William Desmond Taylor

Active - 1913 - 1922  |   Born - Apr 26, 1877   |   Died - Jan 1, 1922   |   Genres - Drama, Adventure, Western, Romance

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Irish-born filmmaker William Desmond Taylor gained as much notoriety in death as he had during his life in Hollywood's early years. He began his career as an actor in 1912; his biggest role was the lead in Vitagraph's Captain Alvarez. In 1914, Taylor began directing feature films. The following year, he was the co-director of the serial The Diamond from the Sky, and a little later would direct three Mary Pickford films as well as several films starring her brother Jack Pickford. He also directed a few films starring cowboy actor Dustin Farnum. In 1917, he became the president of the Motion Picture Directors Association. Handsome and rakish Taylor had a reputation as a ladies man in Hollywood and was seen squiring some of the industry's most famous leading ladies about town. On the night of February 2, 1922, Taylor was found murdered in his mansion. Though rumors flew about the killer's identity and motive -- most of the rumors centered on Taylor's most recent lovers, including Mabel Normand and Mary Miles Minter, neither of whom were formal suspects but both of whom allegedly saw Taylor shortly before his death -- the crime was never solved. Because his murder came right on the heels of the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle murder case, citizens' groups around the country began to protest the perceived decadence of the Hollywood lifestyle and of its films. This protest added fuel to the fire ignited by the recently established Hays Office, which was devoted to setting higher moral standards for the films and the stars. Film historian Bruce Long's exhaustively researched 1991 book William Desmond Taylor: A Dossier contains most of what is known and what is speculated about Taylor's career and murder. Even so, the death of William Desmond Taylor remains one of the 20th century's most famous unsolved murders.

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