NBM Publishing will release in June the latest in writer-artist Rick Geary's series of historical true crime graphic novels, "Treasury of XXth Century Murder: Famous Players." Chronicling the life and death of early Hollywood actor and director William Desmond Taylor, "Famous Players" is the second of Geary's twentieth century books after the Eisner-nominated "The Lindbergh Child." A previous series focused on Victorian-era criminals such as Jack the Ripper and H.H. Holmes. CBR News caught up with Geary to discuss the new book, his research process, and dark deeds to come.
William Desmond Taylor was a director with the Famous Players studio, founded in 1912 and giving fame to such actresses as Sarah Bernhardt, Mary Pickford, and Mary Miles Minter. Taylor, who had a checkered past even before arriving on the nascent Hollywood scene, was found dead on February 2, 1922, lying perfectly straight next to his desk in the parlour. The investigation of the crime was marred nearly from the start, with neighboring actors spreading the news quickly to others in their field, and gawkers from the community traipsing all over the crime scene.
Perhaps the most intriguing shenanigans at the crime scene, though, revolve around a mysterious "doctor" who did not identify himself and has never since been identified. "I chalk it up to the fact that police at the time did not yet know the value of securing a crime scene," Geary told CBR. "Besides, until Taylor's body was moved, it was assumed that he had died of natural causes, although that was still no excuse for allowing people to overrun the apartment."
The story of Taylor's murder is set in a Hollywood that was only beginning to become the film industry wonderland that it developed into through the studio era and into the present day. In fact, Geary begins the narrative with the city's birth from the Southern California desert to provide a context of how--and how quickly--the area evolved. "The city in which a murder takes place is always a 'character' in that it lends its peculiar ambience to the crime and its investigation. Hollywood is of course a place like no other, and I've always been attracted to the history of its early days, before it became a factory town," Geary explained. "I've tried to get a little of this flavor into the book. By 1922, the studios were just becoming powerful enough to influence the course of a police investigation."
Geary presents the stories and alibis of several suspects, along with official findings and other theories about the murder. The book does not, however, suggest one candidate as more likely than the others, though an assessment of the facts may lead readers to particular conclusions. "In my accounts of unsolved cases, I never try to name the culprit or promote any particular theory. The consensus of my sources on the Taylor case points to him having been killed by either Mary Miles Minter or her mother, but there's not enough evidence to name anyone conclusively," Geary said.
"I've been a student of true crime stories and famous murder cases for more than thirty years, and during that time I've become familiar with those that make the best stories, have the most colorful characters or contain the elements of a good mystery," Geary said. "So finding the subject is never a problem. I always have a long list of cases I'd like to tackle next, and the decision is the result of a consultation with my publisher, Terry Nantier at NBM."
In preparation for his true crime books, Rick Geary researches several accounts of an historical event to get the most accurate, comprehensive picture available. "My goal is first of all to be as clear and accurate as possible in laying out what might be a very complex and convoluted story. If several sources are in conflict over a particular detail, and I try to give space to all of them and air the different arguments for and against," Geary explained. "I like to use maps and overhead views to make the action understandable, and I try for a sense of historical verisimilitude in details such as clothing, interiors, hairstyles, etc."
In the run up to the publication of "Treasury of XXth Century Murder: Famous Players," Geary has been nominated for Eisner Awards in the Best Writer/Artist and Best Reality-Based Work categories for his most recent book, "A Treasury of XXth Century Murder: The Lindbergh Child," but has also met some conflicting accounts from Diamond as to whether they would be carrying his newest book, owing to new minimum order criteria. As reported previously by CBR News and confirmed by Geary and NBM, Diamond will, in fact, carry the William Desmond Taylor volume. As to the accolades, Geary said, "I'm honored and thrilled to be nominated for two Eisners this year, particularly so because they recognize my work for NBM (an ongoing relationship for 22 years), and my new series of graphic biographies for Hill & Wang that premiered with 'J. Edgar Hoover.'"
As to what's next for the "Treasury of Xxth Century Murder," Geary said the volume is already in progress. "I'm currently working on the pencils for the next book in the series: 'The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans.' This is the story of the unknown serial killer who attacked twelve people (killing six) in that city in 1918-1919. In the fall, my new graphic biography, Leon Trotsky, will be released."