William Desmond Taylor was a hugely successful Hollywood actor and director of the silent era. An Irishman born in the town of Carlow; his extraordinary journey brought him from a ranch in Kansas, to an antique shop in New York, to the gold mines of the Yukon, before finally arriving in Los Angeles at the emergence of the nascent movie industry.
In ‘Tinsel Town’ he became a screen actor appearing in 27 movies and later a director at the helm of 60 movies. He was a 3-term president of the Screen Directors Guild and eventually the Head of Production of Players Lasky (Paramount) before he was killed in mysterious circumstances in what is considered to this day Hollywood’s greatest unsolved murder.
His murder was an international scandal with newspapers throughout the world devoting years of column inches to the case. The story from the start was mired in debauched celebrity, drug abuse, veiled homosexuality, the criminal underworld and an official cover-up. It contributed to forming of Hollywood’s infamous “Hays Code” – a four-decade long period of self censorship.
This website is devoted to his life, work and murder. Assessing the vast amount of information available via the internet, various books and through interviews with experts. The site will combine the latest unearthed facts on the man, as well as, opinions on his life, death and legacy.
We also intend to outline developments in “WHO KILLED BILL?“, the Broadcast Authority of Ireland funded, radio drama-documentary due to air on Ireland’s Newstalk 106-8FM on May 12 & 13, 2012, and TAYLORFEST, a festival to celebrate the 140th anniversary of his birth in his hometown of Carlow.
Books About William Desmond Taylor
There are several books devoted entirely to the life and murder of William Desmond Taylor. The main researcher of Taylor’s story is unquestionably Bruce Long, whose exhaustive website, Taylorology is the Alpha and Omega for Taylor fans. His book, William Desmond Taylor: A Dossier, is an assemblage of official documents, transcribed statements and press reporting of the murder case at the time.
William Desmond Taylor: a Dossier – by Bruce Long
“William Desmond Taylor (1872-1922) was a leading silent film director remembered as the victim of Hollywood’s most sensational unsolved murder, which shook the nation and shattered the reputations of several top Hollywood stars. Until now, Taylor’s film career and leadership role in the Hollywood film industry have been completely overshadowed by the scandal of his death. By reprinting over 400 items from contemporary newspapers, magazines, and trade journals, the book reveals Taylor’s life in Hollywood_from his arrival as a minor actor in 1912 until his death in 1922 as one of Hollywood’s top directors. These annotated clippings and articles, many containing Taylor’s own words, provide substantial insight into Hollywood life and film production during the decade that transformed Hollywood into the movie capital of the world. Included in the book is the most extensive filmography of Taylor’s work ever published. Taylor’s murder is also examined, including a critical analysis of two published ‘solutions’ to the crime.”
From Publishers Weekly:
“Well-born but disinherited Anglo-Irish actor and one-time Yukon prospector, William Desmond Taylor was a prominent Paramount movie director at the time of his unsolved murder in 1922. Suspects included his secretary Edward Sands, a thief and forger; Henry Peavey, his homosexual black cook; and two flamboyant screen stars: drug-addicted Mabel Normand, whom he loved; and 20-year-old Mary Miles Minter, who yearned to be his mistress. In a meticulous probe that reads like a detective thriller, editor-publisher Giroux ( The Book Known as Q ) makes a strong case that the murderer was a contract killer. He shows that Normand had incurred the wrath of dope peddlers, as did Taylor when he attempted to help her break her addiction. Brimming with details of Hollywood’s silent era and its rampant post-WW I drug culture, this procedural offers glimpses of Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Sam Goldwyn, Mack Sennett, Fatty Arbuckle”
Murder in Hollywood: Solving a Silent Screen Mystery – by Charles Higham
From Publishers Weekly
A Cast of Killers – by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick
From Publishers Weekly
“As he was researching his “official” biography of King Vidor, the late film director, Kirkpatrick made the discovery on which this true crime story is built. Vidor, planning to make a movie about William Desmond Taylor, murdered in 1922, set out to investigate the unsolved crime 45 years later. Taylor had been a famous director of silents and his death was a sensation that ruined the careers of actresses Mary Miles Minter, Mabel Normand (the victim’s reputed lovers) and other Hollywood luminaries. Kirkpatrick skillfully leads the reader into Vidor’s search as the director studies old files and questions people in the movie colony who remembered those involved in the tragedy. The result is a riveting mystery. In his dramatic reconstruction, Kirkpatrick uncovers Vidor’s convincing evidence, never disclosed by the director, that Taylor was killed by the mother of ingenue Minter.”
Famous Players: Mysterious Death Of William Desmond Taylor – by Rick Geary
From Publishers Weekly
“The 10th in Geary’s ongoing, multi–Eisner-nominated historical murder series, Famous Players tells the story of one of the first major Hollywood scandals. Silent film actor/director William Desmond Taylor was killed in his home in February 1922, not long after popular actor Fatty Arbuckle was also accused of murder. Geary presents the facts of the case in a series of historical chapters, offering up bungled investigative tactics, dead-end leads and a colorful cast of characters, all for the reader to analyze. His quirky b&w ink drawings are full of expression, recalling the melodrama of silent films and giving life to such characters as actresses Mary Miles Minter and Mabel Normand and other early film business insiders. The narrative presents this murder, along with the Arbuckle case, as the beginning of Hollywood’s lurid history, which he evokes with a series of plates depicting actors whose tragic deaths are noted beneath. By including not only the Black Dahlia but Natalie Wood, River Phoenix and Phil Hartman, he drives home the point that Hollywood has never escaped its dark past.”
WEBSITES ON TAYLOR:
Extract: “Bizarre events in Hollywood have been going on for a long time. We are fascinated by scandals in the movie industry. None of the present-day events — illicit romances, drug charges, accidental overdoses — can meet the mystery of a famous case of 1922.”
Extract: “William Desmond Taylor lived the kind of life that would be tough to live today, in our era of numbers and cards and facial recognition software. In the end, he paid a steep price for that life and so did Hollywood. Maybe he even lived many lives…”
Extract: “It was February 1, 1922 and an unusually cold night for Los Angeles. Despite the fact that this was during prohibition, director William Desmond Taylor and silent film comedienne Mabel Normand enjoyed Orange Blossom Gin cocktails, discussed Nietzsche, Freud and movies. Mabel played comic riffs on the piano. At about 7:45 p.m. he walked her to her car leaving the door open or unlocked to his exclusive Alvarado Street bungalow. As her chauffeur drove off, they blew kisses at one another. With the exception of the murderer, Mabel Normand was the last person to see William Desmond Taylor alive….”
Extract: “William Desmond Taylor (April 26, 1872 – February 1, 1922) was an Irish-born American actor, successful film director of silent movies and a popular figure in the growing Hollywood film colony of the 1910s and early 1920s. His murder on February 1, 1922, along with other Hollywood scandals such as the Roscoe Arbuckletrial, led to a frenzy of sensationalistic and often fabricated newspaper reports. In the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, the name Norma Desmond is a reference to both Taylor’s middle name and one of his actress friends, Mabel Normand. Taylor’s murder remains officially unsolved.”
Extract: “Born in Carlow, Ireland. Came to USA c. 1890. Worked as stage actor, engineer, antique dealer, gold miner. Entered silent film industry as actor in 1912; most noted film as actor was Captain Alvarez for Vitagraph. Directed first film for Balboa Films in 1914. Subsequently directed for American Film