Note: This is an encore post from 2006. The original post had ads that, as you can imagine, don’t work 12 years later, so they have been deleted.
I’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 telling the story of Elizabeth Short in the “Laura” format: The anonymous, butchered body is found and the narrative proceeds in flashbacks. At this point he is covering Elizabeth Short’s mid- to late teens and we have just uncovered a nasty bit of work on Page 57.
Here’s the deal: The Los Angeles County district attorney’s files include significant documents titled “Movements of Elizabeth Short Prior to June 1, 1946” and “Movements After June 1, 1946” that place Wolfe in a terrible bind. He has to pretend he hasn’t seen them because they completely demolish what’s coming up about Elizabeth Short’s supposed involvement with Hollywood madam Brenda Allen, gangster Bugsy Siegel and Times publisher Norman Chandler. In other words, they send Wolfe’s book to the Insinkerator.
But he wants to use the information in the documents. What is a crime author to do? His solution is to attribute the data to other documents in the files, figuring that nobody will know the difference. Frankly, it’s not a bad guess. Only half a dozen people have seen the Black Dahlia material, so who will know?
Well, all it takes is one other person who’s seen the documents to blow the whistle on the worst sort of literary fraud.
Of course, Wolfe didn’t publish this book by himself. He just wrote it (well most of it, but I’m getting ahead of myself). Let’s check the acknowledgements on Page 321.
“And to Alan and Cathy Buster, I owe a special debt of gratitude for their excellent research, advice and friendship.”
I think I’ve already established rather exhaustively that the research displayed so far in this book is not really up to snuff, given the incredible lack of primary source material, so I’ll skip them for now.
And I’ve already beaten up on the late nonsense maestro Robert Slatzer, so I’ll pass on him.
Here we go:
“Once again, the gold-medal winner of the paper chase is my agent, Alan Nevins, of The Firm. Alan believed in the book from day one, and saw it through all its travails.”
You know I’m going to Google him, don’t you. Ooh. Nevins represents that giant of letters, Goldie Hawn:
The hotly pursued memoir, currently titled A LOTUS GROWS IN THE MUD: FOOTPRINTS OF A SPIRITUAL LIFE, will be written by Ms. Hawn. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, who acquired world rights, will publish the book in hardcover in 2004, followed by a paperback edition from Berkley in 2005.”
And Heidi Murkoff, author of the noir thrillers “What to Expect at a Play Date” and What to Expect When You Use the Potty.”
Hm. Nevins supposedly represents Snoop Dogg, who purportedly has “an upcoming illustrated memoir,” or did as of 2004, and a dual biography of Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese, although I don’t seem to find them on amazon.com.
Apparently Nevins believed in Wolfe’s book, because he seems to have been singularly uncurious about whether it was even slightly factual.
But Nevins was just the agent, in charge of getting a good deal for his client. There are a couple people listed as editors as well:
“I am indeed grateful to Judith Regan of ReganBooks [otherwise known as the publishing house without proofreaders] and would like to express my gratitude to my editors, Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss, for their support and excellent advice and assistance.”
So who are Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss? Oh let’s find out.
Ah…. The critics rave:
Brian Kilmeade’s “Games Do Count.”
Regan Books was the publisher, and in the acknowledgements, Kilmeade thanks a slew of people from the publishing company, including Judith Regan, Cal Morgan, Cassie Jones, Anna Bliss, Marissa Shalfi, and Liz Grotyohann for various tasks. None, apparently, was the proofreader, and if they were, Kilmeade should not be thanking them. The book is marred by more dropped words, duplicated phrases, and misspellings than I have seen in a professionally published book in a long time.
Cal Morgan is also referred to in a Salon article on ReganBooks asking Michael Moore to revise “Stupid White Men” to be less critical of President Bush.
“A Very American Coup,” about Dubya’s dubious victory in Florida, and it objected to the title of an essay about race in America, “Kill Whitey.” According to Moore, his editor at ReganBooks, Cal Morgan, explained, “It’s not the dissent we disagree with, it’s the tone of your dissent. You can’t question the president about his past felonies or alcohol problems right now.” (Cal Morgan did not respond to requests for comment.)
Apparently ReganBooks has no such qualms about being critical of people who are conveniently dead and beyond the reach of libel suits.
If nothing else, everybody involved in this project showed a rather remarkable lack of skepticism and emphatic disinterest in asking even the most rudimentary questions about the truth.
Now where was I?
Oh this book is so ridiculous.
“When Cleo [Short] spoke to the police and the press in 1947, alcohol might have impaired his memory of the visit to Los Angeles with his daughter in January 1943 and the circumstances of Elizabeth’s departure.
“Although Cleo had permanently relocated to Los Angeles in 1945, he insisted that he had never seen or spoken to Elizabeth in the four years since she left for Camp Cooke; nevertheless, in Harry Hansen’s statement to grand jury investigators, he made it clear that at one time Cleo had been a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder.”
Ah yes, that’s right. In Wolfe’s book, Cleo goes from tee-totaling Baptist on Page 51 to alcoholic barfly by Page 56. Apparently editors Cal Morgan and Anna Bliss don’t get intellectual whiplash from statements like this.
In fact, Harry Hansen did discuss Cleo Short, but with the Los Angeles County Grand Jury, not the investigators. Wolfe has a terrible time sorting out the nuts and bolts of local government; the distinctions between city and county government are simply lost on him; divisions within an agency (grand jury vs. district attorney’s investigators) are hopelessly elusive.
More important, although it sounds significant to say that Cleo Short was a suspect in the Black Dahlia case, one shouldn’t attach that much importance to it. In fact, the murder was so challenging that original investigators treated everybody who ever knew Elizabeth Short as a suspect who had to be eliminated.
Time for my walk.
Check out the 1947 Project if you get a chance.
Shout out to:
National Internet Backbone, India [ISP Redacted]
Mumbai, India [ISP Redacted]
Rutgers University [ISP Redacted] 21 hours, 20 minutes
Some flavor of Windows: 78%
Mac OS X: 18%
Some variation of Firefox: 51%
Some variation of Internet Explorer: 34%
ps. Yes, I’m experimenting with ads, thanks to my crime buddy’s suggestion. Let’s see how they go.