Part of my own novel, “The Doom Book” regards events surrounding the true-life murder of Paramount director William Desmond Taylor on February 1, 1922. The case remains large in Hollywood lore and has never been solved. It’s most tantalizing aspect is that it involved three prominent women in the movie colony along with allegations of narcotics, unrequited love, and malicious intent. A number of authors have written non-fiction books regarding the shooting of Taylor and, interestingly enough, each author offers a different “whodunnit.”
SPOILERS: If you want to read these books, do not proceed further.
1. “Tinseltown” by William J. Mann. The most recent tome on the case, Mann contrasts the scandals that beset Paramount in 1922 (Roscoe Arbuckle, William Desmond Taylor and Wallace Reid) and studio chief Adolph Zukor’s attempts to control damage with the murder investigation and the suspicions leveled against actress Mary Miles Minter and her mother, Charlotte Shelby; actress Mabel Normand; and a cadre of blackmailers who may have been blackmailing Taylor
Mann’s verdict: Taylor was killed for refusing to pay any more blackmail money.
2. ” William Desmond Taylor: A Dossier” by Bruce Long. Based on the recollections of District Attorney investigator Ed King.
Long’s verdict: Taylor was accidentally shot by Mary Miles Minter.
3. “Deed of Death” by Robert Giroux. Focuses in on Mabel Normand and her drug use.
Giroux’s verdict: Taylor was shot by drug dealers due to his efforts to get the United States Government to expose the use of narcotics in the Hollywood film colony.
4. “A Cast of Killers” by Sidney Kirkpatrick. Apparently based on notes collected by Silent film director King Vidor, who investigated the case for a possible film.
Vidor’s verdict: Taylor was shot by Mary Miles Minter’s mother, Charlotte Shelby. She felt that Taylor was trying to steal away her daughter and meal ticket.
It’s an interesting case and although there are loopholes in each theory, they nonetheless are all viable. Most writers concur that the case was never solved because the District Attorney’s office conspired with Paramount to make sure the truth never came out. The studios were all concerned that the scandals would lead the Federal Government to impose censorship on the film industry. Taylor’s murder directly influenced the creation of what became known as “the Hays Office,” the industry’s self-censorship board–heading off any need for government restrictions. Meanwhile, the killer got away.