Lethian fogs of forgetfulness

Hollywood in the 1920s was a wild place as this extract from an article written by Jane Dixon shows. She’d obviously graduated with honours from the School of Purple Prose


Filmdom welcomed William Desmond Taylor, gave him a seat among the mighty, hearkened to his word, moved at his command. Its men looked and admired. Its women looked—and loved. What richer sea could a love pirate sail? A list of the girls, the women, taken aboard the love pirate’s ship of dreams for a brief cruise on the sea of pleasure would read like a slightly deleted directory of the screen’s feminine stars.


Now, if we may believe rumor, the sated appetite of the love pirate called for stronger stimulants than a conquest of hearts. One report has him a member of a cult with an unmanly ritual. Another speaks boldly of drugs—opium, cocaine, Lethian fogs of forgetfulness, ending in wild orgies, during which women, in jealous frenzies, tore the clothes from each other’s bodies and, stripped to the waist, fought like tigers for the favor of the pirate ship captain.

Who sped on its horrid way the leaden pellet which brought the eventful story of the love pirate’s life to a tragic close? Was it one of the fair ships he had scuttled? Was it another pirate vessel, jealous of a rival’s plunder? Was it a legitimate craft, the captain of which could not endure the depredations of the modern Captain Kidd? Was it a derelict, its crew gone mad from dipping into a contraband cargo of drugs?


William Desmond Taylor was an actor and director who was murdered in 1922.

At 7:30 a.m. on the morning of February 2 the body of William Desmond Taylor was found inside his bungalow at the Alvarado Court Apartments, in the Westlake Park area of downtown Los Angeles.

A crowd gathered inside and someone identifying himself as a doctor stepped forward, made a cursory examination of the body, declared the victim had died of a stomach hemorrhage and was never seen again, perhaps owing to his own embarrassment, because when doubts later arose, the body was rolled over and it was discovered the 49-year-old film director had been shot in the back.

from Married to the Sea (click to enlarge)

More than a dozen individuals were eventually named as suspects by both the press and the police:

Henry Peavey, Taylor’s African American valet found the body. Newspapers noted that Peavey wore flashy golf costumes but did not own any golf clubs. Peavey was illiterate and bisexual. He had a criminal record which included arrests for vagrancy and public indecency. Peavey repeatedly accused Mabel Normand of the murder (she had teased him about his wardrobe) and was initially suspected of the crime himself.


Mabel Normand was a popular comedic actress and a close friend of Taylor. They might have had a romantic relationship. Although she and Taylor may have argued on the evening of his murder, she left his home at 7:45 p.m. in a happy mood, carrying a book he had given her. Her career had already slowed and her reputation was tarnished through two previous scandals, along with revelations of her drug use and a third scandal involving another lover shot by her chauffeur.


Mary Miles Minter was a popular actress and teen screen idol whose career had been guided by Taylor. Coded letters found in Taylor’s home suggested that a romantic relationship between the 49-year-old Taylor and 19-year-old Minter had started when she was 17.

Charlotte Charlotte Shelby was Minter’s mother. Like many “stage mothers”  she has been described as consumed by wanton greed and manipulation over her daughter’s career. Perhaps the most compelling circumstantial evidence was that Shelby allegedly owned a rare .38 caliber pistol and unusual bullets very similar to the kind which killed Taylor. After this later became public, she reportedly threw the pistol into a Louisiana bayou.


Margaret Gibson was a film actress who worked with Taylor when he first came to Hollywood. In 1917 she was tried and acquitted on charges equivalent to prostitution as well as allegations of opium dealing. In October 1964, she suffered a heart attack and as a recently converted Roman Catholic, before dying confessed she “shot and killed William Desmond Taylor” along with several other things the witness didn’t understand and could not remember.


Other suspects included Edward Sands, who had been Taylor’s cook and Faith MacLean, a close neighbour. Various theories were put forward after the murder and in the years since, along with the publication of many books claiming to have identified the murderer, but no hard evidence was ever uncovered to link the crime to a particular individual…… personally, I suspect Jane Dixon.

Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 8:30 am  Comments (39)  
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39 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. He was a toucan smuggler!(CITES probably got to him.)

    • haha…. that’s TOU funny

  2. i’ll go with “the butler did it”…

    • Yeah that guy had too many servants

  3. Arrrr, but could he talk like a pirrrate? Before he had his timbers shivered. Jane is the one who should have been murdered for her desecration of the English language.

