I don’t know why I am drawn to this story, I’m not the type who cares much about the trials and tribulations of celebrities; perhaps it is because it is about a person who appeared to have so much in life but came to have such a sad ending. I have always been a fan of silent films and I first became aware of this story many years ago. In an article about the early history of Hollywood I came across a picture of Mary Miles Minter. It was a glamour shot of the type that stars even today pose for, and she was this pretty young girl looking demurely at the camera; but something in her expression struck me. The caption told how she was a great rival of Mary Pickford and how she was a suspect in the murder of one of Hollywood’s earliest star directors, William Desmond Taylor.
There have been volumes written about William Desmond Taylor’s murder over the years; most of it inaccurate, some of it blatantly wrong, a little of it flat out ridiculous. The list of potential suspects is a lengthy one and given the age of the crime, and that all of the principals are now long dead it is unlikely that we will ever know who killed the man. At any rate I do not endeavor here to even make a guess about who the murderer was. Instead I want to tell Mary’s story, a story that became lost in the salacious reporting of the murder in the Hollywood press.
In this tale we find comparisons with today’s child performers who, in spite of the myriad of laws and oversight designed to protect them, often end up headed down much the same road. Some of these modern child stars grow up to be strong, intelligent, well-adjusted adults who lead successful personal and professional lives. Some fade into obscurity, carrying the deep emotional scars of a lost childhood; and far too many fall into the abyss of addiction, mental illness, and personal tragedy. As their fame devolves into notoriety, their declines unfold before us in the pages of tabloid magazines and reality television. While Mary’s story is similar to those in many ways, hers has one significant difference. Most child stars are encouraged to maintain their façade of childhood for as long as possible, never being allowed to grow up as it were. Mary Miles Minter was forced to pretend to be an adult while she was still a child.
Mary Miles Minter was born Juliet Reilly in Shreveport, Louisiana on April 1, 1902, the second daughter of J. Homer Reilly and Lily Pearl Miles Reilly. In those days Louisiana did not keep birth certificates and instead relied on what was known as a “Caddo Record”, a book of births and deaths maintained in each parish. The record does not list her given name; it only indicates that a baby girl was born to the Reilly family on April 1, 1902, and even at that, the surname is misspelled. Homer was not extremely wealthy, but he was well off enough that he did not have to work. Lily’s family was from old Louisiana money and felt that she had perhaps married beneath her station in life. This could not help but cause tension in the household and partially to escape it Homer moved his young family from Shreveport to Dallas, Texas sometime in 1904 or 1905.
Lily had aspirations to become an actress that did not sit well with Juliet’s father and eventually the disagreement resulted in a separation. Lily left Dallas for New York, taking Juliet and her older sister Margaret with her. Homer was a traditional southern man and thought that a profession in the theater was something less than savory. He refused to allow his family name to be associated with it, so Lily took the stage name Charlotte Shelby and also renamed her two daughters, calling them Margaret Shelby and Juliet Shelby. This represented a break from her father for little Juliet and as far as is known, she never saw or spoke to him again after the divorce and this arguably had a significant influence on future events in her life.
In New York Charlotte began auditioning at theaters around town and occasionally got small parts. At the same time she attempted to find work for her older daughter Margaret. The Frohman Brothers were producing a new play, Cameo Kirby, and Charlotte had brought Margaret to audition for the role of Toinette, Cameo Kirby’s daughter. Juliet was five years old at the time and there was no one to watch her so she was brought along. There are varying versions of the story, but as told to an interviewer in 1919, the babysitter had cancelled at the last minute and Juliet had been playing in the street in front of her apartment house. Anxious to be on time, Charlotte brought Juliet along, even though she was dirty and wearing an old dress. Told to stay in a corner and be quiet, she hid behind a chair as Arnold Daly, the director, came into the room to inspect the girls who were there to audition. Daly had a large nose and when Juliet saw it she shouted out that it looked funny. Daly then walked up to her and announced that this was the child he wanted for the part. As told in the interview the story is probably somewhat embellished but in every version the key facts are there. Charlotte had brought Margaret to audition for the part, Juliet had been brought along out of necessity, and the part was given to Juliet. This seemingly random incident left Margaret in Juliet’s shadow for the rest of her life.
The Frohman Brothers were the leading stage producers of the era. Chiefly under the guidance of youngest brother Charles, they owned or controlled over 200 theaters throughout the United States and the United Kingdom. Charles Frohman had developed what became known as “The Star System” where promoting the actors was as, or even more important than promoting the productions. “Little Juliet Shelby” became a part of this system and while Charlotte and Margaret achieved some minor successes Juliet’s career grew by leaps and bounds. Under the tutelage of Charles Frohman she had by 1911, become one of the most successful child actors in the history of the New York stage. As Juliet’s career grew Charlotte stopped actively seeking roles for herself and devoted most of her energies to promoting her youngest daughter.
In 1912 Juliet was cast in her first film The Nurse. It does not appear that Charlotte’s intention was for Juliet to become a film actress, but rather to use the appearance as a means of further advancing her stage career. Movies had only just evolved from nickelodeons where only one or two people at a time could view them, to projection theaters where large audiences could watch them accompanied by live music. At the same time motion pictures went from simple one reel shorts of everyday events, to multi-reel productions with storylines and characters. The novelty of appearing in this new medium provided an instant boost to any stage actor willing to give it a try.
Mary did well in The Nurse although her part was relatively small. By the time this film was made Juliet had been declared to be the “…greatest child actress of the age…” by the theatrical press and the Frohman Brothers formed a theater company around her. For the next three years this company toured the country performing The Littlest Rebel. A play that began life as a skit but Juliet’s performance as Virgie Cary, the child heroine of the story, was so well liked by audiences that it was expanded into a full length production.
While appearing in Chicago Mary’s obvious youth attracted the attention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, also known as the Gerry Society after its founder. Child labor practices were under intense scrutiny at the time in the wake of numerous scandals, mainly in the manufacturing industries; and exposing a high profile case, such as the exploitation of a pretty young girl in a well known play would get a lot of press and advance their cause significantly. They had the power of Illinois Law on their side which made it illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to appear in a professional stage production.
