George Hodel’s 1925 Review of Ben Hecht’s Fantazius Mallare Killing: Ben Hecht’s 1947 Review of George Hodel’s Black Dahlia Killing

September 13, 2016
Los Angeles, California

“With almost animate pigments has Hecht painted this monstrous dream of Mallare’s, and with delicate and meticulous craftsmanship has he fashioned its cadaverous and perverse beauty.”
George Hill Hodel
Excerpt from 1925 “Fantasia Magazine” George Hodel review of “THE KINGDOM OF EVIL,” By Ben Hecht. (Pascal Covici, publisher 1925)
“I know the name of the killer [Black Dahlia Avenger] and the psychology of his deed. […] There is only one form of hatred that can equal in violence the symbolizing rage of the lunatic—and what that hatred is I will leave unsaid.” —
Ben Hecht, Los Angeles Herald-Express, Sat, Feb 1, 1947

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Cover of George Hill Hodel’s 1925 “Fantasia Magazine” 

I received the following e-mail from Mr. Luigi Warren, who is one of my readers, is highly versed in all four of my books and has become an insightful “comment contributor” to my blog site.  Here is his email received in a few days ago, which speaks for itself.

Steve:
Just finished reading Ben Hecht’s “Fantazius Mallare: A Mysterious Oath” (1922), one of GHH’s boyhood favorites. you have discussed it fairly briefly in your books. Like GHH’s early murder scene dispatches and his “Inference” poem it seems worth revisiting in the context of the Zodiac crimes.
Background…Fantazius is a partially first-person account of an artist’s descent into madness and murder. Hecht ran into trouble with the censors on account of its obscene content and illustrations. The major literary inspiration was “A rebours,” by J.K. Huysmans (another of GHH’s favorites), itself said to have been a model for the Decadent novel which corrupted Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s story. Hecht is also reported to have modeled Mallare on John Barrymore (star of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”), a fellow member of the Bundy Drive Boys (the “Hollywood Hellfire Club”). Interestingly, I see that Will Fowler (newsman at Black Dahlia crime scene) was another member of this notorious band of hellraisers.  (SKH Note: Actually, it was Will Fowler’s father, Gene Fowler and friend and co-screenwriter with Rowland Brown (Dorothy Hodel’s then lover) that was one of the Bundy Drive Boys. His son, Will may have been an “honorary member” but I doubt it. As noted in BDA II, Will Fowler (son of Gene) was likely the source of distributing the Dahlia crime scene photos as well as inventing and admitting to circulating the rumor that Elizabeth Short “had an infantile vagina” which he claimed was “a prank.”)
The book itself…If one were to do a “word cloud” of the novel, the word “red” (red dress, red hands, red face, red room, etc.) would be way up there, as would the word “phantom.” Some thought prints from the book: (1) megalomania combined with misanthropy, toying with the notion of suicide but concluding that the destruction of others is the road back to Godhood; (2) desire to create and rule a world in which others are tormented and the idea that one dominates one’s victims after they die; (3) the idea that insanity might be a preferred state; (4) egotistical resentment that words are defined by others and impulse to reassert superiority by inventing one’s own words; (5) solipsism and inability to distinguish dream and reality; (6) erotomania combined with misogyny based on resentment of female sexual power; (7) obsessive documentation of inconsequential banalities. Of Wallace Smith’s illustrations, the first depicting an emaciated male figure having coitus with a female tree spirit strikes me as interesting w.r.t. interpretation of the Zodiac Halloween card.
Is there any chance you could present the entirety of GHH’s review of Hecht’s sequel, “The Kingdom of Evil?” Personally, I find the question of GHH’s early Symbolist/Decadent influences at least as interesting as the later Surrealist/Dadaist material.
Regards,
Luigi Warren

Luigi, thank you for your latest comments relating to GHH, Ben Hecht and his early books, Fantazius Mallare: A Mysterious Oath and its sequel, The Kingdom of Evil.

Per your request, here is my father’s full review of the latter, as originally published in the January 1925 edition of Fantasia. (Keep in mind GHH was just seventeen when he published this elitist magazine.)

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Click below for enlarged copy of GHH Ben Hecht Review

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Above is a page from that same edition that includes GHH’s poem, INFERENCE which he wrote using the pseudonym, “Vernon Morel.”

I find it interesting that George after noting in his poem that he “was conceived in sin” then goes on to insert on the adjacent page a modernist drawing by the artist, Ben Berlin, entitled, Adam and Eve. (Shown Above) Difficult to discern from the rendering if Berlin’s depiction is pre or post Original Sin, but regardless, it remains apropos. (Kind of like comparing apples to apples.)

SKH Note:  Ben Berlin was considered as one of the most talented local LA artists of his time. See his fascinating short LACMA bio here.

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In 1934, Berlin painted the above portrait of his friend and intellectual guru, Sadakichi Hartmann, who had contributed a poem to George Hodel’s Fantasia Magazine a decade earlier. (Sadakichi’s poem, while listed on the Fantasia Content Page as “Naked Ghosts” did not appear in the magazine. It is possible that in scanning the original back in 1999, I accidentally omitted that page?)

