Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mary Pickford and "The New York Hat" (1912)

This is my contribution to the Mary Pickford Blogathon, honoring one of the world’s greatest movie stars and hosted by KC at Classic Movies. Click here for all of the entries about America’s Sweetheart.

Before Mary Pickford took the leap to feature films and pursued her stardom in earnest, she made one last film for D.w. Griffith at American Biograph called "The New York Hat," and it was one of her very best. Mary and Griffith had a productive, but contentious, relationship. From the very beginning in 1909, it was clear that Mary, in those early days of anonymous motion picture performers, had star quality. Alternately referred to as "The Girl With The Curls" and "The Biograph Girl" (after the first Biograph Girl, Florence Lawrence, had left Griffith for her own stardom), the public demanded to know her true identity. This did not sit well with Griffith, who liked to keep his actors working anonymously as an ensemble with the director as star. Nevertheless, they made 98 films in their on-again-off-again relationship of four years. After her final departure, it was said that Griffith needed two Gishes (Lillian and Dorothy) to take the place of one Pickford.

However he may have felt about her departure from the Biograph troupe, Griffith gave her a mighty send-off. Written by the budding giant, Anita Loos, “The New York Hat,” in just 16 minutes or so, manages to perfectly showcase the talent and appeal of Mary Pickford and to cover topics close to Griffith’s heart.

The story starts as Mary's mother lies dying. At her side are her husband, Mary and the minister (played by an incredibly young looking 34 year old Lionel Barrymore). While many of the players act in the grand manner of the earliest films (which feature the large gestures and facial expressions of the stage), Mary is always understated and natural. Her sobbing at her mother’s deathbed could have been filmed yesterday, it is that realistic. Unbeknownst to Mary’s father, the dying mother has left some money for her daughter and has entrusted it to the minister to buy for her the occasional frivolity that she knows the stern father will deny her.

Poor little Mary dreams of fancy finery, but is the poorest dressed girl in town. Griffith detested small-town and small-minded gossips and here he has a field day with the ladies of the town who eye her up and down and make fun of her shabby clothes. When a wildly expensive ($10) and fashionably flamboyant New York hat goes on display at the local millinery shop, it is coveted by all of the ladies, Mary included. The minister, who spies Mary's hungry glances at the hat, remembers her mother's dying wish. He decides to buy Mary the hat and make her dreams come true.

After staring longingly at the hat in the shop window, Mary goes home and dreams of the beautiful “village sensation.” Griffith knew her strengths and wisely shot her in medium frame. She uses her hair, her face, her hands and her body to tell the story, but it is with a casual charm rather than a ferocious intensity that would better be served by a close-up. When she wakes up, she is disappointed that it was only a dream, but her disappointment soon turns to excitement when, joy of joys, the hat is delivered to her home, courtesy of the minister.

Mary is such an artist that you can’t wait for her to wear her beautiful hat and show it off to the village peahens. Triumphantly, she wears it to church, but is met with jealousy and gossip. They had all seen the minister buy the hat. The fact that Mary is wearing it must mean that they are having an affair. Scandal ensues!!!!

As the gossip spreads faster than a rabbit on methamphetamine, Mary’s father gets wind of this and not only berates his daughter, but tears up her hat. Mary cries, not just for her reputation, but for the destruction of her beautiful bonnet. Such a girl! Mary skillfully plays this scene, breaking our hearts at her father's unjust accusation and making us smile,too, at her despair over his destruction of her beautiful hat.

While the self-righteous gossip brigade and Mary’s father descend upon the minister to condemn him, he whips out the dying trust of Mary’s mother:
My Beloved Pastor: My husband worked me to death, but I have managed to save a little sum. Take it, and from time to time buy my daughter the bits of finery she has always been denied. But tell no one.
Mollified, but unreformed, the gossips quickly disperse and Mary is left with the minister and her father. Apparently, the man of the cloth has been keeping more than a brotherly eye on the girl and whispers a proposal of marriage. If anyone thinks that Mary Pickford is an antique who just played little girls, this scene should dispel such notions.  At 20 years old, she artfully creates a girl who is becoming a woman with womanly charms. Filmed 100 years ago, Mary Pickford's performance is modern, immediate, fresh and natural.

