An exhibition dedicated to the notorious Black Dahlia case
Catherine Zeta-Jones, CBE as Elizabeth Short, © John Stoddart, 1991
Elizabeth Short, better known as the “Black Dahlia,” is the inspiration for an exhibition by the well-known photographer John Stoddart that opens at Soho’s The Society Club on 27th January.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Short had a brief but troubled life. With an absentee father who staged his own disappearance in 1930, Short suffered from asthma and bronchitis and was arrested in 1943 for underage drinking.
After moving to Florida, Short met Major Matthew Michael Gordon Jr., a decorated United States Army Air Force officer, and the pair became engaged. Gordon died in an airplane crash in 1945 before they could marry.
In 1946, Short moved to southern California to spend time with an Army Air Corps Lieutenant named Joseph Gordon Fickling, an old boyfriend, but by 9th January 1947 she had disappeared. A week later, on 15th January, her body was found in the Leimert Park district of Angeles. Discovered by a local resident named Betty Bersinger and her 3-year old daughter, Short’s corpse was in a most gruesome condition. Nude and mutilated, she had been drained of her blood and her face slashed to create an effect known as “the Glasgow smile.”
The barbaric injuries inflicted on Elizabeth Short
Of Elizabeth Short, a friend, Emma Pacios, commented: "Before she died, nobody talked about her." Another, Joe Sabia, added: “I think Bette was a victim of our time. She wanted to be somebody famous. She had stars in her eyes, dreams rather than plans.”
This colourful case was sensatationalised by William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers, the Los Angeles Herald-Express and the Los Angeles Examiner. The papers, who focused on describing Short as an “adventuress” who “prowled Hollywood Boulevard” turned a woman, who friends pointed out did not drink, smoke or swear, into “victim material” and labeled her the “Black Dahlia.”
As time has passed and though some 60 people confessed to being the killer, the murder remains unsolved and is now one of the most notorious cases of all time. The subject of a number of books and television series, in 1987, James Ellroy published a neo-noir novel, The Black Dahlia, inspired by this most vicious of killings. In turn, this was made into a film, directed by Brian De Palma, in 2006.
Hollywood Beauty, © John Stoddart, 2010
Of why he has chosen to base an exhibition on this subject, Stoddart, who is best known for his portraits of such luminaries as Daniel Craig, Martin Scorsese and Pierce Brosnan, comments:
“I first became aware of the Black Dahlia after reading James Ellroy’s novel. After looking further into this bizarre and horrific crime… I started to look more deeply at my own work, reappraising influences on me over the years; movies, crime-scene photographs, particularly the LAPD archive. I saw a continuous link in the visual depiction of the 'victim'. As a photographer for over 25 years working in the fame business, I have been amazed to what lengths people will go for their ‘15 minutes of fame’. I have always felt there is at least a psychological danger in the pursuit of fame.”
Stoddart’s exhibition, which will include an image of Catherine Zeta-Jones as Elizabeth Short, will most definitely be an unmissable homage to this most curious of cases.
The Black Dahlia Avenger: Homage to a Murder by John Stoddart opens on Friday 27th January 2011 at The Society Club, 12 Ingestre Place, London, W1F 0JF. Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7437 1433. Website: http://www.thesocietyclub.com
For more information on the works of John Stoddart go to: http://www.johnstoddart.co.uk
Join a group dedicated to John Stoddart’s photography at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/John-Stoddart-Photography/315539311812701
For more on the Black Dahlia murder case go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Dahlia
Watch a clip of The Black Dahlia at: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi361365785/