Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

William Cunningham Deane-Tanner
(AKA: William Desmond Taylor)

'Disapproving Dad'

Disapproving Dad from a story called 'Shot in the Back'
Denise Noe

William we was born in Carlow, Ireland. Much about his life and death is in dispute including the year of his birth, which has variously been given as 1866, 1872 and 1877. Sources are more in agreement about the month and day: April 26. He was the second of four children. His father, Kearns Deane-Tanner, was a major in the British Army. The family was affluent. Major Deane-Tanner was a strict disciplinarian with a hot temper and frequently clashed with young William.

William left home in his teens after quarrelling with his father. Precisely what sparked the row that led to their estrangement is unclear. Some accounts say that Major Deane-Tanner was upset because of the adolescent’s relationships with women.

Other versions of the story say that the major was so disappointed that his son failed the eye examinations for the Army that he threw the lad out of his home. This is a perplexing story since William did have poor eyesight. However, it is not impossible that the elder Deane-Tanner incorrectly believed that William had faked an eye condition to get out of the service and was outraged at what he perceived as cowardice.

After leaving the family home, William found work on the stage. It was 1890 when he managed to get a bit part in a production of Sir Charles Hawtrey’s The Private Secretary.

Word got back to Kearns Deane-Tanner that his son was appearing in plays and he was furious because, like many of the day, he viewed the theatre as a low occupation. He decided that his son would no longer besmirch the family name and Major Deane-Tanner enrolled the budding actor in a place called Runnymede, across the ocean in Kansas. Runnymede was dedicated to turning young miscreants into gentlemen farmers.

William remained at Runnymede for a year and a half. There he picked up a strong interest in horses that would continue long after his stay at Runnymede became a distant memory.

Without a clear career goal in mind, William held a variety of jobs. He worked on a railroad, waited tables and did manual labor. For a while, he trudged door-to-door soliciting subscriptions for magazines.

Eventually he found his way to New York City and the theater there. On December 7, 1901, he married the well-to-do Ethel May Harrison, a pretty blonde who acted under the name “Effie Hamilton.”

Unable to support his family as an actor, William left the stage to manage an antique store, which was financed by his father-in-law. After Ethel became pregnant, she abandoned paid work for full-time homemaking. William did well in the antique business. He was urbane and sophisticated, and had a reliable knowledge of antiques.

However, as the years went on, he was increasingly bothered by minor health problems and seemed uneasy and bored. He apparently tried to spice up his life with a series of casual affairs. That must not have worked because he began to drink heavily.

It was on September 26, 1908, that William took the coward’s way out of an unhappy marriage. He asked underlings at his antique store to bring him $600 in cash. They did and he put $500 of it in an envelope and told them to give it to his wife.

With the remaining $100 in his pocket, he walked out of his wife and daughter’s lives without an explanation or apology.

Source: County Crime Library is not available on line anymore (2018)

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