The Man Ray nonsense shows
how shoddy the whole book is

This is an amended version of July 14, 2004, post by an amazon.com reader in response to Steve Hodel's "Black Dahlia Avenger"

I sought out this book because I had read that the person it named as the Black Dahlia murderer, Dr. George Hodel, the author's father, was a close friend of Man Ray. My curiosity was piqued because I read everything I can get my hands on about Man Ray, and I had never heard of him being a close friend of any Hollywood physician. After reading the book, I still have seen no evidence that George Hodel was an intimate friend, a serious patron, or anything more than a cordial business acquaintance of Man Ray, despite the author's claims. Nor am I persuaded that George Hodel had anything to do with the Black Dahlia murder. I did come away convinced of the author's willingness to distort, mislead, fabricate, and use any means necessary to convince ignorant and gullible readers of his spurious case.

The Man Ray depicted in this book is all but unrecognizable when compared to the actual person whose life has been carefully documented by biographers, art historians, and other researchers.

As part of his argument for George Hodel's guilt, the author states flatly, absent any evidence, that Man Ray was an avowed and sadistic misogynist. This risibly false claim is something akin to claiming Ansel Adams hated Yosemite and encouraged strip-mining it. It proves that the author is counting on the reader knowing virtually nothing.

Based on the statements of a former boarder in the Hodel house who tells a number of salacious and incriminating but unsupported stories recounted in the book, the author claims that Man Ray left Los Angeles for Paris under a cloud of ill-defined suspicion at end of 1949, just as authorities were investigating George Hodel for the Black Dahlia murder. The well-established and undisputed fact, available in the most cursory biographical overview, is that Man Ray lived quietly in LA until March of 1951. I don't know how anyone can take the author's "research" seriously after a gaffe like that.

It is clear from Man Ray's correspondence and the recollections of those who actually knew him that the long-term reason for his return to France was his lack of financial success and artistic recognition in the US. The proximal cause was the sudden increase in rent on his modest Vine Street apartment, to $100 (about $750 in today's money) a month, which he felt he could not afford. The latter point alone is sufficient to demonstrate the absurdity of the author's attempt to portray Man Ray as a sinister puppet-master with the power to keep the law at bay.

The author tells a similar fib when he says Man Ray took a trip to France at the height of the original 1947 murder investigation. Unless he is saying the height of the investigation was nearly eight months after the murder, this didn't happen either.

Likewise, aside from a claim made 50 years after the fact by a woman clinically diagnosed as a pathological liar, there is no evidence that Man Ray took nude photographs of George Hodel's pubescent daughter. Indeed, there is no indication I know of that Man Ray ever took any nude photographs of any pubescent girls (or boys, for that matter), even though it would have been perfectly legal and scarcely objectionable according to the mores of his times.

I am also highly doubtful of the author's unsubstantiated claim that Man Ray took the portraits of the author's parents reproduced in the book, except the signed portrait of his mother for which Man Ray no doubt charged a hefty fee. If they are by Man Ray, they are among the worst portraits he ever did, especially the ones of the author's father.

Among the author's more sensationalistic claims is that the posing of the murder victim's body was a deliberate imitation of Man Ray's photograph "Minotaure". He calls it a precise match. I see a vague approximation at best: the positions of the arms don't really match; the injuries to the victim's torso are not like the shadows in the photograph, despite the author's untrue assertion that they are; and I guess we're not supposed to notice that the head of the model in the photograph is completely hidden in dark shadow (it's not hard to imagine what a psychopathic killer bent on imitating the photograph would do with that). But there is an element of subjectivity to all this. A more embarrassing question for the author is whether George Hodel could have seen the "Minotaure" photograph prior to the murder. At the time, Man Ray had not had any copy of the photograph in his possession since fleeing France in 1940, and this then-obscure photograph was neither exhibited nor widely published until long after the murder. I think even the most ardent fans of this book might possibly concede that George Hodel would have had to have seen the photograph in order to have copied it when posing a corpse.

When I first read this book, my impression of it, even aside from the parts about Man Ray, was that it was a slipshod load of humbug, full of groundless speculation, fallacious reasoning, and absurd conclusions. And, of course, I could see that the two photos being passed off as the victim were of two different women, neither being victim. Since reading the book, I've become interested in the Black Dahlia case and sought out of information about it. As a result, I've caught the author in many more false and misleading statements.

Even now I find the author's treatment of Man Ray emblematic of the book as a whole: the outright falsehoods, the misleading statements, the uncritical reliance on the most dubious sources, the failure to check even the most basic facts, the uncanny ability to avoid anything that might detract from the author's case whilst ferreting out the obscurest tidbit that seems to support it, and the undisguised presumption that the reader is both ignorant and stupid. If that sounds like a good read to you, by all means, enjoy it. If not, avoid it.

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