Tinseltown Murder, morphine, and madness at the dawn of Hollywood

William J. Mann

Book - 2014

Bestselling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to unpack the story of the enigmatic William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, and the diverse cast that surrounded him before he was murdered in 1922 -- including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; the ruthless founder of Paramount locked in a struggle for control of the film industry; a grasping stage mother; a devoted vale...t; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet.

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Subjects
Published
New York, N.Y. Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers [2014]
©2014.
Language
English
Physical Description
463 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages [429]-463).
ISBN
9780062242167
0062242164
Main Author
William J. Mann (author)
Review by Booklist Reviews

In this gripping true-crime narrative, Mann reopens an unsolved murder case from the early silent-film era. On a chilly February evening in 1922, an unknown intruder brutally murdered successful film director William Desmond Taylor in his Hollywood home. Despite promising leads at the time, the murder remained unsolved, partly due to a severely compromised crime scene. However, film buffs have kept the mystery alive for decades, and the author presents a compelling and meticulously researched theory for what happened on that fateful night. Woven throughout the story is the equally fascinating history of the rise of Hollywood at the dawn of the Roaring Twenties as seen through the eyes of one of its most influential architects: Adolph Zukor, eventual founder of Paramount Pictures. While battling fierce censorship attempts and the backlash caused by successive scandals (wild parties! rampant drug use!), Zukor was instrumental in creating the industry that exists today. Mann expertly juggles the various threads of the narrative to a satisfying conclusion that is sure to please both true-crime and film-history enthusiasts. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Hard-core old-movie heads and Hollywood true crime fans know about the 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor (formerly William Deane Tanner), which remains unsolved 90 years after the crime. "Hollywood chronicler" Mann (Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910–1969) posits his own theories about whodunit in this overwritten, overlong title. The breathless writing style conjures scandal rags of the past, but the staggering succession of cliff-hanger chapter endings and one-sentence paragraphs, along with the many leaps of faith and major conjecture, become tiring rather quickly. However, Mann's thorough examination of the many suspects and the (always intriguing) underbelly of Hollywood at the time are done well. The author's seemingly intense personal dislike of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor grates a bit, but the chapters about "movie czar" Will H. Hays, who was hired by the studios to sanitize the industry after so many scandals, shine a new light on the man and his work. While Mann claims to have solved the case, his conclusions are unconvincing; however, his characterization of Tinseltown and its denizens is flavorful. VERDICT Fans of historical true crime and those who enjoy Old Hollywood gossip will like this title, which could spur the curious to further research of the Taylor case.—Liz French, Library Journal [Page 107]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Many readers will come away from this stellar and gripping true-crime narrative utterly convinced by Mann's solution to the unsolved 1922 gunshot murder of William Desmond Taylor, president of the Motion Pictures Directors Association, in Hollywood. Mann (Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand) hooks the reader from the start, describing the discovery of Taylor's corpse by his valet in a prologue that reads like fiction. The author then provides the backstory with an engrossing and comprehensive look at the birth of the motion picture industry and the highs and lows it faced in the early 1920s, including the economic downturn of 1920–1921 and increasing efforts to censor its productions. Mann weaves these dynamics into the portrayals of Taylor and other key players, including movie baron Adolph Zukor, and three actresses, all of who become suspects in the crime. With a gift for evocative phrasing (one figure is described as having a face like a "living mug shot"), Mann has crafted what is likely to be a true-crime classic. Agent: Malaga Baldi, Baldi Agency. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Draws on primary sources--including witness testimonies, coroner's inquest files, FBI records, court transcripts, and contemporary newspapers--to examine the mystery behind the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor, the president of the Motion Picture Directors Association.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A narrative account of the unsolved murder of popular Motion Picture Directors Association president William Desmond Taylor draws on recently released FBI files to consider a host of potential suspects against a backdrop of Roaring Twenties Hollywood. 40,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

New York Times BestsellerEdgar Award winner for Best Fact CrimeThe Day of the Locust meets The Devil in the White City and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in this juicy, untold Hollywood story: an addictive true tale of ambition, scandal, intrigue, murder, and the creation of the modern film industry.By 1920, the movies had suddenly become America's new favorite pastime, and one of the nation's largest industries. Never before had a medium possessed such power to influence. Yet Hollywood's glittering ascendency was threatened by a string of headline-grabbing tragedies'including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a legendary crime that has remained unsolved until now.In a fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to unpack the story of the enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him'including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; a grasping stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet. And overseeing this entire landscape of intrigue was Adolph Zukor, the brilliant and ruthless founder of Paramount, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly-minted legends and starlets already past their prime'a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.A true story recreated with the suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a storyteller at the peak of his powers'and the solution to a crime that has stumped detectives and historians for nearly a century.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

New York Times BestsellerEdgar Award winner for Best Fact CrimeThe Day of the Locust meets The Devil in the White City and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in this juicy, untold Hollywood story: an addictive true tale of ambition, scandal, intrigue, murder, and the creation of the modern film industry.By 1920, the movies had suddenly become America’s new favorite pastime, and one of the nation’s largest industries. Never before had a medium possessed such power to influence. Yet Hollywood’s glittering ascendency was threatened by a string of headline-grabbing tragedies—including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a legendary crime that has remained unsolved until now.In a fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to unpack the story of the enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him—including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; a grasping stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet. And overseeing this entire landscape of intrigue was Adolph Zukor, the brilliant and ruthless founder of Paramount, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly-minted legends and starlets already past their prime—a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.A true story recreated with the suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a storyteller at the peak of his powers—and the solution to a crime that has stumped detectives and historians for nearly a century.