William Cunningham Deane - Tanner (1872–1922)
William Desmond Taylor

William Desmond Taylor

 Irish Actor, Writer, Producer and Director. Born in Carlow, Ireland, William was the third child of British Army Major Deane-Tanner. Soon after, the family moved to Dublin. In his teens, he failed tests to enter the Army. Because of this, his father sent him to a reform school / working ranch in the American middle west. He later turned up in New York as an actor. On December 7, 1901, William Cunningham Deane-Tanner married Ethel May Harrison, the daughter of a New York stockbroker. He held the position of vice-president of the highly successful and well-known English Antique Shop in New York, allowing the couple to live in upscale Larchmont. He was well liked and popular with the people who knew him. Daughter Ethel Daisy was born in 1903. In 1908, he went to lunch and never returned. The next day he telephoned the shop to ask for $600, which he received by messenger, and he was never seen again. Rumors abounded that he was seen mining or acting in Colorado, Montana and Alaska, then going by the name William Desmond Taylor. Ethel divorced William, residence unknown, in 1912 to remarry. In December 1912, he showed up at Inceville, the city of motion picture sets Thomas H. Ince built along the ocean front near Santa Monica. He was hired to act in Counterfeiters (1914). Next Taylor showed up at Kay-Bee Studios production of The Iconoclast (1913) . Whenever there was a break in the filming, Taylor would spend his time studying and watching the various phases of the movie business or reading. Small talk with the other actors was not something that he did voluntarily. When The Iconoclast (1913) completed filming, Taylor was offered another acting job and then offered a chance to direct. In the early days, it was cheaper to hire an actor that could direct the movie than to hire two men to do the same thing. William S. Hart did the same thing for Triangle Pictures. Taylor continued acting, directing or both until he was hired as an actor in A Tale of Two Cities (1917). He became invaluable to the director when his knowledge of art and literature became known. Thereafter, he rapidly climbed the ladder of success and became the leading director of Famous Players-Lasky. Taylor directed Dustin Farnum, George Beban, Kathlyn Williams, Constance Talmadge and other stars with great success, and was asked to direct versions of both Tom Sawyer (1917) and Huckleberry Finn (1920). With sudden riches, adulation, and fame, women became very interested in him, and as a handsome and charming director, he was in a position to help them. Like many directors who turned out a large number of films, some of his films like Ben Blair (1916) were poorly received; some like The Last Chapter (1914) were average at best; and others such as The American Beauty (1916) were very well received. In How Could You, Jean? (1918) Taylor directed Mary Pickford. With World War I raging in Europe, at age 41, Taylor enlisted in the Canadian Army in July 1918, but the war would end before Taylor could be sent to France. Instead he served in the Army until he was discharged in the summer of 1919. He returned to direct the well-received Anne of Green Gables (1919). One of his last projects would be to direct Betty Compson in The Green Temptation (1922).

In the early morning hours of February 2, 1922 Taylor was found shot to death in his bungalow. His still-unsolved murder was one of Hollywood's first major scandals. From what the police could piece together, at 7:00 pm, Taylor returned a telephone call to actor Antonio Moreno at the L.A. Athletic Club. At 7:05 pm, close friend and actress Mabel Normand arrived at his door. She left at about 7:45 pm, with Taylor walking her to her car, according to witnesses. According to one theory, Taylor was shot in the left side with a single bullet shortly after her departure by an unknown assailant. Others put the murder sometime between 1-2 am based on lack of rigor mortis when his servant arrived at approximately 7:45 the next morning to discover the body. Studio officials were first on the scene and alleged to have removed key evidence long before the police and coroner arrived to begin investigation and secure the murder scene.

The list of suspects included the A-list in Hollywood and rumors of payoffs and cover-ups quickly spread. Reports of finding some of Mary Miles Minter's personal belongings (including a monogrammed negligee) in his bungalow and her being suspected of the murder effectually ended her career in pictures. Milner's mother, Charlotte Shelby was another suspect in the murder. Mabel Normand's career would be tarnished by her association and questionable motivation in the death of Taylor. Other theories involved drug dealers who were angered by Taylor's attempts to get Normand free of drugs. Many actresses, in later years, would make deathbed confessions of being the true murderer of Taylor. Taylor's funeral was one of the most impressive held in Los Angeles up to that date. Virtually everyone of prominence in the motion picture industry was in attendance. His unsolved murder in 1922 remains one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries. Reportedly, Patricia Palmer confessed to Taylor's murder on her deathbed. She was one of dozens of actresses to make similar deathbed confessions. Had an eight-year-long relationship with George Hopkins, which only ended with Taylor's death.

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