Filled Under: Mary Miles Minter
Mary Miles Minter was an American actress who appeared in fifty-four silent era motion pictures from 1912 to 1923. In 1922, Minter was involved in scandal surrounding the murder of director William Desmond Taylor, whom she professed her love for. Although gossip implicated her mother, former actress Charlotte Shelby, as the murderer, Minter’s reputation as a demure young lady was tarnished and her movie career ruined. Taylor’s murder has never been solved.
Mary Miles Minter was born Juliet Reilly in Shreveport, Louisiana on April 1, 1902. Mintor’s mother was Broadway actress Charlotte Shelby. At the age of five, Minter accompanied older sister Margaret on an audition only because no baby sitter was available, was noticed by the director and given her first part. After this she was frequently employed, widely noted for both her talent and visual appeal. Minter recieved her stage name when in 1912, to avoid child labour laws in Chicago while her 10 year-old daughter was appearing in a play, Shelby obtained the birth certificate of a cousin and changed Juliet’s name to Mary Miles Minter. She made her first feature film titled “The Fairy And The Waif” in 1915 at the age of 13, after which her career steadily grew. Minter specialized in playing demure young women. With her photogenic even features, periwinkle blue eyes, and curly hair, she emulated and later rivaled Mary Pickford. Her other early pictures of note are “Lovely Mary” (1916), “Faith” (1916), and “Dimples” (1916). Minter was described by the press as “of the screen as a sweet, pretty little girl with an abundance of blonde curls, a picture actress slightly bigger than a faint recollection, a little queen with delicate features and endearing young charms”. She later worked for Adolph Zukor at Realart Pictures and one of her favorite directors was William Desmond Taylor. While at Realart Mary made a number of films including “Anne of Green Gables” (1919), “Judy of Rogue’s Harbor” (1920), “Jenny Be Good” (1920) and “The Little Clown” (1921). Her salary, which started at $150 per week in 1915, increased to $2250 per week and Minter was quickly becoming of the biggest stars in the world.
According to Minter, she supposedly became involved romantically with Taylor around this time but other people who knew Taylor and Minter said he never reciprocated her feelings. Then in 1922, Taylor was murdered in his home. The ensuing scandal, coming in the wake of the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle murder trial, was the subject of widespread media speculation and embellishment. Minter was at the height of her success, having starred in more than 50 films when the murder occured, but sensationalistic newspaper revelations of the twenty-year-old film star’s association with a forty-nine-year-old murdered director caused rolling scandals. Though she was never considered a suspect in the murder, when the public learned of Mary’s involvement with a man who had questionable dealings with women and was more than twice her age, it all but ended her career. Minter made four more films including “Drums Of Fate” (1923) and “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (1923) but her films were no longer box-office draws and she retired from the silver screen completely.
In 1925, she sued her mother for an accounting of the money Shelby had received for her during her screen career. The case was settled out of court, with the settlement being signed by Minter and Shelby at the American Consulate in Paris, France, on January 24, 1927. Minter commented she was content to live without her Hollywood career. She later reconciled fully with her mother and proclaimed her love for Taylor throughout her long life. In a 1970 interview during which Minter described Taylor as her “mate,” she recalled how she broke down and sobbed when she was allowed to view (and touch) the director’s body in a morgue.
Minter had invested in Los Angeles real estate and seems to have lived in relative comfort and prosperity, although she was later the victim of several robberies during the 1970s and early 1980s. Police described her as a frail old woman and people were often shocked to learn she had once been a famous movie star.
Mary Miles Minter died on August 12,1984 from a stroke in Santa Monica, California. For her contributions to the motion picture industry, Mary Miles Minter has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street.