The Use of Imagined Dialogue in Tinseltown: Murder Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

October 24, 2018 |  Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on The Use of Imagined Dialogue in Tinseltown: Murder Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The task of writing works of popular history can prove challenging. The author can chose to write an account that is historically accurate, but may be perceived by popular audiences as boring, or exciting but potentially exaggerated. William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood is a dramatic account of early 1920s Hollywood and the death of one of its most popular actor and director. The author, William J. Mann is a New York Times bestselling author of biographies on Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and William Haines. Mann’s novel is written in a way that to a general audience is engaging and interesting, but to the historical researcher can be conflicting.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Tinseltown focuses on the mysterious death of actor and director William Desmond Taylor as well as the establishment of the Hollywood Studio System in the 1920s. Mann provides interesting insight into the personal lives of the main players involved in Hollywood at this time, the creation of well known studios such as Paramount, and the creation of the FCC along with its effect on Hollywood movies at the time of Prohibition in the United States. Mann writes this novel in a dramatic style, including dialogue, physical reactions and expressions from the actors, and includes in depth descriptions of locations. Most of his research for this novel comes from primary sources, telegrams, newspaper accounts, production files, police records, witness statements and other documents which he includes in his notes, however he lacks citations for the vivid imagery he used claiming he used a variety of contemporary material but “it would be impossible to document each time a photograph or weather report or other background source is used.”(Mann, 2014 p.429) To the historian reading this novel, his refusal to cite the sources of his imagery described brings them question much of the information presented to the reader. While the inclusion of imagined dialogue is exciting and entertaining to the reader, it could be found to be misleading as well seemingly included to keep the reader interested, rather than providing an accurate historical account of the events being described. The inclusion of imagined dialogue and dramatized imagery is not the only aspect of Mann’s work that can create uncertainty in the reader. The writing style of the author is repetitive, as if he is seeking to fill up pages, and Mann frequently circles back and forth rather than creating a linear timeline. Frequent misspellings and misused turns of phrase find the reader questioning if the book was even edited or fact-checked.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Mann’s novel is an interesting read if the reader is looking for a dramatic and exciting  account of early Hollywood, the roaring twenties, and the murder of William Desmond Taylor, but should not be relied on for historical research or actual factual evidence. Readers should be prepared to cross check factual information provided by Mann. Though imagined dialogue can be a useful tool in opening up history to a larger audience, here it cheapens his attempt at a historical account of the times.


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