Annotations for “My Fair Dahlia” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #11
Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill
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Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: The film-within-a-comic is a rhyming musical version of the story of the 1947 death of Elizabeth Short, known popularly as the Black Dahlia murder. The discovery of Short’s gruesome mutilated corpse triggered a massive police investigation, though no culprit was ever conclusively identified, leading to a cottage industry of speculative theories explored in books, films, TV shows, podcasts, etc.
- The cover shows aspects of the famous unsolved murder case known as the Black Dahlia.
- Pictured on the cover (left to right, top to bottom) are:
– silouette: apparently the never conclusively identified killer
– standing: Elizabeth Short – the murdered “Black Dahlia” victim. In her hair is a dahlia flower (white, in order to show up against the black hair/background). The red line on her face (contrasting with her black lipstick) is to suggest without actually depicting the mutilation to her mouth, a “Glasgow smile“. The other details of her appearance are clearly based on the photo above, though Moore and O’Neil have pushed her elbows in, perhaps making her appear stiffer and more like a captive (or perhaps just to make space for the rest of the cover images).
– with bow tie – Arthur Lake, actor best known for playing Dagwood Bumstead (husband of Blondie) in multiple media.
– in dark suit – gangster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.
– blonde: actress Marilyn Monroe, rumored to have been a friend of the victim
- “They’ve partially fixed the hoarding” due to the letters “IN PURGATORI” being lit, where in last issue it was only “IN A GATOR.” Whether being in purgatory is actually an improvement over being inside an alligator is debatable.
- This ticket has the same numbers as the ticket from issue #3, P1p1 and issue #10, P1p2: “S676761”. Three “6’s are prominent, suggesting “666, the number of the beast“. As shown here, it looks rather like a date, “56/6/6”, June 6, 1956 – possibly the birthdate of the narrator? Or of someone significant to her?
- “Different conditions […] for children” is similar to CP#2 P1,p3, the ticket seller says “something about adults and children, muffled”; in CP#3 P1,p2, “for adults and children there are different… She mumbles the last word, it could be tariffs, or duties. Something like that.”, and in CP#9 P1,p3, “different charges for minors”. Is the narrator in purgatory because she abused a child she had a “duty” towards, one who was in her “charge”?
- “From Here to Maternity” is a take on the 1953 film From Here to Eternity, which contains a beach scene similar to the one depicted.
- The narrator’s description here (and in the next panel) could be that of a visitor – or possibly of a child of hers? In which case, the poster’s mention of “Maternity” takes on added depth. Readers may have assumed that the oft-mentioned Geraldine was a grown woman, but this may not be the case.
- “Last time he was too close. It was uncomfortable.” suggests the phrase “too close for comfort”, usually used in reference to a close encounter with death.
- Note the discarded condom, next to a copy of Screen Regrets.
- “My Fair Dahlia” combines the Black Dahlia and My Fair Lady, a 1956 musical that became a 1964 film.
- The flower depicted is indeed a black dahlia.
- Left to right are Betty Bersinger and Elizabeth Short.
- On January 15, 1947, Bersinger discovered Short’s mutilated corpse in a vacant lot on Norton Avenue between Coliseum Street and 39th Street in the Leimert Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
- “Angel from L.A.” references the the meaning behind the name of the city “Los Angeles” which is Spanish for “the angels”.
- “Manikins don’t bleed” references that Bersinger thought Short’s corpse might have been a manikin. (Technically “bleed” is a very minor inaccuracy for the sake of rhyme. One of the more gruesome details was that the body had had all blood drained from it, and been washed, before being placed at the site of discovery.)
- The beginning of the verse here rhymes with the couplet in the panel above (weeds/bleed/agreed).
- Felix Paegel was the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper photographer who arrived at the scene before the police.
- “Sgt. [Frank] Perkins” was one of two L.A. Police Department officers to initially arrive at the crime scene.
- “Someone’s cut this girl in half” is indeed the condition in which Short was discovered.
- “A nick[e]lodeon nickname” is apparently “The Black Dahlia”, a catchy title for Short’s murder, invented by the press.
