• Tinseltown

  • Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
  • By: William J. Mann
  • Narrated by: Christopher Lane
  • Length: 15 hrs and 55 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (2,047 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Day of the Locust meets The Devil in the White City and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in this juicy, untold Hollywood story: an addictive true account of ambition, scandal, intrigue, murder, and the creation of the modern film industry.

By 1920, the movies had suddenly become America's new favorite pastime and one of the nation's largest industries. Never before had a medium possessed such power to influence; yet Hollywood's glittering ascendancy was threatened by a string of headline-grabbing tragedies - including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a legendary crime that has remained unsolved until now.

In a fiendishly involving narrative, best-selling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to uncover the story of the enigmatic Taylor and the diverse group of people who surrounded him - including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; a grasping stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet. And overseeing this entire landscape of intrigue was Adolph Zukor, the brilliant and ruthless founder of Paramount Pictures, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly minted legends, and starlets already past their prime - a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.

A true story recreated with the suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a storyteller at the peak of his powers - and the solution to a crime that has stumped detectives and historians for nearly a century.

©2014 William J. Mann (P)2014 Blackstone Audiobooks

What listeners say about Tinseltown

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Everybody's a dreamer...

...and everybody's a star. So the Kinks song goes, so does this book. Excellent history of Hollywoodland and the movie business circa early 20s via a cross-section of the lives of a variety of movie folk, both high status and lowly. And there is a murder mystery to boot. The has-beens and never-weres-and-never-gonna-bes live, work, and walk among the elites and other successful players and this is the tension William Mann excellently illustrates. He makes great use of the vernacular of the times via the letters, diaries, newspapers and other contemporaneous sources. It's like reading/listening to "Day of the Locusts" by Nathaniel West. Highly recommend to fans of early Hollywood and early 20th century US history and for murder mystery buffs.

70 people found this helpful

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New info on an old case

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Absolutely! It gives us a glimpse into a different era and how the heavy fisted hand of Hollywood controlled the are that is today Los Angeles, just as they did back then.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Probably Taylor himself. He remade himself and reinvented himself and was a success but who killed him will forever remain a mystery

Which character – as performed by Christopher Lane – was your favorite?

Mary Miles Minter

If you could give Tinseltown a new subtitle, what would it be?

"How little things change". Many of the things described in this book, drug abuse, abortions, suicides etc etc are still par for the course in Hollywood. Things change but stay the same.

Any additional comments?

No but it is a good book and if you are unfamiliar with the Taylor/Tanner case, it is an excellent story and one worth listening to.

50 people found this helpful

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Dreams and Desperation in Early Hollywood

Would you listen to Tinseltown again? Why?

Absolutely! What did I miss? Before Tinseltown I had no real knowledge of the Silent Film Era or it's stars. What a fascinating time. The book is detail filled with a glimpse inside the lives of of the earliest movie stars.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The sadness and desperation of a career that didn't quite reach the expected heights and the elderly years of a forgotten star. It's sobering to learn of the later lives of the early screen stars that could not or did not transition to talkies. If we aren't able to adept, progress passes us by and we are forgotten.

Any additional comments?

The book was not only about a real life murder mystery but to me also a cautionary tale about change and adaptability.

35 people found this helpful

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Excellent on Hollywood history

If you are a devotee of Hollywood history, then you will appreciate this meticulously researched and engaging examination of the murder of director William Desmond Taylor and the era in which it took place.

30 people found this helpful

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The House of Lies

I drive on Alvarado Street in Los Angeles a lot. I've got business west out to Santa Monica, and it's much better than the diabolically designed 110 that cuts through downtown Los Angeles. Alvarado, especially close to MacArthur Park, has been rough as long as I can remember. There's a permanent indoor Swap Meet selling 5 T-Shirts for $10 and a dozen pairs of synthetic athletic socks in a bundle held together with sticky labels and little black plastic hangers for $5. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health runs a large mental health clinic in the neighborhood, attracting the frightening and the frightened.

The Alvarado Court Apartments, where director William Desmond Taylor was murdered more than 90 years ago, are long gone. There's a new Dollar Tree on the block now, and that signaled a kind of low rent gentrification of the neighborhood. There's no marker showing where Taylor died, no hint of the courtyard where his valet ran screaming after discovering the cold body of the employer he adored. The service station that figured so prominently in the first few hours of the investigation is, as best as I was able to reconstruct, where the 99 Cent Store (NOT the same as the Dollar Tree) is now.

