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Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  3,274 Ratings  ·  500 Reviews
The Day of the Locust meets The Devil in the White City and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in this juicy, untold Hollywood story: an addictive true tale of ambition, scandal, intrigue, murder, and the creation of the modern film industry

By 1920, the movies had suddenly become America’s new favorite pastime, and one of the nation’s largest industries. Never before
Hardcover, 463 pages
Published October 14th 2014 by Harper (first published January 1st 2014)
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Sketchbook The "unsolved til now" line is bunkum. There are 4 books on the Desi Taylor murder -- each offers a solution. Guess what ? It's still a deep mystery.

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Dec 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Ultimately I found this an interesting and credible solution to the William Desmond Taylor murder. However, it is a bit ripe in the scene setting department--as someone else mentioned, it reads like fiction--pulp fiction padded to up the count as if Mann were being paid by the word. If I read, "Nobody had more secrets to keep than Bill Taylor," one more time, I thought I was going to scream! He must use this phrase, and other similar catch phrases, at least thirty times in the book. Mann is also ...more
May 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
A poorly written book.

Thought the concept was intriguing the execution fell flat on it's face.

The author tried to be salacious in the handling of the story the end result was too much repetition of banal events and repetition of the same events over and over and over until one wanted to yell "enough already".

The picture that was painted, and perhaps it was accurate, was of a bunch of drug crazed sex addicts, running Hollywood for their own hedonistic pleasures. And perhaps that was true at the
Self-righteous parents blaming the media for society's moral decay; young starlets vying for the attention of the same man; a once-beloved comedic icon falling from grace following revelations about his sordid past; celebrities suspected of committing murders most foul; stints in rehab being kept on the DL; overbearing stage mothers; and a news-hungry public with“sanity and sympathy” in short supply watching as it all unfolds. Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood ...more
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of a murder, which happened over 90 years ago in Los Angeles. In 1922, Los Angeles had become the centre of the fledgling film industry and William Desmond Taylor was one of the leading film directors. One morning, his valet, Henry Peavey arrived for work as normal to find his employer murdered and, once again, scandal hit Hollywood. For this is not just the story of William Desmond Taylor (or William Deane-Tanner, as he was originally known before re-creating himself – as so m ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it liked it
"Streaks of pink lightened the sky" as an open car driven by a beautiful woman in an evening dress and fur coat (uh-huh, natcherly) sped along Pacific Coast Highway from Los Angeles to Ventura. "Her wild hair was in disarray from the wind" (dear gott) -- Thus opens the 3d or 4th book about the William Desmond Taylor murder in 1922. This is a red herring which we've seen in countless movies and milady disappears from the story.

Last pages (are ya ready?), the author delivers a deathbed "confession
Jill Hutchinson
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I think that I was rather fascinated by this book because I am an avid fan of early film. Hollywood in the early 1920s was pretty much party-city and drinking and drugs proliferated among some of the cinema stars. Things started falling apart with the deaths of Olive Thomas (drugs), matinee idol Wallace Reid (drugs), the murder trial of popular comic Fatty Arbuckle (he was exonerated eventually) but the topper was the murder of noted actor/director William Desmond Thomas. This finally brought th ...more
May 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Relentlessly repetitious, covering the same ground over and over and over again, and eventually boring. Mann has to learn that once he has descriptively related a characteristic of a person, there is no need to repeat it in every chapter that relates to that person. How many times did he have to tell the reader that Adolph Zukor was short, for example? And he ends his chapters like bad movie serial cliffhangers, The resolution to the mysterious murder of film director William Desmond Taylor in t ...more
Tristan Robin Blakeman
Apr 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I should start by saying I'm pretty easy prey for somebody writing a book about Hollywood(land) in the early part of the 20th century. It has always intrigued and excited me. So, it was no surprise that I was waiting for this book to come out as soon as they announced the future release date of it. And I wasn't disappointed.

