Where does Elizabeth Short fit in Hollywood lore today? To those who know little of her, she may have been a woman of loose morals or a prostitute who was killed years ago in a sex slaying. For others, she was a beautiful, young aspiring actress, the victim of a terrible murder. To others still, she was a sponger, a teaser that stuck men with the tab and was eventually made to pay for her sins. To her family and many who knew her, she was simply a nice girl.
In the days and weeks following her death, investigators and journalists asked everyone they could find who knew Elizabeth Short to describe her. One newspaper article said, “although she spent long hours in the night spots, barmen recalled that she usually ordered soft drinks.”
* * *
The young women who knew Beth Short usually spoke well of her. Anne Toth called her “Young and tender” and said “we used to think the world of that kid.” In San Diego, Dorothy French recalled, “There was something so sorrowful about her ~ she seemed lost and a stranger to the area, and I felt I wanted to help her.”
But others did not think well of her. Mark Hansen said that “she picked up with bums.” Harry Hansen called her a tease.
In all the records and interviews, it is nearly impossible to find mention of a favor returned or a gift of thanks. Beginning with her mother, who sent her checks to Jacksonville, and her father who said any money he gave her in Vallejo disappeared, Beth Short appears to be a taker, never a giver.
She sponged off Mary Unkefer in Santa Barbara and Mark Hansen in Hollywood and the French family in San Diego. She asked Red Manley for a ride to Los Angeles. Sid Zaid let her stay at his home. Bill Robinson and Marvin Margolis let her stay at their apartment. Ann Toth found her a room at the Chancellor and borrowed a car to move her. Gordon Fickling put her up in Long Beach and Hollywood. Carl Balsiger found her a room in Hollywood on Yucca Street. Glen Kearns tried to find a place, but failed and took her back to Mark Hansen’s, where she had already been thrown out. She accepted money, rides and places to sleep. She borrowed Ann Toth’s beige coat when she left for San Diego. Perhaps, Ann did the most. “-I helped her move before. I did an awful lot for that girl-.”
And she lied to almost everyone. She lied to her mother about working in San Diego. She lied to the Frenches about working for Western Airlines. She lied to Ann Toth and Mark Hansen about going to Oakland and Berkeley. She lied to Red Manley about meeting her sister at the Biltmore and about never having been to Los Angeles before. She told Mark Hansen that she worked at the cafe in the Burbank airport, and according to Ann, “- she was working all the time that she lived at Mark’s house, she was supposed to be working. She went to work in the morning and came back at night like she did.” “I just assumed that she was working at Western Airlines where she said she was. After all, you got to believe some things some people say.”
* * *
Elizabeth Short has become myth and is probably as misunderstood now as she was when she roamed the streets of Hollywood. Today, Boardner’s, an old Black Dahlia hangout, won’t allow her photo to be displayed. The Biltmore Hotel, however, celebrates her life and death with a cocktail named after her.