HOLLYWOOD CONFIDENTIAL: Screenwriters Ben Hecht and Steve Fisher Knew the Identity of Black Dahlia Killer: On the QT and Very Hush Hush
June 24, 2021
Los Angeles, California
In the weeks following the above-the-fold headlines on the Elizabeth ” Black Dahlia” Short murder all six LA newspapers were in competition to see you could out-scoop the other and come up with new information.
On February 1, 1947, the Los Angeles Herald-Express led with the startling announcement that Hollywood’s top crime screenwriter, Ben Hecht, claimed he KNEW THE NAME of the killer!
Just two days later, a second top screenwriter, Steve Fisher, in a separate article in the Herald Express, also claimed he too (as well as the police) knew the name of the sadistic murderer and went on to say, “when the killer’s name is published a lot of people who know him and who do not now suspect he has anything to do with the case, are going to be surprised and terrified….The man will have to flee….he will never get out of the city.”
Ben Hecht and Steve Fisher two of Hollywood’s top crime screenwriters both within a few days of each other claiming to know the name and identity of her killer? How strange!
Well, maybe not so strange. Where have we heard the name Ben Hecht before?
Oh yes, young George Hodel wrote a lengthy book review of Ben Hecht’s bizarre 1925 novel, Fantazius Mallare and the Kingdom of Evil, and printed it in the debut edition of his elitist magazine, FANTASIA, which the young Hodel, Editor-in-Chief informs us was published ” to the portrayal of bizarre beauty in the arts, to the delineation of the stranger harmonies and the rarer fragrances, do we dedicate this our magazine.”
The Probable SOURCE of the Ben Hecht and Steve Fisher Dahlia Suspect’s Identity
I believe I know who and how both screenwriters came to learn the identity of Elizabeth Short’s killer.
I am confident their source came from a third well-known Hollywood film director and screenwriter. His name? ROWLAND BROWN.
“The Likely Source”- Rowland Brown
Rowland Brown (right) with Spencer Tracy
Rowland Brown (1900-1963) though mostly unknown today, in the 1930s, was a true rebel, and quite well known to the public. In the 20s he had been a Chicago sportswriter, and like his good friend, Ben Hecht, had come west to check out the birth of Hollywood and filmmaking. Like most of the “Front Page” pioneers, he was a hard-drinking, pugnacious, iconoclast. Brown loved women, gangsters, (credited with discovering George Raft), and fast horses. He would fight to the death for “the little guy” which was oftentimes the theme in his films. Brown’s filmography included such greats as Quick Million (1931)), States Attorney (1932), Oscar-nominated, What Price Hollywood (1932, co-written with Gene Fowler), Blood Money (1933) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938, co-written with Ben Hecht.)
Brown’s 1942 stage play Johnny 2×4 featured Lauren Bacall in her first starring role. His brother Sam Brown was a propman and sometime scriptwriter who assisted F. W. Murnau on his final film, Tabu (1931).
Rowland Brown and my mother’s former husband, film director John Huston were regular attendees at my parent’s Hollywood parties, at their Sowden/Franklin House during the mid-to-late 1940s, and in the spring of 1950, the DA Hodel-Black Dahlia Surveillance Tapes would capture my mother in conversation with Rowland Brown, just prior to Father fleeing the country.
Dorothy Huston Hodel and Rowland Brown were lovers and had a twenty-year, ongoing romance from the mid-1930s into the mid-1950s. I have no doubt that Dorothy both knew that her husband killed Elizabeth Short and equally shared that information with her lover, Rowland Brown.
I am also confident that Rowland, after the 1947 sadistic murder, shared the identity of her killer with his inner circle of friends, Ben Hecht, Steve Fisher, and Gene Fowler.
Recall what George and Dorothy Hodel’s sometime sexual partner, (and DA 1950 Black Dahlia witness) pretty Mady Comfort had said to her boyfriend once my book, Black Dahlia Avenger was published in 2003. “Oh, back then we (all his friends) knew he did it.”
Rowland Brown directed films:
Rowland Brown with paramour Dorothy Huston Hodel 1940s (photo of Dorothy by Man Ray 1944)
Dorothy and George Hodel with their paramour Mattie (Mady) Comfort circa 1944
1947 Dr. George Hodel Insiders- THEY ALL KNEW
For those wishing additional linkage see below blog from 2016.
