More George Hodel Name Games: The Morel of the Story
August 14, 2017
In the 1925 Los Angeles Evening Herald article, “The Clouded Past of a Poet” written by Ted Le Berthon, we recall that George Hodel did not want the Drama Critic to use his real last name, and provided him with the pseudonym, “George Morel.”
Earlier, in January of that same year, in the first publication of his magazine, FANTASIA, George, then the young publisher/editor had used the pseudonym, “Vernon Morel” in writing his dark poem, INFERENCE.
Though thinking it a bit curious, I had given the name no further thought, until last week, when I received the below Email from the accomplished novelist, film director, screenwriter, Allison Burnett.
Hi Steve, I just finished reading Most Evil, which I enjoyed immensely. I am sure you know this, but Morel is the surname of the hero of Sons & Lovers by DH Lawrence. I find it fascinating that your dad chose it as a nom de plume. As one who incested his daughter and impregnated a much older woman surely an intensely Oedipal bond with his mother must be suspected. Perhaps even a sexual one. Paul Morel in S&L is crushed by his mother’s smothering adoration. The rage that lives in the heart of an incested or over-loved son could sure fuel homicidal impulses.
Best, Allison Burnett
In fact, unfortunately, my literary knowledge did not extend to a reading of D.H. Lawrence’s, Sons and Daughters. Consequently, I was ignorant of the Morel connection until Allison’s informative communication. (However, I have just now ordered a copy of the classic, which will go to the top of my “To Read” list.
Mr. Burnett has unquestionably nailed it here. Clearly, George Hodel was making the direct association and identification of his poet pseudo-self to Lawrence’s character, Paul Morel.
D.H. Lawrence, age 21. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence published 1913
Originally titled, “Paul Morel” but changed by his editor/publisher.
“The first draft of Lawrence’s novel is now lost and was never completed, which seems to be directly due to his mother’s illness. He did not return to the novel for three months, at which point it was titled ‘Paul Morel.’ The penultimate draft of the novel coincided with a remarkable change in Lawrence’s life, as his health was thrown into turmoil and he resigned his teaching job to spend time in Germany. This plan was never followed, however, as he met and married the German minor aristocrat, Frieda Weekley, who was the wife of a former professor of his at the University of Nottingham. According to Frieda’s account of their first meeting, she and Lawrence talked about Oedipus and the effects of early childhood on later life within twenty minutes of meeting.” [Emphasis mine}
Again, this falls into the “you can’t make this stuff up” category.
Recall that the young George Hodel, obviously (albeit unconsciously) following in the footsteps of D.H. Lawrence, (who was 22 years his senior) attends Caltech University in Pasadena in 1923, at fourteen, has an affair with his professor’s wife, who becomes pregnant and their relationship breaks up her marriage. The woman goes East, has George’s child and he follows and proposes marriage. Her response, (unlike Freida’s to Lawrence) was to laugh in George’s face and totally reject him. “You’re just a child yourself, George. Get out of my life. I never want to see you again.”
I have no doubt that my father’s love-hate relationship with his overly domineering mother, Esther was certainly Oedipal, and odds are better than even that is was incestuous.
That George identified with Lawrence’s character Paul Morel to the extent of using him as the author pseudonym in his INFERENCE poem, and again as himself in the poet with a “Clouded Past” article, is no stretch of the imagination, rather, like all of George’s use of names—it was perfect.
P.S. In the 1943 L.A. Lone Woman Murder of victim Ora Murray recall that when George met her at the popular dance hall before inviting her out “on the town,” he introduced himself as “Paul,” a businessman down from San Francisco.”
See related earlier blog:
George Hodel’s 1925 Review of Ben Hecht’s Fantazius Mallare Killing: Ben Hecht’s 1947 Review of George Hodel’s Black Dahlia Killing
Steve: On the Oedipal psychology angle, a 1948 scholarly article in the Rice Institute Pamphlet entitled BAUDELAIRE’S NEUROSIS offers interesting parallels, and incidentally links Elizabeth Short’s murder to Baudelaire’s poetry (“In another piece, UNE MARTYRE, he pictures the results of a ghoulish murder in a wealthy setting filled with perfumed clothes and expensive furniture… It is a marvelous poetical realization of the California Black Dahlia case.”) Cocteau’s LES PARENTS TERRIBLES is also worth viewing in this context. -LW
Steve: There might also be an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe’s MORELLA in the Vernon Morel pseudonym, given the content of INFERENCE. (“The days have never been when thou couldst love me – but her whom in life thou didst abhor, in death thou shalt adore.”) -LW
LW: Thanks as always. Amazing that just over a year after the Dahlia murder that they would be discussing the murder in light of Baudelaire’s writings. Great find! Will read Morella tonight and save the “heavy” Baudelaire Neurosis for manana.
Now, all we need do is find the “Vernon” connection. Got to be there somewhere. Best, Steve.
