1922 Yukon Nuggets
William Desmond Taylor
According to a friend who knew him in the Yukon, William Taylor was the dude of Dawson City. Not much was really known about the background of this flamboyant character who worked for the Yukon Gold Corporation, on and off, from 1908 to 1912. Ten years after leaving the Yukon, however, his death in Hollywood stunned America.
In Dawson City, William Taylor wore tweeds, a soft crush hat, tasteful harberdashery, and was immensely popular with the women. He played an excellent game of tennis, and was an expert at cards. He attended most of the big functions in a dress suit, one of the few dress suits in town. At the time, he was a timekeeper for the Yukon Gold Company at $175 a month. He also dabbled in prospecting, and later said he had some good claims, but never enough money to work them.
When he came to North America from England around the turn of the century, he ended up on the west coast. There his British background as a stage actor saw him perform in theatre productions in Bellingham and Seattle. In the Klondike, he performed at Arizona Charlie Meadows' famous Palace Grand Theatre. For all his public appearances, he gave his friends "the impression of a man on a mysterious mission". At times he would disappear. Nobody would know where he was.
Then he'd reappear and be as sociable as ever. It's said that women were interested in him. In Dawson, he was frequently the escort of married women. He left the Klondike for good in late 1912. On the west coast, he played in various stage productions. He finally ended up in Hollywood and became close friends with Jesse Lasky, who owned Paramount Pictures. This introduced him to the still young motion-picture business. He was given a role in the movie "A Tales of Two Cities", but he always wanted to direct films. Finally, he was asked to create, for the screen, versions of both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The success of these features made a name for Taylor in Hollywood, who was now in his early forties. In 1919, he directed the silent movie version of "Anne of Green Gables". Taylor had become an important Hollywood figure, keeping company with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and other greats of the silent-film era.
Thus it came as a shock to the motion-picture industry to read the headline on February 1st, 1922: "One of the most colourful, romantic careers in the motion picture colony - a life as redolent with "atmosphere", brilliance and adventure as that of any novelistic hero - was cut short when an assassin's bullet ended the life of William Desmond Taylor, the director".
The Hollywood movie community was abuzz with rumor. Some said Taylor was involved with Chinese drug dealers. Others said one of any number of jealous women had pulled the trigger. As many as a dozen people "confessed" the murder, none of whom could have had anything whatever to do with it. Later, a friend confided to a reporter,"If Mr. Taylor was murdered because of any of his actions up there in the Klondike, the grudge must have been harbored for a long time." The police investigation continued on and off for more than ten years. Today, the death of William Desmond Taylor, who worked for the Klondike Gold Company and performed in Arizona Charlie Meadows' Palace Grand Theatre, remains one of the strange unsolved mysteries of Hollywood.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.