Confronted with the prospect of having the production shut down through the loss of its star performer, Charlotte solved the problem by simply appropriating the birth certificate of a niece who had died several years earlier. Instantly, ten year old Little Juliet Shelby retired from the stage to be replaced by her sixteen year old cousin, Mary Miles Minter. Her mother dressed her in long skirts, makeup and high heels and told people that she was a midget. Because Charlotte presented her to people as her deceased cousin, Juliet effectively no longer existed; and while all little girls enjoy playing dress up, as Mary she was now required to play a role both on stage and in life; there was no opportunity for her to be herself. How this must have affected her emotional and psychological development as she passed into her adolescent years can only be surmised. As Mary put it later she was never able to act the child except on stage. She never had a doll or was allowed to play with toys as any child would because she was supposed to be teenager and had to act like one. Likewise she was unable to form friendships with children her own age, not that there were any around her. Mary’s life was performing, rehearsing, or traveling, always in the company of adults.
By 1914 Mary had outgrown her part in The Littlest Rebel and although she was only 12 years old, she had been a working actress and nearly sole support of her family for six years. The matter of her actual age had become a moot point in any case; it was time to move on to greener pastures. Those pastures as it turned out were in the growing film colony in Los Angeles, California.
What eventually became known as Hollywood was a very different place in 1914 from what it would become in even a few years. In the far west, separated from the oversight and interference of their East Coast backers, the early filmmakers enjoyed an autonomy that simply didn’t exist in the original studios that were located in New York and New Jersey. In a sense it was still the “Wild West” and the fledgling filmmakers were developing a new art form that had proven wildly profitable. Separated from the watchful eye of the money men and the East Coast press, this “colony” developed a certain morally casual attitude about nearly everything that would eventually result in a number of well publicized scandals and countless incidents that were never heard of outside the confines of the film studio. It was into this environment that Charlotte Shelby brought her two young daughters and her insatiable ambition.
Marie Frohman had written a story called The Fairy and the Waif about a young girl who is orphaned when her father is believed to have been killed in the First World War. Originally planning to present it as a stage production, the Frohman brothers instead decided to try their hand at making it into a film. Mary played Viola Drayton, who found herself turned into a household servant after the people who her father trusted to care for her spent his money themselves. She runs away and joins a theater company where she plays a fairy. Brutally treated by the show’s producers she runs from the theater still in costume. Falling asleep in an alleyway she is found by a homeless boy who, thinking she was an actual fairy, saves her from freezing to death. Together they overcome numerous hardships to reach a happy ending when Viola’s father turns out to have not been killed after all. He returns to raise viola and the homeless waif. This was the type of story that Mary was to be cast in many of her films.
Shortly after the release of this picture, Mary learned that Charles Frohman, the producer who had guided her early career and essentially made her the star she was, drowned when the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Ireland. In stories later circulated about him he had helped other passengers evacuate the ship and refused a seat in a lifeboat glibly saying, “What is death but the most beautiful adventure of life?” This was the second time Mary had experienced the sudden loss of a strong male figure and the reports of his actions may have contributed to her fanciful image of older men as heroes.
Her performance in The Fairy and the Waif was well received and it led to her being offered a contract for six films by Metro Studios under Louis B. Mayer. Her first, Always in the Way, was filmed on location in Bermuda and New York. A brief overview of the plot gives an insight into the mindset that these films placed Mary in. In the movie Mary played Dorothy, the daughter of a recently widowed wealthy lawyer who remarries to the proverbial evil stepmother. The stepmother resents Dorothy’s presence, noting that she is “…always in the way…” Dorothy runs away from home and is taken in by missionaries, traveling with them to Africa. As her father searches frantically for her, years pass and Dorothy matures into a beautiful young woman who finds love with handsome John Armstrong. When Dorothy is fifteen her missionary parents are killed by Zulu warriors and she is separated from Armstrong. She eventually finds her way to New York where she faces poverty and adversity but overcomes it by taking a job in a florist’s shop. Armstrong also returns to New York where he meets Dorothy’s father. The two then find Dorothy in the florist shop; the father breaks with the evil stepmother, and they all live happily ever after.
Dorothy as a small girl was played by a four year old child. As soon as the story reaches the point where Dorothy is more than set dressing, Mary takes over the role. In this movie she plays a character that progresses from being a ten year old girl to a twenty year old woman. Mary was actually thirteen at the time.
These two films fairly defined Mary’s early career. She was cast as the ingénue, the beautiful, somewhat naïve, and innocent girl who is beset by the villain of the story, the type known in stagecraft as the cad. In the course of the tale the ingénue narrowly avoids catastrophe until she is finally rescued by the strong male figure, the hero, and the required happy ending ensues. In Mary’s off screen life it almost seems as if a similar scenario was playing out. From the time she was ten Mary lived in a strange emotional and psychological void where she was a young girl who desperately wanted to be a young girl, but she could not because almost everyone in her life was counting on her for their livelihoods. As she grew older she searched for the hero, the one who was going to take her away from all of this to live the simple life out of the harsh glare of the stage lights, but the hero never arrived.
Working under their Colombia Pictures Company, Mary made five more films for Metro and it was apparent to Louis Mayer that he had a potential major star on his hands. He was prepared to offer Mary an extended contract, but it was not to be. Charlotte Shelby had been in talks with The American Film Manufacturing Company even before Mary had completed her last film with Metro. As soon as the sixth and final film was in the can Charlotte Shelby marched into Louis B. Mayer’s office and announced that Mary would be moving on. The abruptness of the departure, and the way in which it was handled so incensed Mayer that he ordered Mary’s last film for Metro, Sally in Our Alley, shelved, later using parts of it including Mary in another film.
The history of the early motion picture industry is very convoluted and not well documented so it is actually somewhat difficult to determine which companies were owned by which companies and who worked for whom at any given time. Much as it does today, the industry had three distinct components, each having a part to play in bringing a film to the public. The production companies actually made the films; the directors and performers worked directly for them. Then there were the studios, these were the holding companies that promoted and distributed the films. There may be several production companies working under a studio at any given time, and a production company might be formed around a particular director, actor, or group of actors. At the time the studios also owned a large percentage of the theaters around the country which helped to ensure that their product would be guaranteed a certain number of screens. Finally there were the investors who provided the money that got the films produced. Most of these people were located on the east coast and cared very little about what went on in the far off west as long as the films were made on time, within budget and of course, made money.
The American Film Manufacturing Company, known as “Flying A” for its winged “A” logo, was unusual in that it had no distribution network of its own, instead relying on Loews Incorporated to handle this end of the business. American was located in Santa Barbara, just up the coast from Los Angeles, and had grown to be a major employer in the small coastal town. Unlike Los Angeles where the filmmakers were considered to be strange visitors, Santa Barbara embraced the newcomers and took them into their community.