    A perfect lead-in to the month of “Talk like a pirate day”.

    • Oh no…. you’re not going to be doing a whole lot of pirate posts are you Archie?

  4. Such exciting lives….

    • But not the sort of excitement I like

  5. Nothing quite like a leaden pellet delivered at high speed to induce permanent forgetfulness. Vastly superior to lethian fogs.

    • I’d probably agree if I knew what Lethian fogs were.

  6. I love it. It’s so CLUE. It was for sure Jane Dixon in the billiard room with the lead pipe.

    Are you saying it’t not ok to wear golf clothing if you don’t own golf clubs? I look good in golf pants.

    • you should totally wear golf pants ALL the time. So people can point you out in the street…. “See that hot chick in the golf pants? She saves lives with lottery tickets”

  7. women, in jealous frenzies, tore the clothes from each other’s bodies and, stripped to the waist, fought like tigers for the favor of the pirate ship captain.

    Well, I know I’ve that. I’m not especially proud of it, but sometimes you have to fight bare breasted for the favor of a pirate ship captain. I’m not proud of it but sometimes you just have to.


    • Hmmm…. I’m sure there’s a photo somewhere of daisyfae and I fighting topless in the Aegean. It wasn’t over a pirate though. I think we were running low on chocolate

      • yes… and for the record? i let you win… 🙂

  8. I meant I’ve done that. Good heavens. And I call myself a writer!

    • I’m glad you signed these comments with an “r”. They would be very confusing if they were made by Page.

  9. Obviously that pirate dresses to the left.

    • Nearly every man I know dresses left. Except for that one odd boy in my misspent youth who dressed upright. I’m still confused by that…..

  10. Is that second picture what they refer to as a trouser snake?

    • Well according to dinahmow, it’s a toucan 😉

      (Is the term “budgie-smugglers” known outside Australia?)

  11. Another seedy slice of life. Thanks! What on earth is lethian fogs? I misread it as lesbian frogs…

    • It seems to be a band or a story by Tolkein. I prefer your version

  12. That does it. I’m gonna start wearing those funky golf pants on my mail runs, just to make this town even quirkier. Fantastic look at early Hollywierd.

  13. I retroactively give you permission to use that photo of me from my Six Flags Over Dallas internship in 1996.

    Mostly women at my shows.

    • That’s you? But Malach says it’s him!

  14. Did ya have to remind us of the “pants”? Those things bad golfers and worse disco dancers wore when the word, style, went out of vogue? Hilarious.

    Hollywood was, is, and always a place unto itself. I was raised in Venice, CA, and remember headlines about Hollywood that could only have come from those same dime store detective novels published then. Cruising Hollywood Blvd as a teen was considered a right-of-passage. Damn, if it don’t bring back memories. Thanks, nursemyra.

    • BTW, a trip through the early Venice, CA, years would produce surprising results 🙂

  15. The 20s were a wild and debaucherous time for anyone “in society” from what I have read. 🙂

  16. Hey, that pirate looks like Heath Ledger (just to prove that I did look at his face).

    • I put a bag over his face. Didn’t want to be distracted.

  17. Nothing much as changed since those days really. Obviously fashions have changed but any of the stories above could be found in today’s newspapers.

  18. I’m leaning towards the guy who wore golf pants yet never owned any golf clubs. That’s damned suspicious behavior.

  19. Where did you get that picture of Malach in the grey tights?

    • That’s you? Denny says it’s him.

  20. I had worked out who dunnit but I’ve forgotten now because of the vision I’ve got of Daisyfae and you covered in chocolate prancing about a beach semi-naked …. the thought of all that grit in chocolate is setting my teeth on edge …..

  21. I knew I should have been a pirate! A contraband cargo of drugs..ahhh!

  22. The vintagely semi-dressed ladies mucking about on the rack have made my day, in fact, quite the fabulous and unexpected “corset Monday”!

  23. “Another speaks boldly of drugs—opium, cocaine, Lethian fogs of forgetfulness, ending in wild orgies, during which women, in jealous frenzies, tore the clothes from each other’s bodies and, stripped to the waist, fought like tigers for the favor of the pirate ship captain.”

    Yes this happens to me often.

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