George Hodel's 1925 Review of Ben Hecht's Fantazius Mallare Killing: Ben Hecht's 1947 Review of George Hodel's Black Dahlia Killing
Another exellent blog putting the pieces together in a interesting and informative way. Showing the interconnections between associates and friends who were in the know about Dr Hodel’s nefarious deeds is amazing. Congratulations, Steve, on another mail in the coffin.
Thanks Dennis. Yes, Hollywood was a pretty “small town” back then and the circle of “working” screenwriters was way small. No question in my mind that Gene Fowler, Ben Hecht, Steve Fisher, Rowland Brown, and Peter Viertel (wrote Huston’s screenplay, African Queen, and the great Huston/Bio book, “White Hunter, Black Heart” ) all knew each other and were a tight group for sure. Add to that Huston’s definition of a “real friend” being “someone who comes to you and tells you he has committed a cold blooded murder and needs help and you provide it.” BINGO.
Thank you, Steve, and thank you for coming down to Point Loma!
Ben Hecht says it all in his statement ending with …..”and what that hatred is I will leave unsaid.” Unfortunately what is left unsaid is the fuel for the predator’s fire. I call it the Silence of the Lambs and the resulting damages to a society are phenomenal! As I have discovered over my long years it is the outlier who by his or her own nature blurts out the heinous truth continuously, loudly seeking correction and justice! “The Emperor’s Clothes” is a perfect example of what I am saying. And sometimes (many times) the outlier suffers the rejection, derision and abandonment within his own society. I think you know those feelings, Steve! But as Bosch would say……”I gotta feeling and I can’t let go”! So carry on……there may be a happy ending for you👍! Best, Pat ONeill. 😎🌵
Right on Pat!
Speaking of Bosch, I see his new and final season is just out there now. Looks like a binge-city weekend for me. *s*
👍Think new Bosch season starts tomorrow nite! Perfect timing as we swelter in triple digit heat here for the 2nd week!! Enjoy! 😎🌵
This still makes me wonder why the detectives didn’t interview the scriptwriters. Or if they did, would those notes be sitting anywhere? Or would they be part of what was destroyed?
I’m sure they were interviewed. Fisher in his article says “I’m sure the police do too.” So, sounds like he was confident that they had the name either from Hecht or another witness, if not himself.
We know for sure they had it in ’49 during the trial, but all indications are they had it early on, right after the crime. And yes, I’m sure anything that incriminating would, like the rest of the “missing files” have been destroyed.
How is production on the docuseries going? When do you expect to have everything wrapped up?
Moving forward, but don’t expect to have the series completed until maybe end of next year?
Likely take twelve months or so to complete?
I wonder how any of these associates of Hodel’s could live with their knowledge of his crimes, and do and say nothing. I can understand your mother and she has my sympathy- she was trapped and no doubt terrified of Hodel, and she was frantic to protect her children. She also, from your report, had a very difficult time dealing with her knowledge emotionally, and it blighted the rest of her life.
But the others had no real reason to remain loyal to Hodel. He wasn’t signing their paychecks and he didn’t have their lives in his hands.
I think one of the primary motivations for most was a fear and terror of George. He held them individually hostage just as he did whole cities as an Urban Terrorist. He outlived them ALL. Even if they thought he could be “put away” they still feared his “connections” real or imagined. This included all those “in the know” within law enforcement. They too all exercised their “right to remain silent.” The real tragedy of course was that the blood on their hands comes from all the future victims that were slain because of their inaction. Think of it. There would have been no Lucila Lalu murder in Manila and no “Zodiac” victims in Riverside, Oceanside, and the SF Bay Area. But, sadly, it didn’t start with the “Lone Woman Murders” in LA in the Forties. It started long before and never stopped. Stay tuned. Lot more to tell in “The Early Years” which I hope to publish in 2022.
And how did these screenwriters know Dr. Hodel in the first place? In all likelihood via involvement in then career breaking BDSM . One thing Steve Hodel has yet to touch on are the salons Zake Zietlin used to have at his bookstore at night. One of those was a BDSM salon with emphisis on banned illegal books