- “Every dahlia would have her day” is a riff on the phrase “Every dog has its day”, which Moore also used for an episode title in book two of Miracleman. The phrase normally means “everyone will eventually be lucky”; here, it ironically refers to Short’s coming to be a media darling only after being horribly murdered.
- “My hairdo so far from my feet” refers to how the two halves of the severed corpse had been posed with approximately a foot of empty space between them.
- “Agness ‘Aggie’ Underwood” was a newspaper reporter, reportedly first on the Black Dahlia crime scene and alleged to have solved the case. Underwood is depicted immediately left of Short.
- “L.A.P.D.” is Los Angeles Police Department.
- The three men depicted – suggest??
- “We’re famously corrupt” refers to LAPD’s reputation for corruption starting after World War I. In the following decades, that reputation waxed and waned, but was never totally absent.
- LAPD rounding up “marketeers, fusiliers, unemployed mountaineers” apparently just refers to the massive early police manhunt. Are readers aware of specific suspects that fit these descriptions?
- A “fusilier” is a soldier, so possibly referring to suspect Joseph A. Dumais?
- “The feller she’d been datin’, with slightly goofy teeth” is Robert “Red” Manley, a traveling salesman and the last person known to have seen Short. Manley is shown on the left with his seated then-pregnant wife. Manley’s teeth look a little goofy in a yearbook photo here.
- “Mobs” refers to mobster Bugsy Siegel, who was among the Black Dahlia suspects. See P5-6 below.
- “Studios” perhaps refers to director Orson Welles, who was among the Black Dahlia suspects. See P7,p4 below.
- “Owners of the famous L.A. Times” refers to publisher Norman Chandler, who was among the Black Dahlia suspects. See P5,p1 below.
- The photos shown are based on actual photos of Elizabeth Short. In the photo on the left she appears with Air Force officer Matthew Gordon (who died after reportedly proposing to Short.)
For the source of the second photo, see the cover annotations above.
- The “Florentine Gardens” is a longstanding Hollywood nightclub that catered to film industry folks for many years. Elizabeth Short lived for some time in the home of Mark Hansen, part-owner of the Florentine Gardens nightclub.
- On the right is actress Marilyn Monroe, then known by her birth name Norma Jeane Baker.
Monroe’s trajectory would be worthy of a Purgatorio story: she skyrocketed to iconic Hollywood fame, then died of a drug overdose at age 36.
- Yvonne De Carlo was a famous actress, perhaps best known as Lilly in The Munsters. She allegedly got her start at Florentine Gardens.
- Lilli St. Cyr was a famous striptease dancer who got her start dancing in the chorus at the Florentine Gardens.
- Benjamin Siegel is the mobster better known as Bugsy Siegel.
- “Pregnancy problems” alludes to the police suspicion that the Dahlia murderer might have been an abortionist, due to the surgical splitting of the corpse. See also the theory explained in P5,p1 below.
- Arthur Lake was a famous actor, best known for portraying the comics character Dagwood Bumstead. Lake was questioned as part of the Dahlia investigation. The dancing man in the foreground appears to be Lake.
- “Norm Chandler” is L.A. Times publisher Norman Chandler, who was among the Black Dahlia suspects. The face immediately to the left of Short looks somewhat like Chandler (compare to this image) though Chandler is shown (with very similar hair) presumably in his home on the next page. Chandler being in both locations can be attributed to the shifting stage location continuity of musicals.
- The blonde woman in the crowd with hair partially covering her face is actress Veronica Lake (no relation to Arthur Lake). In 1946, she starred in a noir film, The Blue Dahlia, generally thought to be the source of the newspaper-invented name “Black Dahlia”.
- Several other people in the panel, including Arthur Lake’s dance partner, appear to be specific likenesses – Suggest??
- “Like you’ll inconvenience powerful men” alludes to Marilyn Monroe‘s marriages to baseball pro Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, and even a speculated connection with president John F. Kennedy.
- Younger readers might not recognize the bell symbol as a sign for a pay-phone, used by Short in the next panel.
- On the right is L.A. Times publisher Norman Chandler.
- “Preg[n]ant… Inflicting my infirmity, averse towards paternity” references a theory from Donald H. Wolfe’s book The Black Dahlia Files” which postulates that Short was pregnant by Chandler, and was murdered to hush this up. This theory has been discredited.