Based on a separate article, we discover that young crime reporter George Hodel temporarily switched hats and became the paper’s literary critic to conduct an interview with Sadakichi Hartmann, who he referred to as “a literary aristocrat.” Here is George’s interview as it appeared in that daily:

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A Nice Little Thoughtprint

Thanks to Luigi Warren’s comments and request that I provide the additional material from the original Fantasia, we now have uncovered a new thoughtprint. Did you catch it?

Let’s read the closing line in George Hodel’s 1924 article on Hartmann. He writes:

“He (Sadikichi Hartmann) waves his long bony hands in fanciful gestures, as if in magic incantation. One closes one’s eyes and one is in some dark Confucian temple, with the incense curling, languorously, fantastically.”

Now compare that to George Hodel’s “Inference” poem, written less than a year later and self-published in Fantasia using his alias, “Vernon Morel.” The poem’s third stand reads:

Then was the incense rising
Poisonously
In the temple of Cybele curling
Dolorously
And in phantasmal wraiths writhing
Languorously

Again, originality was never George Hodel’s strong suit. Even when plagiarizing himself. But, as a “nice little thoughtprint” it does make for a strong byline link to the authorship of George the reporter to George the poet.

See below link to an article by Professor George Knox. Excerpted from the Introduction of The Life and Times of Sadakichi Hartmann, 1867-1944. An Exhibition Presented and Co-sponsored by the University Library and the Riverside Press-Enterprise Co. at the University of California, Riverside, May 1 to May 31, 1970. (UCR is also the only location that contains an original copy of GHH’s Fantasia magazine.)
Professor Knox appears to be one of the leading experts on Hartmann’s life.

Sadakichi Hartmann’s Life and Career

Just for the Hecht of it

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Ben Hecht  (1894-1964)

In BDA II I examined the Hodel/Hecht connections which we know spanned more than twenty years. (1925-1947) From GHH’s Fantasia Review of Hecht’s novel to his co-writing of films with Rowland Brown, then lover of Dorothy Hodel, to the surrealist connections with Man Ray and Dali on Spellbound, to his published acknowledgment of “knowing the name of the Black Dahlia killer and the psychology of his deed.”

The below link is to an excellent 2009 blog on both Ben Hecht and his Fantazius illustrator, Wallace Smith. The author of the blog provides an excellent backgrounding of both individuals and includes Hecht’s “Dedication” from Fantazius Mallare. Nothing provides  better insight into a person than their own words. Take a look at Hecht’s “Dedication.”  This coming from the same man that was a young crime reporter for the Chicago Daily News then came west in the mid-Twenties, began writing screenplays and brought us such classics as: Notorious (with Rowland Brown), Spellbound, Scarface, Gilda, The Front Page, Lifeboat, The Outlaw, Stagecoach, It’s a Wonderful World, Angels with Dirty Faces (Story by Rowland Brown), A Star is Born, What Price Hollywood (with Rowland Brown) and many more. 

Wallace Smith and those who crucify themselves on billboards in the quest for the Nietzschean solitude

For those that desire to go deeper into the weeds of the mind of the young Ben Hecht (careful it’s a swamp filled with quicksand) the Gutenberg Project has reproduced his 1922 novel as originally published. Link below.

Fantazius Mallare: A Mysterious Oath by Ben Hecht 

Below are Wallace Smith’s drawings from the original novel.

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UPDATE:  9.17.16

Below is an additional page from GHH’s 1925 Fantasia Magazine which includes a full-page advertisement for “Dawson’s Books Catalogue, 627 So. Grand Ave. downtown Los Angeles.” This could have been the “rare bookstore” referenced by June Hodel where he worked at as a young man?  Also note that on the left page GHH is offering a two-hundred dollar prize in various categories “following the publication of the first nine issues.”  Unfortunately, the magazine had a short lifespan of only two editions.

 

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Comments

  1. luigi warren says:

    Steve, There’s a lot to digest here, to put it mildly. The artist bios and the Bundy Drive and Russian expat linkages are fascinating. Incredible that Hecht would write that insightful “review” of the Black Dahlia murder after having received the murderer’s rave review for the work which inspired it. Many thanks for the new info! -LW

    • LW: Thank you for getting me to take another look. Yes, so many potential links. I’ve always said that “the key to understanding George Hodel lies in HIS PAST.” And, we keep finding the linkage through the decades. There is so much more to GHH through the Twenties and Thirties. But, that’s another book. (Or two?) Groan. skh

  2. luigi warren says:

