Monday, January 15, 2007

Spinning Fiction from Fact

About five years ago, I found a passing reference to the disappearance of actress and dancer Jean Spangler in a piece on Hollywood’s unsolved cases. Her story was so sad, this divorcée struggling to support her 5-year-old daughter and still pursue her own dreams, taking every small part, dancing in revues. Then, on October 7, 1949, she walked down the front path of her apartment building and into ... well, the Big Nowhere. The more I read about her (though there’s not too much available to read), the more I became entranced. She seemed like a woman leading two lives--this home life with her daughter, mother, and sister-in-law, all crammed into one apartment--and this glittering life in Hollywood: dating movie stars, nightclubbing on the Sunset Strip. It was this unbearably sad personal story at the same time as the plot of a film noir.

Hooked, I found one of the movies in which Jean Spangler had a bit part: The Miracle of the Bells. You see her onscreen for just a few seconds and she has one line (“They’re turning”), but knowing what happened to her later, it becomes this truly haunting moment. She’s supposed to look startled and she does. She looks terrified. I watched those few seconds of film dozens of times. I guess I thought if I looked hard enough, I’d find something in her face, some kind of answer.

Then, I started thinking about how quickly, merely by knowing she’d disappeared and watching her onscreen for the moment, I’d begun to dream up all kinds of things about her. And it struck me that that’s what many of us do with these missing-person stories. We project ourselves onto the missing person--our own private dramas, especially, it seems, when it’s a beautiful young woman. Part of Spangler’s mystery, glamour, and appeal is that, because she’s gone, she can’t violate our vision of her, can’t interrupt the fantasy. It seemed such a central premise of mystery and of noir in particular--we tell ourselves it’s about the crime, the case, a solution. But really, it’s all about us.


Anonymous said...

...........there is some mention of Spengler, & a photo if I remember rightly, in "The Black Dahlis Files" by Don Wolfe, and some connection to Elizabeth Short.

Anonymous said...

If Jean Spangler was seeing Davey
Ogul,who worked for Mickey Cohen,
Did they somehow end up in Jack
Dragna's incinerator. If Jean's
daughter is still living, I'm sure
she'd like some final closure to
the fate of her mother.

Unknown said...

If Mobster Johnny Roselli were still living, he'd know. He knew all the
Hollywood dope. Personally, I think she did end up in Dragna's incinerator.
But there's no way to prove it. Is There?
Speaking of he Black Dahlia, Author Donald Wolfe was granted access to
@ 70 files on the Black Dahlia murder case. What's in the other files he
wasn't granted access too? Read his book: Black Dahlia Files. The two
Detectives, Case & Ahern provide the best story. She allegedly indicated
that she was pregnant with Norman Chandler's baby. She didn't deserve
what happened to here, nobody does. Who's name, family name are they
protecting after 70 years? M.