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

DEDICATION

FOR MY FATHER, WILLIAM H. MANN, 1925–2013

EPIGRAPH

There’s something wrong at Hollywood

The cause, O let us seek!

There’s something wrong at Hollywood

No scandal yet this week.


LOUISVILLE
(
KY
)
TIMES
,
February 22, 1922

CONTENTS

DEDICATION

EPIGRAPH

PREAMBLE TO INTRIGUE

PROLOGUE: A COLD MORNING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Part One:
SUSPECTS, MOTIVES, AND CIRCUMSTANCES

Chapter 1
      
A MAN CALLED CREEPY

Chapter 2
      
BABYLON

Chapter 3
      
THREE DESPERATE DAMES

Chapter 4
      
THE ORATOR

Chapter 5
      
A RACE TO THE TOP

Chapter 6
      
MABEL

Chapter 7
      
GIBBY

Chapter 8
      
MARY

Chapter 9
      
RIVALS AND THREATS

Chapter 10
    
GOOD-TIME GIRL

Chapter 11
    
LOCUSTS

Chapter 12
    
THE MADDEST WOMAN

Chapter 13
    
IMPUDENT THINGS

Chapter 14
    
DOPE FIENDS

Chapter 15
    
GREATER THAN LOVE

Chapter 16
    
THE SEX THRILL

Chapter 17
    
PRYING EYES

Chapter 18
    
SO THIS IS WHAT IS GOING ON

Chapter 19
    
FIVE THOUSAND FEET OF IMMORALITY

Chapter 20
    
BUNCO BABE

Chapter 21
    
AMONG THE LIONS

Chapter 22
    
DEPRAVITY

Chapter 23
    
QUESTIONS OF LOYALTY

Chapter 24
    
A CLUSTER OF CALAMITIES

Chapter 25
    
A PRODUCT OF THE GUTTERS

Chapter 26
    
RIDING FOR A FALL

Chapter 27
    
BAD CHECKS

Chapter 28
    
THE HIGHEST POSSIBLE STANDARDS

Chapter 29
    
ON EDGE

Chapter 30
    
A WORK SO IMPORTANT

Chapter 31
    
A GHASTLY STRAIN

Chapter 32
    
A HOUSE IN THE HILLS

Chapter 33
    
LAST DAY

Chapter 34
    
A SHOT

Part Two:
HUNTING, HUSTLING, AND HIDING

Chapter 35
    
THE DEAD MAN ON THE FLOOR

Chapter 36
    
REACTIONS

Chapter 37
    
KING OF THE COPS

Chapter 38
    
THE MORAL FAILURES OF ONE CONCERN

Chapter 39
    
“DO YOU THINK THAT I KILLED MR. TAYLOR?”

Chapter 40
    
POWDER BURNS

Chapter 41
    
EVIDENCE FOUND

Chapter 42
    
DAMES EVEN MORE DESPERATE

Chapter 43
    
THE NEED FOR VIGILANCE

Chapter 44
    
TAKING HIM FOR A FOOL

Chapter 45
    
MR. HAYS GOES TO WORK

Chapter 46
    
THE MORBIDLY CURIOUS

Chapter 47
    
HER OWN BOSS

Chapter 48
    
NO TIME TO TALK

Chapter 49
    
A GREAT INJUSTICE HAS BEEN DONE

Chapter 50
    
A QUESTION OF MOTIVES

Chapter 51
    
A COMPANY OF OUTLAWS

Chapter 52
    
THE SAVIOR

Chapter 53
    
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

Chapter 54
    
THE SPIRITS SPEAK

Chapter 55
    
LAST CHANCE

Chapter 56
    
EVIDENCE MISSING

Chapter 57
    
TRIGGER HAPPY

Chapter 58
    
A COLD-BLOODED BUSINESS

Chapter 59
    
NO HAPPY ENDINGS

Chapter 60
    
RAISING CAPITAL

Chapter 61
    
A NEW MAN ON THE JOB

Chapter 62
    
UNFAIR COMPETITION

Chapter 63
    
TRAPPED LIKE RATS

Chapter 64
    
COMING OUT OF HIDING

Chapter 65
    
THE END OF THE ROAD

Chapter 66
    
READJUSTMENTS

Chapter 67
    
UNEXPECTED DEVELOPMENTS

Chapter 68
    
MANHUNT

Part Three:
CLOSING THE CASE

Chapter 69
    
THREE DAMES NO LONGER SO DESPERATE

Chapter 70
    
END OF AN ERA

Chapter 71
    
“WE ARE MAKING REAL PROGRESS”

EPILOGUE: A CONFESSION

WHAT HAPPENED TO EVERYONE ELSE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

NOTES

INDEX

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PHOTOGRAPHIC INSERT

ALSO BY WILLIAM J. MANN

CREDITS

COPYRIGHT

ABOUT THE PUBLISHER

PREAMBLE TO INTRIGUE

This is the story of a murder, of a single soft-nosed bullet that traveled upward through a man’s rib cage, piercing his lung and lodging in his neck, after being fired by an unknown assailant ninety-two years ago on a cold Los Angeles night.

This is also the story of three beautiful, ambitious women, all of whom loved the victim and any of whom might have been his killer, or the reason he was killed. It is also the story of one very powerful man, who saw the future of a very profitable industry hanging in the balance and kept the truth about the murder obscured and camouflaged for nearly a century.

In many ways, this is also the story of the American dream factory, which was just being born in 1920—a time when the movies were still young and their power still taking people by surprise. It is the story of the clash between old and new, between tradition and innovation, between those who would have censored the movies and their facility to spread new ideas and those who were determined to bring about a new world of freedom, technology, power, and illusion.

I have not fictionalized these events. All scenes described come from primary sources: letters, telegrams, police reports, production records, FBI files, and contemporary news accounts. Nothing has been created for the sake of enhancing the drama, and I do not venture unbidden into the minds of my subjects. When I write “How terribly she missed him” or “Zukor seethed,” these descriptions are based on interviews or memoirs by the subject in question, wherein such feelings, attitudes, or motivations were disclosed or can be deduced. Anything within quotations comes from direct sources. Full citations can be found in the notes.

And in a nod to 1920s orthography,
clue
is herein spelled
clew
.

—WJM, New York

PROLOGUE

 

 

A COLD MORNING IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

FEBRUARY 2, 1922

6:20 A.M.

Headlights punctured the early-morning darkness of the coastal highway between Los Angeles and Ventura. As the Pacific Ocean crashed against the beach, a solitary motorcar sped up the highway in the northbound lane.

Streaks of pink lightened the sky as
the vehicle emerged from the shadows—an expensive touring car, its leather top folded down. Traveling at a dizzying speed—perhaps as fast as sixty miles an hour—the car likely originated in Los Angeles, where such flashy automobiles were popular among the movie people.

By the time it reached Ventura, the roadster was thirsty for fuel. As the sun peeked above the treetops of the coniferous forest surrounding the little town, the vehicle pulled off the highway and into a filling station. Dozing inside his office, the attendant opened his eyes to spot a shiny car idling beside the pumps. He was surprised to see that the driver was a woman, and a beautiful one at that, wearing an evening dress and a fur coat. Her hair was in disarray from the wind.

“Give me all the gasoline and oil my car will take,” the woman told the attendant when he hurried to her side. Her face was pale and drawn, and the attendant saw her biting at the fingertips of her gloves. As he filled the car’s tank, he thought the woman seemed “anxious and restless to be on her way.”

Having paid with a bill, the driver screeched out of the station without waiting for change. The attendant stared after her. The incident was unusual enough that he made a mental note of all the details, just in case someone came asking.

Someone would.

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