Black Dahlia on ‘American Horror Story,’ Separating Fact From Fiction

As a fan of both seedy Hollywood lore and the new FX horror drama American Horror Story, I was pleased to see that the story of Elizabeth Short (known colloquially as the “Black Dahlia”) wove so seamlessly into the sometimes-disjointed though always enjoyable storyline of the new show.

If you’re not familiar, American Horror Story borrows heavily- though I would argue permissibly- from the seminal horror flick The Shining in its depiction of a soul-trapping house in Hollywood. A fractured family, reeling from paternal infidelity- moves into the glam but spooky residence, only to see a number of horrific, spirit-world related calamities befall them. Throughout the season, we’ve learned about the individuals in the house and how they got there, and in the most recent episode, Dr. Ben Harmon gets a visit from his newest patient- a woman named Elizabeth Short, played by Mena Suvari.

Suvari makes an excellent Short, although the depiction of the show of the circumstances surrounding the 23-year-old’s death during the 1940’s lean heavily on artistic license. The show version of the Black Dahlia dies during an ill-fated dental procedure (although a post-mortem on the real-life Short reveals that she did indeed suffer from decayed teeth), whereas cause of death in the actual case was blood loss from horrific facial lacerations. (In addition to being bisected at the waist, Short was also slashed with Kuchisake-Onna type wounds, adding to the sensationalist interest in her murder.) Short was also wrongly pegged by overreaching press at the time as somewhat of a “bad girl,” responsible for her horrific demise, while the actual Black Dahlia herself was known to not drink, smoke or swear. The small-screen version of Short is shown as a bit more promiscuous and assertive than the real-life Short is believed to have been.

Have you been enjoying the Black Dahlia story arc on American Horror Story? Do you mind when fiction takes liberties with historical events?