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

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

3.8 13
by William J. Mann
     
 

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New York Times Bestseller

Edgar Award winner for Best Fact Crime

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

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Overview

New York Times Bestseller

Edgar Award winner for Best Fact Crime

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 had a medium possessed such power to influence. Yet Hollywood’s glittering ascendency was threatened by a string of headline-grabbing tragedies—including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a legendary crime that has remained unsolved until now.

In a fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to unpack the story of the enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him—including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; a grasping stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet. And overseeing this entire landscape of intrigue was Adolph Zukor, the brilliant and ruthless founder of Paramount, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly-minted legends and starlets already past their prime—a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.

A true story recreated with the suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a storyteller at the peak of his powers—and the solution to a crime that has stumped detectives and historians for nearly a century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/04/2014
Many readers will come away from this stellar and gripping true-crime narrative utterly convinced by Mann's solution to the unsolved 1922 gunshot murder of William Desmond Taylor, president of the Motion Pictures Directors Association, in Hollywood. Mann (Hello, Gorgeous: Becoming Barbra Streisand) hooks the reader from the start, describing the discovery of Taylor's corpse by his valet in a prologue that reads like fiction. The author then provides the backstory with an engrossing and comprehensive look at the birth of the motion picture industry and the highs and lows it faced in the early 1920s, including the economic downturn of 1920–1921 and increasing efforts to censor its productions. Mann weaves these dynamics into the portrayals of Taylor and other key players, including movie baron Adolph Zukor, and three actresses, all of who become suspects in the crime. With a gift for evocative phrasing (one figure is described as having a face like a "living mug shot"), Mann has crafted what is likely to be a true-crime classic. Agent: Malaga Baldi, Baldi Agency. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-08-19
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.
Out Magazine
“Mann spins this yarn with all the suspense and intrigue of a Dashiell Hammett novel. From beginning to end, the engrossing true tale will keep you guessing.”
Liz Smith
“If you love a good mystery and vintage Hollywood lore-which doesn’t read much differently than current Hollywood lore-I recommend Tinseltown without reservation.”
Living Read Girl
“For folks interested in true crime and the heyday of Hollywood, this book is a match made in a rather sinister version of heaven.”
Rex Reed
“Sex! Drama! Scandal! If you have the slightest curiosity about the dark purple scars of Hollywood history, this is the go-to book you cannot miss. . . Epic and fabulous—every page is haunting, every chapter a film noir. I was up all night.”
Patrick McGilligan
“William Mann fires on all cylinders in this fascinating real-life crime story that has stumped film fans since 1922. A page-turner with incredible research and prose double-boiled, Tinseltown is a whodunit tour de force, revealing the dark heart of Hollywood.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Mann’s call sheet of colorful characters is so richly painted, they not only make the Roaring ‘20s come to life, they’re so bizarre they seem like they could only exist in a movie.”
McClatchy News Service
“Tinseltown is an immensely enjoyable read as a recreation of a murder, and a fascinating time [and] place.”
Connecticut Post
A lucid solution to the crime that feels almost as airtight as the final chapter of an Agatha Christie mystery.”
Washington Post
“Mann tells his story expertly . . . When it’s all over, Mann has argued so ably for his killer-candidate that he finally may have put this controversy to rest.”
Daily Beast
“The book is so evocatively written, right down to the weather, characters’ glances, and what they are feeling, . .. [and] seductively cinematic . . . should be made into a film itself.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Tinseltown is entertaining enough to feel illicit, but its reporting makes it an essential addition to any respectable bookshelf of L.A. history.”
TCM.com
“Author William J. Mann paints a striking portrait of Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties--a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly-minted legends and starlets already past their prime; a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.”
Wall Street Journal
Tinseltown does a fine job of parceling out its complex plot, and its author brings early Hollywood to life with the flair of a popular historian.”
Booklist
“A gripping true-crime narrative. . . . Mann expertly juggles the various threads of the narrative to a satisfying conclusion that is sure to please both true-crime and film-history enthusiasts.”
The Best Books of 2014 NPR
“[Mann] brings the early days of the movie industry to sparkling life on the page, whether he’s evoking Los Angeles’ demimonde or explaining how the era’s scandals drove the film industry toward protectionism in the face of morality campaigns.”
Choire Sicha
“Mann’s got the goods . . . Tinseltown may well be the most completist murder mystery of all time.”
Library Journal
10/15/2014
Hard-core old-movie heads and Hollywood true crime fans know about the 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor (formerly William Deane Tanner), which remains unsolved 90 years after the crime. "Hollywood chronicler" Mann (Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910–1969) posits his own theories about whodunit in this overwritten, overlong title. The breathless writing style conjures scandal rags of the past, but the staggering succession of cliff-hanger chapter endings and one-sentence paragraphs, along with the many leaps of faith and major conjecture, become tiring rather quickly. However, Mann's thorough examination of the many suspects and the (always intriguing) underbelly of Hollywood at the time are done well. The author's seemingly intense personal dislike of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor grates a bit, but the chapters about "movie czar" Will H. Hays, who was hired by the studios to sanitize the industry after so many scandals, shine a new light on the man and his work. While Mann claims to have solved the case, his conclusions are unconvincing; however, his characterization of Tinseltown and its denizens is flavorful. VERDICT Fans of historical true crime and those who enjoy Old Hollywood gossip will like this title, which could spur the curious to further research of the Taylor case.—Liz French, Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062242167
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/14/2014
Pages:
480
Sales rank:
85,171
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.70(d)

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