Murder tale fascinating yet frustrating
April 4, 2005
“Murder in Hollywood: Solving a Silent Screen Mystery” by Charles Higham
Author Charles Higham has written several books about the movie business, and in “Murder in Hollywood,” he’s turned his attention to the unsolved murder of Hollywood film director William Desmond Taylor. If you’re unfamiliar with this long-standing mystery, Taylor, a first-rank director in the early days of the film industry, was shot to death at home in February 1922 and, although many suspects and scenarios have been discussed in the years since, the killing has never been solved. What has made this murder so particularly sensational is that it involved famous actresses, corrupt city officials, homosexuality, missing persons, bungled police investigations, Taylor’s dubious past, and overwhelming media frenzy.
I’ve personally been interested in this story since the late 1980s when Sidney Kirkpatrick’s “A Cast of Killers,” another book on this subject, appeared. Amazingly, since that time at least two more volumes dedicated to the murder have been published (1990’s “A Deed of Death: the Story Behind the Unsolved Murder of Hollywood Director William Desmond Taylor” by Robert Giroux and 1991’s “William Desmond Taylor: a Dossier by Bruce Long”). What’s interesting is that, with the exception of Bruce Long’s book (which is a profile of Taylor and his life), each of these works claims to have solved the mystery. And while they all have their merits and each contains useful pieces of information, none of these books seems to really have achieved its mission of actually solving the crime in any sort of incontrovertible way.
However, Charles Higham’s book stands apart for several reasons: He had access to some case file materials that were unavailable to the other authors and he has better connections to the film industry. In addition, he interviewed many relatives of the principals involved in the murder to acquire some useful background information on these key players. Nevertheless, I found “Murder in Hollywood” to be a somewhat frustrating read.
While the book posits the theory that the murder was committed by then-famous star Mary Miles Minter, who was reportedly infatuated with Taylor and very possibly did commit the crime, Higham, despite all of the wonderful resources he utilized, tries very hard to make the evidence fit his conclusion. In other words, the author appears to have decided that Minter was the murderess and then gone about locating facts to prove his assertion. Being fascinated with this mystery, I would have much preferred that “Murder in Hollywood” present evidence and then go about solving the crime.
For those interested in learning more about this fascinating piece of Hollywood history, Bruce Long, author of one of the above-mentioned books on this subject, has created a wonderful Taylorology Web site (www.angelfire.com/az/Taylorology/) loaded with facts and information about the case.
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– Phil Roché is library director at Lake Tahoe Community College.