Monday, October 23, 2006

Orson Welles, mortician

Hello Americans, the second volume of Simon Callow's proposed three-volume biography of the legendary film director (the first, The Road to Xanadu, was published a decade ago) makes for semi-fascinating reading, at least for anyone interested in Welles or his fillums. He's even pretty good on Welles' radio career.

But Callow sure ain't much of a stylist, and his admiring treatment of Welles' boneheaded leftism, particularly his support for proto-Maoist agrarian (and FDR's second-to-last vice president) Henry Wallace on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948, is highly idiotic.

But he's got some good stories, including one about Welles' supposed involvement in a very famous murder case. In his (30-page, one whole chapter) analysis of Welles' The Lady from Shanghai (don't worry though; I skipped most of it), Callow says that the "Crazy House" scene (not to be confused with the more famous "House of Mirrors" scene, you drooling rubes),

led to some fairly feverish speculation about a possible involvement in a murder that took place in Hollywood in January of 1947, the notorious Black Dahlia case, in which a young woman, Elizabeth Short, was found cut up and mutilated in a very distinctive, highly skilled way. According to Mary Pacios, childhood friend of the murdered woman turned amateur sleuth, writing in 1998, the mutilations on the faces and torsos, the ways in wbich the limbs on the mannequins are arranged and the skeletons severed at the waist in Welles’s scenery are all uncannily like those on Bette Short’s corpse. It seems that the production shut down on 15 January, the day of the murder, and the following day; that Welles took out a passport a few days later; and that, most bizarrely of all, a few days before he had made a formal written application to register as an assistant with the local mortuary [my emphasis--ed.] (this application is to be found in the Mercury archive at the Lilly Library). In the way of these things, Miss Pacios kept on finding more clues: that Bette Short was seeing a man called George (Welles's first name, used by certain of his intimates) and ate in a restaurant that Welles frequented, Brittinghams's near the Columbia studios; that the body wa left, carefully arranged, on the former site of The Mercury Wonder Show on Cahuenga Boulevard--where, of course, Welles had so famously sawn a woman in half; and a collage message from the murderer sent to the police with the girl's address book and birth certificate, which heavily features the letters O and W . . . . More appositely, she cites an oration given by Welles at the funeral of Darryl F. Zanuck in 1976, in which Welles said, "If I did something really outrageous, that if I committed some abominable crime, which I believe it is in most of us to do, that if I were guilty of something unspeakable, and if all the police in the world were after me, there was one man, and only one man I could come to, and that was Darryl. he would not have made a speech about the good of the industry, the good of the studio. He would not have been mealy-mouthed or put me aside. He would have hid me under the bed. Very simply he was a friend." . . . As it happens, a book appeared in 2002 (Black Dahlia Avenger) which definitively and beyond reasonable doubt identified the Black Dahlia murderer--it turned out to be the father of the book's author--so Welles is off the hook; it is irresistible to reflect how he would have loved the story. It had all the elements of a perfect Wellesian film, a la A Touch of Evil, with crooked cops, seedy club-owners, girls on the brink of prostitution, and an innocent who, determined to prove that her murdered friend wasn't a whore, finds herself blocked at every turn, finally stumbling on a terrible truth, to which everything points but which it is now impossible to prove. . . .

Two points: First, Callow writes very long paragraphs. Wait, that doesn't count. First, Callow is strangely incurious about Welles' registration at the local mortuary, which apparently happened. Why the hell would Welles do that? And why didn't Callow follow it up?

Second, despite what Callow says, Steve Hodel's Black Dahlia Avenger is very, very, very (did I say very?) far from general acceptance as the truth about the Black Dahlia case. "Definitively and beyond reasonable doubt" my hairy yellow ass. The fat boy did it!

Update: The peg for this drivel was supposed to be the relatively new (and apparently lousy) movie about the case based on James Ellroy's fine novel, but I forgot.

Update II: I took this post down for modification (adding more lies) and Bogger wouldn't let me put it back up. Someday . . . (insert impotent fist-shaking here).

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