Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

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Tinseltown

There are many keywords that will lead any reader to pick up a book. For me, the list seems a bit endless with history, murder, and classic or silent Hollywood somewhere near the top and that is why when I saw Tinseltown on the Harper’s upcoming books I did a wee bit of a jig.   Being a reformed classic movie junkie and having a festering obsession with John Barrymore (really, I have photos and trading cards of him on my walls) this was a great fit with the other books on my shelf covering this very same subject- the murder of William Desmond Taylor. {insert ominous da, da, da, dum}

Taylor and Jack the Ripper have quite a bit in common; both unsolved, everyone has a theory, pre-modern forensic science, evidence gone missing, and even their own exhaustive websites with information and groupies. Taylor’s murder has something that I don’t see the Ripper as having, it happened at the same time as the birth of Hollywood, which was arguably the the major cultural and entertainment powerhouse of the 20th century.

What is slightly different in Mann’s take on the case is that he comes to the conclusion that the culprit was someone that, while a suspect in most treatments, has not been confidently fingered before, there is a lot more talk of drug use, it’s the most complete picture of Paramount mogul Adolph Zuckor that I have ever read, and he makes many interesting word choices throughout.

A friend reminded me the other day that if there is no controversy of some sort or one can’t be created, the media will not cover it and that really applies to Tinseltown. Mann give the impression that every single person tangentially related to Hollywood had major skeletons in their closets and 99% of them had to do with drugs. Now, I wasn’t there and it was the wild 20’s and yet, I am not a fan of painting an entire industry or time period as drug and sex-crazed.  You might be tempted to throw the 60’s at me after reading that, but do you really think that everyone…your parents or grandparents, if you are younger, were out “turning on, tuning in, or dropping out”? I didn’t think so.

Zuckor? That was probably the most well done part of the book. It will leave feeling grateful for never having worked for the man and perhaps, insight into characteristics were almost vital to have in order to become the leader in many business at the time. His life is the embodiment of immigrant success that makes America great and also proves, yet again, that one doesn’t necessarily have to be likable to succeed.

Word choices? This was interesting and while I need to make note of it, I also need to mention that I have lately been on a lot of rants about this from authors and copywriters in general.  His use of words like clew and athwart might not sound to you like the nails on a chalkboard that they were for me. Think of this as a big case of it’s not Mann, it’s me.

His fingering a culprit? Like the Ripper, there have been so many theories that it is really hard to separate the wheat from the chafe. It’s completely possible and still unable to move beyond reasonable doubt for me based on the few facts that are left.

Tinseltown is like the 1920’s and Hollywood was, one heck of a ride. So much has been written about the murder that I really don’t have a favorite book in the race. If the case is new to you and you don’t have any pre-conceived notions, this wouldn’t be a bad choice and would treat you to a fair amount of somewhat unrelated Hollywood history, which is nice. Like the Ripper, the chance of fingering the dastardly murderer and pleasing everyone at this point are akin to finding a victim’s bloody sweater with DNA on it over a hundred years later. Oh…wait…that’s been done…and debunked. (My family has passed down many things, nothing as strange as a bloody sweater though. Seriously, not one generation thought it weird?)

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

by William J. Mann

  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (October 14, 2014)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

Much Like Gwen's Signature

Tinseltown fell into my hands like manna from heaven from HarperCollins. As always, the gift has no effect on my personal thoughts regarding the book. 

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One Response to Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

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