As an aside, I was privileged to see Mary Pickford in "A Little Princess" on the big screen recently. By then, her persona of the little girl had been firmly fixed. Of course, she was magical, but it made me wonder what path her career would have taken if that little girl was allowed to blossom into a woman.

Mary Pickford's fame is legendary and lasting, but she is much more than a powerful businesswoman and a groundbreaking star. America's Sweetheart is a perfect artist in perfect command of her art.

"The New York Hat" is one of Mary Pickford's and D.W. Griffith's finest short films. Besides seeing these two fine artists do what they do best, enjoy an equally charming Lionel Barrymore (really, is this Mr. Potter?), and see if you can spot Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Jack Pickford, Mae Marsh, Robert Harron and Mack Sennet (all part of Griffith's stock company) in the background.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Tattooed Police Horse: It's All About the Hair!

This is my contribution to the Hoseathon hosted by "My Love of Old Hollywood." Giddyup over here and check out the rest of the line up.

Horses, horses, horses. While my first human loves included Napoleon Solo and John Lennon, my first real loves were Man O'War, The Black Stallion and Flame, and Mr. Ed. Yes, I was one of those adolescent girls  who went ga ga over equine splendor. Eventually it dawned on me that Mr. Ed was never going to take me to the prom, so I switched species (a little reluctantly, I might add).
Hoping he'd call to ask me to the prom, but the call never came. :(
Now there are a ton of movies about horses that I love - "Misty," "The Miracle of the White Stallions," and "The Black Stallion," just to name a few, but there was one I saw a a kid that I never forgot called "The Tattooed Police Horse." When I saw that Page was hosting this event, I immediately thought this would be a great way to revisit something I adored as a kid, haven't seen in over 40 years, and see if it still had the same impact on me. However, before I signed up for this, I should have checked to see if it was available on DVD. To my dismay (panic) it wasn't, and since my other choices were already scooped up by other bloggers, I figured I'd write from memory. After all, the memory of my feelings about this film is what is so important to me. However, at the 11th hour, a crisis was averted since I was able to locate a copy of this film in a foreign country. Page - are you listening????? The things I do for you!

The Film
"The Tattooed Police Horse" (1964) was actually a Walt Disney "featurette" - a shorter film that played with the major release.  Based upon my movie going history that year, it probably was paired with "The Three Lives of Tomasina, "A Tiger Walks," or "Emil and the Detectives." I doubt it was shown with either "The Moonspinners" or "Mary Poppins." Wow - I was all over Uncle Walt that year! It eventually found its way to the TV show "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" in 1967.

Our film tells the story of Jolly Roger, a well-bred trotter who was a late bloomer. He and another horse, Tartan, are raised together. Tartan is a good pupil who schools well and runs to win. Roger is a bit nervous and has a nasty habit of breaking into a gallop when unnerved by noises, crowds, or any other distraction. This, of course, disqualifies him from winning any trotting race. He is championed by Pam Churchill, who owns and works him out, but after too many disqualifications, Roger is sold to his trainer. Things don't work out there, either, and Roger soon finds himself running at country fairs and eventually sold at auction with a bunch of mules. How the mighty have fallen!

A Boston police captain with a good eye for horses purchases Roger and eventually makes a man of his horse. All of the sounds of city rattle the skittish Roger, but under the steadying hand of the captain, Roger soon becomes a crack police horse. On duty at a special trotting race, Roger's blood is stirred by the sights and sounds of the track and when an accident occurs, he doesn't gallop, but trots to the rescue at full throttle with his surprised captain on his back. Roger is soon reunited with Pam Churchill, who identifies Roger as a racehorse by the tattoo inside his upper lip. She now knows Roger is matured and ready to race. In the showdown race with old rival Tartan, Roger surges in the stretch and bests Tartan at the wire. His old police buddies give him a heartfelt send-off and Roger is at last ready for the big time.

