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Murder in Hollywood

Solving a Silent Screen Mystery

Charles Higham

Publication Year: 2004

    For more than eighty years, the famous unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor, the legendary bisexual film director, has generated debate and controversy.  Now, best-selling author Charles Higham has solved the crime.  Higham uncovers the corruption and intrigue of Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties—and the film industry moguls’ complete domination of the city’s authorities.
    When it was discovered that a famous star of the day had probably killed Taylor, a massive cover-up began—from the removal of crucial evidence to the naming of innocent people as killers—which has continued until now to protect the truth.  Murder in Hollywood goes beyond the killing to unearth unknown details about the life of Taylor before his arrival in Hollywood, as well as the stories and histories buried by the crooked authorities and criminals involved the case. The author’s exclusive interviews with the culpable star, his unique possession of long-vanished police records, and the support of the present-day Los Angeles county coroner—who examined the evidence as if the murder had taken place now—have ensured a hair-raising thriller.
    Charles Higham successfully presents the most plausible and convincing solution yet to the mystery.  In the process he paints a vivid portrait of Hollywood in the 1920s—from its major stars to its bisexual subculture. The result is a compelling answer to a long-standing mystery and a fascinating study of a place, and an industry that, as today, let people reinvent themselves. Murder in Hollywood is more extraordinary than any crime of fiction and more exciting than any action adventure movie.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. ix

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi

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pp. 3-15

I have been interested in the William Desmond Taylor case for much of my adult life. The story fascinates: Hollywood in the glamorous, drugridden 1920s; a famous director murdered in his luxury apartment; major stars Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter investigated for the...

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1. Last Day

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pp. 17-25

On the frosty winter morning of Wednesday, the first of February, 1922, the famous Hollywood director who called himself William Desmond Taylor woke in the front upstairs bedroom of his luxurious white bungalow duplex in Alvarado Court, in the wealthy Los Angeles district...

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2. A Wandering Life

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pp. 26-48

The man who was killed that night, and thus became the subject of the greatest of Hollywood mysteries, was born William Cunningham Deane- Tanner in Carlow, County Carlow, Ireland, on April 26, 1872. He was the second child and oldest son of the dashing, forty-year-old Captain...

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3. George and Mary

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pp. 49-73

In October 1915, Taylor received an offer from the big, loud-voiced multimillionaire Frank A. Garbutt, patriarch of a clan that exercised considerable power in the raw boomtown of Los Angeles. Oil, printing, motion pictures, real estate—these were only a few of the interests of this...

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4. A Gay Association

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pp. 74-89

In June 1920, Taylor was allowed, along with a small handful of Famous Players’ directors, to form his own unit. He could now commit himself to his beloved team of George Hopkins as art director, Julia Crawford Ivers as scenario writer, and her son James Van Trees as cameraman. He...

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5. Death and After

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pp. 90-113

Shortly after dawn broke that day, Henry Peavey woke in his five-dollar-a- week lodging-house room at 127½ Third Street in downtown Los Angeles, dressed and breakfasted, and walked to an all-night Owl drugstore. He bought, for fifty cents, a bottle of Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia..

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6. Mirrors of Deceit

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pp. 114-135

The reason Thomas Lee Woolwine protected Mary Miles Minter from a charge of murder was not only that he had strong connections to Famous Players–Lasky through Charles F. Eyton and Frank A. Garbutt. It was not only that he was a close friend of Charlotte Shelby and...

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7. False Leads and Red Herrings

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pp. 136-174

Behind all the blarney and ballyhoo of a press on fire with callous excitement over a celebrity murder, there was the tragedy of two people who were innocent of the crime: the out-of-town stranger who would never be able to discuss his trip to Los Angeles, and Edward Sands, who went...

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8. What Happened to the Cast

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pp. 175-192

The tragic fate that dogged seemingly everyone in the Taylor affair did not spare Neva Gerber. She recovered slowly from his death, achieving considerable success acting and with her production companies, coowned with director Ben Wilson. She took months off to marry a young...

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9. Last Events

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pp. 193-206

On the night of April 26, 1933, a bankrupt Edward L. C. Robins, Ethel Deane-Tanner’s husband, was working as supervising janitor of the apartment building at 680 Madison Avenue, where he had lived in a penthouse before he married Ethel. While he was talking to a tenant, in...

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pp. 207-209

My greatest debt is to the remarkable Bruce Long, of Tempe, Arizona,who, since 1984, has made the William Desmond Taylor case a life’s work. His now sadly discontinued Taylorology, though back issues are available on the internet, a unique publication devoted to that one...

Source Notes

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pp. 211-217


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pp. 219-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780299203634
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299203641

Publication Year: 2004