New York Times Bestselling Author Steve Hodel

Dorothy Huston Hodel (1906-1983) A Remembrance on her 110th Birthday

April 15, 2016
Los Angeles, California
Many readers have asked for more information regarding my mother, Dorothy Huston Hodel, or “Dorero”. “What was she like?” “Was she cruel and abusive?” “What were the “Gypsy years” like with her?”

Unfortunately, much of the biographical description of my mother was edited out of my original manuscript due to space restraints. This gave a very soft focus of her as a woman and a mother.
Quite simply, she was the most remarkable woman I have ever known. Possessed of a powerful intellect with the soul of a poet, she loved Nature and all things of Beauty. When I think of my mother, I think of the song, Vincent, and the line, “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” To me, mother was like, Rima, the other-worldly jungle-girl in Hudson’s romantic-novel, Green Mansions. A bird-woman, not really born or prepared for the harsh realities of, “civilization.”
Mother was born, Dorothy Jean Harvey, in New York (Central Park West), on April 15, 1906. Her parents moved west around 1913 and bought an orange grove , not far from Los Angeles, in Riverside, California. My grandparents then moved to Los Angeles where my mother attended high school. Still a teenager, she met and fell in love with John Huston. In 1925, the two teenagers ran off to New York, married and lived in Greenwich Village. They then returned to Los Angeles, and both began writing screenplays for the Hollywood studios. Their marriage lasted seven years, from 1926 to 1933. An article in the Los Angeles Times dated August 19, 1933, announced their separation and Huston’s desire to seek a divorce from Dorothy on the following grounds:
“being extravagant, and of keeping him in debt continually. He also accuses her of making no effort to become a good housekeeper.”
In author Martha Harris’ biography, Angelica Huston: The Lady and Her Legacy, (St. Martin’s Press, N.Y. 1989) the following quote was attributed to John regarding his first wife, Dorothy. In my mother’s later years she made it clear that John was “her one true love”. If the below quote is accurate, apparently Huston’s feelings coincided with her own.
Angelica Huston: The Lady and Her Legacy, page 49:
Peter Viertel, a writer who worked with Huston on various projects over the years including The African Queen, wrote a novel titled White Hunter, Black Heart that is reputed to be a very thinly veiled portrait of John Huston. Not at all flattering, the novel shows a lot of warts that the Huston aura usually managed to conceal. But there is a paragraph in it that might serve as a kind of epitaph for John and Dorothy’s marriage:
“I knew I had lost the best dame I was ever likely to meet, and I’d lost her because I’d acted like a horse’s ass. And it turned out that way. I’d done something wrong and I had to pay for it, and so every time I fell in love again after that, I knew the disenchantment would ultimately turn up. And it did. Never failed. Because you get one chance at everything in life, and that’s all.”mom&johnhuston (2015_06_06 08_20_47 UTC)Walter Huston greeting Dorothy and John at the train station on arriving for their honeymoon in LA circa 1926

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Mother’s typed private “reminiscence” of John
found in her personal papers after her death
Mother married my father, George Hill Hodel, in Sonora, Mexico in 1940. She bore him four sons, Michael, John (my twin, died two weeks after birth due to “failure to thrive”) Steven and Kelvin. We lived in the Franklin House from 1945-1950. After dad left the country, mother though ill-equipped and unprepared to be the sole breadwinner in the family, obtained secretarial type jobs in real estate and rental offices and would spend the next fifteen years, raising her three sons. Though alcoholic in the extreme, she managed to clothe and feed her sons and instruct us in what was truly important in life. She taught us to be tolerant and compassionate of others, to fight against bigotry and prejudice, encouraged us to read books and to love the beauty of Nature and strive for what is Good. What more could any son ask from a mother?
Dorothy Hodel with two sons, Steven (standing) and Kelvin newborn, Oct. 1942dorero pasadena jpeg

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Dorothy posing for our family photographer Man Ray in 1944

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dorero by ghh

Photo of mother taken by our father George Hodel in 1946
Mike and Mom Mike wins essay contestMother with older brother, Mike Hodel who had just one a LA county-wide public school essay contest circa 1951.
Here is a letter my mother sent me on my 33rd birthday, in 1974. Despite her life-long struggles with “Demon Rum” there was never ever any doubt, at any time, that she loved her three sons. See how beautifully she communicates it here, with poetic elegance.
Birthday 1974
Dearest Steven:
How does one write to a son one loves, admires, venerates so completely that the only thing that sums it up would be to say: I dreamed a perfect son and you turned out to be that son in every way- and even more? Words are tired things and through reiteration seem to lose force and meaning- Fortunately, the emotion behind the words does not. Perhaps I should devote my remaining years to creating a new language which would convey strong emotions freshly and effectively. Or perhaps like birds and animals we should go back to chirps and growls and grunts. Or perhaps-lovely thought! we could develop a coloration process, like some mating animals, so that looking at you and saying ‘love’ I should glow in a rainbow of colors. So, fortunately, since my pigmentation isn’t up to it, see me now, in your mind’s eye with a glowing purple beak, bright green hair and red blue and orange arranged in a gorgeous chromatic pattern saying ‘Love” in a way as fresh and new as a rainbow.
Spectroscopically,
Mother

momskhbday

 