The film stars a great cast of unknowns - Sandy Sanders, Charles Seel, William Hilliard and Shirley Skiles. I have only heard of narrator Keith Andes, who always lets you know what Roger is feeling.

It Was Really All About the Hair
It was a grand story and, of course, everyone was rooting for Roger. Except me. You see, Tartan was this absolutely glamorous looking horse that I never forgot. For over 40 years I have held that horse in my imagination and have never seen one quite so beautiful. So, imagine the thrill when I got the DVD, popped it in and there he was! The gorgeous gray horse with the flowing white mane and tail! Since I can't find any photos from this movie on line, you'll have to use your imagination, but he looked something like these:

Because of that beautiful horse I have had a soft spot for that two-toned hair thing:

Am I the only one that thought she was glamorous?
I never wanted the puppies to die, but I did understand......

I LOVE your hair, kitty

See what I mean?

I am probably the only person that liked this look on Christina Aguilera.
All I could think of when I saw this "do" was the horse in the movie
(and I mean that in a good way).

And so, approximately 50 minutes in a movie theater over 40 years ago shaped my notion of what is beautiful and left me with a certain obsession. Living only in my memory (until now), I still felt the thrill of Roger winning that race, felt sad when he was sold with the mules, and stared in admiration at a beautiful horse. It was all as I remembered.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bitches and Blaggards: Judith Anderson and Basil Rathbone

This is the fifth in the "Bitches and Blaggards" series; monthly posts devoted to my favorite movie bad girls and roguesA bitch is a selfish, malicious woman. A blaggard is a villain, a rogue and a black-hearted man. Both are bad, both are devastatingly alluring.
Judith Anderson
Dame Judith Anderson was a world renowned stage actress whose film career stuck her in the corner pocket of playing nasty ladies. Being a superb actress, she played nasty like nobody's business.

Dame Judith (I wonder if anyone elver called her "Judy"? - I doubt it) was an unusual looking woman, not at all beautiful by Hollywood standards. Therefore, she must play ladies who have a black and bitter heart. Stands to reason, right? Trouble is, she is so damn good and so damn interesting that she makes her goody-goody co-stars almost invisible. As she says in "Laura,"  - "I am not a nice person." Thank goodness!

Two of my favorite Judith Anderson bitches are Ann Treadwell in "Laura," and Mrs. Danvers in "Rebecca."

Hunky detective Mark McPherson summed it up best when he told Laura Hunt "I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes." He might have added snakes and dirty double-crossers, too. As Laura's aunt Ann Treadwell, Anderson is an older, less beautiful woman than Laura, but she appears to have deeper pockets and greater needs. She is chic and sophisticated and she knows she is better for sleazy Vincent Price than Laura, but what chance does she have against a beauty like her niece? She doesn't think twice to cheat with him behind Laura's back and, when Laura reappears, she is not quite as overjoyed as she should be. In fact, when she tells Laura that the thought of murdering her crossed her mind, Auntie Ann is downright bitchy.

This is Judith Anderson's finest bitching hour on film. As the nutty, obsessed, gender-confused Mrs. Danvers, she is a wonder. Do you really think there was a Mr. Danvers? And why did Maxim keep her around? He was rich and powerful - couldn't he have just exiled her to some other remote corner of Cornwall? But, I digress. From the minute poor little Joan Fontaine locks horns with the loony housekeeper, we know she is out of her league. In her widow's weeds, still mourning the loss of the beautiful (and evil) Rebecca, Mrs. D is rightfully annoyed with this little mouse. While either encouraging Joan to take a swan dive out the window or tricking her into wearing an offensive costume, Anderson is a trip. One of my favorite references to her role in this film is in an Abbott and Costello movie called "The Time of Their Lives." There, Gale Sondergaard does the mysterious and dour housekeeper in black routine, to whom one character asks, "Haven't I seen you in Rebecca?"

Apparently, Judith Anderson loved Santa Barbara, California, which is why such an accomplished and truly great stage actress succumbed to the film industry, which only saw her as a menace. Being a great actress, she turned the menace on her head and made her the star attraction.