- It is not clear that Chandler was in any way biologically related to publisher William Randolph Hearst, so this is probably metaphorical – ie: accusing Chandler of willingness to use his money and influence to cover up any embarrassments.
- “Joe Reed” was assistant chief of the LAPD. In 1949 he resigned due to a scandal (as mentioned next panel).
- Note the two “Fatal Officers” (see issue #1) in the background, exchanging sacks of money.
- “Jack Dragna” was a mafia boss based in Los Angeles.
- Note the two gangsters in the background, exchanging sacks of money just like the two policemen above. This visually cements the endemic corruption in LA; the cops and the mobsters are cooperating in order to control massive amounts of cash.
- “Luciano” is mobster Lucky Luciano, at this time the overall leader of the US Mafia.
- “Benny Siegel” is mobster Bugsy Siegel, a Black Dahlia suspect. Whether or not Dragna believed him to be “an enemy” is a matter of some debate. However, Siegel was definitely living on borrowed time by now; at the recent Havana Conference, the heads of the Mafia had only barely decided to let him live, as the situation with the Flamingo Hotel continued to spin out of control.
- Left to right, the people depicted appear to be:
Upper row: Lansky?, Raft?, Virginia Hill
Lower row: Dragna?, Bugsy Siegel, Greenberg?, Audrain?, Jack Wilson, Elizabeth Short
- “Meyer Lansky” was an east coast mob leader.
- “George Raft” was an actor known for playing gangsters. Raft is marginally connected with Lansky, as part owner of a casino Lansky profited from. He also at least met Siegel, as evidenced by a photo here.
- “Walter Winchell” was a journalist and radio personality, with ties to the mob.
- “Kosher nostra” is a take off on Cosa Nostra (Italian for “our thing”), a term for the Italian Mafia. Kosher refers to various gangsters being Jewish, including Siegel and Lansky.
- “Virginia Hill” was a crime leader, and Siegel’s girlfriend. While she was testifying before the Senate Special Commitee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Gambling, the following exchange occurred:
SENATOR TOBEY: “But why would Joe Epstein give you all that money, Miss Hill?”
VIRGINIA HILL: “You really want to know?”
SENATOR TOBEY: “Yes, I really want to know.”
VIRGINIA HILL: “Then I’ll tell you why. Because I’m the best cocksucker in town!”
- “Maurice Clement” is another Dahlia suspect. He is referred to as a “shady procurer of prostitutes.”
- “Al Greenberg” is Albert Louis Greenberg, according to this quote from Wolfe’s book: “a former bootlegger for Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, who had a long rap-sheet and did odd-job robberies and rub-outs on the side for Bugsy.”
- “Jack Wilson” is Jack Anderson Wilson, another gangster Dahlia suspect.
- “Doctor Leslie Audrain” is mentioned (and dismissed) as a Dahlia suspect here.
- “Don’t call him Bugsy” is because Siegel hated the nickname Bugsy.
- Siegel is depicted sitting on Hill’s actual home couch, where Siegel was killed in June 1947. The same couch appears on P6,p5 below.
- Short appears more-or-less in the position of her corpse. Arms raised, her body truncated by the panel borders, with the lower panel border severing her waist reminiscent of the corpse. This is reinforced by the way Siegel is scissoring a photo of Short into two pieces at the waist.
- 836 Catalina Street was the location of Audrain’s surgical office.
- “Audrain knows which vertebrae to cut” refers to Short’s body being cut in two surgically. Many doctors were suspects due to this apparent surgical knowledge, mirroring the Jack the Ripper investigation.
- LAPD officers James Ahern and Archie Case have been associated with the Dahlia case. It has been argued that they asssisted RFK in the murder of Marilyn Monroe.
- The three figures are in the positions of speak no evil, hear no evil, see no evil.
- Left to right, the people depicted appear to be:
reporter with cigarette??, police officer??, white hat facing away??, man with mustache??, man with hat and white suit??, man in suit facing right??, man with circle on forehead??, man in black suit facing left??, second police officer??, Short, mobster 1, with cigarette: Red Manley?, in suit facing left: Dragna, mobster 2, and mobster 3.
