Estelle Taylor

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Estelle Taylor
Estelle Taylor in the 1920s
Born Ida Estelle Taylor
(1894-05-20)May 20, 1894
Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.
Died April 15, 1958(1958-04-15) (aged 63)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Education Wilmington High School
Occupation Actress, singer, animal rights activist
Years active 1919–1945
Spouse(s) Kenneth Malcolm Peacock
(married 1911–1925)
Jack Dempsey
(married 1925–1931)
Paul Small
(married 1943–1945)

Ida Estelle Taylor (May 20, 1894 – April 15, 1958) was an American actress, singer, and animal rights activist. With "dark-brown, almost black hair and brown eyes," she was regarded as one of the most beautiful stars of silent films of the 1920s.[1]

After her stage debut in 1919, Taylor began appearing in small roles in World and Vitagraph films. She achieved her first notable success with While New York Sleeps (1920), in which she played three different roles, including a "vamp." She was a contract player of Fox Film Corporation and, later, Paramount Pictures, but for the most part of her career she freelanced. She became famous and was commended by critics for her portrayals of historical women in important films: Miriam in The Ten Commandments (1923), Mary, Queen of Scots in Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924), and Lucrezia Borgia in Don Juan (1926).

Although she made a successful transition to sound films, she retired from film acting in 1932 and decided to focus entirely on her singing career. She was also active in animal welfare before her death from cancer in 1958. She was posthumously honored in 1960 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the motion pictures category.

Early life[edit]

Taylor was born to a Jewish family[2] in Wilmington, Delaware. Her father, Harry D. Taylor (born 1871), was born in Delaware.[3] Her mother, Ida LaBertha Barrett (1874–1965), was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, and later worked as a freelance makeup artist.[4] Harry and Ida divorced in 1903,[5] and Ida later married vaudevillian Harry J. Boylan,[6] Estelle's stepfather. Estelle's sister, Helen Taylor (1898–1990),[7][8] was cast in supporting roles in a few silent films of the 1920s.[9][10]

Taylor was raised by her maternal grandparents, Charles Christopher Barrett and Ida Lauber.[11] Her childhood ambition was to become a stage actress.[12] When she was ten years old she sang the role of "Buttercup" in an amateur performance of H.M.S. Pinafore in Wilmington.[12] She attended high school and college in Wilmington.[1] In 1911, she married bank cashier Kenneth M. Peacock.[13]


She made her stage début in the musical Come On, Charlie.[14] After relocating to Hollywood, she began taking bit parts in films. One of Taylor's earliest successes was in 1920 in Fox's While New York Sleeps with Marc McDermott. She and McDermott play three sets of characters in different time periods. This film was lost for decades, but has been recently discovered and screened at a film festival in Los Angeles.

She starred opposite John Gilbert in Monte Cristo (1922); the New York Herald critic wrote that "Miss Taylor was as effective in the revenge section of the film as she was in the first or love part of the screened play. Here is a class of face that can stand a close-up without becoming a mere speechless automaton."[15]

One of her most memorable roles is that of Miriam, the sister of Moses (portrayed by Theodore Roberts), in the biblical prologue of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923), one of the most successful films of the silent era. Her performance in the DeMille film was considered a great acting achievement.[16]

Taylor as Mary, Queen of Scots, from Stars of the Photoplay (1924)

Despite being ill with arthritis, she won the supporting role of Mary, Queen of Scots in Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924), starring Mary Pickford. "I've since wondered if my long illness did not, in some measure at least, make for realism in registering the suffering of the unhappy and tormented Scotch queen," she told a reporter in 1926.[16]

She played Lucrezia Borgia in Don Juan (1926), Warner Bros.' first feature-length film with synchronized Vitaphone sound effects and musical soundtrack. The film also starred John Barrymore, Mary Astor and Warner Oland. Variety praised her characterization of Lucrezia: "The complete surprise is the performance of Estelle Taylor as Lucretia [sic] Borgia. Her Lucretia is a fine piece of work. She makes it sardonic in treatment, conveying precisely the woman Lucretia is presumed to have been."[17]