The “Studio System” was just evolving and in this system the actors and directors were employees of the Studio, under contract for a set period of time or number of films. The studio took responsibility for promoting its stable of actors and this gave the individual performers no control over how they were portrayed to the public. The studio created an image and the performer was expected to live up to it. This is very different from how it is done today. In the modern system the actors and directors are independent contractors and they themselves hire publicists to create their public images and keep them in the public eye. Those images are still often fabricated; but at least the individuals have control over what the image is.
As an established stage actress Mary was already well known and her success in her first pictures demonstrated that she brought a ready audience with her to film. American planned for her to be their marquee star and to accomplish this they promoted her heavily. The public was not as sophisticated, some would say cynical, as it is today and most of the publicity photos that were released of Mary during her time with American are somewhat laughable to a modern viewer. They were promoting her as “America’s Sweetheart” and staged the photos to enhance that image. In one photo she is shown curled up napping under the tripod of a movie camera while the cameraman cranks away shooting a scene.
Her first film for American was appropriately titled Youth’s Endearing Charm and the publicity department shifted into high gear. Daily press releases and photos were published in all of the movie magazines. The August 1916 edition of Photoplay Art included a special section on American Film and its operations in Santa Barbara. Every actor and director working for American was profiled but Mary received the most coverage, nearly an entire page devoted to her alone. The article referred to Mary as their “…littlest big star…” They also released photos of her, working in a vegetable garden, or surrounded by stacks pictures that she had signed for her fans. This was all part of the image making and like everything in the film business the image and the reality were widely separated.
While performing either on stage or in film is hard work, there is a lot of down time. Mary was constantly traveling to where she was performing or to the locations where she was filming and travel was not as fast as it is today. Surrounded by adults she had almost no chance to associate with people her own age and had no real friends. This was compounded by her mother’s overbearing personality and tendency to keep Mary isolated from other people. She rarely if ever attended school and although she worked with tutors occasionally she was largely self educated, very well read and well spoken. Mary had keen interests in literature, music and philosophy. She spoke fluent French and could talk intelligently on a wide range of subjects, but in her films and in her life she was rarely offered the opportunity to demonstrate that intelligence.
The first six films that she did at American were very successful, so much so that she was being openly compared to Mary Pickford who is still thought of as the biggest female star of the silent era. For her seventh film she was paired with a former actor who had transitioned to be an up and coming director named James Kirkwood. Kirkwood was forty years old in 1916 when he and Mary met to start their first film together Dulcie’s Adventure. The movie got excellent reviews and more importantly generated substantial box office revenues. The powers at American thought they had found the right combination. They were surely aware of Kirkwood’s domestic situation, but didn’t see that as an obstacle to his working with the fresh faced young girl that they were presenting as the picture of youthful virtue.
Silent films were essentially pantomime and the directors took a far more active role in how the actors performed than they do today. To achieve the results that Kirkwood wanted required long hours of rehearsal between the director and his young star to work out exactly how her scenes were to be played. In the course of their work together Mary developed a strong attraction for Kirkwood who also took an active interest in her. On the set they began to engage in ongoing flirtations that outwardly would seem harmless, except that Mary was particularly vulnerable to an assertive older man and Kirkwood was more than willing to take advantage. He began talking to her about the situation with his wife, explaining that they had not been together for years but she would not grant him a divorce. He lamented how sad and lonely he was, playing on the young girl’s sympathies.
Sometime in 1917 when Mary was just fifteen years old Kirkwood took her to an isolated spot outside of Santa Barbara ostensibly to scout locations for an upcoming film. Kirkwood had Mary stand on top of a rock that overlooked the valley below, then he got down on one knee and the forty-one year old man professed his undying love for the fifteen year old girl. The fact that he was still legally married to his first wife notwithstanding, he announced that they were now married in the eyes of God. Kirkwood then consummated the marriage in what even in 1917 was a statutory rape.
Over the next few months the two continued to work together as they engaged in an illicit and illegal affair and perhaps would have gotten away with it except that nature being what it is, Mary became pregnant. She was very small at sixteen, less than five feet two and maybe 110 pounds, so it did not take long before she began to show. Her mother, having no idea what had been going on, thought that she was simply gaining weight and put her on ever more stringent diets to try to keep it under control. Eventually Mary confessed to the affair and her mother realized that a pregnancy, especially under the circumstances of this one, would destroy Mary’s career and their livelihood. Charlotte quickly arranged for Mary to have an abortion and had Kirkwood thrown off of the American Film lot. The statutory rape was never reported to the police and Kirkwood remained free to pursue other young girls.
James Kirkwood was effectively exiled from American Studios but he and Mary continued a secret long distance relationship through letters that were delivered to a stage hand at the studio who then passed them to Mary. This continued for several months until Mary’s mother somehow intercepted one of the letters. She confronted Mary and found other letters from Kirkwood along with Mary’s diary which detailed their affair. Kirkwood’s letters were described as strange, gushing love letters, very strange for a man his age to write to anyone, let alone to a girl nearly thirty years his junior. Hers to him were the letters of a school girl expressing a crush on a favored teacher. As soon as Charlotte Shelby discovered the letters she boarded a train for New York where Kirkwood had gone after being released from American Film. No one knows exactly what the exchange between Shelby and Kirkwood was, but Charlotte returned to Santa Barbara with all of the letters Mary had written to him. These, along with Kirkwood’s writings and the diary, were placed in a safe deposit box where they were to remain for many years. Within a short time Kirkwood married actress Lila Lee who was only a year older than Mary. They had a son, James Kirkwood Jr. who would go on to be a well known Broadway producer. Kirkwood himself saw his directorial career fade quickly but continued to act on stage and in film into the 1950s.
From an emotional standpoint this entire episode had to be devastating. Mary had developed a strong emotional attachment to an older man whom she had looked up to and he had exploited her; although she probably didn’t see it that way at the time. Her mother had torn them apart just as she had torn Mary from her father. On top of this she had to undergo what for a naïve teenage girl was a humiliating and painful operation. Mary had made a total of seven films with Kirkwood and under his guidance had become a major film star, but the emotional price that she paid was high.
