A Cast of Killers
A Cast of Killers by Sidney D Kirkpatrick.
(book 2 for RIP)
Publisher: 1986 Dutton, NY, 1st edition (1986)
King Vidor was a legendary film director largely forgotten by Hollywood at the time of his death. Sydney Kirkpatrick came to Vidor's home after his death to research a well deserved biography but instead discovered a buried box full of dynamite. In the box were notes for a planned project which was to be the director's comeback film. But the explosive nature of his findings had prompted Vidor to bury it, literally.
This book is based on what Kirkpatrick found in that box. It is full of mystery and murder, love and lust, and in the end, sadness at the solving of one of the most famous and sensational scandals in the history of tinsletown. It is a mesmerizing journey into the early days of Hollywood and the lengths it would go to to cover up its secrets.
In 1922 the murder of director William Desmond Taylor was so filled with scandal it ruined careers and nearly destroyed Hollywood. If the absolute truth had been known, it might have. King Vidor had been a part of this Hollywood in its formative years and planned to make his comeback film by telling the story of it. Kirkpatrick could have turned this into a pulp type expose but instead, and to his credit, takes a respectful and nostalgic tone, both for Vidor and a time gone by. He uses Vidor's notes and findings to let this murder mystery unfold just as it did for Vidor.
For every film buff with a fascination for old Hollywood this is a book you can't put down. It is juicy but never tawdry, Vidor sifting through the misinformation of Hollywood and the corruption of the police to slowly get a picture of the truth he himself couldn't yet tell because some of the players were still alive. The homicide and the aftermath is filled with names like Mabel Normand, Alan Dwan, James Kirkwood, Gloria Swanson, Claire Windsor, and Charlette Shelby and her waif like daughter Mary Miles Minter, an early rival of Mary Pickford.
Well.. this I consider a real “who done it” story!
This would be the second book about a true Hollywood murder that I’ve read. The first being The Black Dahlia. When I found this book at a thrift shop and read the flap that it was a real murder mystery and it happened in early Hollywood, I figured I would give it a go, since I do enjoy reading about the early days in Hollywood.
The book was very straight forward, of Vidor researching information on a long ago unsolved murder for the possibility of turning it into a movie. The more information (or lack of) that he came up against just made him that more determined to keep on searching.
Naturally, in the beginning there were more questions than answers. Somewhere along the way you begin having your own theories but proof was the thing Vidor had the hardest time finding. Many involved in the old murder where dead, and others would only produce hints and not facts.
I enjoyed this book very much. Fast reading. Always ready for the next chapter or two to see what is, or is not, uncovered.
Most of the people involved were not names that jumped out at me, but it didn’t make the story any less interesting. It does leave one with the thoughts that an old saying that has been around for ages may have some truth to it… that with enough money you can get away with murder.