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Estelle Taylor

1899 - 1958

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03 Life Stories

Estelle Taylor
1899 - 1958

As brunette beauties go, she was second to none. And, the aura of Estelle Taylor, whose career in film lasted over a quarter of a century, continues to dazzle.

She was born Estelle Boylan, in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 20, 1899. Her life, and her active and curious nature, started early. She was a mere teenager, aged fourteen, when, in 1913, she wed her first husband, Kenneth Malcolm Peacock, a banker in her hometown of Wilmington. The couple separated in 1918, when she went to New York to study acting at Sargent’s Dramatic School. She modeled for artists and was featured in the chorus of some Broadway musicals before making her silver screen debut, in While the City Sleeps (1919).

Her appearances in several important silent films, many of which are extant, give contemporary audiences an opportunity to assess her many talents anew: she played Miriam, the sister of Moses (played by Theodore Roberts) in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 classic The Ten Commandments; she portrayed Lucretia Borgia opposite John Barrymore in Alan Crosland’s Don Juan (1926); she played Mary, Queen of Scots in the Mary Pickford classic, Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924), and co-starred with world champion heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey in Manhattan Madness (1925). More on Dempsey in a moment.

On January 9, 1925, Taylor divorced her husband, Kenneth Peacock, after a 7-year separation, charging cruel and barbarious treatment. A month later, on February 7, 1925, she wed her Manhattan Madness co-star, Jack Dempsey, in the First Presbyterian Church in San Diego. Three years later, in 1928, husband and wife appeared together on Broadway in “The Big Fight.” However, their marital bliss would not last.

Taylor and Dempsey were divorced on September 21, 1931, with Dempsey receiving the marital dissolution after testifying that her acting career had ruined their marriage. Taylor, who was often seen in exotic, vampy roles, survived the transition to sound (as opposed to many of her contemporaries who could not weather the change), and she played leads and character roles in a number of important sound films, most notably as Sylvia Sidney’s tenement mother in King Vidor’s Street Scene (1931), and a memorable role in Cimarron (1931). Her final film was The Southerner, in 1945.

Taylor tried marriage one more time, as she wed producer and agent Paul Small in May 1943. They were divorced in 1946.

Estelle Taylor died on April 15, 1958, from cancer, in Los Angeles. She had no children. Her career spanned over twenty-five years; she worked for such star-studded companies as Fox, United Artists, and Columbia, and she came a long way from her pre-acting career, as a typist. Her accomplishments in the histrionic art earned her a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, at 1620 Vine Street. In addition to that accolade, as anyone who has been dazzled by her brunette beauty can attest: as her films are introduced to new generations, the legend of Estelle Taylor will continue to gather new fans to her corner, assuring that she will be a star, forever.