Although Kirkwood was gone and the whole affair was effectively swept under the rug, Charlotte Shelby remained furious with American Film’s management over the situation. Mary’s contract with American required her to make a total of 26 films in a period of just over two years. A year into her contract the United States entered the First World War and Mary’s wholesome all-American girl image led to her being tapped to travel the country in Liberty Bond Drives for which she received extensive publicity. The papers of the day talked of her in glowing terms and how she drew large crowds wherever she went. In spite of the extensive travel required by these bond tours, she continued to turn out film after film. Between April of 1917 and November of 1918 she worked in 14 films while touring the country on behalf of the Liberty Bond Program. It was during this time that the Kirkwood affair had occurred and she was understandably distressed by the whole thing. She became temperamental and was described by her new director Lloyd Ingraham as a “…spoiled brat and a terrible actress.” Of course he had no knowledge of what was going on in her life at the time, and probably wasn’t interested anyway. He was just trying to crank out his pictures. During his work with her Mary was frequently absent from the set, which Charlotte Shelby blamed on a toothache, but in reality it was likely a result of the aftermath of the Kirkwood affair. American finally docked her pay for the absences and although Mary was to make another 17 films for American, the relationship was irreparably broken.
In January of 1919 Mary Miles Minter was one of the most popular film stars in America when Mary Pickford, then perhaps the biggest female performer in the industry, decided to depart Paramount to start her own company, United Artists, along with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and her new husband Douglas Fairbanks. When asked who should replace her at Paramount, it is said that she recommended Mary Miles Minter; it was to be a fateful choice.
Charlotte Shelby was approached by Adolph Zukor, the head of Paramount Studios, about the possibility of Mary coming to work for him and offered a four year contract at $1.3 million, an almost unheard of sum in those days. With this lucrative contract in hand Charlotte repeated her earlier performance with Louis B. Mayer and told Samuel Hutchinson that Mary would be leaving American for Paramount.
The American Film Manufacturing Company had lost its biggest star and soon fell into decline. By 1922 it ceased to exist and filmmaking in Santa Barbara came to an end. The people of Santa Barbara took the demise of American particularly hard and even to this day Mary Miles Minter is not well thought of there. A recent book published in the Images of America series about Santa Barbara features a section on American Film and has several pictures of Mary while she was there. The captions do not paint Mary in a good light; hers are the only pictures of an American Film Company actor that point out that they were staged.
Mary was nearly 17, with her blonde hair and striking blue eyes she bore more than a passing resemblance to Mary Pickford. Pickford had built her career playing child roles and had continued to do so into her late twenties. Pickford reveled in playing these parts, it was a formula that worked for her but Zukor and the producers at Paramount realized that Mary was a different type of actress and developed a different plan for Mary Miles Minter.
Adolph Zukor’s Paramount Pictures was a parent company for several production houses that included Famous Players – Lasky, and Goldwyn Studios. Mary was assigned to a new start up under the Paramount banner, Realart Pictures. This may have been a backhanded slap at the departed Pickford-Fairbanks team, intimating that Pickford’s group might be United Artists, but Paramount’s were the “Real” artists. Zukor had his Pickford replacement and to showcase her talent he purchased the rights to a very popular novel series of the time, Anne of Green Gables. The story of Anne Shirley was a good segue for Mary because while she begins the tale as an orphaned child, by the end she becomes the town school mistress and caregiver to her adoptive parents. To direct this film Zukor brought in an established and highly respected director, William Desmond Taylor.
Taylor’s background is characterized by a series of twists and turns, and really has little to do with Mary’s story, it will suffice to note that he was Irish and was about the same age as Mary’s father. He had toured the country with a well known theater troupe, finally settling in New York where he married the daughter of a successful businessman. With the help of his father-in-law Taylor started an antiques business and his impeccable taste and English manners made him a success. He and his wife had a daughter who was about the same age as Mary. Suddenly one day in 1908 he asked an employee to bring him some money from petty cash and then simply left. He abandoned his business, wife and daughter without explanation. After a few years he found his way to Los Angeles where his previous stage experience helped him break into motion pictures. Soon realizing that his real talent lay behind the camera, he became a director and had made a number of successful films before being brought into Realart to direct Mary Miles Minter’s first outing under her new contract.
He took an immediate liking to Mary and while they shot the interiors for Anne in Los Angeles they worked well together as Taylor tried to get the best performance possible out of his young star. In an interview shortly after his death Mary made the point of saying that he was the first person to call her “Miss Minter”, rather than just “Mary”. Unlike nearly everyone else around her and in spite of the constant presence of Charlotte Shelby on the set, he treated her like an adult.
The interior shots complete, the company moved to Dedham, Massachusetts to film the exteriors. When they arrived the weather was atrocious and stayed that way for much of the time. What had been planned for a quick six weeks shoot devolved into a three months long ordeal of periods of abject boredom broken by frenzied work as they tried to complete the scenes between downpours. It was clear that Mary was already infatuated with Taylor by the time they had arrived in Dedham. In an interview she related a story of how she, Taylor, her mother, and her grandmother Julia Miles, were riding together in the back seat of a car on their way to a gathering. As the car bumped along down a rough road the group was being jostled together and Taylor put his arm around Julia to keep her from being bumped against the interior of the car. Mary said that she tugged at his sleeve and he wrapped his other arm around her waist, pulling her close, and then did the same as they returned to their hotel. Her mother was not amused but Mary described this incident as a dream come true for her.
That thought epitomizes the relationship from Mary’s point of view. This was not a woman who was in love with a man. This was an adolescent girl who was fantasizing about being in love with her idealized image of what a man should be. That fantasy was being made all the more intense by the fact that in Taylor she saw all of the things that every other man in her life was not. He was a polite gentleman who held to the outward social mores of Edwardian society. He treated her and every woman he encountered with respect. He was always impeccably dressed, and he was genuinely interested in her as person, not just as a prop in his pictures.
Mary and Taylor only made four films together and all were very successful. While Anne was a very upbeat and wholesome story, her next films took on a somewhat darker tone than the pictures Mary had made at American. In them were implied episodes of sexual molestation, drug abuse and alcoholism by various characters, but never Mary’s. After she was assigned to other directors the films were more lighthearted, usually involving Mary falling in love with a character who was from a wealthy background. The couple has to overcome the social prejudices of her intended’s family but eventually succeeds through some traumatic incident or adventure.
It has been said that Mary’s infatuation with Taylor was the reason that they stopped working together. Who made the request is sometimes said to be Charlotte Shelby, or sometimes to be Taylor himself. It appears that the real reason had nothing to do with Mary’s crush on him. Instead it was because he had been awarded his own company of players and the guarantee that his name would appear above the title in all of his films. Mary had had such billing since going to work for Metro and at that time sharing the headline was just not done.