Steve: Vernon Spencer (1875 – 1949) was your father’s piano teacher and a composer. His listed works include “Come! will you come to me?,” “Consolation,” and “Thou art so like a flower.” The pseudonym “Vernon Morel” has a distinctly Poe-ish ring to it. In Roger Corman’s THE TOMB OF LIGEIA screenwriter Robert Towne named the Vincent Price character Verdan Fell, though he is unnamed in Poe’s original story. -LW
LW: You’re absolutely right on Vernon Spencer. I had completely blanked on his front name, but he would have been in my father’s mind as one who I expect he greatly admired and respected. A positive male influence in his early life that encouraged him and recognized his musical talent. Bet you are right on that. Unusual name, even back then. Thanks. skh
Steve: Vernon Spencer gave a talk at Riverside City College in 1921 (per the 1921-1922 RCCD Catalog, RCC Library collection), and there was an associated concert by Olga Steeb, a celebrated piano virtuoso, former child prodigy and tutor, who was a professor at Redlands during the late 1910s. There have been references to the putative Zodiac “desktop poem” found at RCC possibly coming from the “music room,” and it’s also been speculated that the “rh” signature on the poem relates to the “right hand” abbreviation used on piano scores. Perhaps GHH attended the RCC concert and it was somehow significant for him? -LW
Steve: I am curious how you came to be aware of this “MERRY-GO-ROUND” column, given the names of your father and his magazine were “changed to protect the innocent.” Do you know for a fact that it was written with GHH’s cooperation? On the face of it, this is a strange, savage and potentially ego-crushing article about a teenage “boy wonder” with literary pretensions who’s been reduced to driving cabs at night for a living. It ends with a hint of violence. Le Berthon omits to mention GHH being kicked out of college or his side job as a vice/homicide reporter with a rival newspaper. What is really going on here? -LW
LW: To be totally honest I can no longer recall , which was the original source on the article?
Either it came from June, along with the other articles that GHH had kept stored away for 75 years, or my girlfriend/researcher, Roberta, found it at UCLA newspaper morgue files and sent it up to me from LA in 1999 or 2000?
If my memory serves me correctly, GHH had just been discharged or left the L.A. Record and when the article was written he no longer was employed by the newspaper. The reason for his leaving the paper is as you say, “mysterious” and murky, but hopefully will be ferreted out, or at least examined in “The Early Years.”
I too, do not get the sense he was “on board” with the personality characterization since he was being darkly dissed by both LeBerthon and his (George’s) “unnamed friends.” This may even have been some kind of “payback” for something personal that occurred prior?
However, I think the main plus for George was his being featured in the paper. While others may not have known George Morel was George Hodel, he and “his friends” knew it and I’m sure he reveled in the publicity if nothing more than within his then “inner circle.” Along with, as you say, the ending hint to violence which I’m sure he loved showing the flower-robed, poet/genius/pianist was “no sissy.” Regards, SKH
p.s. In thinking this through a little further it would appear (based on the known chronology) that LeBerthon may well not have consulted GHH at all on the name Morel. (Certainly, in his position he would have been very familiar with and would have read the recently published novel “Sons and Lovers” by D.H. Lawrence.)
We know from the 1924 GHH “Drama Critic” article he wrote on Sadakichi Hartmann the reference lines he wrote were repeated in his Jan 1925 poem, INFERENCE in Fantasia, which he signed “Vernon Morel.” So, very possible that LeBerthon who surely had seen/read the “First Edition of Fantasia” knowing that poem was written by GHH, simply used it again and at the same time was “revealing” it to those “in the know” as being GHH. Bit convoluted, but it works and complements LeBerthon’s “intent.” To be continued…
Steve: Given the stinging nature of Le Berthon’s criticisms and that GHH’s (conventional) literary aspirations died abruptly around this time, the piece seems like another potential ‘Rosebud’ to me. Probably I’ve just watched THEATER OF BLOOD too many times, but in Ted Le Berthon’s shoes I think I might be a little worried about the effect of this profile on the subject. -LW
LW: Haven’t seen TOB, but guess I’ll have to check it out. *s*
Wow, several years ago I contacted you after reading the Black Dalia Avenger and Most Evil. I remember that we talked about the possibility of a sexual relationship between George and his mother being the catalyst that fueled George’s rage and his sociopathic hatred of women. At that time it was just conjecture but now I see there is growing evidence to support this idea. Excellent work…
LW: My feeling is that GHH may have been out there on one of his trips, perhaps in 1966, to obtain a copy of his 1925 FANTASIA MAGAZINE because an original was archived at Redlands University. GHH lost many of his papers in a hurricane that ripped off the roof of his Manila Bay office and many of his personal papers were destroyed and lost. Riverside City College is only a fifteen-minute drive from the archives at Redlands University. I do know he was out to Redlands and made copies of FANTASIA, just don’t know when? skh
Steve: We had some exchanges a while back about how UC Riverside’s copy of FANTASIA and/or GHH’s link to Sadakichi Hartmann might supply a nexus to the Riverside area generally and/or the UC Riverside library system specifically. Still leaves the question of why he would be haunting the City College library or (possibly) its music room. Evidently GHH’s nervous system worked in strange ways, sometimes suggestive of OCD. That thing you mention in ME about his memorializing where he’d injured a toe in Tokyo by writing a note inside his shoe is a case in point. The incident with Tamar and the floral pattern on the hotel carpet is another. My hypothesis here is that he revisited places to which he had some past connection on his trips back to California and there might therefore be buried connections to RCC, to Vallejo, and perhaps to Monticello (the rural Napa town buried under Lake Berryessa in the 1950s). They’re probably lost to history now, but you never know… -LW
AGREED. Hard to keep track of all the past communique’s. So many crimes, so little time.