Basil Rathbone
In the world of movie blaggards, Basil Rathbone is the creme de la creme. Could Basil Rathbone ever be anything other than black hearted? Even when he was nice - or at least honest - you knew the devil on one shoulder was so much more powerful than the angel on the other. He was debonair, handsome, and, like the rapier he so often bandied about, deadly. His real, full name was Phillip St. John Basil Rathbone. So fitting, don't you think?

Robin Hood
You can just hear poor Sir Guy of Gisbourne thinking: "Oh why oh why did Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) have to be so much better at everything? If it wasn't for that pesky fellow in green, I'd have it all!" He's handsome, but not as handsome as Errol's Robin. He can fence, but not as great as Robin, and he might have a better chance with the ladies if only that Robin wasn't around! He's fun and we hate him.

David Copperfield
Rathbone's loathsome Mr. Murdstone still gives me the chills. Cruel and abusive, he is the stepfather from hell. Rathbone does not make one misstep as he beats, berates and finally banishes young David from his once happy home. A great, totally hiss-worthy performance.

The Court Jester
As the conniving Lord Ravenhurst, Rathbone does a hilarious spoof of his swashbuckling villains. A supercilious smarty pants who is taken in by jester Danny Kaye, he is a brilliant cog in this brilliant film. His ability to play comedy with a sneer is equal to his ability to play evil with deadly seriousness. After much maneuvering with poisons ("the pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!") and knighthoods, his Lord Ravenhurst is literally expelled from the castle by a catapult. He was nasty, but he was so much fun!

Of course, Basil Rathbone is first and foremost famous for being Sherlock Holmes, and there he was never a blaggard. But he was a supercilious smarty pants and with just a little encouragement, you know he could flip.

In real life, Basil Rathbone was apparently a grand party-thrower, whose soirees were legendary in Hollywood. I'm glad to see he liked to have and give a good time, but I think if I were lucky enough to be invited, I'd keep my eye on an exit at all times! 

The Bitch and Blaggard of June will be Vincent Price and Gloria Grahame.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Movie Books I Love: People Will Talk by John Kobal

This is an occasional series featuring my favorite movie books. Before TCM and the internet, the only way to satisfy my passion to know more about Classic Hollywood was through books, books and more books. I've cleared away the clutter over the years, but many remain permanent residents in my home. You'd never throw out an old friend, now, would you?

May we take a pause for moment a thanks to those precious movie-loving guides who shepherd us through our (hopefully) never-ending journey of classic film education and appreciation? You know who I mean – folks like Joe Franklin, Robert Osborne and the late, great John Kobal.

Besides being an important historian, collector and writer, Kobal was – above all – a fan. His enthusiasm was that of a star-struck fan. It is an enthusiasm with which I easily identify and admire. One of the great treasures on my library is Kobal’s 1985 collection of interviews called “People Will Talk” (Alfred A. Knopf publisher). It is worn, torn and mighty dilapidated, but I will only part with it when it turns to dust.

It all started with Marlene Dietrich

In 1960, when Dietrich was touring with Burt Bacharach, Kobal snagged an interview with her and ended up sleeping in her living room suite. After meeting her, he was seized by the passion of meeting and interviewing his favorite stars. None of them disappointed and many of them overwhelmed him with their kindness and patience for his boundless enthusiasm.

During the 1960s and 1970s Kobal conducted a series of interviews with the great and often forgotten stars, directors, choreographers and photographers of the silent and classic film era. Interviews with many of the obvious choices (Bette Davis, for example) were excluded in favor of more obscure or forgotten stars (June Duprez, Evelyn Brent). It is interesting to read how some remember exactly how things were and do not sugar coat things (Louise Brooks, Joan Blondell, Loretta Young), some “misremember” things to their own advantage (Miriam Hopkins, Howard Hawks), while others lived in a hazy fog of even hazier memories.

