Film Boss Played 2 Life Roles

Washington Times/February 4, 1922


“Taylor” was “Tanner,” Art Expert, Who Left Wife When Long Trail Beckoned

NEW YORK, FEB.4.—Amazing chapters in the life of mystery of William Desmond Taylor, the motion picture director who was slain in Los Angeles last Wednesday night, were revealed today.

Although he had become nationally famous as a film director and was popular among his associates among the film folk in Hollywood, it was often remarked that he had few intimates and that there was some shadow over his past that he never discussed.

Taylor Was Alias

Taylor was well known in new York prior to about 1908 as William Deane Tanner, a cultured art connoisseur. At that time he was the manager of a prominent Fifth Avenue firm of art and antique furniture dealers His profession brought him into contact with wealthy art and bric-a-brac enthusiasts and he had a wide circle of friends.

In 1901 he had secretly married Miss Ethel May Harrison, a member of the original Florodora company, and they had one child, a girl, now fourteen.

One day, in 1908, Tanner’s friends and business associates were startled by his sudden and mysterious disappearance. His wife could give no clue to his probable whereabouts nor ascribe any reason for his action.

At the Fifth Avenue firm with which he was associated an examination of his book and business affairs showed everything to be in perfect order. An extensive search by the police and private detectives failed to yield any trace of where or why he had gone, and his family and friends finally set it down as an unsolved mystery.

It is understood that several years later his wife obtained a divorce and has since remarried a prominent and wealthy New York merchant.

Shanghaied, He Declared

About two years later some acquaintances of Tanner, who were then living in Los Angeles, were started one day when he suddenly called on them.

In response to their astonished queries about his disappearance from New York, he related that he had been shanghaied at night in lower Broadway, taken aboard a sailing vessel bound around Cape Horn, and that it was several months before he reached some port on the Pacific Northwest coast.

He said he had gone to work in a clerical capacity on the transcontinental railroad that was being built through Canada to Prince Port Rupert on the British Columbia coast. He said that subsequently he had been working in the office of a mine in one of the Pacific Coast states and from there had gone to Los Angeles, where he happened to learn of the presence of these friends.

Tanner, however, showed a strange reticence in discussing some portions of his adventures during the two years since he vanished from New York and did not explain why he had not returned to his family and friends.

Friends Did Not Get Facts

The acquaintances whom he had sought out had known him in New York as a man of high ideals, excellent reputation and unusual culture, and they did not press him on this point. Nor did he ever clear up the mystery for them.

Tanner remained in Los Angeles for several months following his sudden appearance there and made a number of friends, who were charmed by his quiet, agreeable, well-mannered personality. He conversed fluently on art and literature and disclosed a considerably knowledge of the drama.

Without ever fully explaining his reason for doing so, he now had adopted the name of Taylor, and never was known as Tanner in Los Angeles. That was in the winter of 1910, when the motion picture industry was in its infancy in southern California.

Tanner, now Taylor, unexpectedly told his friends in the spring of 1911 that he had decided to return to Prince Rupert and resume his railroad position there. During his stay in Los Angeles he apparently had not been in good financial circumstances, and it was assumed that he was returning to British Columbia because his funds were running low.

At any rate, he left for the North, and in Los Angeles nothing was heard from him for a year or so.

Returns to Los Angeles

Tanner returned to Los Angeles about 1913 and shortly after that obtained a position with a motion picture concern in Long Beach, near Los Angeles. To friends whom he met he explained that after remaining for some time in Prince Rupert he had come down to Seattle or Tacoma and had been playing thereabouts in several theatrical stock companies.

This stage experience evidently was the foundation of his success in the motion picture field. For a year or more Tanner, now known as William Desmond Taylor, was connected with the Balboa Film Company, Long Beach, and rapidly advanced to a directorship in more important companies in Hollywood. There his advancement to the forefront os his profession as a director is a matter of screen history.

Although the former Mrs. Tanner could not be located here today, old friends of Tanner who were located, recalled the facts of his mysterious disappearance.

Romantic Marriage Details

The New York newspaper files of December 1901, disclose the romantic details of the Tanner marriage. According to the published accounts at that time, the couple were married suddenly and secretly. The bride was Miss Ethel May Harrison, who was playing a part in the first Florodora company. She met Tanner, whose full name at that time is recorded as William Cunningham Deane-Tanner. He was a member of a prominent family in Dublin, Ireland, and reported to be heir to a fortune there.

Few of the company suspected that the beautiful Miss Harrison and Tanner were to wed, although he was known to be attentive to her. The couple had planned, however, to be married on December 26, 1901, and to make formal announcement of the event to their friends and the bride’s relatives at a wedding breakfast.

Invitations for the breakfast had even been printed. Then a sudden change in their plans was made. The couple decided to be wedded at once. After a luncheon at the old Holland House Tanner and Miss Harrison slipped over to the Little Church Around the Corner and were married by the Rev. George C. Houghton.

Only the mother of the bride was taken into the couple’s confidence. The new Mrs. Tanner returned to her home and Tanner remained at his bachelor quarters. They planned to let none of their friends know of the wedding until they had sailed on a honeymoon trip to Dublin. But somehow the news leaked out and then both Tanner and his bride confirmed it.