Me, Grandpa, Man Ray and the Black Dahlia: True Story

Man of Many Hats: Surgeon, Psychologist, Ladies Man and Killer of the Black Dahlia: Grandpa

I was just driving with my gracious hostess (and adult film auteur) Nica Noelle and somehow the topic of the Black Dahlia came up. I have some very curious connections to the Black Dahlia. Let me explain

Like most adolescents emerging into adulthood I often felt myself the constant outsider. I was raised by my mother, a Eurasian woman who, perhaps reacting against the sheltered life that coming from a wealthy political Filipino family offered her, found her way deep into the American Flower-Power generation. My stepfather (I had never known my biological father), a British citizen, had grown up entertaining (tap-dancing) for the Allied Forces during the War, was never schooled and proudly hailed from the school of ‘hard knocks’. I was raised, a child of bohemia, on a series of sailboats (that we built ourselves) sailing around the world. Living in more than 40 countries, finding myself on foreign shores not speaking a smack of the local tongue, and coming from a multicultural globetrotting family often left me asking just who the heck I was. It was a question that would linger deep into adulthood and continues to linger to this day.

My identity was anchored, however, by my illustrious grandparents on my mother’s side: My grandmother Hortensia, a Filipino agriculturalist who survived the war, cancer, and went on to become a two term Congresswoman – and my beloved Grandfather George – an American surgeon and psychologist with an IQ that rivaled Einstein’s, a former child piano protégée, an avid art patron and close friend of Man Ray and John Huston. I spent childhood summers with grandfather and it was then that I felt good – proud – like I had an identity. He was Zeus, which made me feel that I was invincible as well. Who was I? I was Dr. George’s grandson. Good enough for me.

My grandfather died on my 21st birthday. While the day was sad, I had somehow negotiated a settlement within myself. With his passing, I should be a man finally and embrace my somewhat scattered origins. I was, in the end, his offspring and I assumed the ‘Who am I?’ demons were to be put to bed.

I found myself an artist living and working in NYC as photographer, direct and actor a bombshell exploded in my family. My uncle Steve , a retired LA police detective published a NYTimes Bestseller, The Black Dahlia Avenger, in which he accuses his father, my grandfather George, of being the notorious killer of Betty Short, aka, the Black Dahlia (as well as many others around the world). This shook the foundation of our family. While the book has some points that are true, there are many claims the truth and accuracy of which even the most staunch readers dispute. While wild in its suggestions, the cases put forth are compelling and in some cases, factual. There had been a dark side to Grandfather. For one, he had been tried, though acquitted, for the rape of his daughter Tamar in a now famous 1949 case. His house built by Frank Llowd Wright Jr. (The “Sowden” house, looks like a Mayan temple featured in “The Aviator”) was home to many bacchanalian orgies and supposed the site of her murder. The actual murder is said to have been committed by a surgeon (which he was, as well as a psychologist) and the act of murder was an act of surrealist art (the placement of the body, coded symbolism carved into Elizabeth Shorts skin) and his best friends were the artist Man Ray, John Huston, Dali and other in the surrealist movement. A little too close for comfort. I still have Man Ray’s photo gear he had given grandpa.

I didn’t know Grandpa then obviously, this was the 40s. I knew him as a kindly older grandfather who handed my a camera and said: “Take pictures of pretty girls and they’ll kiss you” a promised that I have to confess has really delivered.

I’m in LA now, his hometown, completely immersed in a world of sex and beauty due to my trade and people I’ve chosen to surround myself with. In some way, Man Ray and grandpa, having brought me into photography, laid the foundation for this some 60 odd years ago.

I don’t know if Grandpa did it, but I do know that people live many lifetimes and reinvent themselves constantly. I’m fortunate enough to make and tell stories with images and some of the most sublime, beautiful and sexual creatures in this country. So regardless of what happened on the night of Jan. 15, 1947 ( unfortunately Grandpa’s house was bugged bu the police and public record has him bragging:” And what if I did kill the Black Dahlia? They can’t prove it. I’m brilliant.”) I do love the man that manifested me and gave me the gift of being a raconteur and adventurer taking photos of Dahlias everywhere.

Live big and live strong, baby.

Here are some photos.

The shot of the ship is my first photo, the Rock of Gibraltar, the shot of the group in Kimonos is from one of Grandpa’s soirees. The shot of the boy with him is me and my little sister.

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5 Responses to Me, Grandpa, Man Ray and the Black Dahlia: True Story

  1. Audrey says:

    Love this story and the pictures <3

  2. Lady Monster says:

    David J is creating a play based on The Black Dahlia in LA. I watched his Kickstarter video yesterday. You should find one another. Excellent story. I’d love to know more details.

  3. Athame Morrigan says:

    Great article, I enjoyed it. Glad I’m not the only having issues connecting the family tree. Certain very important people pave the way and carve who we become, very true.

  4. jmdarling says:

    Hi, thanks for taking the time to read and respond.

    I can understand your responses and it’s an opportunity to clarify a few things: Firstly this mini “opt-ed” like article (it does sort of read like that) is just part of a much larger, two hour play I’m working on chronicling the whole experience. An experience that neither supports nor denies the accusations, but examines the themes of legacy and what it would mean to have been raised in part by a potential monster. I’m open to what may have happened, as sobering as the truth may be.

    Also, you’re correct in your observations that the women (and men) I shoot are touched by brutal realities. This is the norm in my experience and unfortunate. My work has a romantic flavor to dispel the notion that -everyone in this industry is hard, put upon and without choices or hope. Even in some of the tougher existences of the models, I try to find an angle or mood in them that could be celebrated as beautiful. It’s a counterpuntal mission to the norm of what’s out there. I’m well away of the realities, I just like to create a little magic and celebration in these girls lives on a great afternoon.

    Warm Regards,

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