Fifty-seven years after she went to the big S&M club in the sky, people are still resurrecting the Black Dahlia. Neo-burlesque queen Dita Von Teese is the latest, in a set of recent photos shot by erotic surrealists Pierre et Gilles. Teese? You'll remember her from her spread in the December 2002 issue of Playboy, but you can see her live Friday, headlining OC Weekly Presents Burlesque, a gen-yoo-wine burlesque revue at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana.
For those of you who've spent some time under a rock or aren't native Californios, the Dahlia was 20-something Elizabeth Short—a party girl par excellence who went out every night until one day in January 1947, when she didn't come home. Short lived in Long Beach a brief time and worked in a caf on the ground floor of that city's Lafayette Hotel (now an antique store).
She got famous for her death that winter of '47. She made a phone call from the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, walked outside and climbed into a tan sedan. That was the last time anyone saw her alive. Her body, neatly severed at the waist, was found days later in a vacant lot at 39th and Coliseum streets near the Leimert Park area of Los Angeles.
LA newspapers of the day attacked the case like reporters on a corpse. They named Short the Black Dahlia and published notes her killer suggestively mailed to the press. They printed her address book.
More than 500 people confessed to her murder, but the case was never solved. It's become more famous in LA than Randy Kraft's saga is here, inspiring authors such as James Ellroy and lending a certain piquancy to . . . the night time.
The Dahlia's sexy side—her '40s bouffant, her reported penchant for black lingerie, her grisly demise—still inspire folks like Teese and make her stand out from a growing crowd of burlesque revivalists. She's missing the Dahlia's eerie magnetism—which is probably what got her killed—but unlike so many other performers who've resurrected the burlesque, Teese has a face that honors her subject.
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People don't look like they once did; Big Macs and office jobs have filled out the pinched faces of Dorothea Lange's era. Today's burlesque artists lack that lean, hungry look. They're a well-fed army of Pamela Andersons—with tattoos, which never would've flown back in the day.
Teese has a face straight outta the Dust Bowl, with high cheekbones just like the Dahlia's—and a body for sin, a body that's clearly spilled out of more than one tightly laced corset. Near as we can tell, she's tattooless, and she knows her burlesque. She knows it's all about teasing, and Teese plays the shrinking violet behind such lush props as a pink feathered fan, doing one signature routine in a giant martini glass. Mmm, martini glass.
Along with your wall-eyed stare, bring your dancing shoes. After Teese's tease, the evening will get all '80s, with dark wave DJ Danny (think "Boys Don't Cry" Cure and maybe Siouxsie doing "Spellbound") and the electrofunk stylings of dirty-Lo, no relation to Bennifer. Bring your lucky rabbit's foot, too; there's a raffle, with donations from Wahoo's Fish Tacos, Condom Revolution, Hooters, Black Flys and the Sandbox. And, leaving you with the warm fuzzies, the raffle benefits AIDS Service Foundation OC.
OC Weekly Presents Burlesque at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (949) 300-2410. Fri., 8 p.m. $15. 21+.