charlie-oscar2A weekly feature in which my five-year-old son is let loose on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Los Angeles, and chooses a star from among the more than 2,500 honorees. His “random” picks sometimes reveal unexplained connections such as the summer day in 2012 when he sat down on the star of actress Celeste Holm and refused to budge. We later learned that the Oscar-winning actress had died only hours earlier. There are five categories on the Walk of Fame: motion pictures, television, radio, music and theater but Charlie tends to favor the movies. 

I heard a faint rendition of the Twilight Zone theme when Charlie stopped on Estelle Taylor’s star this weekend. Could he have somehow known that Taylor co-starred with his pick from last week, Richard Dix, in the Oscar-winning 1931 film Cimarron? She also appeared with Dix in Cecil B. De Mille’s 1923 version of The Ten Commandments even though they didn’t have any scenes together. Dix was in the “modern” section of the film while Taylor had a key role as Moses’ sister, Miriam.

estelletaylor-1Born Ida Estelle Taylor on May 20, 1894, in Wilmington, Delaware, Taylor shocked her Jewish family by running off to New York and getting married at the crazy age of 14. The marriage didn’t last and Taylor threw herself into studying acting. While in New York,  she modeled and appeared in some Broadway choruses, but her beauty caught the attention of movie scouts and she soon headed to Hollywood. She dropped the “Ida” from her name and had her first big success in  Fox’s While New York Sleeps (1920) directed by Charles Brabin (Theda Bara’s husband). Taylor played three different roles in this popular film (which was thought to be lost until a copy was discovered a few years ago). Other major films included Monte Cristo (1922) opposite John Gilbert, and her delicious turn as Lucrezia Borgia in the famous John Barrymore version of Don Juan (1926). That was the first feature film to include a synchronized music and sound effects track (but no spoken dialogue). The film is also famous for having the most kisses in movie history by its leading man — Barrymore smooches with 191 different women during the course of the film!


In addition to Cimarron, Estelle Taylor’s other well known talkies include King Vidor’s Street Scene (1931) with Sylvia Sidney and playing Clara Bow’s mother (even though she was only 11 years older) in the saucy pre-Code Call Her Savage with Gilbert Roland. Taylor only made a few films after that, ending her movie career with a small role in Jean Renoir’s The Southerner in 1945.

estelle-jackTaylor was a well-respected actress but she may have been even more famous because of her marriage to heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. The two briefly starred in a Broadway play called The Big Fight, loosely based on their lives. It was a tempestuous marriage and the couple’s divorce was Big News around the world, including reports of Taylor’s settlement of $40,000 in cash, their $150,000 home and three cars. Dempsey told a reporter at the time, “I resented her more than I disliked her. In fact, I would have taken her back if she snapped her fingers. But she was glad to be free and away from me.” As for Estelle, legend has it that when a fan approached her for an autograph and she noticed that Dempsey had already provided his signature at the top of that page in the woman’s autograph book, she signed the page, “This is the last time that son-of-a-bitch is on top of me. Estelle Taylor.”

In later years, Taylor became an advocate for animals and founded the California Pet Owners’ Protective League. She died on April 15, 1958, at the age of 63. She’s buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.