- “Hubert street address” is gangster Jack Dragna’s home at 3729 Hubert Avenue, very near where Short’s body was discovered.
- “Upon my flesh is carved the letter D” is difficult to find confirmation of online. These notes mention “Carved in the flesh in the pubic area, on a thigh is the letter D.” Most accounts, such as this one, mention cuts in a criss-cross pattern in Short’s pubic area.
- Hill took an “unscheduled” flight to Paris four days before the murder.
- This panel repeats O’Neill’s drawing of Bugsy Siegel’s June 1947 death, from CP#6 P7,p2. Siegel is on the right, Allen Smiley on the left. “Found by” is an odd phrase, since Smiley was present at the time of the shooting. It’s also unusual to see Smiley described as “assistant” and “manservant”; most sources use words like “friend” and “associate”. Some people do believe Smiley helped arrange Siegel’s death, though others dispute this.
- “Dahlia industry today… literary cinematic” refers to the numerous books, films, and comics dealing with the Black Dahlia, both fictional and non-fictional (though some of the alleged non-fiction might be better classified as fiction).
- The movie poster is from the 2006 film The Black Dahlia.
- “Commentators nominating fathers” include Steve Hodel accusing Dr. George Hodel, and also Janice Knowlton accusing George Knowlton. Hodel accuses his father of also being the Zodiac Killer (active between 1968 and perhaps 1970).
- The picture of Short cut/torn almost across her lip-line suggests the Glasgow smile she was given (similar to the cover).
- The collaged “HERE! IS” and “‘Dahlia” are from a note allegedly from the Dahlia killer, given to the press.
- “Exquisite corpse” is a drawing game where one person draws, then folds the paper, and another person continues the drawing. It was practiced by French Surrealist artists. (There is also a Dahlia book titled Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder.)
- Man Ray was a famous artist/painter/photographer, part of the Surrealist artists circles in Paris.
- Steve Hodel wrote books that claim that his father, Dr. George Hodel, murdered Short. Dr. Hodel was friends with Man Ray. Steve Hodel contends that the upper half of Short’s corpse resembles a Man Ray’s photo of woman’s torso.
- On the left is Picasso’s sculpture Bull’s Head, connecting with the “minotaur” theme. The true facts of the Dahlia case, like Jack the Ripper, are lost amongst a labyrinth of distortion and speculation.
- Though far-fetched, director Orson Welles has been speculated as a possible Dahlia suspect, in part due to his WWII magic act which included sawing a lady in half, as depicted (while wearing a surgical robe and hat).
- Welles’ “burning sleigh” is a reference to the “rosebud” sled that is burned at the end of the film Citizen Kane. It may also refer to “sleight” of hand.
- “[Salvador] Dalí” was a surrealist painter. “A game that Dalí played” apparently refers to exquisite corpse mentioned in P7,p3 above.
- Numerous words here apply to the state of Short’s severed corpse: “mutilated”, “cut flowers”, “divides”, “dividing”, “cutting”, “divergent”, “deconstructed” and “dissected disarray.” Most of these are used with double meanings, with the severed corpse meaning secondary.
- The mannequin is in the process of being arranged in the position that Short’s corpse was found in.
- “Sweeney Todd” is a musical about a barber who murders people. Some people claim that Sweeney Todd has a historical basis, but few scholars agree. Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli collaborated on a Sweeney Todd project in 1992, but it faltered after only a few pages were completed.
- Panels 1, 2, 4 and 5 form a fixed-camera sequence.
- The woman with her leg over the back of the seat from issue #10 (P1,p4 and P8,p1) doesn’t appear to have moved at all. She sits up in panel 4, but lies back down in panel 5.
- For that matter, all of the visible audience members seem to be in the same seats as from issue #10.
- The woman who shouts and leaves could be Elizabeth Short herself, trapped in purgatory with the narrator. Or possibly the narrator herself, trapped in a time-loop.
- The film-goers appear zombie-like, with the widened eye-sockets and exposed teeth typical of bodies which have been dead for a while.
- “Beneath your feet, something… Or the man from last time is still here.” is metaphorically, death is lapping at the narrator’s feet.