Dorothy Jean Hodel died in late March, 1982, just a few weeks before her 75th birthday. I have no doubt that she KNEW that our father was a serial killer and was responsible for the murder of Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short. Ever protective of her three sons, she took the knowledge of this secret horror, with her to her grave. I suspect her heavy drinking was her own way to try and drown the knowledge of the many horrors that she hid and held inside. Can one really blame her? I say NO! (Note the sadness that is reflected in almost every photograph ever taken of her.)
Here is a private poem written by my mother sometime in her 67th year, some seven years before she would find her wished for– “oblivion”. It was found by me, after her death, hidden away in her papers. I pray she now– Rests In Peace.
To grow old
To lose the magic of lover’s nights
Not to wish to recall them even-
How many! How bitter sweet!
To wince away from old scars
Refusing even memory of sensation
Re-kindling of ancient pain-sweet fires
Wanting peace now –
No feeling to ruffle precarious peace
So hard won- so easily overthrown
Not to remember-
Refuse the nights-
Refuse now the sight of lover’s faces
In evening dark-
The swift knife in the dark of lover’s kissing
Awakening what I want forgotten
As I search my way to oblivion
In this my 67th year
Trying to ease the threshold
Between life and not-life
Easing, the cowards way-
And How I welcome cowardice!
Close eyes-close ears-close memory-
Think only of the dark bridge ahead
Think only it is easier to die
If living is forgotten-
Dorothy Jean Hodel- 1975
 dorero1973

March, 1982- Los Angeles

At her request, our mother’s body was cremated and her ashes recycled back to Nature. (Buried under a flowering Japanese Magnolia tree) A small group of close friends and loved ones attended the “service” and her three sons: Michael, Steven and Kelvin each delivered a few words in eulogy to their mother. In remembering this most remarkable woman, I had this to say:
DEAREST MOTHER:
EULOGIES FOR THE MOST PART ARE WELL INTENDED DISTORTIONS WHICH GLORIFY A PART WHILE IGNORING THE WHOLENESS OF OUR EXISTENCE.
EACH OF US HERE PRESENT POSSESS OUR INDIVIDUAL AND PRIVATE THOUGHTS WHICH COMPRISE OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT YOU WERE IN LIFE. THIS IS PRIVATE AND PERSONAL AND SHOULD REMAIN SO.
WHAT CAN BE RECOGNIZED AND SHARED ARE THE INFLUENCES WHICH YOU GAVE TO YOUR SONS AND FRIENDS.
INDEPENDENCE, ORIGINALITY, AND ROMANTIC INTELLECTUALISM PERVADED YOUR LIFE AND WERE YOUR SPHERE OF INFLUENCE.
WHITMAN, JOYCE, RACHMANINOFF—ALWAYS THE THINKER-OUTSIDE, THE LOVER-INSIDE. (EXCEPT WHEN YOU REVERSED THE TWO.)
YOUR LOVE OF NATURE WAS MOST PRONOUNCED. YOU LIVED LIFE PASSIONATELY AND POETICALLY. YOU SAW AND LOOKED FOR THE NATURAL BEAUTY IN MAN AND HIS UNIVERSE. LIFE WAS A DANCE, A POEM, A SONNET OF THE SEXES—A MATING RITE BETWEEN PAIN AND PLEASURE, GOOD AND EVIL.
YOU WERE NEVER RELIGIOUS IN THE TRADITIONAL SENSE, BUT EVER CONSCIOUS OF THE PERFECT ORDER HIDDEN IN ROCK, RIVER, STAR AND FLOWER. THESE WERE YOUR ANGELS AND YOUR HEAVEN.
YOUR STATED WISH, AT YOUR PASSING WAS THAT WE WHO LOVE YOU, REUNITE YOUR ELEMENTS WITH THOSE OF NATURE.
THAT YOU MAY CONTINUE TO ADD BEAUTY AND BE OF INFLUENCE TO OTHERS, LET THIS TREE, A JAPANESE MAGNOLIA WHICH BEARS FLOWERS ANNUALLY, BE A SYMBOL OF YOUR IMMORTALITY.
YOUR LIFE SHALL CONTINUE THROUGH THE FORM AND FLOWERING OF THIS TREE. MAY THE LIFE YOU GAVE US BE RETURNED TO YOU THROUGH THE SAP, TRUNK, BRANCHES, LEAVES, AND BLOSSOMS OF THIS TREE.

