Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, & Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J Mann
  Book Reviews    January 23, 2016     April Clemmer


Old Scandal with New Headlines in Hollywood, dahlings…


I’ll admit that at first, this title was a bit much for me. But William J. Mann delivers in spades, pulling back the tinsel to expose the dark side of the early film industry in Hollywood.


This account of one of Hollywood’s first (and still unsolved) high-profile murders explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding the shooting of director William Desmond Taylor. Mann’s impeccable research uncovers new information about what really happened that night on Alvarado Court.


Taylor had been Hollywood’s linchpin spokesman in the film industry’s struggle to stave off the threat of censorship; now his R-rated death fanned the flames of rumours of the fast-and-loose lifestyle of the nouveau riche and famous. The headlines alleged extra-marital affairs, homosexuality, and drug-fueled parties.  The gunshot that ended his life also ended the careers of two actresses: established star Mabel Normand and up-and-coming child star Mary Miles Minter. The public outcry against Hollywood’s amorality that followed shook the newly-emerging industry to its core.


One of the best parts of this book is an opening section titled “Preamble to Intrigue.” Mann claims that he will “not venture unbidden into the minds of my subjects” in his book.  He then informs the reader that all indicated emotions of the characters are based on his interpretation of actual conversations, interviews, and similar items he came across during his research.  Whether you believe it or not, it’s a ballsy claim to make, and I like him for doing it.


Classic Hollywood-philes will also enjoy details rarely included in similar books…. the address of Mary Miles Minter’s first big-girl rental home in Hollywood Dell, the house in Beachwood Canyon where a death-bed confession occurred regarding the murder, and the name on Taylor’s crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, among others.


Suffice it to say that Tinseltown is already on the “favorites” shelf of my classic Hollywood library…and baby, that’s a big library.




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