Los Angeles/Hollywood is a thin veneer over an unforgiving, murderous past. If the land isn't trying to kill with fire, drought or earthquake, friends, neighbors and lovers may suddenly unsheath a hunting knife, load a shotgun or aim a Mercedes SUV down a crowded street. William J. Mann's "Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood" (2014) chips away the fiction of a kinder, gentler 1920's Silent Film Era. Taylor's 1922 murder has never been solved. Mann carefully reconstructs the lives of the 3 leading suspects, and comes to a resolution. I'm not convinced that the person Mann names actually killed Taylor, but it's s great bit of investigative work.

There was a parallel history with the crime: the history of censorship in Hollywood. "Tinseltown" discusses the development of the Motion Picture Production Code and the integral role of former Postmaster Will Hays in establishing and implementing the program. The often competing and sometimes complementary roles of movie magnates Adolph Zukor and Marcus Loew - and their interest in burying all scandal, not just Taylor's death - were a major part of the book. I'd be happy to read/listen to any Mann books just about Hays, Loew or Zukor.

The narration was well paced and made for a good listen.

The title of the review is from a 1916 film directed by Taylor.

[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]

17 people found this helpful

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Murder at the Dawn of Hollywood

This was one of those books in which my interest never flagged. Although the murder mystery is entertaining, what I found most compelling about "Tinseltown" was how vividly it depicted the fledgling movie industry circa 1920. This is an era I knew nothing about, but Mann tells so many stories from the era (including the tragic story of "Fatty" Arbuckle among others) that I've come to have a better appreciation of the times. This book is full of scandal and skulduggery, but also with warm & decent characters. The final chapters detail the lives of many of the principle characters in the years following the scandal--I found this very satisfying.

15 people found this helpful

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A Nasty Place . . . But Keep That Fact Quiet

I thoroughly enjoyed this book while being wary of its total accuracy. Some events—in the very first chapter, notching up Robert Herron's death as suicide for instance—have alternate explanations with evidence backing them up; Mr. Mann never acknowledges alternatives. In addition, the author "speaks" what his characters are thinking, and forefronts his own take on their personalities (albeit with historical justification). Truthfully, I didn't find such quirks a problem as long as I was aware of them. They made for a smooth, flowing narrative with few historical gaps or breaks, and a fun read. The book's originality is its in-depth description of William Desmond Taylor's murder as a blackmail shakedown gone wrong. As the narrative unwinds, Mann biographizes the presumed perpetrators recently come to light. I bought this book cheap for some reason but it deserves better than to lay on the bargain table. If not already acquainted with dog-eat-dog early Hollywood this serves as a good eye-opener. Mr. Mann catches the atmosphere of wide-spread vice and personal desperation masterfully. I say, buy it.

11 people found this helpful

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Proof of truly bad behavior at the very beginning

What made the experience of listening to Tinseltown the most enjoyable?

The information in this book was fascinating and very sad. That such a place who creates such dreams can also be the origin of such nightmares makes me torn. Torn because I love movies, but the people who are involved with the, both then and now seem to pay an awful price.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

I would change nothing, truth is what it is and it needed to be said.

Which character – as performed by Christopher Lane – was your favorite?

I enjoyed his performance of all of them.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

When the actress whose mother was so desperate to keep her virginal subjected her to an abortion. It disgusted me that a mother could be so very greeded as to do that to her own daughter.

6 people found this helpful

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Perfection when it comes to story-telling!

The one downside to Tinseltown is that the writing, the narration, and the production values of this terrific audible production now set a new standard that few are likely to live up to. William J. Mann does a brilliant job of capturing Hollywood in the twenties by activating all five senses and thus bringing each and every player in this captivating story to life and thus unquestionable immortality. This real-life murder mystery has been explored numerous times in different forms of media, but Mann even manages to uncover yet another potential possibility in this yet to be solved mystery. Christopher Lane's narration is flawless, and he thus keeps you hanging on every word; of course, everyone depicted in this story has a motive for murder, and so it is not hard to hook the listener. This is a must-have masterpiece! Pure genius at its best!!

5 people found this helpful

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Much ado

A book that should have been an article. Sometimes felt like I was watching (or hearing) grass grow.

5 people found this helpful