There were so many "crimes of the century"in the 20th century - the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Hall/Mills murders, the Leopold/Loeb murder case, the Black Dahlia, and fai
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hollywood
Murder mystery of Hollywood’s golden era

William J. Mann is a well-known Hollywood historian with many books to his credits. He has researched in this field widely and written several books about the role of gays and lesbians in Hollywood during golden era. In this book he focusses on the well-known murder mystery of director and actor Desmond Taylor during 1922 that has been discussed and opined upon by numerous authors, investigators and close associates of Taylor himself. This homicide has al
Feb 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Tinseltown is a true crime book about the murder of actor-director William Desmond Taylor. This was a legendary crime that has remained unsolved (until now?). Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the "Roaring Twenties"...a town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, and starlets already past their prime. The author makes a good case, and does capture the spirit of early Hollywood. It also tells how powerful and manipulative the movie studios were, which was definitely one of the ...more
Oct 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
Meh. The author William Mann makes his theory sound like it is the end all answer to this mystery, but a little research shows there have been no less than four books specifically about this murder. Each giving its own theory. So I say again, Meh.
Beth Cato
Oct 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In February 1922, director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his home. Hollywood already suffered beneath a barrage of calls for censorship in the aftermath of the Fatty Arbuckle case, and Taylor's murder--followed by a frenzy of tabloid muckraking about the sex lives of Taylor and everyone around him--only exacerbated the woes of the fledgling industry. Despite the press attention on the crime, though, no one was ever prosecuted. Various theories emerged then and over the decades since. Au ...more
3.5 stars

William Desmond Taylor was a silent movie director into the 1920s when he was murdered. His killer was never found, or at least, never tried or convicted. There were suspicions on who might have done it, but no arrests and nothing proven. This book looks at his murder, along with other Hollywood business practices, crimes, and scandals. There is some focus on Taylor’s friend and actress, Mabel Normand, as well as another young actress who was in love with him, Mary Miles Mintner, whose
J.V. Seem
I keep trying out more and more true crime, but alas again...
This one supposedly tells of the murder of movie director William Desmond Taylor, with the infancy of the movie industry as its backdrop.
Sadly, in this long, long book, there's hardly anything about the murder. It also endeavors to bring some closure to the case, but only tells of a confession, and leaves it at that, without wrapping up the book, or saying a word about what said confession meant, what impact it did or didn't have, whic
Lindsay Underwood
Oct 20, 2015 rated it did not like it
Not finishing this one people. I don't like it. And quite frankly, I don't care. This book started out interesting and intriguing. Now I wish everyone was murdered instead of just the one guy.
Anna (Curiosity comes before Kay) Partrick
As someone who loves film history, and has more than a passing interest in the Silent Film Era, some of the names in this book weren't unfamiliar to me (Adolph Zukor, Mabel Normand, Marcus Loew, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Will Hays) - others I had never heard of until this book (William Desmond Taylor, Mary Miles Minter, Margaret "Gibby" Gibson). Considering I had never even heard of this murder/scandal except in passing when watching Kevin Brownlow's excellent documentary, "Hollywood: Pioneers," ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Most of this book merits 5 stars in my opinion. I had to knock one star off because the mystery cannot ever be definitively solved, which was ensured from day one. Because of this, the author can only present a strong case for whodunit, which we can guess from the beginning because the culprits are the only three people we have never heard of. That said, I found the story of wannabe star Gibby Gibson to be one of the most fascinating parts of the book. It's amazing to me that so much information ...more
Russell Sanders
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The whimsical vintage cover design of William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood is cleverly inviting and promises a rollicking good tale of greed and all those other things listed in the sub-title. Mann’s book draws you into its clutches and refuses to let go. A book of this length (424 pages) usually takes me a week or more to read, as I confine my reading to bedtime. But I could not let go of Tinseltown. I found myself stealing time during my day to p ...more
Ryan Gernay
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I hadn't read any reviews for this book until I was finished reading it. I was honestly surprised by some of the low ratings and criticisms. This was one of the most satisfying books I've read in a very long time. Perhaps it's because it revolves around many of the topics I find fascinating: American life in the 1920's, movies, murder mysteries and politics.
I'm not sure why so many people allowed the spelling of the word "clue" as "clew" to spoil their enjoyment of this book. It's really not a
Katherine Addison
This book about the murder of William Desmond Taylor was solidly on track for "quite good," which is my 4-star rating, until the epilogue, wherein Mann veers off into wild speculation, promoting a theory that COULD be true, but is based on (1) eyewitness testimony, (2) the dying confession, 40 years later, of a woman who may not have been entirely sane, (3) a VERY STRETCHY hypothesis about the ammunition used.

