While searching for a solution to the sensational crime, Mann masterfully captures the zeitgeist of Hollywood in its early...



Who killed William Desmond Taylor? More than 90 years after the unsolved murder of the renowned director, film historian and biographer Mann (Hello Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand, 2012, etc.) takes up the cold case.

The result is a gripping true-crime story that encompasses a colorful period in film history. On Feb. 1, 1922, an unknown assailant shot the prominent director in the living room of his Los Angeles apartment. A botched police investigation, false leads, studio coverups, blackmail and a media frenzy ensued. The executives at Famous Players–Lasky, the film studio where Taylor worked, were more concerned about bad publicity than the loss of one of their leading directors. They made haste to collect Taylor’s papers, lest they contain any whiff of scandal (they did), and stored them at the studio, compromising the investigation. The timing couldn’t have been worse with the trials (there were three) of popular comic actor Fatty Arbuckle, who was accused of murdering a young actress, already in the headlines. The studio didn’t want another Hollywood scandal stirring up the public. In this context, Mann seamlessly weaves the details of the murder investigation, witnesses and newspaper accounts into the rich history of early film. The author also profiles movie power brokers, including Adolph Zukor, who founded and built the mighty Paramount. Like the movies, the story has its beauties. Mabel Normand, a comedic star who had returned to the screen after kicking a cocaine habit, was Taylor’s longtime friend and became a suspect due to her past associations with drug dealers. Mary Miles Minter, a teenage starlet, was obsessed with Taylor to the point of stalking him. Margaret Gibson (aka Patricia Palmer), an actress on the fringe who knew Taylor when they were both starting out in the movies, associated with petty criminals involved in scams and blackmailing schemes.

While searching for a solution to the sensational crime, Mann masterfully captures the zeitgeist of Hollywood in its early days.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0062242167

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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