Elizabeth was born July 29, 1924 and died tragically on January 15, 1947. She was born in Boston, grew up in the suburb of Medford, Massachusetts, a town famous for Paul Revere’s midnight ride (“the redcoats are coming!“) So was the Great Depression but Revere didn’t see that one coming. Anyway. Elizabeth was the third of five daughters of Cleo Short and Phoebe Mae Sawyer. The family lived reasonably well. Cleo built miniature golf courses, of all things, until the dreadful stock market crash of 1929. Cleo found himself suddenly of a job, naturally. Most people facing eviction and starvation don’t tend to pencil in mini golf on their day off. Unfortunately, he lost much of the family’s assets. In 1930, he parked his car on a bridge and vanished. Many people, including his family, believed he had committed suicide. Others weren’t so sure. It surely would have been easier to begin life over again during the Great Depression without having to provide for six women. Who knows?
Whatever the case, Short’s mother moved the family to a small apartment in Medford and found work as a bookkeeper. Not surprisingly, her meager salary didn’t do much to feed and clothe six people. Add to this that her daughter Elizabeth was troubled by asthma and bronchitis, the poor woman must have been extremely burdened. However, Elizabeth’s illness was a blessing in disguise for Phoebe and Elizabeth. Due to her health problems, Elizabeth was sent to Miami for the winter. Lucky Elizabeth. She found work as a waitress while she lived there with family and friends. She spent the next three winters in Miami, setting the stage for her independence in exploring the world around her.
Mary Pacios, author of the book Childhood Shadows, claims she became friends with Elizabeth around this time, who was ten years her senior. The two girls often went to see movies together, usually watching Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire movies. This may have been the place where Elizabeth’s dreams of becoming a movie star developed. Of course that’s if Pacios’ claims are true. Amazing how many people come out of the woodwork after a sensational news story, isn’t it?
She was popular at school and her friends described here as a “movie struck girl.” She was called Medford High’s Deanna Durbin referring to the popular film actress and singer. In Elizabeth’s autograph book there were 10 references to the nickname. One passage read, “To a friend worth having and Medford High’s Deanna Durbin.” Another said “To the sweetest and cutest double of Deanna Durbin.” Boys like her and pursued her. She never took any particular boy seriously but she had fun going out on dates, especially double dates with friends. She was a good girl and contrary to media insinuation after her death, she had a good reputation. In spite of her enjoyable high school experiences, Elizabeth left school to “venture out on her own.”
There isn’t a lot more known about the very young Elizabeth Short. Most information covers the gruesome end of her life, not the innocent beginning.