Hillary Atkin

New Series Revisits a Famous Unsolved Murder From More Than 70 Years Ago

Jan 28, 2019

Following the success of “The Alienist,” TNT is diving head-first again into the waters of fictionalized true crime with its limited series ”I Am the Night,” which focuses renewed attention on a sensational murder mystery that has gone officially unsolved for more than 70 years.

The six-part series is executive produced by Patty Jenkins, her husband Sam Sheridan and Chris Pine, who also stars. It is set mainly in the rich and poor sections of 1965 Los Angeles, including in a storied but spooky mansion designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son in the Los Feliz area whose owners let it be used for filming.

”I Am the Night” is based on the memoir of Fauna Hodel, a mixed race young woman whose search for her real identity brings her to Los Angeles, where she eventually learns that her biological grandfather, wealthy gynecologist and art collector Dr. George Hodel, is a top suspect in the still-unsolved Black Dahlia murder case of 1947.

Black Dahlia, a variation on the title of a popular movie at the time, “Blue Dahlia,” was the media-bestowed name given to the headline-making homicide of Elizabeth Short, a dark-haired woman in her early 20s whose body was found surgically severed in a vacant Los Angeles lot. The grisly details and the graphic horror of it caught fire in the culture of the times, elevating it to mythical status.

Ms. Hodel (vividly portrayed by India Eisley) was adopted as an infant by a black woman and grew up in Sparks, Nevada. Upon moving to Los Angeles to pursue her origins, she finds herself involved in a cover-up that seemingly involves every institution of local power, from the LAPD to the Los Angeles Times.

She soon joins forces with an obsessed and troubled reporter, a Korean War veteran who is suffering from not only PTSD from combat but a career shattered by powerful forces attempting to stymie the truth about the Black Dahlia murder.

The character of Jay Singletary, played by Pine in his first television series regular role, is a classic noir character used as a storytelling device and not based on an actual real-life person involved in the story, says Sheridan, who spoke about the project in a phone interview late last week.

Our call took place the day after the Los Angeles premiere event put on by TNT, which had also held one in New York earlier last week. In Hollywood, Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot showed up to lend support as did Journey’s former frontman Steve Perry, whose relationship with Jenkins goes back to her 2003 award-winning film “Monster,” in which she used the band’s “Don’t Stop Believin,’” four years before “The Sopranos” finale went out on that note.

Jenkins was introduced about a decade ago to Hodel, who told her the story, which became an obsession for the director. She then brought it to Pine — who also starred in “Wonder Woman” and will be seen with Gadot in the upcoming sequel.

“Chris was blown away by the story and I knew if he was into it, I could structure it,” says Sheridan, who wrote the script. “The character is so dark and twisted and although there is some truth to it, it’s basically a structure to tell the story and even find some humor in it.”

None was apparent in the first three episodes, but I did ask Sheridan about the character’s drug use and was told it was heroin that he was snorting and not cocaine.

Other debauched behavior is seen during party scenes with masked participants lorded over by Dr. Hodel, which reminded me of some scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“George had those parties and they would have the women dance naked wearing the masks. There are pictures of it. The ’30s and ’40s were much crazier in terms of parties than those of today,” Sheridan says, noting that Hodel was a brilliant doctor who also wanted to become an artist.

Well before she first met with Jenkins, Hodel had been trying to get the project made. “She was working on this in the 1980s and even had 90 days of shooting on a film, but she felt like George used his connections to squash it,” says Sheridan.

Her memoir ”One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel” was originally published in 2008. Hodel died in 2017.

“I took comfort in the fact that she loved and trusted Patty,” Sheridan says, noting that Hodel had read the pilot script and approved. Her daughters were also involved in the production.

(“I Am the Night” premieres on TNT Jan. 28 at 9 p.m. ET/PT)

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