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Thomas Ince

Thomas Ince: Hollywood's Independent Pioneer

Brian Taves
Series: Screen Classics
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Thomas Ince
    Book Description:

    Thomas H. Ince (1880--1924) turned movie-making into a business enterprise. Progressing from actor to director and screenwriter, he revolutionized the motion picture industry through developing the role of the producer. In addition to building the first major Hollywood studio facility, dubbed "Inceville," he was responsible for more than 800 films.

    Thomas Ince: Hollywood's Independent Pioneer chronicles Ince's life from the stage to his sudden death as he was about to join forces with media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Author Brian Taves explores Ince's impact on Hollywood's production system, the Western, his creation of the first American movies starring Asian performers, and his cinematic exploration of the status of women in society.

    Until now, Thomas Ince has not been the subject of a biography. This book offers insight into the world of silent cinema through the story of one of its earliest and most influential moguls.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3423-9
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    The history of popular American cinema is punctuated by the untimely deaths of individuals who remain etched as forever youthful in the public consciousness. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jean Harlow, and Carole Lombard will never age, and the same is true of figures of the silent era. These include Rudolph Valentino, Wallace Reid, and two for whom the circumstances of their death overshadowed their career: William Desmond Taylor and Thomas Harper Ince.

    By 1922, the public perceived Hollywood as mired in scandal following the Taylor murder case, still unsolved to this day, and the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle manslaughter trial. Ince’s...

  6. Part 1: Beginnings, 1880–1912

    • 1 Stage Apprenticeship
      (pp. 17-22)

      Thomas Harper Ince’s parents were well-regarded character actors and light comedians.¹ His father, John E. Ince, was born in Wigan, Lancashire, England, in 1841, the youngest of nine boys, and enlisted in the navy as a “powder monkey.” He disembarked at San Francisco, working as a reporter and miner.² On the stage, he won the nickname “Pop” Ince, and he later became a New York theatrical agent.³ Thomas Ince’s mother also immigrated from England, and sang comic opera under the names Emma Brennan and Emma Jones.

      When the couple married, they moved to Newport, Rhode Island, and had three sons....

    • 2 Starting in Films
      (pp. 23-38)

      Concluding his tour in 1909, Ince was in New York for only three nights before meeting Ritchie, who was then managing a group of mind readers known as “The Great Saharas.” Ince thought they should make a trip to Bermuda and find business of some type with a troupe, and a few weeks later, they sailed, in the company of actor Joseph Smiley (with whom Ince had coauthored a one-act play three years earlier) and a motion picture operator. The company headquartered at the Colonial Opera House.Professor Wood’s Animated Pictureswere accompanied by dialogue provided by Smiley and Ince,...

  7. Part 2: Making a Reputation, 1912–1915

    • 3 The Job of a Producer
      (pp. 41-52)

      During 1912, Inceville continued to expand, increasing production to two pictures a week and then to three two-reel films weekly, under the Kay Bee, Broncho, and Domino brands. Despite the break with Universal and financial strains, New York Motion Picture Corp. had kept making expensive, spectacular movies. This policy was rewarded with standing orders domestically and abroad, making the company’s owners wealthy.¹

      Writers were composing overtime. Ince was unique among producers for his reputation in collaborating on every script, with a scenario department of only five individuals, unlike other companies employing dozens of scenarists and continuity specialists.² The use of...

    • 4 Establishing a Studio
      (pp. 53-72)

      Although Ince still cut each film himself, soon he had a staff of six directors, and he gradually ceased directing by mid-1913.¹ To replace Francis Ford, who went to Universal in January 1913, Kessel and Baumann sent out Charles Giblyn and Scott Sidney, who had been directing Reliance pictures in New York.² Joining their ranks were Reginald Barker, Raymond B. West, and Burton King, while Walter Edwards, Jay Hunt, and Richard Stanton doubled as actors and directors. West had begun with Balshofer, working his way up from property man, and was still in his twenties. Barker was the same age,...

  8. Part 3: Innovations, 1914–1917

    • 5 Generic Experimentation
      (pp. 75-88)

      Ince’s willingness to tackle subjects usually avoided by others, and unhesitatingly to do so with skill, was noted by reviewers of the time. One reviewer remarked, “When Mr. Ince has anything to say in pictures he has always gone ahead and said it, even in his two reel Bronchos and Kay-Bee. He has said very daring things and put them across without absurdity, ridiculousness, or mawkishness, and he has made observers marvel at his sheer audacity.”¹ Because of this willingness, he became one of the first pioneers in the film business to foreground ethnicity, claiming, “Naturalness is even more essential...

