All photos courtesy of Wikimedia
Hollywood, the City of Broken Dreams, a place where people have attempted to make it big, but more often than not, have found nothing but sorrow and pain. In the early 20th century, Hollywood was nothing, Los Angeles, California was nothing but small ranches, sparsely populated with cowpokes and Mexican/American immigrants. The fledgling moving picture industry was in its infancy on the east coast, small production companies in New York were struggling to stay afloat. One of the most substantial challenges that the production companies faced was the limitations of their shooting schedule. New York weather can be fickle, and in the early years of movie production, natural lighting was vital to making the picture. A rainy weather pattern in the northeast could completely derail the shooting schedule of a movie, and the winter months were utterly useless of the production companies. In the first decade of the 20th century, the movie business looked to move, and the eyes drifted westward. The dusty hamlet of Los Angeles, California offered what the movie business needed, almost endless sunshine, the absence of harsh winters and a ready and willing government waiting to give the movie makers free reign.
Hollywood exploded from there, and the movies became an essential part of the American experience; millions of Americans flocked to their local movie houses to get away from their typical problems. The fall of the American economy in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s proved to be a massive boon to the movie business. Folks from around the country were mired in the Great Depression and looked to the movies as an escape. Millions of Americans adored Actors such as Clark Gable, Jimmy Cagney, and countless others, while the Goddesses of the screen were the likes of Vivian Leigh, Katherine Hepburn, and Barbara Stanwyck. The actresses of the silver screen were sex symbols to the men, and the glowing example of goddesses for American women to aspire to. The movie industry cast a glamorous glow and served as a beacon for all of the nobodies who had dreams of “making it big.”
Hollywood history is strewn with tales of wannabe starlets moving west with dreams of stardom, only to fall crashing to earth in a heap. Arguably, the most infamous, and terrible tale of Hollywood’s allure is the story of the young Elizabeth Short, or as she has become known, the Black Dahlia. Elizabeth “Betty” Short grew up during the Great Depression just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Betty’s early life was thrown into a tailspin when her father left the family, faking his own suicide in 1930. Her father moved to California and immediately began a new life with a brand new family, Betty and her family thought her dad was dead for over a decade. Betty grew up and eventually dropped out of high school, around that same time, the family received an apology letter from the Father telling them exactly what he had done. Betty took the opportunity to move out west with her father, to get away from her Mother, and to pursue her dream to be a Hollywood starlet.
In 1943, Betty was fledgling in her pursuit, spending most of her nights at bars and trying to make connections. During that year, she was involved in a roundup at a bar and arrested for underage drinking. Betty wasn’t wanted at home with her father and was thus sent back to Massachusetts, but that wasn’t to last. Betty moved to Florida and began hanging around Armed Forces bases around the coasts. During World War II, it was common for young women to hang around where the soldiers were in the hopes of finding the man in the uniform of their dreams. Betty fell in love with a decorated Air Force pilot, Matthew Gordon just before he was off to the Asian theater of the conflict.
Betty was excited to find the man of her dreams; she claimed that Gordon had proposed to her just before leaving. Betty waited for Gordon, but he was killed in action in Burma before returning home to Betty. Gordon was killed in 1945, just before the end of the war, and Betty was devastated. Friends were unsure if she and Gordon were indeed engaged, but Short struggled through the rest of 1945. In 1946, the beacon of Hollywood shone once again, and Betty Short once again moved to the City of Dreams.
Betty Short spent 1946 looking for her big break, but all she found was rejection and heartbreak. Betty worked as a waitress and dated a few men off and on, including a married man by the name of Robert Manley. On the morning of January 15, 1947, Betty Short met her end, and she finally gained the fame she had so long lusted for. While a woman was walking her young baby that morning, she came across a vacant lot, in the lot she saw what she thought was a mannequin, but it was something much more sinister. The body of Elizabeth Short was cut in half, completely drained of blood. Short had her face cut into a Joker like smile from Batman, and her body was positioned in a weird posture. In our next installment, we investigate the theories behind the murder and the lasting legacy of the Black Dahlia.