WILLIAM DESMOND TAYLOR

I recently came across @Taylorfest on twitter and it sparked an interest in a subject I knew nothing about or had heard of. Carlow had produced a silent era movie actor and director who achieved legendary status in Hollwwood but has been long forgotten here. @Taylorfest is organising a screening of his works in the Visual Arts Centre Carlow on the weekend of May 18th 2012. It is a fasinating story and here is just a little bit of information about William Desmond Taylor, with thanks to www.classichollywoodbios.com.

William Desmond Taylor was born William Cunningham Deane-Tanner in Carlow, Ireland on April 26, 1872. He left home at the age of 18 after a falling-out with his father. Taylor immigrated to the United States working as an engineer, gold miner in Alaska, antique dealer and finally an actor in New York. In 1901 he married Ethel May Harrison and a daughter Ethel Daisy Deane-Tanner was born in 1903. Not able to support his family as an actor, this was the period when Taylor worked as an antique dealer in a business financed by his father-in-law. In 1908, he went to lunch and never returned walking out of his wife and daughter’s lives without a word.

In 1912 he arrived in California and began his career as a silent film actor and later a director. He left Hollywood briefly to serve in the British Army during World War I and returned to his career as a Director. His most famous films were based on literary works such as Tom Sawyer (1917), Anne of Green Gables (1919) and Huckleberry Finn (1920).

The Murder

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.

Taylor went back into his apartment and at about 8:00 p.m. what was thought to be a car backfire was heard by the neighbors. Faith MacLean went to the window and saw what she at first believed to be a man in a long coat wearing a muffler or with his collar turned up and a plaid cap over his face. He looked at her and casually went back inside as if he’d forgotten something. Later she said this person had an “effeminate walk” and was “funny looking”. More than a decade later during Grand Jury Testimony when pressed by the Sheriff and asked if she could be certain it was a man that she saw, MacLean answered she could not. Another neighbor Hazel Gillon stated that she just saw a dark figure after hearing the car backfire.

All was deadly quiet on Alvarado Street until 7:30 a.m. the next day when Taylor’s houseman Henry Peavey arrived at the bungalow and found Taylor, 49, lying dead in the living room. Peavey screamed and ran out into the courtyard and chaos ensued as it was the studio that was called first and not the police. Originally, it was thought that Taylor might have died of natural causes but once he was turned over, it was noticed that he was lying in a pool of blood….shot once in the back.

Studio Cover-Up

Representatives from Paramount Studios, where Taylor was employed, came out and seized all the letters they could find (with the exception of some Taylor had hidden in his riding boots) and all the bootleg liquor. They even instructed Peavey to clean up the blood and the apartment. The fledgling motion picture industry was in-peril as this was during the time of the rape/murder trial of comedian Fatty Arbuckle (who was finally acquitted after 3 trials, yet his career was ruined), There were also the drug addictions of actors Wallace Reid and Jack Pickford (Mary’s brother) and the mysterious death by poison of Pickford’s wife actress Olive Thomas. Women’s Clubs and religious groups were up in arms against the film industry and were threatening to boycott films. By the time the Los Angeles Police Department detectives arrived the Taylor crime scene was severely compromised.

Having read all this myself and researched it a little more I would thoroughly recommend others to do so as well, @Taylorfest on twitter can also be followed for more information and he/she also has a blog page,http://williamdesmondtaylor.wordpress.com/140th-anniversary-events/.

Do also come along in May to see and hear more about this Carlovian who conquered Holloywood,make a weekend of it and stay for the craic.