Hollywood. Tinsel Town. A town of smoke and mirrors, the epicentre of a global entertainment industry, but along with the glitz and the glamour, Tinsel Town has a darker side – one of dirty tricks, cover-ups and even murder
Hollywood is all about deception, always.
For more than a century Hollywood’s glamour, its people, its money has captivated people from around the world. Movies have as much power today as they did when they first hit the screens. When entering a cinema we are transported by from our humdrum existence to a world, literally as well as figuratively, much, much larger then real life as we gaze past the head of the person in front to the star who we are temporarily in love with.
With so much money and power flowing through the town many believe there were – and still are – people who would do anything to advance their interests and then cover it up in a passel of lies. That may be the clue to why Hollywood is so fascinating; you cannot believe anything about it and yet you want to so you do, you suspend disbelief to soak up what can only be described as Fairy Stories.
The ‘tradition’ of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story comes from Hollywood’s golden era, the 1930s and 1940s when names and biographies were invented for the ‘big names’ to portray the squeaky clean image that Hollywood required, with agents and producers working closely with Police to keep their stars out of trouble and their reputation unsullied. Indiscretions that broke every one of the Ten Commandments and invented another ten were not so much as hinted at, unless it was in the interests of the Powers That Be to so do.
It was into this place of outward glamour and clean living, bling, colour, sparkle and glitz that twenty two year old Elizabeth Short walked in 1946 hoping for an opening in films. She was an attractive, slim but well formed girl, with clear blue eyes and deep brown hair, her looks marred only by badly decayed teeth.
Like so many hopefuls, Elizabeth failed to find work as an actress and was employed as a waitress, (a job which does actually involve a fair amount of acting as I can testify from my own experience as a student.) She claimed she had been engaged to an airman who had died and whilst there is no evidence to suggest that she was ever a prostitute, she certainly used her blue eyes and charm to persuade men to lavishly subsidize her income.
Her big break came on New Year’s day 1947 when she met Harry Blackstove Sr., a courtly, ‘old school’ magician and illusionist. In the town where deception was a way of life, mind over eye tricks such as his were elaborate and sought after. Among his especially effective illusions was one in which a girl lay on a divan, draped with a gossamer shroud and then seemed to float high in the air and then disappear as Blackstove pulled off the shroud. In another illusion, a woman stepped into a cabinet in front of many bright, clear, lights. When the magician suddenly pushed the perforated front of the cabinet backward the light bulbs protruded through the holes in the front of the box (to the accompaniment of the lady’s chilling screams). The cabinet was then rotated so that the audience seemed to see the lady impaled by splinters of filaments.
His ‘sawing a woman in half’ involved an electric circular saw some three or four feet round mounted on a swing-down arm. Blackstove demonstrated the efficacy of the device by sawing noisily through a thick piece of wood. Then a female assistant was placed on the saw table in full view, as wide metal restraints were clamped upon her middle section. The blade whirred and appeared to pass through her body, as ripping sounds were heard, the woman shrieked and particles of what seemed to be flesh were scattered by the whirring blade. When the blade stopped she, of course, rose completely whole and unharmed.
Harry was looking for a new assistant to tour with him, his previous lady accomplice being so ‘great with child’ that the restraint no longer did fastened and Elizabeth seemed perfect for the position. She gave a week’s notice at the diner and undertook a rigorous week of training with Harry for her new role.
She was perfect!
Harry also had another assistant, a large New Zealand White rabbit that for reasons unknown he called Rampant. Rampant Rabbit was the atypical stage magician’s rabbit, adept at popping out of hats and from sleeves at the right moment.
Everything seemed good in the lives of Harry, Elizabeth and Rampant.
But on the morning of January 15, 1947, the unclothed body of Elizabeth Short was found on waste ground in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Local mother Betty Bersinger discovered the corpse about 10:00 am. and first thought it was a discarded shop display dummy. When she realized it was a naked body she rushed to a nearby house and telephoned the police.
Short’s body was completely severed at the waist and drained entirely of blood. The body also had obviously been washed by the killer. The lower half of her body was positioned a foot away from the upper, and her intestines had been tucked neatly under her buttocks.
It did not take the coroner long to rule out suicide and a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown was recorded. Short soon acquired the nick name The Black Dahlia from newspapers in the habit of nicknaming crimes they found particularly lurid. It may have been derived from a film noir murder mystery, The Blue Dahlia released the previous year.
There’s never been a shortage of suspects in the Black Dahlia murder — but even after sixty eight years police have never been able to pin the crime on any of them.
Here is, however, a reason for that.
Elizabeth Short was NOT murdered!
The ‘sawing a woman in half’ illusion went badly, badly wrong. Rampant Rabbit, fed up with sitting in a top hat, decided to investigate and hopped out and spying what he thought was food, nibbled through the hemp rope that was holding the safety guard in place. The safety guard zoomed up, the circular saw buzzed down and with a whir and a shower of entrails, Elizabeth Short was no more.
The magician panicked. Had he telephoned the ambulance or the police he may have got away on a rap of accidental death, but all he could think of was the dead woman, a murder rap, the electric chair and his own death. Freezing like a rabbit in the headlights (not Rampant – some other rabbit) he was unable to think or function for hours and then suddenly had a brilliant idea. In this town of many murders and hidden crimes one more stiff on a vacant lot would not be a big deal, but a world renowned magician cutting a woman in half for real? Why, he would never get a booking again!
He carefully washed the dead girl and stripped her, not for any sexual reason of his own but to make it seem like a sexually motivated murder. Under cover of darkness he loaded his van with some large illusion ‘furniture’ and concealed the two bits of the Black Dahlia beneath the self same gossamer shroud that she had lain under for the illusion just that afternoon.
He seemed to drive for hours looking for a dark and lonely place to dump her but at saw that Leimert Park was deserted. Getting out he looked this way and that and seeing no one he dragged the legs out and carefully put her intestines under her bottom – he was a very neat and tidy man. He was just dragging the top half into position when a police car siren could be heard somewhere near, so he left it where it lay a short way away from the legs and jumping in his van fled the scene.
As for Rampant, he went on to father 14,003 babies who in their turn have populated the United States with a further 2, 749, 307 rabbits, all of whom have a passion for hemp – the rope variety of course!
Hemp rope making for intermediates (Adult education night school course)
Hemp by B. Stoned (purchased by accident.)
Fifty years in the saddle by Major Bumsaw
Trying to get tidy by Ina Mess
Insect Bites by Amos Kito
The photograph of the Black and Burgundy Dahlia was taken from the website http://www.fiftyflowers.com
© Jeff Jefferty Jeff August 12th 2015.