The Strange Death of William Desmond Taylor

the  strange death of william desmond taylor

"I loved him deeply . . ."


william desmond taylorThe movie magnates were still tearing their hair (what was left) over the Fatty Arbuckle scandal when somebody with a terrible sense of timing killed William Desmond Taylor, the Famous-Players Lasky Studio's $l00,000-a-year Chief Director. This mystery melodrama would draw more headlines than l'affaire Arbuckle, for it brimmed with good names&#151Mary Miles Minter, Mary Pickford, Mabel Normand&#151and dark suspicions. It broke on February 2, 1922, while the third Arbuckle trial was pending. Taylor's hired man, Henry Peavey, found the handsome director dead in his bungalow when he reported in the morning. The body lay beside a desk in the study, a bullet in the heart.

mabel normandThe last person who saw Taylor alive the night before, apart from the murderer, appeared to be Miss Normand. She said she had dropped in around 7:05. She said they talked about her next starring vehicle, about good books and, finally, her French lessons. She said Taylor put her in her car at nine o'clock because she had an early studio call and, always thoughtful, lent her a book by Sigmund Freud when he observed that the only reading material in her limousine consisted of some trashy magazines.

Mary Pickford's name came into the case because her photo occupied a favored position in the bachelor quarters of the deceased. Real-life detectives, just like the movie kind, always question damsels in situations of this kind. Miss Pickford, of course, remained "America's Sweetheart" through the ordeal; she knew nothing about the murder.

mary miles minterMary Miles Minter, the rage in a succession of Chaplin films, drew the major billing when a scented note on her monogrammed stationery fluttered out of one of Taylor's books while the police were ransacking the bungalow. The missive was brief but very warm. It was not the sort of thing movie fans imagined the demure screen heroine, only twenty-two years old, to be sending to a man twice her age. It follows:

the note"Dearest:
"I love you&#151I love you&#151I love you
"Yours always,

The last X in the row of kisses was two inches high and punctuated by an exclamation point so "Dearest" would get the idea. Asked about her little composition, Miss Minter made her passion even clearer.

taylor"I did love William Desmond Taylor," she said. "I loved him deeply, and tenderly, with all the admiration a young girl gives to a man with the poise and position of Mr. Taylor." For all her girlish ardor, the star said she and Taylor, an ex-British Army officer and a worldly fellow, were nothing more than good friends. The director had a garish funeral, with Miss Minter furnishing the big scene. She treated the corpse to a lingering kiss on the cold lips and then arose to report that her dreamboat had whispered something to her. She said it sounded like "I shall love you always, Mary." Naturally, the tabloids, not to mention the equally playful standard-size papers of the period, made much of the apparent traffic-unto-death between a movie star and her favorite director.

miss minterThe scandal strung out like a cliff-hanging serial, producing words by the millions and theories by the square yard. There was talk about the varied amours of the deceased, talk about jealous females, talk about Taylor having thrashed a narcotics pusher for dealing junk to unnamed actresses, talk about blackmail, talk about a valet fired in a messy row not long before the slaying (and never found for questioning), talk about at least one initialed kimono found in the director's boudoir, talk about Miss Minter's mother having tried to keep her million-dollar-baby away from the man. The script had more angles than the most fanciful screen writers had dared commit to paper.

fatty and mabelThe Hollywood purse-holders met in agonized all-night sessions as the presses turned. They didn't want the fortune invested in Miss Minter to go down the drain with the green stuff tied up in Arbuckle. They talked about the pure innocence of her years and the unblemished name she had enjoyed before that sizzling 18-X note turned up in William Desmond Taylor's library.

But in the end the girl went the Arbuckle way, into obscurity. Miss Minter, however, came out with some spending money. In 1956 she and her mother sued to draw more funds for investment out of a newspapertrust they had set up in 1924 and it was said to be worth a fortune. So the wolf never howled at their door.

Mabel Normand, shining brightly in the Mack Sennett comedy crown, could have survived her incidental role in the scandal even with the women's clubs clamoring to hang her scalp alongside Miss Minter's. But in 1924 she happened to be among those present when her chauffeur put a bullet into another gentleman, presumably in a battle over her favors, and then she turned up as a co-respondent in a third man's suit. Death spared her the long night, however. Only thirty-three, she was felled by TB in 1930.

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