Here’s the complete treasure chest of interviews:
Gloria Swanson       Colleen Moore    Dorothy Gish    Olga Baclanova
Dagmar Godowsky   Louise Brooks    Evelyn Brent     Camilla Horn
Lewis Milestone      Anna Sten         Mae West         Anita Loos
Joan Blondell         Eleanor Powell   Arletty             George Hurrell
Joan Crawford        Joel McCrea       Irene Dunne     Katharine Hepburn
Bob Coburn           Miriam Hopkins   Lazlo Willinger  Loretta Young
Ann Sheridan        Joan Fontaine     Jean Louis        Ingrid Bergman
Howard Hawks      John Engstead    Ida Lupino       Barbara Stanwyck
Vincent Sherman   June Duprez       Jack Cole         Henry Hathaway
Hermes Pan          Arthur Freed      Kim Stanley     Tallulah Bankhead
Melba Marshall/Lois Lindsay/Madison Lacy

Each interview is prefaced by a beautiful photo of the subject at the height of their career and a summary of their contribution to that magic state of mind called Hollywood.

Some of My Favorites
Gloria Swanson, sharp as a tack, and full of stories about her great fame as a silent star and her role as Norma Desmond, ending the interview by saying "I just get a little tired of talking about myself." So cute. An authentic star of the highest order, she played the role of "movie star" to the hilt. But Gloria never forgot who she was and she viewed her job with flinty realism. Her recollections are mainly spot on, but if she errs, Kobal never corrects during an interview. With her and many others, he merely footnotes the correction. What a gentleman.

Louise Brooks, granting 2 in-person interviews and several phone interviews to Kobal, reveals herself as the grand observer of the silent era and films in general. Her great spirit and incredible intelligence shine through in each and ever statement. For all of her problems (she was alcoholic, suffering form emphysema and suffering from arthritis), she is like a happy child when talking about movies. She quotes Proust to Kobal: "The only paradise is paradise lost." As she pours over decades of great stars and directors with Kobal, we can only agree.

George Hurrell, a total gossip! He describes Rita Hayworth as instinctively sexy "not too mentally alert," tattles on the massive retouching required by Rosalind Russell, and giggles over the chance shot photographer Frank Powolny got of Carmen Miranda in mid twirl with her skirt flying high in the air and no panties. He as kind words for Harlow, Crawford and Lombard and proclaims Garbo the sexiest of them all without even trying.

Ann Sheridan comes across as the warm-hearted person we all knew she was. At the time of the interview, Sheridan had been diagnosed with cancer and was not looking her best. But she is jolly in her recollections of her days at Warner Brothers as the "Oomph Girl," and working with giants like James Cagney, Cary Grant and Bette Davis. A few weeks after their interview Kobal met Sheridan for lunch and, seeing her as he walked into the restaurant caused him to stop dead in his tracks. There, the center of attention, sat the Ann Sheridan he remembered. She was made up like a movie star and she was signing napkins, checkbooks and any and all odd slips of paper put before her for an autograph. Said Kobal: "She looked sensational. Then, before we said goodbye, she added, 'you know, darlin', I did this for you." What a gal, that Annie.

June Duprez, the beautiful princess of Korda's 1940 "Thief of Baghdad", tells a sad story. Poised for stardom, she was effectively blackballed by Korda's then-wife, Merle Oberon. Thanks to Merle, June was not even invited to the film's Hollywood premier. A gentle soul, she was ill used and advised by many more powerful than she, so much so that she was literally unable to find work. Hollywood was not a place for gentle souls like June Duprez.

Other Favorites
Vincent Sherman has a lot of great tales to tell as his days as a director (mainly for Warner Brothers), but nothing beats his tales of working with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins on "Old Acquaintance."

Loretta Young, Irene Dunne and Joan Blondell all give very realistic accounts of the unglamorous part of being a movie star.

Dorothy Gish, Mae West and Miriam Hopkins are not always in our reality. Evelyn Brent, a big star who fell into obscurity, is incredibly modest. Joan Crawford is so gracious and, despite her fame, her insecurity shows.

Each and every interview is carefully constructed. Kobal has the trust of his subjects and puts them at ease. Part of being a fan of Classic Hollywood is a consuming interest all of the behind the screen details. Like any good fan, Kobal knows exactly what we like. Good thing he knew how to get people to talk!

