February 2, 2019
Los Angeles, California
(Orig blogged April 15, 2006, updated this date.)
(SKH Note- Much of this blog was originally published by me in 2016, as a remembrance of my mother on what would have been her 110th birthday. It is here updated to included additional photos and text.)
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.”
Los Angeles Times 1918 12-year-old, Dorothy Jean Harvey LA’s Queen of the May- Elysian Park
Los Angeles’ “Queen of the May” (Insert upper left of shows Dorothy Harvey age 12, “Queen of the May”)
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.”
Walter Huston greeting Dorothy and John at the train station on arriving for their honeymoon in LA circa 1926
Mother’s typed private “reminiscence” of her former husband, John Huston,
found in her personal papers after her death. Dorothy and John were married seven years. (1926-1933) It reads:
“All his life he was fascinated by boxers. He also loved bullfighters even before he read Hemingway. He had a brief enthusiasm for six-day bicycle racers and even looked into dance marathons and flagpole sitters. But boxers were the best specimens he felt, that the race of man had produced.
The first time he tried to tell me about all this, he was 19 years old. I was 19, too, and we were at this party where this shocking thing had just happened. I mean, it was shocking to me, but it left John in an exalted and unusually talkative mood. There was blood all over the floor and on some of the furniture, and my face was green and I was trying not to be sick.
“You’re missing the whole point,” John said. He pulled me to my feet and steered me to the front porch. With the sweet sick smell blowing away and everything outdoors swinging slowly back in focus again, I said weakly, “I am?”
Dorothy married my father, Dr. George Hill Hodel, in Sonora, Mexico in 1940. She bore him four sons, Michael (1939), Steve and John (1941), John was my twin, died two weeks after our births due to “failure to thrive”, and Kelvin (1942).
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?
THE FRANKLIN HOUSE YEARS [1945-1950]
Dorothy posing for our family photographer Man Ray in 1944. Center photo his wife Juliet and Dorothy
Photo of mother taken by our father George Hodel in 1946
Mother with my older brother, Mike Hodel who had just won an 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.
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.
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
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:
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.
Update July 23, 2023