A Journalist’s Beginnings
In his teens, Jack Smith served as editor of the Belmont High Sentinel, later remarking that this was the highest position he ever reached in his career. After leaving Bakersfield Junior College, he began his professional career as sports editor for the Bakersfield Californian before moving on to the Honolulu Advertiser, where he witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After the war, Smith covered the infamous story of the Black Dahlia murder for the Los Angeles Daily News. Although some dispute the attribution, Smith probably was the first reporter to publish the sensational name, gleaned from a pharmacist who told him that the victim, Elizabeth Short, was called the “Black Dahlia” for the way she wore her hair.
Jack Smith, ca. 1925.
Born in Long Beach in 1916, Jack Smith grew up in Whittier, Bakersfield, and Los Angeles. He began working as a sports reporter for the Bakersfield Californian in the late 1930s and moved on to the Honolulu Advertiser. After World War II, he worked for the Los Angeles Daily News, joining the Los Angeles Times as a reporter in 1953 and becoming a columnist five years later.
Whittier YMCA. Boys’ Department Wrestling Champs, 1930.
Smith also played on the YMCA’s midget basketball team, which, like the wrestlers, had winning seasons. The Whittier YMCA boys beat teams from Long Beach, Los Angeles, Huntington Park, Los Nietos, and Pico (the city later merged with Rivera to become Pico Rivera). Later, at Belmont High School, Smith was the high-point man one season, scoring forty-six for the lightweight basketball team.Jack Smith’s photograph is in the center of the page.
Jack Smith in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Daily News, ca. 1948.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Smith worked as a reporter and rewrite man, whose job is to receive telephone reports from journalists in the field and turn them into a news story. Westways
, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California, published this photograph in its December 1974 issue, with the caption “Fastest rewrite man in the West.” A reader, Anita Stutley of Los Angeles, wrote to ask Smith if he still had the socks and tie.
Jack Smith. “The Black Dahlia,” corrected typescript, Jack Smith’s L.A., New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.(Image not available)
On January 15, 1947, the nude body of a young woman, neatly cut in half, was discovered in a field near Crenshaw and Exposition boulevards. Elizabeth Short was a twenty-two-year-old aspiring actress, and her brutal murder both horrified and fascinated the public. The case remains unsolved and continues to exert its siren call on the public’s imagination, most recently in a 2006 film directed by Brian De Palma.
The exact story of the origin of Short’s nickname, “the Black Dahlia,” is still debated, but Jack Smith told this version. Working the rewrite desk for the Los Angeles Daily News
, he got the reporter’s call about the murdered young woman. As he later recounted, it was a Long Beach pharmacist who used the phrase, noting that Short’s friends referred to her that way. Recognizing journalistic gold in the dramatic name, Smith worked it into the story, scooping his colleagues when the Daily News
hit the street first.
S.S. Monterey. Passenger list, September 1, 1937; and dinner menu, September 4, 1937.(Image not available)
With a young man’s restless spirit, Smith shipped out in the summer of 1937 as a crew member on the S.S. Monterey, a passenger ship of the Matson Line built in 1932 by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, Massachusetts. The ship sailed to Pago Pago, bound for Australia.
During World War II, the U.S. Marine Corps chartered the Monterey to rescue refugees from China, Japan, and Korea, and the ship served as a troop transport on both the Pacific and the North Atlantic.
The passenger list and dinner menu displayed here might be from Smith’s passage, or they might have been sent to him by a reader.
The Belmont Sentinel, Belmont High School, Los Angeles, September 22, 1933.(Image not available)
The newspaper’s masthead, on the left-hand page, lists Jack Smith as the sport editor. His column, called “Within the Sport’s Focus,” is at the left side on the right-hand page.
Smith ultimately became the paper’s editor and years later remarked that this was the highest position he ever attained in his career.