- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

The unsolved 1947 slaying of Elizabeth Short, an unemployed waitress and aspiring Hollywood actress, better known as the Black Dahlia, and the puzzling 1959 death — officially ruled a suicide — of TV Superman George Reeves are both subjects of new feature films. They’re hardly the only violent showbiz deaths sensational enough for the screen.

Stanford White — One of the leading architects of his day and a reported playboy, White was gunned down in 1906 on the rooftop terrace of his most famous creation, Madison Square Garden. The gunman was Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw — husband of showgirl and Gibson Girl model Evelyn Nesbitt, White’s one-time paramour. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in what was dubbed the “trial of the century.” The oft-told tale was repeated in E.L. Doctorow’s 1978 best-seller, “Ragtime,” and in the 1955 film “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,” which starred Joan Collins as Nesbitt.

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle — This rotund film funnyman had been Paramount’s golden boy in the silent era with a then unheard of $3 million contract. But the good times ended in September 1921, when starlet Virginia Rappe died from internal injuries sustained at Arbuckle’s Labor Day bash. Arbuckle was charged with murder (a charge later reduced to manslaughter) but acquitted in three separate trials. Hollywood was less forgiving.

Cheryl Crane — The 14-year-old daughter of Lana Turner and Steve Crane (the second of the screen siren’s eight husbands) fatally stabbed mob enforcer Johnny Stompanato in 1958. A jury acquitted Miss Crane, now 63, after she testified she was defending her mother from Mr. Stompanato.

Bob Crane — Although still unsolved, police believe the 1978 beating death of Mr. Crane (no relation to Cheryl), the publicly clean-cut star of CBS’ hit 1960s sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” was linked to his sordid double life as an amateur pornographer and sex addict. John Henry Carpenter, an associate of Mr. Crane who photographed the star engaging in various sex acts with hundreds of women, stood trial for the crime. A jury found him not guilty.

Dorothy Stratten — Cast aside by his Playmate of the Year wife, Dorothy Stratten, the jealous and manipulative Paul Snider fatally shot his estranged spouse before taking his own life in 1980. Director Peter Bogdanovich, who was romantically involved with Miss Stratten, chronicled the crime in his book “The Killing of the Unicorn,” and the tragedy was also the subject of Bob Fosse’s 1983 film “Star 80.”

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