I Am the Night, the TV series touching on the brutal ‘Black Dahlia’ murder, left many questions unanswered. The TNT series featured Chris Pine as Jay Singletary, a composite character based on reporters who covered the 1947 murder of Elizabeth Short.
Pine’s performance was exemplary, but overall, confusion arose because the series inspired by a true story presents much that is implausible. What’s true and what isn’t?
I still can’t answer that question.
The series is based on the book One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel written by Fauna Hodel. At the heart of the series is Fauna’s search for her birth mother—Fauna whose complexion was white had been raised by a black woman. We know this is true because of Hodel’s book, but details of Fauna’s journey as recounted in the TV series blur between sensationalism and reality.
Singletary, depicted as being obsessed with investigating Fauna’s real grandfather, Dr. George Hodel, gets beat up by cops at every turn. The implication is that the cops wanted to stop anyone pursuing Hodel. This could be true. Hodel was a connected figure who allegedly provided abortions to women involved with men unwilling to accept a pregnancy they didn’t count on for whatever reason. In the series, Hodel is depicted fabulously by Jefferson Mays. Mays masters a creepy persona the viewer is led to believe is capable of very dark deeds.
Dr. Hodel’s own son Steve believed his father was the killer of the Black Dahlia, the label media used for Elizabeth Short. Steve worked as a US Navy medic, moving on to become a detective with the L.A. Police Department. Steve Hodel maintains a blog about his theories and he provides a wealth of information about the Hodel family. The former detective, now a private investigator, has authored best-selling books on the Black Dahlia murder.
Overall I thought the TV series worth watching, but I found myself with more questions unanswered than answered. Elizabeth Short’s murder touched a cord in the hearts of people across the country. The murder was horrific, a fact acknowledged by the FBI to this day—files are available to the public on the government website:
“If you don’t know the story, Short—dubbed “Black Dahlia” by the press for her rumored penchant for sheer black clothes and for a movie at that time—was found sliced clean in half at the waist by a mother walking her child in an L.A. neighborhood just before 11 a.m. on January 15, 1947. The body was just a few feet from the sidewalk and posed in the grass in such a way that the woman reportedly thought it was a mannequin at first. Despite the extensive mutilation and cuts on the body, there wasn’t a drop of blood at the scene, indicating Short had been killed elsewhere. An extensive manhunt followed, but the killer has never been identified.”
As a result of my confusion and curiosity, I purchased Fauna Hodel’s book today, and I plan to read it and share insights on what was real in the TV series and what wasn’t. As a viewer, I wanted to know more about Fauna after she discovered her parentage, but most of all, I wanted to be able to determine what was truth and what was fiction. These days, making that determination is hard all around.
(Kay B. Day/March 6, 2019)