Tomorrow, February 1st, is the 92nd anniversary of William Desmond Taylor’s murder. It is the most famous onsolved murder case in Hollywood history and arguably the murder of the century. The newspaper coverage was front page news across the country. Taylor was a popular and successful film director, but the sensationalism derived from top actresses seen as suspects, plus the luridness and scandal as details emerged (real and imagined), Hollywood was viewed by conservative America as a modern Babylon.
The murder came during the Fatty Arbuckle scandal and trials for his alleged murder of small time actress Virginia Rappe. Arbuckle was a top silent film comedian who supposedly raped and killed Rappe at a wild party in San Francisco. The allegations were made by a blackmailer, but that did not matter to America. They wanted blood and William Randolph Hearst and yellow journalism were happy to crucify Arbuckle. Rappe was no Snow White, not when you had, some of said, five or six abortions by 16, a child out of wedlock at 17, venereal disease and cystitis. The courts did not convict Arbuckle, but America did. The power of the press inflaming public opinion killed Arbuckle’s career.
So when Taylor was murdered and top screen comedian Mabel Normand, and popular actress were considered murder suspects, along with Taylor’s man servant, Henry Peavy, a former employee who had stolen from Taylor, Edward Sands, were juts handful of suspects. Theories were many and wide ranging, if not wild ranging.
Adding fuel to the fire was it came out that Taylor had abandoned his wife and child years ago, simply walking out the door and disappearing without saying a word. It did not help that Taylor, 50 at the time of his death, seemed to have a penchant for young actresses. Mary Miles Minter was an actress thirty years younger than Taylor who she claimed to love. But Minter, nor any actress in Babylon was a true Snow White; maybe on the screen, but not off the screen.
I was fascinated by the murder, watched a couple of documentaries on the case, read three non-fiction books, each of which had a different killer. The more you dig into the case, the more fascinating it becomes. I wanted to write a fictional story, using two characters from my first book that also revolved around a true life story, though not one about murder. So Chet Koski, a scenario writer for Famous Players-Lansky and his wife Eveleen get caught up, whether they wanted to or not, in solving the mystery. I am of the school of writing that rejects outlines and just writes seeing where the story goes. I had no idea who my killer would be, and it took me some time to work out the ending, but when I did, I was more than satisfied.
The book is both a homage to hard boiled Chandleresque mysteries while satirizing them at the same time. I like a little looniness in my fiction, thus the title “Loonies in Hollywood.” Eveleen is adventurous, Chet is passive aggressive, but together they are a Nick and Nora Charles in a parallel universe. Celebrate the mystery with my novel while I am writing their next adventure “Silent Murder.”
If you want to read a sample of the book click here:http://terrynelson.net/looniesinhollywood.html