None of this is evidence any better than that for the primary suspect, and frankly, whi
Words, so darn many words. Granted, it's an interesting period of time - during the early 1920's in Hollywood. Noted director William Desmond Taylor has been murdered and in addition to the sensational murder, we get backgrounds on Mabel Normand, Mary Miles Minter, Adolph Zukor, failed starlet Patricia Palmer, Fatty Arbuckle and a good deal of information about the studio system, the Hayes office, and many many many other events.

The only thing we don't really get is more than a passing bit of i
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
This is meticulously researched and reads like a novel. It's full of intrigue but the final conclusion is very light on evidence. An interesting book on the history of early Hollywood.
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
What's not to love about this book? Working in the movie industry (at the very bottom of the chain) definitely helped strike my interest in this topic. I'm also quite intrigued with non-fiction crime novels. This sorry was so well written considering the numerous characters and many intricate details. The end of each chapter gave just enough mystery to make it nearly impossible to put down.
Apr 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
The death of William Desmond Taylor/William Deane-Tanner is among America's most enigmatic unsolved murders. What makes his case somewhat unique is that there were deliberate efforts from people high-up in the movie industry to ensure that the case remained enigmatic and unsolved. It is virtually certain that there were a number of people who knew--or, at least, had a pretty good guess--who shot the film director, but for their own reasons, they launched a conspiracy that allowed someone to get ...more
Jennifer Rayment
Nov 06, 2014 rated it liked it
The Good Stuff

Reads like fiction. Forgot on many occasions that I was reading non-fiction
Absolutely fascinating, hooked me in with the first chapter. Author really knows how to set a scene
Henry Peavey sounded like he was a delightful and colourful man
Interesting to find out about the scandal involving Fatty Arbuckle. I knew a little about it from stories from my Dad, but had no idea what really had happened. Poor bastard.
I know, I know, but I am still flabbergasted at the Anti-antisemitism
Sep 06, 2014 rated it liked it
This is another one I'm kind of divided on. Tinseltown is definitely well-researched and I came away knowing more about the era and some of it's stars than I did previously.

That said, I don't feel like I really got a sense of the real people involved. Their scandals and drama are broadcast over the (probably a few too many) pages repeatedly to the point that some just come across as caricatures.

I listened to the audio book, so I avoided all the "clew"/"clue" ridiculousness - which probably woul
Samantha Glasser
The author goes on long flowery tangents to pad the writing. There are lots of facts but he spends a lot of time trying to build atmosphere as in fiction writing. If you are somewhat unfamiliar with Hollywood at this time, the excess may be helpful, but as this is the third book I've read on the William Desmond Taylor murder, I find it to be aggravating.
Randall Moore
I really enjoyed this book. It's the product of exhaustive research and it shows. Mann recreates a bygone era and the controversies of its time and shows how politics, entertainment and the media intersect with broader social movements and their impact on the nascent movie industry.
A book that's about history should educate and this one does quite handsomely. Mann tells the story of how the movie industry came to be centered in Los Angeles while it was run out of New York, which was where movie
Julie Barrett
I read Mann's biography of William Haines and so was looking forward to reading his take on the unsolved William Desmond Taylor murder. Hmmm. This book starts out saying the unsolved murder is the focus, but it really isn't.

Instead, the book is about Zukor and his attempts to remain in control of the movie industry. It's about the vertical integration of the industry by a few players. It's about their fight with the FTC who claimed anti-trust laws were being violated. It's about the movie indus
Thomas Flowers
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've found history, post school, to be most enjoyable when its told from a storytelling perspective. While still backed by a decent bibliography and notes, Tinseltown sets upon the task of bringing the audience into a world a 100 years in the making. The data provided came across as genuine to the individual stories being told that one way or another connect. While the mystery itself remains "unsolved," the author, William J. Mann offers his personal opinion, references an interesting clue (clew ...more
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Also writes children's books under the pseudonym Geoffrey Huntington.
“All of which goes to prove that there is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it ill behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.” 4 likes
“She knew her mother was likely to blow her top like a geyser in Yosemite National Park, but Mary had stopped giving a damn one way or another.” 1 likes
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