Despite the severance of their working relationship, their personal one continued. Taylor seems to have had a real affection for Mary, but in a more paternal sense rather than a romantic one. It also appears that over time Mary’s infatuation with Taylor intensified often to his annoyance. Mary wrote him several letters shortly after they finished filming Anne of Green Gables some were simple notes ending with a series of X’s others were extended love letters some written in a schoolyard code that was popular at the time. Like her letters to Kirkwood two years before there is nothing lascivious in these notes. Written on her butterfly monogrammed stationary they are again the gushing idealized thoughts of a school girl. Had she had the opportunity to have some kind of a normal life away from the motion picture set, and to develop normal relationships with people her own age, these energies probably would have been directed in a more emotionally healthy direction. This is borne out by what Mary wrote in one of the coded letters to Taylor. In the letter she described the idyllic life she imagined sharing with him, living in an isolated cabin together, away from the world, discussing how she would keep the house and he would tend the fire. He would have to cook she joked, because she could make only tea.
In several articles and interviews when she first went to work at Paramount Mary made passing references to her isolated childhood, about how she was ever under the watchful eye of her mother. A passage from The Grove Book of Hollywood by Christopher Sylvester describes an incident that underscores this. In it actress Colleen Moore narrates what may have been Mary’s first date:
“I’d never met Mary Miles Minter before, but I began to get an idea of what the studio gossips were talking about. She asked me how old I was and when I said eighteen she said she was seventeen, almost eighteen and tired of being treated as if she were six years old. We had a gay evening. Mary in fact seemed almost too gay. She seemed like a bird released from a cage – laughing, chattering, dancing, her face flushed with excitement. She never stopped. Mickey was amused, the Dixon boy, enchanted. “
Mary had been asked to go to the Cocoanut Grove by Marshall (Mickey) Neilan, a young director who also worked at Paramount. Mary had told her mother that a large group was going, and agreed to take along Thomas Dixon, who was the son of a wealthy manufacturer and old friend of Charlotte’s. This was a disappointment to Mickey, because he thought he was to be Mary’s date, but Mary had invited Dixon because she would not have been allowed to go otherwise. It is likely that this was the first time in her life that Mary had been anywhere when she was not under the control of another person, either her mother or a director. These conditions had to have exacerbated her intense feelings toward any older man who paid her attention.
The nature of the relationship between Mary and Taylor is clouded by contradictory statements, rumors and innuendo, but based on the interviews given by Mary in later years and corroborating statements made by other people, it appears that the relationship was platonic, the unrequited infatuation of a very persistent young girl for an older man. Taylor probably saw in Mary the daughter he had left so many years ago, but that was perhaps the trap. Mary felt his affection and misinterpreted it to be something it was not, to Taylor’s consternation. Finally surrendering to her persistence he may have even offered to marry her as she later told people, setting the condition that they would have to wait until her Paramount contract was complete. As stated by several of his friends, his thinking was that most likely in the three years that remained in her obligation, her love for him would fade and her attentions would be directed to someone more appropriate for her.
Over the ensuing months, in Taylor’s words, “…Mary made a nuisance of herself…” constantly Seeking him out at the studio, writing him letters, and occasionally coming to his home. She had asked him several times to reconsider their agreement to wait, but he always stuck by the arrangement, still hoping that she would tire of waiting and look for someone else.
During this time Mary became more frantic and the conflicts with her mother grew fiercer. One night in 1921, after an all day series of arguments Mary announced that she was going to kill herself. She then locked herself in her room. No one took her seriously until a shot rang out. Rushing to Mary’s room and finding the door locked Charlotte had their chauffer Chauncey Eaton break it in. Eaton, Charlotte, and Margaret entered the room to find the smell of gunpowder and Mary lying face down on the floor, Charlotte’s revolver at her side. Margaret screamed and Mary jumped up laughing as if it was some kind of funny joke. She had discharged the pistol and the bullet had lodged in the frame of her closet door. Whether she intended to kill herself and backed out at the last second or all along intended to put a scare into her mother is unknown, but Charlotte didn’t take any chances. She gave the gun to Eaton who unloaded it and placed it and the ammunition on a high beam in the basement where it would be out of Mary’s easy reach.
The gun was a Smith and Wesson .38 Caliber Short Barrel Revolver that had been given to Charlotte by a friend while Mary was working for American Film in Santa Barbara. That gun and its old fashioned ammunition would become the center of the Hollywood rumor mill in the months to come.
On the night of December 23, 1921 Mary left her bedroom and went to her grandmother’s room to tell her that she was going to see Taylor. Julia advised her that it was late, and for her to go there was not a good idea, but Mary insisted on going, saying that she had written Taylor a letter telling him goodbye. It was past midnight when Mary arrived at Taylor’s home, the details of this encounter vary depending on who his telling the story. Based on the essentials of all of the stories Taylor invited Mary in and she again began to plead with him marry her. He finally bluntly explained to her that he could not marry her even if he wanted to, the difference between their ages was too great and he did not feel that way about her. When it was clear that the conversation was getting nowhere he asked her to leave. She refused and threatened to scream if he tried to make her leave. They continued to talk and he finally persuaded her to go home.
February 1, 1922 started as a quiet day for Mary. She spent the morning at home nursing a case of bronchitis that was aggravated by spending most of the previous day soaking wet. The final scene shot for the movie The Heart Specialist involved Mary’s character being fished out of a well after having been thrown in by the villains of the picture. That afternoon she and her grandmother left the house with the chauffer, Chauncey Eaton, to run some errands. Returning home in time for dinner, she spent the evening entertaining her family and actor Carl Stockdale by reading aloud from a humorous book, The Cruise of the Kawa, finally going to bed at about 11:00PM.
William Desmond Taylor had a busy day that Wednesday. He stopped by the Paramount lot to discuss his next film which was scheduled to begin shooting the following Monday. He had an appointment with his accountant and had planned to spend the evening working on his taxes. Taylor did some shopping, buying among other things a silver hip flask and a watch crystal. He also bought some books, one of which he arranged to have delivered to actress Mabel Normand. In his travels he encountered Mary and her grandmother. They had a brief conversation on the sidewalk, this was possibly the first time he had seen Mary since their December 23rd confrontation. Mary and Taylor exchanged a brief hug and the group parted going their separate ways.
