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Scandalous Hollywood: William Desmond Taylor

The Headline: Director Found Murdered: Starlets Among Suspects

William Desmond Taylor, an elegant and celebrated 45-year-old director, had a serene expression on his face and a .38 bullet in his back when police arrived at his Los Angeles bungalow February 2, 1922. Officers found a full house that included Keystone Kops heroine Mabel Normand rummaging through Taylor’s desk drawers, a Paramount executive burning papers in the fireplace and a houseman calmly washing dishes.

They also discovered love letters from female stars and a closet filled with women’s lingerie. One pink silk nightgown was monogrammed “M.M.M.” for Mary Miles Minter, the 19-year-old blond nymphet who starred in Anne of Green Gables. The media had a field day with a suspect list that reportedly numbered 19, among them Normand (Taylor had tried to get her off drugs), Minter, Minter’s fiercely protective mother and houseman Henry Peavey (who had a previous arrest record for soliciting young boys). Despite all the suspects–and all the publicity–no one ever was charged.

Scandalous Hollywood William Desmond Taylor

In 1967, King Vidor, director of such epics as The Fountainhead and War and Peace, researched the Taylor case in hopes of making it into a movie. But after interviewing survivors and reading secret police files, he locked away his 650 pages of notes, taking his findings to the grave in 1982. Filmmaker Sidney Kirkpatrick eventually found Vidor’s notes and fashioned them into a stunning book. His conclusions: Taylor was homosexual, and the lingerie had been planted in his home by his studio. Houseman Peaves had procured the boys for Taylor, not himself. And the killer was Minter’s mother, Charlotte Shelby, who had found her daughter at Taylor’s home.

Vidor had presented his solution to Mary Miles Minter, who was then in her sixties and grossly obese–a “real-life Norma Desmond,” he wrote later in his notes. When Vidor asked her to confirm it, Minter sobbed, “My mother killed everything I ever loved.” Minter died in 1984.

Officially the case remains unsolved.





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