"People Will Talk" is available for a range of prices from a variety of sellers on line, including Amazon.

Click here to view the Kobal Collection.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The William Desmond Taylor Murder: Mystery, Murder, Movie-Stars, Mothers, Morphine, MMM and Mabel

When it comes to unsolved mysteries, the murder of William Desmond Taylor is one that continues to fascinate. There have been reams written about this case. This is just a tiny summary of an endlessly intriguing mystery. Like everyone else, I have no answers, only questions.

One of the things I love about the old Hollywood stories is how people from all over the country flocked there and invented a new identity for themselves. Many times it was just a name or history, but often they were running from a past they'd rather forget. This story is loaded with those who ran to Hollywood, but couldn't run away from themselves.
the scene of the crime
On the morning of February 2, 1922, Taylor was found murdered in his home on on Alvarado street in downtown Los Angeles. One of Hollywood's most respected directors had been shot to death. That much is known. The rest remains speculation.

Who was William Desmond Taylor?

At the time of his death, William Desmond Taylor was a pillar of the Hollywood community. Born William Cunningham Deane-Tanner in Ireland, he sailed for America at the age of 18, became an actor in New York and married a lady by the name of Ethel May Hamilton.  Ethel's family was well-to-do and set up their new son-in-law in business in an antique shop. Tanner and Daisy were well known in New York society and eventually had a daughter named Daisy. After a few years of married life, Tanner, who not only had the wanderlust, but a wandering eye, as well, abruptly abandoned his family and headed west where, a few years later, he turned up as an actor named William Desmond Taylor. Like so many of Hollywood's early inhabitant, he invented a new life and a new identity and left the old one behind. Why? We will never know.

Captain Alvarez
In 1914 he had some success in a serial called "Captain Alvarez," with Taylor playing the title character. He moved from acting to directing and, in 1918, at the age of 46, joined the Canadian army and attained the rank of major for his service during World War I. Upon his return to Hollywood after the war, he was welcomed home as a hero. Meanwhile, Ethel found out what happened to her missing husband one afternoon at the movies while watching "Captain Alvarez."  Taylor established contact with his daughter, Daisy, and remained in touch with her until his death. One common thread that runs through all accounts of William Desmond Taylor: despite his rather mysterious background, everyone who came in contact with him, including his abandoned family, spoke of him as a gentleman of the highest principles. Even an ex-fiance, actress Neva Gerber, said "I have never known a finer or better man." 

From 1919 until his death, Taylor was one of Hollywood's busiest directors, steering films that featured such stars as Mary Pickford, Wallace Reid and Mary Miles Minter. After his death, he emerged as a man nobody really knew. Was he having affairs with multiple women? Was he homosexual? Was he working against the drug syndicate? So many questions, but none were answered.

Mary Miles Minter

The very picture of beautiful, blonde innocence, Mary Miles Minter was once a serious rival to Mary Pickford. Not much of an actress, her youthful beauty and seeming purity was quite popular for a time until the Taylor murder killed her career. Not as innocent as she looked (who is?), MMM was born Juliet Reilly. In order to elude the child labor law enforcers, her mother, Charlotte Shelby, changed little Juliet's name to that of a deceased cousin who happened to be old enough to work (if she had lived - so complicated). Thus, little Juliet became Mary Miles Minter. The young girl's beauty was undeniable and useful in Hollywood, so off they went: Mary, mama and big sister Margaret. MMM would work to support them all. While working with Taylor on a film, Mary fell hard for the older man and pursued him relentlessly. The general consensus is that he did not reciprocate her feelings. After Taylor's death, MMM never wavered in her devotion to Taylor, proclaiming her love for him until her dying day. By all accounts, she grew quite eccentric (read nutty as a fruit cake) as she got older. Here's a 1970 audio interview with Mary where she recalls seeing Taylor's body at the mortuary:




Ah, Charlotte Shelby, the mama from hell. Wildly protective of her little meal ticket, she regularly shooed men away from her sweet little darling like flies at a picnic. Did she really disguise herself as a man and shoot Taylor? Did she manage to pay off the LAPD in exchange for their silence? Was she having a an affair with Taylor at the same time her daughter was? Did she fake her death and live out her years years after under an assumed name? This was one shifty, unlikable woman and she makes a great suspect. Whether she did it or not, it seems Charlotte Shelby should have been locked up for something.