    Steve: To me, this is the most absorbing, multifaceted murder mystery/human interest story I’ve ever encountered, so please keep them coming! I read the Guardian article about you a few months back and I’ve been hooked ever since. Like many others, I learned of the Black Dahlia case through the 70s TV movie, so I had a little bit of familiarity with it — it’s such a haunting case. I knew almost nothing of the Zodiac crimes going in but maybe that was a good thing, since it looks like the old models and theories have been non-productive in identifying the killer. I was interested to read that Richard Walter, a well-known criminal profiler, several years ago analyzed the crimes and concluded that the failure to unmask Zodiac came about because he was the exact opposite of the basement-dwelling schlub everyone wanted him to be. Instead, he was a “power assertive” personality, used to dealing from a position of authority and desirous of power “limited only by the bounds of his own imagination.” I think he might be right about that. -LW

  3. luigi warren says:

    Steve: Looks like teenage wunderkind GHH might well have been a regular at Margery Winter’s Echo Park literary salon, which is presumably the subject of his 1924 “Oriental Harmonies” piece. The Russian expat link supports that, as does Ben Berlin’s association with the group. If GHH was a regular there his familiarity with Sadakichi Hartmann probably went well beyond writing that one newspaper article. Hartmann was playing court jester to John Barrymore and the Bundy Drive Boys during this period, as Gene Fowler recounted. Although Hartmann had his fingers in many literary/artistic pies over a long career, it seems his big thing was the French Symbolists and Decadents, including Paul Verlaine and Stephen Mallarme (inspiration for Huysman’s A Rebours and Fantazius Mallarme). I see Felicien Rops (premier exponent of “satanic eroticism,” and friend and illustrator of both Baudelaire and Huysman) was one of the artists Hartmann championed and introduced to an American audience (ref: “Rivers of Ink” by Thomas Christensen). His book of poems “Naked Ghosts” (apparently excerpted in GHH’s Fantasia) ends with a poem entitled “To Stéphane Mallarmé: a Strain in Red.” Rexroth was a huge fan, so there’s another interesting link. There is a slight possibility of a Riverside connection as Hartmann spent his last years there (the early 1940s) and, as you mention, UCI is home to his papers and much of the scholarship about his life. The Riverside Daily (target of the Bates Confession) published an award-winning series of articles about Hartmann (“The Last Bohemian”) during the 1950s. -LW

    • LW: Yes, one of the problems with this investigation is that there are so many Black Rabbit Holes. The Twenties connections are endless. Have to keep reminding myself to stay focused on “just the facts.” skh

      • Steve:

        Reading up on Hartmann, he was a remarkable “man of the world” (in Baudelaire’s sense) and I do wonder if he was a key mentor or guru figure to the teenage GHH. Hartmann fathered 15 children, even besting GHH on that score. His daughter, biographer and literary executor, photographer and art collector Wisteria Linton, was active at UCR at least into the late 1970s. Wisteria married an Indian cattle rancher and hosted Sadakichi on the Morongo Indian Reservation during the years before his death in 1944. Seems like the process of cataloging Hartmann’s voluminous papers is never-ending (his granddaughter was still working on it in 2007). Maybe this is the route by which GHH’s Fantasia made into the UCR Special reserves collection, rather than the via the Eaton Collection as I earlier suggested.

        A couple of interesting articles re the Riverside connection:

        “King of the Bohemians: Eccentric Sadakichi Hartmann made his mark and disappeared” Palm Spring Life, May 2007

        “Guide to the Sadakichi Hartmann Papers,” Online Archive of California

        -LW

  4. Bill Davenport says:

    This reminds me of dancing with the devil and who changes after such an event. Okay, just a few more steps and I’ll stop.

  5. luigi warren says:

    Steve: Reportedly, “literary aristocrat” Sadakichi was ostracized by locals and stalked by law enforcement during his final years in Riverside County on account of his Japanese heritage (“New Interest in the Works of Sadakichi Hartmann,” Sun-Telegram, 1971). Makes me wonder if GHH got word of his idol’s sad end and put the entire community on his list of people who “would never be missed.” The Bates Confession reads like a declaration of war. -LW

    • LW: Not only, as you say, “the Bates Confession reads like a declaration of war,” but what many fail to grasp, is that in that letter, he promises to find a new female victim and this time, “I SHALL CUT OFF HER FEMALE PARTS AND DEPOSIT THEM FOR THE WHOLE CITY TO SEE.” Then just a few months after mailing that typed letter, he keeps his promise. He kills a woman, and cuts off her female parts and deposits them for the whole city to see. But, Riverside PD never made the connection. Why? Because “the city” was Manila, Philippines, his victim, Lucila Lalu, killed on the six-month anniversary of his Bates murder.

  6. Steve,

    I worked at Dawson’s Bookshop and the Michael Dawson Gallery when it was on Larchmont Blvd. If I had only known then that maze of books, letters, ephemera, and photographs might hold more clues. There is a very old book that contains every employee’s signature from the very first location of Dawson’s.

    • Steve Hodel says:

      Jerry L. Yes, I was a regular at Dawson’s during my ongoing investigation and prior. One of my favorite bookstores. My eldest son was born at the Larchmont Medical Center, just a half block south of Dawson’s. Probably the best bookstore for anyone wanting anything on “Old LA.” skh

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