Taylor had a dance lesson that afternoon and he returned home at about 6:00PM where his houseman, Henry Peavey was straightening up and preparing dinner. At about 7:00PM, Mabel stopped by to pick up another book that Taylor had bought for her earlier. As Mabel was coming in, Peavey had just finished the dinner dishes and was leaving for the evening. Mabel spent about 45 minutes in Taylor’s home as they discussed the book. Taylor invited her to stay for a while longer, but she begged off and he accompanied Mabel to her car and waiting chauffer. They had a brief conversation at the curbside, Taylor chided her for the copy of The Police Gazette that was lying on the back seat of her car, and Mabel drove off, blowing a kiss at him. Neither of them realized that in the short period that Taylor was on the sidewalk, someone crept into his house unobserved and was lying in wait.
At about 8:00 PM Taylor’s neighbor Faith MacLean heard a loud pop that she and her husband Douglas thought was a car backfiring. A few minutes later Faith went to her front door and saw a small stocky man, oddly dressed, leaving Taylor’s house. When he saw her watching, the man leaned back into the doorway as if saying goodbye to Taylor, he then pulled the door closed and walked off down the street. Faith thought little of it and went back to her knitting.
The next morning everyone in Alvarado Court was awakened by the sound of Henry Peavey hysterically screaming out in the courtyard. Douglas MacLean went into Taylor’s home to find him stretched out on the living room floor. He was lying on his back with his feet under the desk chair and his arms at his sides. He was obviously dead, but there was no apparent reason why. A crowd gathered in the small apartment before the police arrived and a pair of men, Charles Eyton, General Manager of Famous Players – Lasky, and Harry Fellows, Taylor’s assistant director, came in and cleaned out Taylor’s liquor cabinet, it was Prohibition, and also took some letters, photos and other documents. The police did nothing to stop them. A man claiming to be a doctor arrived at about the same time as the police and declared that Taylor had died of a stomach hemorrhage, although he did not examine the body. Because of this the police assumed that Taylor died of natural causes and did not treat the house as a crime scene. When the coroner had arrived to remove the body they found that Taylor was laying in a pool of his own blood, he had been shot.
Word of Taylor’s death spread through the film community quickly and eventually reached actor Carl Stockdale on the Paramount lot, the first person he called was Charlotte Shelby. Mary was just waking up and was in her room dressing when her mother knocked on the door and asked her to come out, she had something important to tell her. Mary refused to come out because she was not dressed and after a bit of argument about it, Charlotte told Mary through the bedroom door that Taylor was dead.
Mary became frantic shouting that it couldn’t be true. She quickly dressed and over her mother’s objections rushed out of the house to her car. She drove to Taylor’s home to find it swarmed with police, reporters, and onlookers. She was described as nearly hysterical as she tried to gain admittance to the house. Unable to enter and frightened by the crowds, Mary left the scene and drove to the morgue where Taylor’s body had been taken.
There she encountered Ivy Overholtzer, the director of the facility. She was apparently under the delusion that Taylor was still alive and if only he could receive a transfusion of her blood he would be all right. When Overholtzer tried to convince her that Taylor was dead she became even more distraught and in order to calm her down he finally admitted her to the room where Taylor’s body was laid out.
In a 1970 interview Mary described the scene. Taylor’s corpse was on a slab, a sheet over him but his face and chest uncovered. To her he looked like a knight in his tomb. Overholtzer left her alone and she approached the body, wanting to see some sign of life. She tried to kiss him on the lips, but was not tall enough to reach him, and when she touched his arm she felt the intense, deep coldness of a dead body. It was then that she realized that he was gone; nothing could bring him back. At this she began to sob wildly which brought Overholtzer back into the room. He took her to his office and gave her a drink of water. They talked briefly, Overholtzer attempting to see if she knew anything about the murder. She didn’t and after finally calming down Mary left.
After leaving the morgue she drove back to her home and left her car. With tears streaming down her face she walked the short distance to the home of Mabel Normand. Mabel’s house was also crowded with police and reporters but she was able to get inside where Mabel greeted her. The two women went into the bathroom to talk out of earshot of the people in the house, but not much of substance was said. Each asked the other if they knew anything about what had happened and both discovered that neither knew anything.
Back at Taylor’s house the LAPD had finally gotten control of the crime scene after it had been tromped upon by almost everyone in the neighborhood. No one knows what was removed from Taylor’s home before the police decided that it might be a good idea to seal it off, or if any of it had any connection to the killer. There was actually very little useful evidence collected. Along the side of the bungalow behind the shrubs were found cigarette butts of a particularly unusual and expensive brand. A box of these gold tipped cigarettes had been stolen from Taylor’s home in a burglary a few weeks earlier. They found the letters from Mary in Taylor’s desk drawer along with a pawn ticket in the name of William Deane-Tanner from a San Francisco pawn shop. It was for a pair of cufflinks that had also been taken in the burglary. William Deane-Tanner was Taylor’s real name. Finally there was strange note that Taylor had found jammed into his front door along with the pawn ticket. The writer apologized for “inconveniencing” him and telling him to “… note the lesson of forced sale of assets…” The note was signed “alias Jimmy V.” When he found these items Taylor also found a gold tipped cigarette butt on his doorstep.
Arrayed around the living room were photos of actors and actresses inscribed to Taylor, a common gift in those days. Prominently displayed on the piano was a picture of Mabel Normand and one of Mary. In a drawer in Taylor’s bedroom they found lady’s lingerie, described alternately as a negligee, a nightgown, or a dressing gown. Along with it were some handkerchiefs embroidered with “Mary Miles Minter”. A lot was made of this over the years and the name on the handkerchiefs somehow became the initials “MMM” and also got transferred to the nightgown in the story telling. Strange as it sounds the nightgown probably belonged to Taylor himself. In his book A Murder in Hollywood Charles Higham publishes a photograph of Taylor wearing a nightgown outdoors, possibly as some sort of joke. Also in the drawer was a handgun, but it had not been fired recently and was dismissed as the murder weapon. In the bedroom closet they found letters from Mabel Normand stuffed into one of Taylor’s riding boots.
With the exception of the cigarette butts the note and the pawn ticket only one other piece of useful evidence was uncovered. The coroner removed a .38 caliber bullet from Taylor. It was a soft lead projectile of the type fired from an obsolete short cartridge. There were newer and more powerful cartridges available, but there was still plenty of the older ammunition around, so to find this particular projectile at a crime scene was not that unusual. With so much of the evidence lost, destroyed or compromised there was no real chance of the police determining who the killer was and as a result, much of the investigation was conducted through idle speculation in the pages of an ever more irrational and sensational press.