Mabel Normand
Unlucky Mabel Normand - the last person to see Taylor alive
Poor Mabel Normand. If you've never seen Mabel in action, you are missing one of the most delightful personalities in movie history. Generally accepted as the screen's first great comedienne, Mabel Normand was a jolly girl in her films, but an unlucky and tragic one in real life. Mabel's great love, Mack Sennett, did her wrong. Added to other unhappy romances, Mabel became a drug addict and that, along with tuberculosis, severely impacted her health. Always striving to improve herself, Mabel and Taylor struck up a deep friendship. Whether or not there was a romance is unknown. However, Taylor was reported to have been trying to get Mabel off drugs and cared very deeply for her. After a brief visit to his home on February 2, 1922, Mabel got into her car and left Taylor behind. She was the last person to see him alive. Although never a suspect, her association with Taylor added to her many troubles that lead to the end of her career and early death.

Studio Cover-Up and the LAPD
District Attorney Thomas Woolwine
Taylor's murder came fast on the heels of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and Hollywood did not want another blemish on its already suspect reputation. Once word of Taylor's death got out, Paramount Studios acted fast. It is reported that compromising items were removed before the police got there (or with the LAPD's knowledge). However, a mash note from Mary Miles Minter and either a nightie or a hankie belonging to MMM was also found. Why would the Paramount masterminds (as Norma Desmond called them) leave those incriminating items behind? Did they actually plant them?Many people were interviewed, many leads were followed, but, in the end, they lead no where, either by lack of evidence or by design. District Attorney Woolwine and later DA Buron Fitts were suspected of being paid off by Mrs Shelby, but it was never proven. Studio intervention, bad reporting and a corrupt police force all combined to make this the Hollywood scandal that wouldn't die.

Theories and Suspects
There are lots of theories about who shot William Desmond Taylor. Some of the most popular are:
Mary Miles Minter killed him in a fit of jealous passion.
Margaret Shelby donned a man's overcoat, plugged Taylor and calmly walked away.
Edward Sands, a con man and once Taylor's valet, turned up to murder his old boss.
Henry Peavy, Taylor's valet and the man who discovered his body, killed him apparently because he was homosexual and black.
A professional hit man hired by local drug lords targeted Taylor because he was trying to stop the drug trafficking at the movie studios.

Margaret Gibson Confession
Throughout the years following Taylor's murder, there were a handful of confessions that amounted to nothing. However, one confession is intriguing. Margaret Gibson was an actress who worked with Taylor during his earliest days in Hollywood. She acted under a series of different names, was a drug addict and, shortly after the Taylor murder, was charged with extortion and blackmail (but not convicted). She fled the country and lived in Singapore for many years and did not return to the USA until 1949, when she returned to Hollywood and lived in obscurity. She made a deathbed confession in 1964, but the people who heard the confession did not even know who William Desmond Taylor was. 

The conclusion is that nobody really knows and the case remains unsolved.

Sources and references
A Deed of Death by Robert Giroux. Giroux advances the professional hit man as killer theory.
A Cast of Killers by Sidney Kirkpatrick. Here, King Vidor's and Colleen Moore's research is related, with the conclusion being that Charlotte Shelby was the culprit.
Murder in Hollywood by Charles Higham. This one is big on the bisexuality of Taylor angle and not as well researched as the first two.
Taylorology: a voluminous amount of articles related to everything and anything about the William Desmond Taylor murder. Endlessly fascinating reading!

For more on the life, works and murder of William Desmond Taylor, check out There are some interesting upcoming developments!

As for all the theories put forth by authors, it's a case of pick your poison. You can't make this stuff up.
Taylor's daughter used his real name on his grave. In the end,
there is no escaping who you really are.

Each of the characters involved has a fascinating story. Once you start digging into this story, you've fallen down the rabbit hole and never hit bottom.