How the Black Dahlia Became a Gruesome 1940s Beauty Icon

 Elizabeth Short AKA The Black Dahlia was a gorgeous young woman found murdered in an empty lot in Los Angeles in January of 1947, at the age of 22. She was naked, bruised, severed in half at the waist, and mutilated. Her face had been cut ear to ear in a hauntingly perverse Glasgow smile. She had been beaten, tortured and possibly raped. Horrific photos of the crime scene and autopsy are plastered rather distastefully across the internet.

 Even during her time, the media was captivated by her. They quickly picked up on the fact that the young girl was an aspiring actress, and endlessly reported on her many love affairs and striking looks. The American news press couldn’t get enough of her. The fame that Short had desired in her lifetime had only come to her in death, and it had become a national morbid obsession.

An alluring mugshot of Beth taken in 1943. She had been nabbed for underage drinking at a bar.

 People who knew her described her luscious mane of black hair, her stunning blue eyes, her mysterious and charismatic presence, and of course, her immaculate sense of style and penchant for dark, heavy makeup. The Black Dahlia quickly became a bizarre and disturbing 1940s fashion icon.

Short’s friend Lauretta recalled “how Beth was drawn to the unusual, such as the brooch she wore in the shape of a large black flower with a sterling silver Egyptian face in the center. When asked where it came from, Beth just smiled and wouldn’t say.” – From“Severed: The True Story of the Black Dahlia Murder” by John Gilmore.

Other passages from Severed continue to depict Short’s penchant for beautiful and strange personal effects: “Once she showed Lauretta an ivory colored cigarette case in the shape of two clasped hands, which she used to keep business cards in. ‘She was unusual wherever she went, and for Hollywood, especially at that time, that’s a bold statement.’

Lauretta also recalled giving a fine piece of lingerie to Beth: ‘She adored black lace. Elizabeth was of the night. She was of the dark…’” 

By all descriptions, Short looked and acted like a film noir heroine. She was mysterious with everyone she knew, and refused to divulge intimate secrets even to lovers or friends. Nobody was ever truly close to her. She was cool, attractive and impossible to get to know.

Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia

It’s also worth noting that her “Black Dahlia” nickname was ascribed to her after the 1946 Alan Ladd film noir The Blue Dahlia, starring the similarly tragic and femme fatale-ish Veronica Lake.

Short wanted to break into Hollywood badly, and was an avid fan of film who went to watch movies in theaters whenever she could fork up the money for it. It’s possible that one dark and lurid L.A. night, she could’ve walked by a poster for The Blue Dahlia plastered on a wall by some lonesome alley, and thought: Will this ever be me someday? Will I see my name on the marquee? She had yet to know her name would be scrawled across newspapers for something much more terrifying.

And now, let’s take a look at Short’s make up routine.

 Crime historian Joan Renner described how:

  “rather than following the post-war vogue for a natural looking makeup, Elizabeth Short used a heavy hand to create a dramatic contrast between her complexion and her hair color. If anything, her look leaned more towards Goth girl than glamour girl.“

I’m seeing a little Siouxsie Sioux in her

 Short’s roommate Linda Rohr, who worked in the Rouge Room at Max Factor, stated that:

  she was always going out and she loved to prowl the boulevard. She had pretty blue eyes but sometimes overdid with makeup an inch thick. She dyed her brown hair black, and then red again.”

She also said Short’s makeup was startling, “like a geisha… The way she fusses over details and spends three times as long as anyone I know with her makeup. I can come and go and she’s still in the bathroom putting on her face.” 

Beth and her handsome army beau Matthew Michael Gordon, Jr.
He would die in a plane crash in 1945 less than a week before the end of WWII. Beth never forgot him.

Short’s roommates did not appreciate the immense amount of time she would take getting ready in the bathroom, but her dates sure did. Men would come knocking on the door late at night asking for her, while she hid inside and pretended not to hear.

 One of Short’s most fabulous beauty secrets was using candle wax on her teeth to fill in cavities and to make her teeth shine, since she could not afford dental work. She was constantly broke and had to rely on the kindness of others to stay stylish and camera ready.

Beth in front of what seems to be a poster for the 1943 film adaption of Elvira Madigan

The brutal Black Dahlia murder symbolizes the loss of innocence and beauty in 1940s L.A. (just as Sharon Tate’s murder at the hands of the psychotic Manson family did for the 1960s), and has become a sort of myth or legend. Underneath the evil of her murder, there was just a unique and fascinating young woman trying to make it in a literal cutthroat industry, which took her life too soon. We are left only with the mystery of what could have been, and with pictures and stories of the 22 year old’s hypnotic beauty and grace.

One thought on “How the Black Dahlia Became a Gruesome 1940s Beauty Icon

  1. I really don’t agree with your outlook on Miss Short!
    With all due respect, no woman should die the way Miss Short did!
    But the way I see it, she was not that beautiful at all, she prowled around in a mean and nasty city…
    she used people to get what she wanted, and was not very street smart!
    Just another Hollywood hopeful whore who hooked up with the wrong person at the wrong time
    in the wrong place!
    Love your Lost Girl Blog! Keep up the great work!


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