 

9 Comments

  1. Steve Snow on April 16, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Steve H. ~
    That is a wonderful, heartfelt tribute to your mother. No wonder she cared so much for you. Time brings reflection & you have triggered a flood of remembrances from my own past.
    Tempus fugit!
    ~ Steve S.

  2. Su on April 18, 2016 at 7:57 pm

    Steve ,like other readers I too have wondered about your mother and always been intrigued to have more of an insight into a being that was clearly a very remarkable lady. I wonder what she was thinking as the camera shutter captured her image, that moment ‘forever suspended in time’. Your recollections of her appear a fitting tribute to someone who in my view was effortlessly creative and gifted. George Eliot once wrote ‘Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them’. It’s the treasured memories of those dearest to us that keep them alive in our hearts. As always regards sue

    • Steve Hodel on April 18, 2016 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Su: Yes, “effortlessly creative and gifted” is a perfect description for her.
      All my best, Steve.

  3. robert ricciutti on May 5, 2016 at 2:35 am

    Steve,
    You have a big heart. I’m sure that you will be remembered for your enormous capacity to serve others without a thought for yourself. It’s most unfortunate that your life is marred by so many scars; of pain, suffering, and the knowledge that your father is not what you expected him to be. Be advised however, that you are every bit the man he knew you had become. You exemplify truth, honesty, and justice. The world needs to see more Japanese Magnolia Blossoms like you, Steve. Wishing you every blessing of peace this world could ever experience.

    Most Respectfully Yours,
    Robert Ricciutti

    • Steve Hodel on May 5, 2016 at 3:04 am

      Robert R: Thank you. Your words are much appreciated. My greatest pleasure and reward comes from knowing that readers like you really “get it.” Best to you and yours. Steve

  4. Paige on December 23, 2016 at 5:50 am

    Dearest Steven,

    Your words, testimony and work have touched me very deeply. I hope you know that throughout all these years, not one drop of blood you’ve shed for the cause of goodness and Justice has been in vain.

    I know that because of your diligence, there is reward for you in the eternal. I hope that the light of that truth genuinely fills you up. I imagine it must have been so hard for you, many times throughout your life, to keep up faith in what is good.

    I encourage you to keep pressing on, because you are the beauty rising from the ashes. I know your mother is so proud. And I can not say this strongly enough: you deserve to be so proud of yourself.

    A few years ago, my grandmother passed away, and though we were all grieving, these words broke through my mind in a gentle, delicate ray of sunlight. It was such a different feeling from all the gray clouds swirling around me at the time. I knew I had to write them down. At the time, though they resonated with me, I did not fully understand their meaning. When I read this post about your mother, her spirit reminded me of the spirit of my grandma. And I remembered the poem again, which entered my head like a gentle breeze, just like before. When I went back and reread it, in light of learning about your story, I fully understood.

    I present this to you humbly, just for the simple reason that I hope you enjoy these words, which I cannot fully claim ownership of. In fact, I truly believe they belong to you, too.

    The Cherry Blossom

    (for my grandma.)

    death comes quietly
    yet it is loudly felt.

    A blossom on a cherry tree
    blooms for only a few days each spring
    but if grace befalls the blossom,
    it becomes a fruit.

    The grace comes from the provider
    of all things sweet as honey
    He comes to transform the blossom
    and make it new.
    The blossom has only to open up and let him in,
    And then she may live on.

    This life is holy.
    Only fleeting as it passes to the next.
    Keep your eyes fixed on the Eternal
    and your heart fixed upon the Son
    That shines down eternally on all of us.

    Death comes quietly,
    yet it is loudly felt.

    let Love be heard above

    the din it tries to create,
    for Love
    will
    not be
    conquered.

    They say that Angels collect every tear you shed in a golden cup, and at the end of your life, they are presented at the throne of God.

    You are and have been the gold. You were appointed, and you answered (and continue to answer) the call. You, Steve, have chosen to sing the sweet song of Triumph over death and fear.

    No matter who recognizes it or not, there are plenty of us who know and can see the truth. Everything is revealed in the light of eternity.

    Wherever this life takes you next, I want to remind you of what you already know: there is always hope over the horizon!

    Sending healing, love and blessings to you. You and yours are in my prayers!

    <3 Paige

    —-Matthew 23:25

    • Paige on December 23, 2016 at 6:03 am

      Oh! I did mean to notate the scripture differently at the bottom. Matthew 25:23, a poetic line in the parable of the talents.

    • Steve Hodel on December 23, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Paige: Thank you for very kind thoughts and Cherry Blossom poem. Beautiful. steve

  5. Paige on December 23, 2016 at 6:33 am

    *Matt 25:23

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