Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
New York Times Bestseller • Edgar Award winner for Best Fact Crime
Edgar Allan Poe 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.
“Film historian William J. Mann offers Tinseltown, a sprawling, deliciously decadent recounting of (and possible solution to) one of Hollywood’s legendary unsolved mysteries, the 1922 killing of director William Desmond Taylor. Mann’s propulsive, gripping history scours the underside of movieland to cover a pulpy terrain of contraband booze, organized blackmail, bunco schemes and “white slavery.” Tinseltown is entertaining enough to feel illicit, but its reporting makes it an essential addition to any respectable bookshelf of L.A. history. Mann seamlessly draws together material from recently released FBI files, police reports, telegrams and newspapers.”
— Los Angeles Times
“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.”
— Rex Reed
“An endlessly fascinating examination of one of Hollywood’s most infamous unsolved crimes… Mann believes he has solved the case. And, after finishing this book, I think he’s right!”
— Liz Smith
“A dazzling reimagining of a fabled time.”
— John Buntin, author of LA Noir
“A stellar and gripping true-crime narrative . . . Mann has crafted what is likely to be a true-crime classic.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Mann seamlessly weaves the details of the murder investigation, witnesses and newspaper accounts into the rich history of early film [and] captures the zeitgeist of Hollywood in its early days.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“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.”
— Patrick McGilligan, author of Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light