The path of the fatal bullet was very strange. Taylor had been shot in the left side of his back between the sixth and seventh ribs, the bullet entering about six inches to the left of his spine. The projectile had travelled diagonally upward through his body piercing his lung and lodging at the base of the right side of his neck where it met the shoulder. He bled out rapidly and was dead within minutes. Taylor was wearing a jacket and vest and the bullet holes in them did not line up. The police reports are not clear as to the relationship of the holes in his clothing to each other, but one detective stated that it appeared his arms were raised above his head in a “…stick ’em up…” situation. There were also significant powder burns on his clothing, placing the assailant within a couple of feet of him, probably closer. While the pool of blood underneath him indicated that he had died where he was found, it was also clear that the body had been laid out after it fell. His feet were under the desk chair but the chair may have overturned in a struggle and placed over his feet after he was dead.
The next day the police appeared at the home shared by Mary, Charlotte, Margaret and Julia Miles. Search warrant in hand the investigator removed Mary’s diaries and some letters from Taylor to her; all of which she surrendered willingly. In the basement, high on a beam he found two rounds of .38 caliber pistol ammunition. The revolver that it fit was not there.
Taylor’s murder had followed hard on the heels of the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal and the reporting of the crime ranged from sarcastic, to mean spirited, to downright hysterical. Much as happens today rumors and innuendo were reported by the media as if they were facts, and the police actively participated in the speculation in the daily papers. Much of the lurid reporting emanated from the typewriter of Wallace Smith of the Chicago American, who took a special interest in Mary and her relationship with Taylor.
Contrary to what was written in the newspapers at the time and several books written since, Mary did not attend Taylor’s funeral. Instead she was being interviewed by the L.A. County prosecutor. She could have postponed the interview; there is no doubt that the prosecutor would have understood, but she didn’t, perhaps because she couldn’t bear to see Taylor in the casket. At the behest of Marshall Neilan she was accompanied by attorney John G. Mott. The interview was fairly mundane, there was nothing explosive revealed. She didn’t try to hide the fact that she was in love with Taylor and he had rejected her. The tone of the questioning reveals that the investigators did not consider her a suspect in any way, but were rather exploring how her relationship with Taylor may have encouraged other men who were romantically interested in her to commit the crime. They were primarily looking at Marshall Nielan and Thomas Dixon as potential suspects.
Mary had become engaged to Dixon after the December 23rd encounter with Taylor and had broken it off shortly before the murder, but her statements indicated that she was never really interested in marrying him. When questioned about it she told the district attorney that the engagement was “…a freak of despondency…” While the subject was not pursued, it was implied that the despondency was over William Desmond Taylor. When asked about an engagement to Marshall Neilan she talked at length about their friendship, and it was clear that he was one of her few close friends, but she stated that she never took him seriously, referring to the engagement as more of an inside joke between them than a serious proposal.
In this interrogation Mary related a series of stories that had been told to her about Taylor by Neilan. Most of them were irrelevant to the case as it applied to Mary; Neilan had told her these to establish that what he was going to tell her about Taylor’s sometimes erratic behavior was true. The third both shocked and appalled Mary, but she said that she felt it was true. This was the first mention of the alternate, more sensational version of the last time she visited Taylor at his home.
As told by Marshall Neilan, Taylor was drunk when he related the story to him and two other men at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. This was a condition that most of his friends did not like to see him in because he was given to acting completely out of character, and while not a violent drunk, he could be alternately silly and verbally mean when he had been drinking. According to Neilan, Taylor told him that when Mary came to Taylor’s home on December 23rd, she removed her clothes and begged him to make love to her. Mary emphatically denied the story; Neilan believed her, and Taylor had spoken of the incident with other people but only mentioned that she had refused to leave and threatened to cause a scene if he tried to force her.
The reality is that throughout his life both Taylor and his brother had suffered what were described as mental lapses, or periods of amnesia and erratic behavior that could last for hours or even weeks. It is thought that it was during one of these episodes that Taylor abandoned his family in New York. Given the numerous stories that circulated about Taylor’s occasional strange behavior it is likely that he combined the real and traumatic encounter with Mary on December 23, 1921 with an imagined event that was the result of one of these “lapses”.
Mary’s interview with the district attorney ended amicably, it was clear that the investigator’s theory that jealousy for her attentions may have somehow been a motivating factor in Taylor’s murder wasn’t going anywhere; both Dixon and Neilon had alibis. Little did anyone involved know that the LAPD would demonstrate the callousness and gross incompetence that was their hallmark at the time, in a way that would turn the harsh glare of the media spotlight on Mary and her mother. That glare would follow them for the rest of their lives.
The days following the murder turned to weeks and weeks to months. None of the investigators’ leads led anywhere; all of their original suspects either could not be found or they had solid alibis. It was then that the lead detectives in the case decided on a unique ploy to shake things up, hoping to see if an old suspect fell out or maybe a new one would appear. As told by Detective Edward C. King in a 1930 article for True Detective Magazine. The method they chose was to arrange a “leak” through a private detective, Nick Harris, who had connections that would enable him to get a story placed in the local papers. In that interview they referred to a suspect, “…the mother of an actress…” They didn’t name names, but they didn’t have to, everybody in Hollywood knew who they were talking about.
As Detective King wrote in the article, he and a Lieutenant Winn went to Harris’ office and told him to tell the editor of a local daily paper that he had been visited by the two detectives and they had told him a story of being contacted by a spiritualist. This spiritualist told a story of a vision in which the mother of a beautiful actress had become too familiar with Taylor and out of desperation the mother had shot him. King freely admitted that he had made this up simply to see what the result might be. The paper loved the story and devoted almost a full column to it. From this story all of the later accusations against Mary and Charlotte Shelby sprang.
Was there circumstantial evidence that pointed to Mary’s mother as the killer? Not really, it took a leap of logic to put her at the scene. Actor Carl Stockdale was with her at her home, along with Mary, Margaret and at least two members of their staff at the time the murder was committed. In order for Charlotte to have committed the crime all of these people would have to lie; be willing to risk jail time for lying, and take the secret to their graves. In the aftermath of the Kirkwood affair she was fiercely, some would say violently, protective of Mary when it came to anyone who might come between her and her money making daughter. She may have taken her pistol with her to New York and threatened Kirkwood with it, but no one knows. Charlotte Shelby was not well liked among the Hollywood film colony and the now missing .38 revolver was fodder enough for the Hollywood wags. In their minds its disappearance proved her guilt.