Steve: The world of classical music performance can be quite brutal, as has been depicted in movies such as THE RED SHOES and THE BLACK SWAN. You might be a darling of the press as a 9 year old prodigy and washed-up by a single harsh judgment a few years later. Evidently, GHH’s career as a piano virtuoso was as abortive as his dream of being a poet. Perhaps this history contributed to the vein of misanthropy and spleen under that supremely self-confident, aristocratic exterior. -LW
Yes, it went the way of many of his other “early pursuits” like photographer with his one man one-time show in Pasadena, actor after few performances at the Pasadena Playhouse, poet/editor, after two publications of Fantasia. As best I can determine, the desire for him to become a great pianist was almost completely mother-driven. Esther’s dream and passion, but Georgie’s, not so much. Once free of his mother’s control, he never tickled the ivories again.
I’m sure the hate for his mother transferred to the keyboard which would have been a constant reminder to him.
Knowing your father’s penchant for naming people and objects after the actual identies of people that he knew, I was surprised how the conflated middle name “Anne” mistakenly appeared in the FBI ES file and was also the name “Elizabeth Anne” suggested by GHH to Tamar for her curly-haired doll. Although there is no evidence linking “Anne” to ES in her lifetime, could it be a thoughtprint that shows GHH was aware that Betty Bersinger’s (person who discovered ES’s body) daughter who was present at the discovery was named “Anne”? Or perhaps a link to Anne Toth, ES’s friend and roommate, or even JeANNE French?
Travis: Interesting thought, but I don’t think so. To my knowledge the middle name “Ann” never surfaced in public (newspapers, magazines, books) until around the Seventies or Eighties. So, no way it would have been in GHH’s consciousness back in March 1947 for him to tell Tamar to name her doll, “Elizabeth Ann”. I think the more likely scenario is that Tamar in reading a later article or talking to someone picked up the middle name “Ann” and misremembered her father saying, “Elizabeth Ann” but actually he just said, “Elizabeth”. We see Tamar giving her second daughter, Deborah (Fauna II) the middle name “Elizabeth” which I suspect is connected to following her father’s wishes, only this time with her own “living doll”. Not exactly the name Tamar would choose without a reason, considering her next three siblings were, Peace, Love and Joy. I suspect this was to honor her father’s choice of the name seven years earlier. When I queried her on the name “Elizabeth Ann” she said she was positive on Elizabeth and thought he had said Ann too, but I suspect that was unconsciously added on after she read the article in the Seventies that referred to her as “Elizabeth Ann.” Best, Steve
It’s interesting to think about
G E O R G E H O D E L
V E R N O N M O R E L
as a possible thoughtprint in relation to the Zodiac ciphers.
If the Z13 “ALFREDENEUMAN” crack is right, that’s (almost) a straight substitution cipher. It would probably be too short to interpret, except for certain helpful cues or hints (e.g., it starts “AEN,” “A” maps to itself, “M” maps to the similar-sounding “N,” and there’s a W-like symbol representing “U” or “W”).
The Z408 is a conventional homophonic substitution cipher with certain plaintext characters represented by multiple cipher symbols to impede statistical analysis. (“M” stands for “H” in the Z408, incidentally.) There are no obvious hints and the homophones make it hard but not impossible to crack, presumably as intended. Importantly, we find no anagrams, transposition of characters, hidden keywords or numerical games, and the text encoding is 1-for-1, horizontal, left-to-right.
If Dr. Bauer is on the right track with his approach to the Z340, then it combines homophonic with polyalphabetic substitution, rendering it very hard to crack. Indeed, on this model, there may be no unique “cryptological” solution as some symbols can stand for more than one plaintext letter. It is more of a Man Ray-style enveiling than a conventional enciphering of the text. Still, it’s not complete gibberish because (in Bauer’s answer) a significant fraction of the alphabet maps to itself, hinting at an interpretation. So, a bit like Z13. But even more like
G E O R G E H O D E L
V E R N O N M O R E L