She was to have co-starred in a film with Rudolph Valentino, but he died just before production was to begin.[18] One of her last silent films was New York (1927), featuring Ricardo Cortez and Lois Wilson.[citation needed]

In 1928, she and husband Dempsey starred in a Broadway play titled The Big Fight, loosely based around Dempsey's boxing popularity, which ran for 31 performances at the Majestic Theatre.[19]

She made a successful transition to sound films or "talkies." Her first sound film was the comical sketch Pusher in the Face (1929).[1] Notable sound films in which she appeared include Street Scene (1931), with Sylvia Sidney; the Academy Award for Best Picture-winning Cimarron (1931), with Richard Dix and Irene Dunne; and Call Her Savage (1932), with Clara Bow.

Taylor returned to films in 1944 with a small part in the Jean Renoir drama The Southerner (released in 1945), playing what journalist Erskine Johnson described as "a bar fly with a roving eye. There's a big brawl and she starts throwing beer bottles."[20] Johnson was delighted with Taylor's reappearance in the film industry: "[Interviewing] Estelle was a pleasant surprise. The lady is as beautiful and as vivacious as ever, with the curves still in the right places."[20] The Southerner was her last film.

Personal life[edit]

Dempsey with his wife, actress Estelle Taylor, on his shoulder (Chicago, 1925)

Taylor married three times. Her first husband was banker Kenneth Malcolm Peacock,[21] or Pencock, married in 1911.[13] She separated from him in order to pursue her acting career in New York.[13] She divorced in January 1925,[22] before marrying her second husband "Jack" Dempsey,[23] the world heavyweight boxing champion.

They lived in Los Feliz, Los Angeles. Her marriage to Dempsey ended in divorce in 1931. Her third husband was a theatrical producer, Paul Small. Of her last husband and their marriage, she said: "We have been friends and Paul has managed my stage career for five years, so it seemed logical that marriage should work out for us, but I'm afraid I'll have to say that the reason it has not worked out is incompatibility."[24] She had no children.

In her later years, Taylor devoted her free time to her pets and was the president and founder of the California Pet Owners' Protective League.[1] In 1953, Taylor served on the City Animal Regulation Commission in Los Angeles, California.[1]


Taylor died of cancer at her home in Los Angeles on April 15, 1958,[1][14] at the age of 63. She was survived by her mother, Ida "Bertha" Barrett Boylan; her sister, Helen Taylor Clark; and a niece, Frances Iblings.[25] She left an estate of more than $10,000, most of it to her family and $200 for the care and maintenance of her three dogs, which she left to friend Ella Mae Abrams.[25] She was interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.


Taylor was known for her dark features and for the sensuality she brought to the films in which she appeared. Journalist Erskine Johnson considered her "the screen's No. 1 oomph girl of the 20s."[20] For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Estelle Taylor was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1620 Vine Street in Hollywood, California.[26]


Film portrayal[edit]

In the 1983 American television biopic Dempsey, Estelle Taylor was portrayed by British actress Victoria Tennant.


Year Title Role Notes
1919 A Broadway Saint The Parisian Film debut
The Golden Shower Helen
1920 The Adventurer Maritana
The Revenge of Tarzan Countess de Coude
While New York Sleeps A Wife / The Vamp / The Girl
Blind Wives Anne / Annie / Annette
The Tower of Jewels Adele Warren
1921 Footfalls Peggy Hawthorne
1922 A Fool There Was Gilda Fontaine
Monte Cristo Mercedes, Countess de Morcerf
The Lights of New York Mrs. George Burton
Only a Shop Girl Mame Mulvey
Thorns and Orange Blossoms Rosita Mendez
A California Romance Donna Dolores
1923 Bavu Princess Annia
Mary of the Movies Herself Uncredited
Forgive and Forget Mrs. Cameron
Desire Madalyn Harlan
The Ten Commandments Miriam, The Sister of Moses
1924 Phantom Justice 'Goldie' Harper
Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall Mary, Queen of Scots
Tiger Love Marcheta
Passion's Pathway Dora Kenyon
The Alaskan Mary Standish
Playthings of Desire Gloria Dawn
1925 Manhattan Madness The Girl
Wandering Footsteps Helen Maynard
1926 Don Juan Lucrezia Borgia
1927 New York Angie Miller
1928 The Whip Woman Sari
Honor Bound Evelyn Mortimer
Lady Raffles Lady Raffles
The Wreck of the Singapore Daisy
1929 Pusher in the Face Short film
Where East Is East Mme. de Sylva
1930 Liliom Mme. Muscat
1931 Cimarron Dixie Lee
Street Scene Mrs. Anna Maurrant
The Unholy Garden Eliza Mowbray
1932 Western Limited Doris
Call Her Savage Ruth Springer
1935 Frisco Kid Undetermined role Uncredited
1939 Bachelor Mother Undetermined role Uncredited
1945 The Southerner Lizzie


