Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blogging the Wolfe Book, Our Far-Flung Correspondents

Large ImageI’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 gone to San Diego about a month before she was killed.

I was voicing skepticism yesterday about what movie was playing at the Aztec Theatre, an all-night movie house in San Diego, on the date in question. “Mogul” claims it was the “Al Jolson Story,” which is extremely unlikely.

A regular reader writes:

On 6th and 7th of December 1946, the Aztec played “The Blue Dahlia” and“Firebrands of Arizona.” During the day of the 8th, the Aztec played “Dead or Alive” and “Alibi. “For some reason, problems with the “Dead” film(?), the Aztec reverted to “The Blue Dahlia” and “Firebrands” on the night of the 8th. And on the 9th of December 1946, the Aztec played “Dead or Alive” and “Alibi.”

That sounds more likely. Of course, I still need to check for myself because that’s how I work, but those movies sound more reasonable. The Aztec was a second-run movie house that was converted from a former meat market. The “Al Jolson Story,” as Donald H. Wolfe and I know, comes from another story in the district attorney’s files. It was playing at the Pantages in Hollywood.

Large ImageDoes this seem trivial? Absolutely. By itself, it is meaningless, but taken in concert with all the other fabrication in the book, this small fact proves once again that Wolfe is absolutely untrustworthy in terms of details.

Page 61

By now, Elizabeth Short is befriended by Dorothy French, a cashier at the Aztec. Wolfe claims that Elizabeth asked about a temporary job.

Now here’s something interesting. A longish quote from Dorothy French:

“When she said ‘temporary,’ I thought it meant she wasn’t looking for a permanent job,” Dorothy recalled, “and that she didn’t intend on staying in San Diego. I suggested that she talk to the manager the next day. There was something so sorrowful about her—she seemed lost and a stranger to the area, and I felt I wanted to help her. I wasn’t sure how. She apparently had no place to stay. I suggested she come home with me and get a good night’s sleep, if that would help. She said she was thankful for my generosity.”

If this is from anywhere, it should be from John Gilmore’s “Severed,” because nobody else has ever claimed to have interviewed Dorothy French, except perhaps the 1947 newspapers and I don’t recall her ever saying anything like that in print.

Come along, Watson. Surely you know the way by now.

Yes, Holmes, the end notes say: “Severed,” Page 96.

Then let’s just check on “Severed,” shall we?

Large ImageGood grief, Wolfe can’t even lift a quote from “Severed” without changing it.

See for yourself:

“When she said ‘temporary,’ ” Dorothy says, “I thought it meant she wasn’t looking for a permanent job. I suggested she talk to the manager the next day. There was something so sorrowful about her—she seemed lost and a stranger to the area and I felt I wanted to help her. I wasn’t sure how. She apparently had no place to stay. I suggested she come home with me and get a night’s sleep on our couch, if that would help. She said she was thankful for my generosity. She used the word ‘generosity,’ and said things were difficult in Hollywood because of the strikes.”

But what about “Mogul’s” “She didn’t intend on staying in San Diego”? Concocted entirely by Donald H. Wolfe. Aided and abetted by agent Alan Nevins of The Firm and editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss. This is poor work, folks.

Large ImageBut let’s take a step back. Ever wonder why nobody quotes Dorothy French except for Gilmore? And why nobody else has been able to find her? Interestingly enough, there aren’t any notes in the Gilmore archives at UCLA from an interview with French. In fact, there aren’t notes of any interviews with anybody in the Gilmore archives, which I find incredibly suspicious, since I keep notes on all my interviews. The only exception is the transcript of a session with Jack Wilson that reveals he was being paid to say he killed Elizabeth Short. (There is an interesting collection of rejection letters on “Severed” that is almost worth the trip to Westwood).

In case you’re curious, the reason nobody’s gotten interviews with Dorothy French is that she died more than 20 years ago.

Let’s check in with Gilmore’s onetime Dahlia partner Mary Pacios. Any quotes from Dorothy French in “Childhood Shadows?”

Hm. Now isn’t this just the most interesting thing? Pacios (“Childhood Shadows,” Page 111) talks about doing interviews in 1988, long after Dorothy French was dead.

Nope, no Dorothy French quotes: (“Childhood Shadows,” Page 86)

“Elvera’s daughter Dorothy said she met Beth at the Aztec Theater in downtown San Diego. Dorothy, working as a cashier, felt sorry for the dark-haired young woman sitting forlornly in the theater. Times had been rough since the end of the war eighteen months before.”

Did Gilmore actually interview Dorothy French? I’d like to know. I’d especially like to see some notes and know what name she was using at the time.

Good grief. I was going to pass on the next paragraph, figuring it was a straight lift from “Severed.” But no. Wolfe has to embellish it.

“Severed,” Page 96:

Large Image“Elvera French was sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. She apologized for the mess in the house—she had not expected company. Dorothy quickly told her that Beth was going to ‘camp out’ on the couch for the night since she’d missed a ride and was a little stranded.”

“It seemed as soon as Dorothy brought her a blanket and pillow, and Beth lay down, she was already fast asleep. In the kitchen, Elvera told her daughter that the girl looked ‘pale.’ Dorothy said Beth had been coughing and it sounded like some sort of congestion. Her mother suggested the girl should see a doctor.”

“Mogul,” Page 61

“…Dorothy’s mother, Elvera, was still awake, having a snack in the kitchen. Introducing the unexpected guest, Dorothy explained that Elizabeth had no place to stay. Elvera remembered that she was pale and didn’t look well. She brought Elizabeth a pillow and a blanket and suggested that she sleep on the sofa.”

OK, now what’s wrong with this picture, aside from the trivial questions of whether Dorothy or Elvera French got the blanket and pillow, and whether Elvera was drinking coffee or eating a Krispy Kreme New York cheesecake doughnut. I mean, the whole thing is made up so it hardly matters which vein of fiction you follow.

Does anybody remember what Elvera French did for a living? A job that enabled the French family to live in government housing in Bayview Terrace?

She was a nurse at the Navy hospital in San Diego and obviously well-equipped to diagnose whatever was allegedly ailing Elizabeth Short in “Severed.”


Large ImageTime for my walk.

Here’s a shout out to:

Germany (

France ( 22 hours? Tiens!

Hoffman Lewis (

Hurry back!

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