Guest Diary

LIZ SMITH: “Tinseltown” ...

Thursday, August 21, 2014
by Liz Smith

“Tinseltown” — A Massive, Exhaustively Researched, Endlessly Fascinating Examination of One of Hollywood’s Most Infamous Unsolved Crimes.

“THERE’S SOMETHING wrong at Hollywood”

“The cause, O let us seek!”

“There’s something wrong at Hollywood”

“No scandal yet this week.”
Click to order “Tinseltown."
THE ABOVE ditty was printed in the Louisville, (Kentucky) Times, on February 22, 1922. It appears afresh on the first page of William J. Mann’s book, “Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood.”

Yep, there is nothing much new under the blazing show biz sun, believe it or not.

However, the movie business was still new, barely two decades old when the Louisville Times took Hollywood to task. Suicides, drug overdoses, rapes, rumors of wild partying (gossip columns sprang up like ragweed once the “star system” became established) and murder most foul. All this shocked the public, self-proclaimed moralists and women’s groups. Nobody stopped going to the movies, of course. They were shocked at home.

“Tinseltown” is a massive, exhaustively researched, endlessly fascinating examination of one of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved crimes — the murder of film actor, director and president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, William Desmond Taylor on February 1st, 1922. Tracking down every single scrap of information (and crediting the invaluable assistance of movie expert Bruce Long), author Mann weaves a Byzantine narrative that includes four women whose lives were forever altered by the death of William Desmond Taylor.
Mabel Normand — Look what happened to Mabel, indeed! Mary Miles Minter — Did She Pull The Trigger? Or Was it Her Mother? Margaret Gibson, aka Patricia Palmer — The quest for success knew no limits.
His great friend the rowdy movie queen Mabel Normand ... rising ingénue and genuine nut-case Mary Miles Minter ... Mary’s mother, the steely, detested Mrs. Shelby ... and Margaret Gibson, a struggling actress, determined to make it big and camouflage her scandalous past — by whatever means necessary. Three of these women were all at one time or another suspects in the murder. It is safe to say they were more or less ruined by the event. (Although it is hard to imagine Mary Miles Minter ending up any better than she did. And even that wasn’t so bad, all things considered.)
William Desmond Taylor — A Murder Solved, At Last?
Studio moguls Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky.
AGAINST THE unraveling of Desmond’s murder, there are also the power struggles between studio moguls Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky. The latter’s involvement in the Desmond case is eye-opening, to say the least.

Also on hand is Will Hays, who was just beginning his moralistic rise in Hollywood, one that would culminate ten years later with the infamous Hays Code — all the do’s and don’t’s filmmakers were allowed — the cut of a dress, the duration of a kiss, bad deeds had to be punished (especially if committed by women!)

He, too, played a part in the Desmond case.

We also read of some of the other scandals of the era — the Fatty Arbuckle case ... the drug death of beautiful Olive Thomas ... Wallace Reid’s morphine addiction.
"Roscoe" Fatty Arbuckle — Ruined by rape charge.
Wallace Reid — The Screen's "Perfect Lover." Olive Thomas by Vargas — Mercury Poisoning; Accident or Suicide?
But writer Mann keeps his eye on the prize — Who Killed William Desmond Taylor? It’s a gripping ride, with innumerable twists and turns and scenarios, but in the end, Mann believes he has solved the case. And, after finishing this book, I think he’s right!

In this respect, I have to put William J. Mann’s “Tinseltown” up there with David Stenn’s “Bombshell” which pretty much sealed the deal on Jean Harlow’s death. (She didn’t die because of her Christian Scientist mother, it wasn’t from bleaching her hair or syphilis or a botched abortion. Her kidney’s had been failing for years, and in those days, it was a death sentence. Nothing could have saved her.)
William Desmond Taylor's apartment on Alvarado soon after the murder.
If you love a good mystery, and vintage Hollywood lore — which doesn’t read much differently than current Hollywood lore — I recommend “Tinseltown” without reservation.

William J. Mann is the author of several show biz books, including “Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand” and “Kate: “The Woman Who Was Hepburn.” However, his best is “How To Be a Movie Star — Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood.” That one is truly eye-opening on just how clever La Liz was, crafting her image, and how fan magazines and gossip columnists shaped her, from ingénue to temptress, to Queen of Rococo Excess.
I WAS vastly amused by an obituary in North Jersey’s The Record newspaper of a man who died in Middletown, New York.

Several newspapers refused to publish his self-created obit. (We have not used his name and you'll see why!) But it turns out he was a carpenter and said “he was unsure of how proud the union was of him since he was chronically out of work.” He went on to write, “Always believing that you should get yours, he never got his and spent the majority of his time and resources supporting his unappreciative family and friends.”

The departed also referred to his sons as having “no sense of humor” and “free is for me” and his sister as “good for nothing but beloved."

He added, “In lieu of flowers and arrangements, please perform one act of kindness to someone in need.”
LONG time friend Tania Grossinger who skirted fame writing about the Catskills and the history of Grossinger’s sends this: “Sometimes the past comes back to bite you in the ass, sometimes it comes back to kiss you. When my book, 'Weekend' came out in 1980 you gave it its first review ‘A Blockbuster Thriller!’”
This work with Andrew Neiderman has now been reissued as an eBook. Set in a famous Catskill resort that may or may not be in the throes of a cholera epidemic on a July 4th weekend, guests are forced to confront their own weaknesses and strengths in a battle to survive.

Tania, we still like it.
Tania with her mother Karla at Grossinger's.
WHEN residents of East Hampton tried to go in the BookHampton recently on a Saturday morning, they were shooed out. They were setting themselves up for something entirely different.

This bookstore, which recently begged people to buy books and keep it alive, later that day had 1200 enthusiasts lining Main Street at 5 p.m. Hillary Clinton personally signed copies of her memoir, “Hard Choices.” The line was mostly women.
I HAVE been informed that Manish Dayal who appears in “The Hundred-Foot Journey” was born in South Carolina and “is as American as apple pie!” Apologies for referring to him as “India’s Manish ...” but, who doesn’t like a little spice on their apple pie?

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