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VINE VOICEon April 9, 2005
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 scandels 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 scandel 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 himsef 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.

Vidor's reputation and the fact he had been a part of this Hollywood way back when gave him weight and would prompt many to open up and talk to Vidor in a way in which they would not have to someone else. He would even get to look at police files that would contradict most of what was reported at the time, raising even more questions.

As Vidor plays detective in order to write the screenplay that he hoped would put him back on top, Kirkpatrick lets us see a man who was once a vital part of the film industry, fighting to be remembered. During his investigation he would come into contact with old flame Coleen Moore, a lovely silent star with a fine career of her own. It was a happy coincidence and would force Vidor to make decisions affecting the rest of his life.

A Cast of Killers is a fun, fast read tinged with sadness, King Vidor somehow knew it would be. Before beginning, the legendary director likened it to an old bottle of wine. If you love a good mystery, and or Hollywood, this is one you have to read.

"I realized it was vintage stuff-the rarest vintage of all: a murder that has never been solved. One opens such a bottle at his own peril."
King Vidor, 1967
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In 1922, director William Desmond Taylor was found shot to death in his home, and two celebrated stars fell under suspicion. The case was never solved, and lingering questions about the crime spelled finish for the careers of the brilliant comic actress Mable Normand and the popular ingenue Mary Miles Minter. But in Hollywood, old sins cast long shadows: the case continued to be investigated off and on over subsequent decades, providing considerable fodder for the tabolid press. In time, it became a legend, and in the the late 1960s director King Vidor--who had been acquainted with most of the individuals involved--began his own investigation in hopes of developing the story into a film.
Vidor eventually set his findings aside, and after his death biographer Sidney D. Kirkpatrick uncovered his extensive notes on the Taylor case. The result is A CAST OF KILLERS, a book which purports to solve the case for once and for all. Although he writes with a somewhat superficial tone, Kirkpatrick spins out his story with considerable conviction. What emerges is an extremely distasteful portrait of greed. According to Kirkpatrick, the studios decided to protect themselves even to the extent of implicating innocent parties while the Los Angeles Police Department preferred to extort money from the killer instead of bringing the case to court. But more disturbing than this is the portrait Kirkpatrick paints a profoundly dysfunctional family, the head of which was dominated by a need for money, fame, and absolute control.
Ultimately there is no hard proof for Kirkpatrick's conclusions, but--and in spite of several errors that have crept into the work--he makes an extremely convincing case for their validity. While A CAST OF KILLERS is far too popular in content to satisfy students of the crime (described as Taylorologists), it is largely in line with current theory re this famous murder, and it makes for a fascinating read. Recommended.
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on March 26, 2006
A Cast of Killers is a once-in-a-lifetime read: a nonfiction tale told in the style of the best detective fiction, based on the memoir kept by the "private eye", moviemaker King Vidor, discovered by would-be Vidor biographer Sidney Kirkpatrick. Vidor didn't make the film he wanted to, based on the facts he uncovered and the conclusions to which they led, because some of the principals in the case were still around, and could have been hurt by the revelations (they also could have sued, forcing him to prove the allegations in the now forever-unmade film in court).

But Kirkpatrick wasn't under that kind of threat in 1986, and he told the story in book form much as I think Vidor might have told it on film--except that Vidor would have set the film in the 1920s when it all took place. The book follows Vidor's own investigation, undertaken in the late 1960s, and offers the conclusion he arrived at, not as the final word forever, but as the only possible conclusion given the information he'd uncovered.

The murder of prominent film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922 nearly destroyed Hollywood--or, at least, the resulting scandal nearly did. Two prominent stars, Mary Miles Minter and Mabel Normand, did have their already star-crossed careers destroyed by the revelations that came about as a result of the murder. Vidor's investigation gives reason to doubt some of those revelations, if not all of them.

What is obvious is that a murder investigation was tampered with, and quite possibly severely, by a number of the principals in the story, with the hoped-for (by the tamperers) result that the truth was never known, the most likely suspect never brought to trial. The way this all happened, as revealed by Kirkpatrick in true detective fiction style, is fascinating reading.

Then there is the matter of the movie studios' (specifically Paramount's) desperate need to do "damage control" after Taylor's murder to keep even bigger scandals from emerging, the kind that would have condemned the movie business for sure in the moral atmosphere of the 1920s, in which such a "sin" as drinking alcohol was forbidden by law. How and by what means this "damage control" was accomplished is another fascinating aspect of the story.

