At the maudlin funeral of her much older murdered lover, virginal movie heroine Mary Miles Minter embraced his body on the bier, kissed him full on the lips, and then claimed to the horrified crowd that his corpse had spoken to her and whispered "I shall love you always, Mary."
Minter, the future movie star, was born Juliet Reilly, on April Fool's Day, 1902, in Shreveport, La. Juliet's greedy mother was determined that her little girl would attain the stardom that she had never been able to grasp. Juliet appeared on stage in Cameo Kirby at the age of five, and worked steadily in theatre from then on, with not a single vacation. Billed on stage as "Little Juliet Shelby," she became one of the most popular child stars in American theatre. At 10, she made her first film, The Nurse ( 1912 ) , playing a character with her own name. At age 13, working for Realart pictures, she was groomed as Mary Miles Minter; a child star of innocence and virtue. The titles of her films showcased her image; The Fairy and the Waif ( 1915 ) , Lovely Mary ( 1916 ) , The Virtuous Outcast ( 1916 ) , and Dimples ( 1916 ) .
Mary was never allowed to grow up as a normal girl. She worked and worked and worked. In 1916 she made nine films, and in 1917 she made 10 films. When she was just 16, in 1918, she made seven. The press delighted to refer to Mary as "a little queen," "a sweet, pretty little girl," and wrote of her "endearing young charms." She was advertised as "The Embodiment of the Virtues of Sweet Sixteen." While working at Realart Pictures, Mary's star continued to rise. She then signed with Famous Players/Lasky, a division of Paramount Studios. In 1920, her salary, which had started at $150 per week in 1915, was $2,250 per week. Mary, now a movie star, continued her film career with Anne of Green Gables ( 1919 ) , Jenny Be Good ( 1920 ) , The Little Crown ( 1920 ) , All Soul's Eve ( 1921 ) , Moonlight and Honeysuckle ( 1921 ) , and The Cowboy and the Lady ( 1922 ) . One of her favorite directors was William Desmond Taylor.
On Feb. 1, 1922, Taylor, president of the Screen Directors Guild, was found shot to death in his Hollywood bungalow. Robbery was not a motive, and he was still wearing his "lucky" diamond ring. Letters from Mary were found within the pages of an erotica book White Stains by Aleister Crowley. The press turned on Minter, and made much of her sentimental, rambling inscription written on scented, pale pink stationary monogrammed with M.M.M.; "Dearest, I love you, I love you, I love you ( followed with nine small 'x's and one enormous 'X' ) , Yours always! Mary."
Taylor was 50 years old and Minter was 19. Later, when her belongings and clothing were found in his home, she barricaded herself away for a month. Minter insisted that she and Taylor were only close friends, that he loved her as a friend, and her letters were only the ramblings of a young, innocent girl.
The press believed that Taylor was carrying on affairs simultaneously with movie star Mabel Normand, Mary, and Mary's mother, Charlotte. Despite her newly tarnished reputation, Mary made four more films and finished her contract obligations.
Her last film was Drums of Fate, released in 1923. Public moral outcry against Mary forced withdrawal of her films from theaters. In December, 1922, her contract was dropped. Other studios offered Minter work but she declined. Though never a serious suspect in the murder, she moved out of the home she shared with her mother, and out of pictures forever. On Feb. 25, 1923, Mary announced to The Los Angeles Times that she had decided to end her career.
She made 54 silent movies, and she was 20 years old.
After a brief stay in New York, Minter moved to Santa Monica, Calif. With successful real estate investments, she lived a wealthy and obscure retirement. Minter married Brandon O'Hildebrandt in 1957 and remained with him until he died in 1965. In 1981, at the age of 79, she was found beaten, gagged, and left for dead in the kitchen of her home, following a robbery. She recovered.
Mary Miles Minter died from heart failure following a stroke Aug. 4, 1984, in Santa Monica. It was her wish that her ashes be spread at sea.
The Taylor murder was never legally solved. In 1967, director King Vidor led a thorough investigation of the crime with the intent of making a film of the story. He concluded that Mary's vicious stage mother, dressed as a man, killed Taylor. His investigation was made into a 1986 book A Cast of Killers by Sidney Kirkpatrick. The 1990 book, Deed of Death by Robert Giroux concluded that Mabel Normand's drug dealer, who had once had an altercation with Taylor, killed him. To this day there are books, discussion groups, clubs and a "Taylorology" newsletter found on the Internet dedicated to solving the mystery of William Desmond Taylor's death.
Sources: Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger; Movie Time by Gene Brown; The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz; The Internet Movie Database Ltd.
Starr is author of Picture Perfect: Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946. A designer and artist, he is the owner of Steve Starr Studios, 2779 N. Lincoln