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
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.
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.
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.)
Click below for enlarged copy of GHH Ben Hecht Review
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.
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:
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
In the temple of Cybele curling
And in phantasmal wraiths writhing
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.
Just for the Hecht of it
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.
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.
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.