Famous Players

Rick Geary continues his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series with Famous Players, covering “The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor”.

Famous Players cover
Famous Players
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This murder case, long an unsolved mystery, took place in 1922 Hollywood, where moving pictures were just settling into being an industry. William Desmond Taylor was a director for Famous Players, the most prestigious studio of the time, and actress Mabel Normand was the last person to see him alive.

When Taylor was found dead, suspicion fell on young star Mary Miles Minter, someone the producers wanted to become the next Mary Pickford. Three of her hairs were found on him, she had sent the much older man love letters, and her mother seemed to know things at suspicious times. But things get much more complicated, with revelations of a previous life, sexual secrets, hysterical threats, many other possible murderers, and plenty of outrageous rumors.

Following his usual illustrated maps, Geary sets the stage of the early days of Hollywood beautifully, including the features that made California such a desirable setting. It tickled me that, in addition to climate and landscape, he mentions the proximity to the border. Many early moviemakers were violating Edison’s moving picture patents, so if things got hot, they fled to Mexico. (How times have changed, since the movie companies are now some of the most rigid in trying to prosecute those who don’t respect their trademarks.)

In this case, a studio man was allowed to search the house to prevent anything “reflect[ing] poorly upon the deceased or the studio.” Various pieces of evidence disappeared, making it impossible to know what really happened, especially now. Geary lays out what’s known and touches briefly on what’s speculated. As always, he declines to pick a solution, suggesting possibilities instead of certainties.

Geary’s detailed pen-and-ink line provides a wonderful sense of nostalgia and time gone by. As is typical of the cases he chooses to profile, there are plenty of mistakes to feel superior about. “Today, the neighbors know not to move the body or traipse through the house before the cops arrive,” the modern reader thinks, but human nature is still the same. The ending roll call of stars who died young reinforces how little some things have changed.

A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher. They have posted a preview at their website.

7 Responses to “Famous Players”

  1. NBM Favorite Titles » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] with the story of The Lindbergh Child. I suspect that with its Hollywood focus, the next book, Famous Players, “The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor”, will be my new […]

  2. Johanna Says:

    (I know it’s weird to comment on my own review, but this reaction seemed to be on a different level.) I found it interesting that, while the other sources I’d seen in the past emphasized how much of a harridan stage mother Minter’s mother was, and several indicated she could have been the murderer, Geary almost left her alone. I couldn’t tell if he disagreed with her portrayal elsewhere or just didn’t have the room to go into what are mostly rumors. He seemed more interested in the men in Taylor’s life, his brother and the housemen he employed.

  3. James Schee Says:

    Interesting. I hadn’t heard of this murder before, but that sounds kind of interesting. I’ve picked up a few of these in the past, and its amazing how entertaining/fascinating Geary makes these.

  4. NBM Blog » Blog Archive » Geary’s ‘Famous Players’ reviews Says:

    […] Draper Carlson at Comics Worth Reading says of Geary’s newest Treasury of XXth Century Murder, “Famous […]

  5. The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] series. The previous books covered The Lindbergh Child and director William Desmond Taylor in Famous Players. This time out, we don’t meet celebrities of the twentieth century; instead, the famous […]

  6. The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] The first two books were relatively well-known single cases (the Lindbergh kidnapping, a famous director’s murder), but the third explored a place through a series of murders, and this one tackles what’s […]

  7. Lovers’ Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery — A Treasury of XXth Century Murder » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Famous Players […]




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