The year is 1947, and The Victorian, now 25 years old, is once again home to a corrupt doctor and a beacon of false hope for starry-eyed women. At least the current physician in residence is a little more respectable than the surgeon-turned-abortionist-turned-Infantata cobbling madman. He is Dr. David Curan — dentist, bachelor, and one more good-for-nothin’-joe in a town lousy with them. He works out of the house, in a room that will one day become a different kind of office for a different kind of doctor. He caters to local families, as well as aspiring movie queens that lack the cash for caps or crowns. For them, Dr. Curan offers what you might call a layaway plan.
On this January day, a 22-year-old woman with a rotten tooth is about to pay a steeper price than most. She is an American Beauty burning to be famous… but willing to settle for just American Tabloid infamous. (A harbinger of the culture to come.) She wears a blue velvet dress and pearl gloves. Her crimson lipstick smile is firework sexy, yet red flag scary, too, and it’s hard to know if the brace-faced boy that passes her on the walkway is staring at her with ARRROOOGAH! lust or EEEEEEK! terror. (And in this way, another typical male is born.) Her name is Elizabeth Short. Soon, though, she will be The Black Dahlia, and everything true about her will be chewed up by the fictions and conspiracy theories inspired by her unsolved murder.
The dentist opens the door with the devil glass window. His togs are white and sterile and his hair his short and square and his glasses are thick and dorky and his demeanor is benignly detached and seemingly professional. It’s a cunning disguise for a sexual predator. More comfortable (if less stylish) than a black rubber suit. “Dr. Curan, I presume,” says Elizabeth, cutely borrowing from the salutation made famous by H. M. Stanley. The dentist, guilty as charged, allows the ingenue to step into his parlor and asks her how she came to hear of him. “My girlfriend, Nabby Pierce,” says Elizabeth, who then explains her oral emergency with a Tijuana Bible double entendre. “You filled her cavity. She said you were very good.” The dentist knows the name, and gets the implication, yet pretends like he doesn’t. “Nabby. Yes. Nice gal.” ASIDE: While I’m sure the name was “Nabby Piece,” it could have been “Abby Pierce,” a name that might be familiar to those of you who have seen Catfish, the acclaimed 2010 documentary from the directors of the horror smash Paranormal Activity 3. American Horror Story – full of trapped women, damaged souls, exploitive puppet masters, suffering artists and wannabe stars – has more than a couple things in common in the film. SPOILER ALERT! At the center of film is the mystery of a Michigan woman with frayed self-esteem, who yearns to escape her difficult, unfulfilling circumstances by spinning an elaborate fantasy about herself (and snaring a man within its wide, elaborate web). It’s a real-life (allegedly) psychodrama/thriller, a poignant if bizarre parable about deception and self-deception in the age of social media and DIY fame. END SPOILER. From Time magazine: “Catfish may or may not be a documentary, but it is certainly a portrait of something true: the need that real people have to create fictional versions of themselves.” END ASIDE.
Elizabeth tells Dr. Curan she hasn’t much money. She’s new to Los Angeles and still trying to get established. She also tells the dentist that Nabby told her that he’s been known to make “special arrangements” with “girls who are a little short,” and this version of Elizabeth Short is not above prostituting herself to get what she wants. She tells him she’s an actress, and she’s going to make it big. “Everyone says so,” she insists. “You can expect to see me on the silver screen one day.” She dials up the Betty Boop. “It hurts, doctor,” she says, massaging her jaw. “I really need you to fill it.”
Desire takes hold of Dr. Curan. He swallows hard, then reaches for the gas. “I don’t want to crush your carnation,” the dentist says of the flower in her hair. “It’s not a carnation, silly,” Elizabeth says as she removes it. “It’s a dahlia.”
Dr. Curan puts the mask on her face. “Just breathe,” he says. And she does. But not for much longer.
NEXT: An omen of future violations to come.