Mary went into seclusion shortly after the funeral and was not seen in public for several weeks. Finally emerging, she boarded a ship along with her grandmother and sailed for Hawaii. She booked her passage under her given name, Juliet Reilly, and attempted to keep a low profile. Of course she was well known and before the ship was out of site of Long Beach Harbor papers in both Los Angeles and Honolulu were reporting on her voyage. She was greeted in Honolulu with great fanfare and was even asked to write a series of articles for the local paper on how to break into the motion picture business. These articles reveal a very pragmatic, mature mind, and a very straight-forward attitude toward life in general. It almost becomes difficult to believe that these articles originated from the same pen that wrote the saccharin love notes to Taylor only three years earlier.
Upon her return to California the first thing she did was move out of the large home Charlotte Shelby had bought with her money and into a small apartment. At this point Mary had no bank accounts, no money, not even dishes of her own. Her contracts had been signed and held by her mother. Her paychecks had been paid to her mother. Just over $1,000,000 of Mary’s contract had been paid out, but she left home with not much more than a car and her clothes. In leaving home she finally slipped the shackles that had held her throughout her life and the immediate expression of the transition was the first of many lawsuits attempting to recover her earnings. The suits and countersuits would continue sporadically until Charlotte’s death in the 1950s.
Mary made three more films after Taylor’s murder, all of which were successful. With the completion of her last, Trail of the Lonesome Pine, her contract with Paramount was complete. She was one of their most popular actors but she simply did not become the Pickford magnitude star that Adolph Zukor had hoped for. While Mary’s films generally garnered favorable reviews and had good box office numbers, her extremely lucrative contract made it difficult for them to turn a profit. Paramount had a stable of new talent that they were developing and from a financial standpoint it was a good time to release her, and just as importantly be rid of her troublesome mother. It was 1923 and at 21 she was completely free of Charlotte’s control. Offered contracts by other studios Mary refused them stating that she was never “comfortable” as an actress. Longing to be out of the public eye she simply walked away. Mary Miles Minter never made another film.
After lingering in Los Angeles for a short time Mary moved to New York along with her grandmother. It was during this time that Mary was approached by James Kirkwood. Although he was still married to Lila Lee, he asked Mary to be his wife. Mary sent him away saying that what she thought was love in 1917 was merely childish infatuation and professed that she was still in love with William Desmond Taylor.
After Julia Miles passed away Mary found her way to Paris where she lived in relative anonymity studying music and partaking in the local cuisine. While she was in France Mary reconciled with her mother who joined her there and they remained secluded in a Paris apartment until 1929 when the two women returned to California. Upon their return the series of lawsuits between Mary, her mother and her sister continued. She longed to be free of the public’s attention but the constant flow of legal actions and the occasional resurrection of the Taylor investigation made that impossible. In the period since she had left Hollywood she had reconciled, split and reconciled with her mother several times and had also been named as a respondent in the divorce of someone she had never met.
While Mary and Charlotte sojourned in Paris, Margaret remained in Los Angeles, working sporadically but usually living off of money provided by Charlotte. In the late 1920s she married Hugh Fillmore, owner of a tile manufacturing company and the grandson of former President Millard Fillmore, but the marriage was short lived. Disputes over money and her chronic alcoholism drove the couple apart. She became involved in a minor scandal in 1937 when she eloped to Yuma, Arizona with a sometime director by the name of Emmett J. Flynn. The happy couple returned to California only to find that there was a minor obstacle to their marital bliss; Flynn was still married to his first wife. Margaret had the marriage annulled a month later, but not before both she and Flynn spent a short period in jail, the result of a dispute with the taxi driver who had driven them to Yuma. They had neglected to pay the fare.
Rumors about Mary and Charlotte’s involvement in Taylor’s murder continued to smolder until 1937 when Margaret filed suit against Charlotte seeking to retrieve $40,000 stored in a joint safety deposit box. Margaret had gone to open the box and retrieve the money only to find it was gone. While being deposed in the suit she claimed that she had protected her mother in the William Desmond Taylor murder and that Mary was present when he was killed. Reports appearing in the local papers about this statement prompted Charlotte to demand of the district attorney that he either charge her or exonerate her. A grand jury was convened and all of the principals testified. During the hearings it was found that Margaret’s statements simply made no sense given the known facts, and the verdict of the grand jury was no indictments handed down. The district attorney announced that there was no credible evidence linking Mary or Charlotte to Taylor’s murder. That effectively ended any investigation into the case and it remains unsolved.
In spite of the Grand Jury finding, Margaret’s lawsuit against Charlotte was somewhat successful and she eventually received half of the $40,000 she was seeking. When Margaret opened the safe deposit box prior to filing the lawsuit she removed Mary’s diaries and the letters that Charlotte had taken so many years ago and returned them to Mary. After this the three women lived in what was described as an “armed truce”. Margaret was later committed to a sanitarium for her alcoholism and severe depression but it was simply too late. She died in 1939 of cirrhosis and chronic alcohol poisoning.
Mary moved on with her life. Charlotte had shrewdly bought up some Los Angeles real estate when the family first moved to California and Mary had continued success investing on her own. She also invested in several businesses and the income from these and her earnings during her film career enabled her to live a comfortable lifestyle. In 1957 Charlotte died and as the last of Charlotte’s living relatives, Mary inherited most of the holdings that she and her mother had fought over for so many years. Shortly after Charlotte’s death Mary wed her longtime business partner Brandon Hildebrandt.
By all accounts the couple lived happily until Brandon’s death in 1965. Unfortunately with the passing of her husband Mary was left alone in her California home, and eventually her failing health forced her to rely on hired strangers for help. In 1981 a burglary took place at Mary’s home during which she was severely beaten and left for dead. She recovered but her health became increasingly frail. Even at this late stage of her life she remained appreciative of her fans and everyone who wrote to her requesting one received an autographed photo signed “Mary Miles Minter”. In spite of everything and even after the passage of more than 60 years, Mary continued to express her love for William Desmond Taylor.
Mary Miles Minter died on August 4, 1984 of an apparent heart attack; she was 82. Mary was alone when she died and was found by her housekeeper. At her request her remains were cremated and scattered into Santa Monica Bay near her home, and in a wisp of dust she was gone. Over the years her body of work has also largely faded into the ether as well, through accident, natural deterioration, or was simply discarded to free storage space. There is so little left behind. Of the 54 films she made only six are known to survive. Anne of Green Gables, her first with Taylor, and the one she acknowledged as being her favorite, is not among them. If in the afterlife we are able to be with the person we loved the most, perhaps Mary is finally with William Desmond Taylor. One can only hope that she found the happiness in the hereafter that so eluded her in life.