William Desmond Taylor
April 26, 1872 - February 1, 1922
Actor and Director
His murder in 1922 would cause a newspaper sensation and force an early Hollywood film industry to, once again, defend itself against growing suspicions by the American public that the enclave of movie people was nothing but a den of iniquity.
Born as William Cunningham Deane-Tanner in Carlow, Ireland, William Desmond Taylor sailed to America when he was 18 years old. He would marry Ethel May Hamilton within a year. She was a part time actress, under the name Ethel May Harrison, as a member of the "Florodora Sextette". William Deane-Tanner had worked briefly as an actor when he arrived at America's shores, and it's very likely that he met his future wife in the theatre district.
His new father-in-law was a wealthy Wall Street Broker, and provided the financial help for Tanner to start an antique business. By known accounts it was a successful enough business, until Tanner disappeared in 1908 following an affair with a married woman. William Deane-Tanner would leave behind the business, his wife and a daughter, Ethel Daisy. His family had thought he had wondered off during an episode of aphasia.
It was sometime during the next few years that he changed his name to William Desmond Taylor and wound up in Hollywood, first (known)appearing as an actor in "The Counterfeiter" (1913). He was a pretty successful on the big screen, and would wind up directing his first film within a year. Equally successful as a director, William Desmond Taylor would work with the biggest names in Hollywood, including Mary Pickford, Wallace Reid, Dustin Farnum and, of course, Mary Miles Minter.
William Desmond Taylor took brief leave of Hollywood near the end of World War I when he enlisted in the British Army. A private, at the age of 46, he would find himself promoted to a lieutenant within a year and was stationed in Dunkirk as a member of the Royal Army Service Corps of the Expeditionary Forces Canteen Service.
At the war's conclusion, William Desmond Taylor returned to Hollywood where he was made President of the Motion Picture Directors Association and resumed his career behind the camera's at Paramount. By this time, his former wife was aware of Taylor's career in Hollywood having seen him on the screen with their daughter. Ethel May had remarried to Edward L.C. Robins who owned Delmonico's, the famed New York restaurant. William Desmond Taylor would visit his daughter, Ethel Daisy, in 1921 and made her his legal heir.
It was at 7:30 AM on February 2, 1922, that the body of William Desmond Taylor was discovered in his bungalow at 404-B South Alvarado St. in downtown Los Angeles. As a crowd stood around the body, a mysterious doctor arrived and after a brief examination declared that William Desmond Taylor had died of a stomach hemmorage. The doctor disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. It was a short time later that Taylor's body was rolled over and the discovery made of a bullet wound. William Desmond Taylor, successful Hollywood actor, director and producer, was dead at 49 years old from a gunshot wound to the back.