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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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Another Good Story Ruined -- Updated




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Sept. 6, 1932: The scene of Paul Bern’s suicide in his home at 9820 Easton Drive.
 
 


Oct. 26, 1960, Paul Bern
 


 

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Oct. 25-28, 1960: In response to an article alleging a “suicide whitewash,” the district attorney’s office reopens the investigation in the 1932 death of movie studio executive Paul Bern.

“Bern's nude body, a wound in the right temple and a .38-caliber revolver, from which a single shot had been fired, clutched in his right hand, was discovered at 11:45 a.m. in a dressing closet off his private bedroom in his rustic mountain home at 9820 Easton Drive, Benedict Canyon,” The Times said in reporting Bern’s death.

[Updated: Oct. 26, 8:19 a.m. The Daily Mirror reports Oct. 26, 1960, that Hecht said: “My story was based on rumor and gossip. I have no evidence whatsoever. My report was based on a story that has been circulating in Hollywood for a long time.]

  Sept. 6, 1932, Paul Bern  



The article alleging a “suicide whitewash,” by screenwriter and former reporter Ben Hecht,  claimed Bern’s note was a forgery.  [The article, evidently titled “Hollywood Nostalgia," appeared in the November 1960 issue of Playboy – an item that is lacking in the Daily Mirror archives.]


However, an examination of grand jury records confirmed that Bern had committed suicide and Hecht eventually admitted to Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Manley J. Bowler that "he had no reliable information to support his assertion in the article," The Times said.

Now for a fun little detour. Let’s see what Kevin Starr has to say about Bern’s death in  “Embattled Dreams: California in War and Peace, 1940-1950.” [A 1932 incident covered in a book about the ’40s? … in a chapter about the Black Dahlia? No, I’m not kidding.]

Starr says: “Hollywood suicides too numerous to mention in detail included the suspicious death on 5 September 1932 of studio executive Paul Bern, husband of film star Jean Harlow, who allegedly shot and killed himself in the bedroom of the couple's house in Benedict Canyon. Some suspected Harlow of being more than a horrified bystander.”

In fact, according to The Times, Harlow and Bern were supposed to have dinner at her parents’ house, 1353 Club View Drive,  but Bern “decided at the last moment to send the cook and housekeeper ahead with his wife and he planned to follow later.” 

And that tells you just about all you need to know about the caliber of Mr. Starr’s books.




 
 
Oct. 25, 1960, Paul Bern
 
  Oct. 28, 1960, Paul Bern  

 
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Comments (1)

Kevin Starr is a former academic with a somewhat dry writing style. Somewhere along the line he may have discovered that if he added an overlay of sensationalism, he might become a more popular writer.

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