The TNT mini-series I Am the Night is based on a true story, but it takes a long time to tell it. Instead of rushing toward the tale's major reveals, show-runner Patti Jenkins luxuriates in the noir mood of 1960s Los Angeles. So it’s not until episode 3, "Dark Flower," that the story’s staggeringly awful implications emerge. In this episode, we briefly meet a young Tamar Hodel — and begin to grasp the horrors that defined her childhood.
Tamar Hodel is the puzzle piece that connects Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), a teenage adoptee with an identity complex, to the Black Dahlia murder, one of the most notorious crimes of the 20th century. In 1951, at the age of 16, Tamar gave birth to a baby girl, whom she immediately gave up for adoption. Though the father was white, Tamar listed the child's father as being Black on her birth certificate. According to Fauna Hodel's website, Tamar did this to "ensure that the child would never return to [her] emotionally reclusive white family."
By that point, Tamar had already lived through harrowing experiences from that “emotionally reclusive white family.” Tamar's father was Dr. George Hill Hodel, a respected Los Angeles gynecologist and member of the intelligentsia. As this episode of I Am the Night reveals, George was also a man with strange sexual proclivities and secrets, beyond the illegal abortion clinic he ran in the basement.
George was known for throwing massive, drug-fueled hedonistic sex parties at his mansion, designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and later redecorated to have an all-red kitchen and all-gold master bedroom. As George later told the LAPD, the aim of these parties was to "delve into the mystery of love and the universe.”
Unfortunately, Tamar was forced to participate in these parties beginning at the age of 11. Tamar and her mother, model Dorothy Anthony, had lived in the house along with George's other women and children. Dorothy and Tamar moved out when Tamar was young, but George summoned his daughter back when she started puberty, ostensibly to engage in those parties. "He tried to make me a sex goddess," she said in an interview with DuJour later in her life.
Tamar couldn't take these conditions anymore. In 1949, a 14-year-old Tamar ran away from home at the urging of her stepmother. When the police found her three days later, she accused her father of sexual molestation. Tamar also claimed that George’s longtime friend, director John Huston, tried to rape her when she was 11. At the ensuing trial, two eyewitnesses claim they saw George having sex with his daughter (two others were paid off to commit perjury). In his book Most Evil, Steve Hodel, Tamar's half brother, writes that Tamar had an abortion as a result of the sexual assault.
In the history of the investigation of the Black Dahlia murder, this trial holds an important place. During the trial, Tamar accused her father of murdering Elizabeth Short. The aspiring actress had been found dead and mutilated in 1947; at that point, the case was still open. After the trial, detectives started looking into Hodel as a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. As a result of increased scrutiny, Hodel fled the country in 1950.
Ultimately, Tamar's case was dismissed — another tragic installation of a girl's word being dismissed against a powerful man's. According to a 2003 Los Angeles Times article, "George Hodel's lawyer ran an all-out smear campaign against Tamar, calling her a promiscuous, incorrigible, pathological liar, and the physician was acquitted." Hodel's PR machine remained active throughout his life. Likely he was responsible for shutting down the 1991 movie about Fauna Hodel's life starring Alfre Woodard, called Pretty Hattie's Baby. In the universe of I Am the Night, Jay Singletary (Chris Pine) is a reporter who tries to bring Tamar's story to the public, and in turn had his career squashed by Hodel's LAPD goons.
In the aftermath of the three-week trial, Tamar was shipped to a juvenile detention center in San Francisco and branded "Tamar the Liar" by her family. Her father was gone, but Tamar continued to grapple with the repercussions of being abused so often, and from such a young age. She had a rocky life. After being released from the juvenile detention center, Tamar moved to her mother's house in San Francisco. She was raped by a neighborhood boy and gave birth to Fauna Hodel, who was given up for adoption.
Tamar married twice as a teenager — once to an artist in Mexico, then to a singer named Stan Wilson. With Wilson, Tamar had another daughter named Deborah (when Deborah found out about her long-lost sister, Fauna, she later changed her name to FaunaElizabeth). After moving to Hawaii, Tamar had three sons: Peace, Love (now a pro surfer), and Joy to the World Hodel. Tamar remained in touch with her father; unfortunately, he also abused FaunaElizabeth when she was 13. In a disturbing twist, FaunaElizabeth also revealed that her mother offered her up for sex work. “My mother used me as a vehicle to make money. She hated being poor, so she would send me overnight to men’s homes when I was 11," FaunaElizabeth told Sheila Weller in an article for Next Tribe.
"Sexualized at an early age, her life continued out of control for decades. The cycle continued. The abused became the abuser, creating more pain and suffering for her own five children," Tamar's brother, Steve — he would become a homicide detective for the LAPD and ultimately be responsible for cracking the Black Dahlia case — wrote in her obituary. Tamar tried to take her own life many times.
Tamar also had an interesting role in the forming of the Mamas & the Papas band. While living in California, she became the mentor of her 11-year-old her neighbor, Michelle Gilliam, who would become Michelle Phillips of the Mama & the Papas. Tamar introduced Michelle to John Phillips, her future husband and band-mate.
Tamar died in 2015. However, it seems she was able to repair relationships with her children before then. In an interview with DuJour, FaunaElizabeth said she loves and forgives her mother. Fauna, who passed away in 2017, called her mother the most fascinating person she knew.