There have been and will be those who carp at the conclusions King Vidor (and Kirkpatrick) have reached as to the identity of William Desmond Taylor's murderer and said murderer's motive, citing this possible discrepancy and that not-fully-proven assertion. The credo of a great detective of popular fiction asserted: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

To accomplish this, you have to be in possession of a great deal of information about the crime, and about everyone even only peripherally involved, as well as the intelligence to sort it all out. Vidor had this uniquely complete perspective, knew many of the people involved, and most importantly knew the Hollywood of the era in which it all happened.

I don't think we will ever get a better, or more surprising, or more satisfying take on one of the great unsolved crimes of the early 20th century. I'm personally sold on Vidor's conclusions. I wish he'd made it into the good film he'd have been capable of doing, though his reasons for not doing so are clear and compelling.

Most importantly for those who love detective stories, fiction or fact, this is a "fireplace and hot chocolate" kind of book, guaranteed to provide great recreation and something to think about. I loved it, I've read it through six times, I'll probably read it a few more!
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on June 11, 1998
Edited Review: By correcting or qualifying most of the historical errors found in the 1986 edition, this twentieth anniversary edition has greater historical value, while losing none of the entertainment value of the original edition. I would now improve its rating if I could.
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on December 1, 2001
"A Cast of Killers" was the first book I read some years ago about the murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor. I've read other books on the same subject over more recent times but this one is still the most entertaining by far. I agree with another reviewer who said that the description of King Vidor's meeting with Mary Miles Minter who had become a sad recluse by the 1960s was a great piece of writing.I felt that I was actually sitting in that gloomy "Norma Desmond Style" house with King Vidor as he gazed around at all the photos Mary had of herself. The author paints a fascinating portrait of a once great silent movie star whose life spun out of control.By the end of that part of the book you can't help but to feel extremely sorry for Minter who became a victim of fame . A spellbinding true life mystery.
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on April 13, 2014
The book is a great read. Even if you don't know anything about Taylor and early Hollywood, this book is fascinating. It's a who-done-it, as well as why- and how-done-it. The people are really interesting and the story moves at a good clip.

Totally readable.

Kirkpatrick has updated the old edition, correcting errors and incorporating new info. Even if you read the first edition, it's worth your while to read this updated edition.

I wish he had more photos, but that's my only criticism.
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on February 17, 2014
The author had unique access to King Vidor and his research into the Taylor murder, which makes me think that this is as close to the truth as anyone is going to get. It's well written and presented in such a way that you get a good sense of who the principal players are. The revelation of corruption among public officials is depressing but not at all unbelievable. If you're interested in the case, it's worth a read!
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on August 6, 2014
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book: the cast of real-life characters, the setting of Hollywood in the 20s/30s, the insight into King Vidor as a director and person. I personally think he solved the mystery, although I've read he missed a few points; I couldn't figure out where, but I'm satisfied!
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on January 2, 2001
Author Sydney Kirkpatrick traces pioneering film director King Vidor's efforts to research and write a script about one of Hollywood's most notorious unsolved mysteries. In doing the research for the book after Vidor's death, Kirkpatrick discovers why the film was never made - Vidor actually solved the crime years and years after the police had given up. Since innocent people were still living who could have been hurt by the revalation, Vidor sealed his files and dropped the project.
The murder of William Desmond Taylor is filled with intrigue, scandal, and coverup. The most important stars and mogels of silent Hollywood are involved, including the legendary commedienne Mabel Normand ("Mack and Mabel") and screen ingenue Mary Miles Minter.
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VINE VOICEon April 7, 2008
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 scandels 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 scandel 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 himsef 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.

Vidor's reputation and the fact he had been a part of this Hollywood way back when gave him weight and would prompt many to open up and talk to Vidor in a way in which they would not have to someone else. He would even get to look at police files that would contradict most of what was reported at the time, raising even more questions.

As Vidor plays detective in order to write the screenplay that he hoped would put him back on top, Kirkpatrick lets us see a man who was once a vital part of the film industry, fighting to be remembered. During his investigation he would come into contact with old flame Coleen Moore, a lovely silent star with a fine career of her own. It was a happy coincidence and would force Vidor to make decisions affecting the rest of his life.

A Cast of Killers is a fun story of Old Hollywood, shaded in sadness, just as King Vidor knew it would be. Before beginning, the legendary director likened it to an old bottle of wine. If you love a good mystery, and or Hollywood, this is one you have to read.

"I realized it was vintage stuff-the rarest vintage of all: a murder that has never been solved. One opens such a bottle at his own peril."
King Vidor, 1967
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