pull our copies of the Oakland papers, Watson. Jan. 21, 1947, Oakland Tribune.
My dear Holmes! The quote isn’t there!
Hum. A United Press story datelined Los Angeles. Foul work, Watson. Foul work indeed.
Let’s press on. Wolfe talks about a trip to San Diego by Examiner reporter Tommy Devlin and then drags in George O’Day, a name I don’t recognize. I have a terrible feeling I’m about to encounter the three most terrifying words in the English language: “Will Fowler recalls.”
Nope, not attributed to anybody. Who on earth is George O’Day? Let’s check Will Fowler’s “Reporters.” Ha! Page 81 of “Reporters” but not attributed in “Mogul.”
Holmes, why are you never wrong?
Who is this mysterious George O’Day fellow?
“Reporters,” Page 14.
“George O’Day, an ex-professional boxer with a large front gold tooth, grabbed his four-by-five Speed Graphic camera and a bag of negative plates and flash bulbs. We two-stepped it down a couple flights of cast-iron stairways at the rear of the building and out to O’Day’s car in the parking lot.” Well, not a reporter, anyway, but a lensman.
But I don’t seem to recall any Examiner pictures from San Diego. Let’s see. Well, the Examiner ran a photo of Dorothy French but didn’t provide any sort of credit—very unhelpful of them. The Herald ran the same picture a bit later. Normally the Examiner credited photos with a line like “Examiner photo.” But that’s the only picture the Examiner ran from San Diego. Inconclusive.
Wolfe picks up the mistake from John Gilmore’s “Severed” about the Aztec Theatre, where Elizabeth Short was befriended by cashier Dorothy French as she was spending the night. “Severed” (25% mistakes and 50% fiction) fabricates an entire scene out of this moment:
“After leaving the cafe [I’ll spare you that story], Beth walked up Fifth Street to the Aztec Theater where a double feature was playing. The sign outside said “OPEN ALL NIGHT.” She bought a ticket and soon after settling into one of the plush seats, fell asleep while the movie was playing.
“Twenty-one-year-old Dorothy French worked as a cashier and usher at the Aztec. When the houselights came on she saw the girl sleeping near the front row, the only person left in the theater except for Dorothy and the janitor.
“Dorothy woke the girl and told her the theater was closed. Beth seemed confused and mentioned the sign that said the movie house was open all night. ‘I have to apologize for that,’ Dorothy said. ‘The sign is not supposed to be out there. The policy has been changed because we’re under new management.’ ”
In fact, according to the San Diego newspapers, the Aztec was still an all-night movie theater, one of several in the city. So much for “Severed.”
Wolfe further states that “The Jolson Story” was playing at the Aztec, but note that his source is “Severed,” which doesn’t mention the name of the film and in fact says a double feature was playing. This is bad work, folks. I was fairly certain I had the movie listings for the Aztec from 1946, but I can’t locate them quickly.
Time for my walk.
Shout out to:
Dark Horse Comics (18.104.22.168) one of my regular visitors.
Sheffield, England (22.214.171.124)
Lanham, Md. (126.96.36.199)
Rutgers University (188.8.131.52)
Hurry on back!