Birthday: April 26, 1872
Nationality: American, Irish
Died At Age: 49
Sun Sign: Taurus
Born Country: Ireland
Born in: Carlow
Famous as: Actor, Director
Spouse/Ex-: Ethel May Harrison, George Hopkins
father: Kearns Deane-Tanner
mother: Jane Deane-Tanner
siblings: Daisy Deane-Tanner, Denis Gage Deane-Tanner, Nell Deane-Tanner, Oswald Kearns Deane-Tanner
children: Ethel Daisy Tanner
Died on: February 1, 1922
place of death: Los Angeles
Who was William Desmond Taylor?
William Desmond Taylor, as he is popularly known as, was born as William Cunningham Deane-Tanner in Carlow, Ireland. Since an early age, he showed an interest in filmmaking and acting. Though he did take up stage acting for sometime early in his career, he gave up the same to run an English Antique shop set by his father in law. However, suffering from mental lapses, he suddenly vanished one morning and was later found working as an actor and director in Hollywood. In his almost a decade of film career, he acted in various movies and directed about 60-odd films. Some of his most famous directorial ventures include, ‘The Diamond From the Sky’, ‘Tom Sawyer’, ‘How Could You, Jean?’, ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’. He even served in World War I but before he could be transferred to France, the war came to an end. Just like his sudden disappearance in 1908, his death was also unexpected and abrupt. He was murdered at his home on February 1, 1922. Though there were numerous names that were laid out as suspects, his murderer could not be found.
Childhood & Early Life
William Desmond Taylor was born on April 26, 1872 as William Cunningham Deane-Tanner to Major Kearns Deane-Tanner and his wife, Jane. His father was a retired British Army officer.
Coming from an Anglo-Irish descent, young William was the third child of the four children born to the couple. The family moved to Dublin after his birth.
During his teenage, he failed to pass a test in the military which stopped him from entering the army, much to the disappointment of his retired dad. As a result, he was sent off to a reform school.
In 1890, he sailed to America and briefly pursued a career as a stage actor in New York. With financial assistance from his father-in-law, he set up English Antiques Shop in New York.
He gained a respectable position in the New York society and was well-admired by the people, but this did not last long as he vanished suddenly on October 23, 1908 following an affair with a married woman.
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In December 1912, he was spotted with a changed name, William Desmond Taylor, working in Hollywood as an actor. He first showed up at the Inceville, the city of motion picture sets.
In the next couple of years, he was seen in the Kay-Bee Studios production ‘The Iconoclast’ and ‘Counterfeiters’. In his spare time, he indulged in briefing himself about the various stages of filmmaking. As an actor, he was four times cast opposite Margaret ‘Gibby’ Gibson.
It was in 1914 that he first got a chance to display his skills and proficiency behind the camera. Much in contrast to the present day, back in those days it was crucial for a man to be equipped both as an actor and director than to hire two men to do the same thing.
His debut film as a director released in 1914 titled ‘The Awakening’. Ever since its release, he directed more than fifty films, each of which displayed his proficiency both behind and in front of the camera.
In 1917, he was offered a character role in the film, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. The film exposed his awareness about arts and literature, an ability that was unknown of him to possess. Thus, he served as a resourceful actor during the filming of the movie.
He moved up the ladder of success directing top-notch actors such as Dustin Farnum, George Beban, Kathlyn Williams, Constance Talmadge and so on. He was even offered to direct movie of ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’.
While some of his films bombed at the box office, earning bad reviews critically such as ‘Ben Blair’, there were others which fared average like ‘The Last Chapter’ and still others that did outstanding business and were well appreciated by all like ‘The American Beauty’.
Towards the end of World War I, he was drafted in Canadian Expeditionary Force in July 1918. After four months of gruelling training schedule at Fort Edward, Nova Scotia, he sailed from Halifax along with five hundred Canadian soldiers.
The troop transport arrived at Hounslow Barracks, London. Therein, he was assigned to the Royal Army Service Corps of the Expeditionary Forces Canteen Service stationed at Dunkirk. No sooner than in 1919, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.
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In April 1919, he gained the rank of Major Taylor, Company D, Royal Fusiliers at Berguet, France. A couple of weeks later, he was relieved from his service from the Army.
Returning to Los Angeles, he resumed a normal life, gaining his first directorial venture after war, titled, ‘Anne of Green Gables’. It was during this time that he directed some of the most prominent stars in Hollywood.
Personal Life & Legacy
He went into the wedlock with Ethel May Harrison, the daughter of a New York stockbroker on December 7, 1901. The couple was blessed with a daughter, Ethel Daisy two years later.
Following his abrupt disappearance on October 23, 1908, Harrison legally sought for divorce in 1912.
From 1914 until 1919, he was in a serious relationship with actress Neva Gerber, who he had met during the filming of ‘The Awakening’.
Towards the end of 1910s, Harrison became aware of her ex-husband’s existence. It was while watching the film, ‘Captain Alvarez’ that she introduced young Ethel to her father.
In 1921, he visited her and young Ethel Daisy whom he made his legal heir.
On the morning of 2 February 1922, his body was retrieved from his bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments in the Westlake Park area of downtown Los Angeles. Though initially stomach haemorrhage was declared as the potential cause of death, in the later forensic examinations, it was found that he was shot dead from a small calibre pistol.
The investigation of his murder continued for several days with as many as seven suspects and witnessed jotted down. The purpose of the murder mostly zeroed on robbery as an undetermined sum of cash which Taylor had shown to his accountant the day before was missing and apparently never accounted for. He was suspected to have died on the eve of February 1, 1922.
His funeral was organized on February 7, 1922 at St. Paul's Pro-Cathedral. Though he did not fully take part in the war as a peace resolution was signed before he could leave for France, his casket was nevertheless draped with a Union Jack and buried with full military honours
He was interred in a mausoleum at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.
One of the noted actor-directors of Hollywood of the 1910 decade, he directed more than 60 movies, including, ‘The Awakening’ and ‘Anne of Green Gables’.