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Estelle Taylor, Silent Film Charmer, Dies". The Deseret News. INS. April 15, 1958. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  2. ^ Estelle Taylor biodata
  3. ^ "Harvey D Taylor - United States Census, 1900". FamilySearch. Retrieved July 22, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Obituary - Bertha Boylan". Variety. August 26, 1965. 
  5. ^ "Ida Labertha Or Labertha Barrett mentioned in the record of Fred T. Krech and Ida Labertha Or Labertha Barrett". FamilySearch. Retrieved July 22, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Obituary - Harry J. Boylan". Variety. December 20, 1951. 
  7. ^ "Helena G Taylor - United States Census, 1900". FamilySearch. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Helen Taylor Clark - California Death Index". FamilySearch. Retrieved April 24, 2016. 
  9. ^ Schallert, Edwin and Elza (October 1923). "Hollywood High Lights". Picture-Play Magazine. Retrieved July 22, 2015. 
  10. ^ Schallert, Edwin and Elza (April 1924). "Hollywood High Lights". Picture-Play Magazine. Retrieved July 22, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Estella Barrett - United States Census, 1910". FamilySearch. Retrieved July 22, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b Taylor Dempsey, Estelle; (as told to) Barker, Lillian (January 31, 1926). "Estelle's Early Stage Experience and Her Final Break Into the Movies". The Sunday Morning Star. Retrieved April 24, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c "New York Accepts Estelle As Real Star". The Sunday Morning Star. January 9, 1921. Retrieved July 22, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Estelle Taylor Dies; Cancer Victim, 58". The Lewiston Daily Sun. Associated Press. April 16, 1958. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Estelle Taylor Gets First Rank In New William Fox Picture". The Sunday Morning Star. August 13, 1922. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  16. ^ a b Taylor Dempsey, Estelle; (as told to) Barker, Lillian (February 21, 1926). "Not Beauty But Personality, Intelligence and Determination Win Success in Movies". The Sunday Morning Star. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Review: 'Don Juan'". Variety. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Theater Gossip". The Evening Independent. January 22, 1927. Retrieved July 15, 2015. 
  19. ^ The Big Fight a Broadway play produced at the Majestic Theatre, September 18, 1928 – October 1928;; accessed August 6, 2017.
  20. ^ a b c Johnson, Erskine (October 26, 1944). "Ex-Oomph Girl Back In Films: Estelle Returns In Siren Role". The Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved January 13, 2017. 
  21. ^ "Dempsey's Matrimonial Plans Continue Hazy". The Palm Beach Post. January 10, 1925. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Dempsey-Taylor Marriage Predicted In Hollywood". The Evening Independent. United News. January 10, 1925. Retrieved April 20, 2016. 
  23. ^ "Jack Dempsey Married (newsreel)". British Pathé. February 25, 1925. Retrieved November 26, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Estelle Taylor Separates From Her Third Husband". The Evening Independent. Associated Press. May 27, 1944. Retrieved April 19, 2016. 
  25. ^ a b "Estelle Taylor Wills 3 Dogs". The Salt Lake Tribune. April 19, 1958. 
  26. ^ "Estelle Taylor - Hollywood Star Walk - Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 27, 2015. 
  27. ^ "The Shadow Stage". Photoplay. XXXVI (1): 55. June 1929. 
  28. ^ "Reviews of the Best Pictures". Screenland. XXIV (1): 57. November 1931. 

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