    • 6 The Prescient Failure
      (pp. 89-108)

      On June 18, 1915, theNew York Timesreported the plan of Harry E. Aitken, president of Mutual Film, to create a chain of theaters stretching across the country devoted to presenting movies at a charge of $2 for the best seats. Aitken had producedBirth of a Nation,which it was said cost $200,000, achieving a spectacle that was able to sell tickets at that price. He noted, “The once lowly movie … has grown in ten years from a few scattered nickelodeons into a combination that ranks fourth or fifth among the great business enterprises of the country....

  9. Part 4: Paramount, 1917–1921

    • 7 A Fresh Start
      (pp. 111-118)

      On June 26, 1917, Ince signed a distribution contract with Paramount that stipulated he was to produce one to four “special features,” at least six thousand feet in length and at least four months apart, each year for two years beginning September 1, 1917. Paramount, originally a distributor, had been founded in 1914 by W. W. Hodkinson. He left shortly after it was taken over in 1916 by Adolph Zukor and Jesse L. Lasky, who merged it with their Famous Players Film Company and Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. The name Famous Players-Lasky was incorporated, but Paramount was retained...

    • 8 The Star Series
      (pp. 119-142)

      Two of Ince’s stars for Triangle continued with him, Charles Ray and, most important, William S. Hart. Near the end of the June 1917 contract between Ince and Paramount was a key point, noting that Hart was so vital that without him, the entire arrangement could be terminated.¹ The actor was widely regarded as “bait” in the negotiations, and he was furious at being used in this way, although his $10,000 a week placed him with the highest-paid performers.²

      Hart’s new contract with Paramount called for sixteen feature films guaranteed at $150,000 each for his salary, and he and Ince...

    • 9 World War I and Specials
      (pp. 143-158)

      The conflict’s impact had already been felt in a number of Ince’s films for Triangle, most prominentlyCivilization(1916) andThe Zeppelin’s Last Raid(1917). These had charted the nation’s progression from an initially pacifist response to siding with the Allies. The studio and its output of films were both affected by the war, and Ince announced that any member of his staff who entered the service would have either their same position given to them upon their return, or at least one with an equivalent salary. That meant that quickly some employees had to do the work of three,...

  10. Part 5: The Perils of an Independent, 1919–1924

    • 10 Associated Producers, 1919–1921
      (pp. 161-176)

      At the beginning of 1919, United Artists had formed with three stars, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin, and a director, D. W. Griffith. On November 8 the same year, Ince announced the formation of Associated Producers Inc. to handle his films along with those of Allan Dwan, Marshall Neilan, J. Parker Read, Maurice Tourneur, George Loane Tucker, and Mack Sennett. (Quickly, some would join and others depart this group.) Associated Producers became known in the press as the “Big Six.” The contracts followed the pattern of United Artists, with the various individuals involved with Associated Producers waiting for...

    • 11 The Inevitable Merger, 1921–1922
      (pp. 177-188)

      Despite public plans for independent distribution, with Associated Producers movies available to all theater owners, the expenditure required for creation of a network was simply not yet warranted.¹ Ince found that the interruptions necessary to manage distribution made his own task as a producer almost impossible, and the desirability of a more steady income also argued in favor of aligning with a distributor.²

      United Artists mulled over absorbing Associated Producers, which would have given the company more product in its distributing system.³ By contrast, as the statement announcing the eventual $50 million merger would note, “the aims of the Associated...

    • 12 War with First National, 1922
      (pp. 189-198)

      Despite the contentious public break with Hart, Ince maintained amicable relations with other employees over the years, even when they departed his studio. In the 1920s, several of Ince’s former directors rejoined the studio even though he did not have steady distribution arrangements; these included Roy William Neill and Lambert Hillyer, who returned after a long association with Hart. Frank Borzage, who had begun as an actor for him, called Ince “loyal and honest,” adding, “I owe him everything.”¹ After Ince’s death, Lloyd Hughes recalled the “kindness and encouragement” he had offered.² Mack Sennett called Ince “a loyal, fast-thinking friend...

    • 13 The Studio Resumes Production, 1922–1923
      (pp. 199-210)

      After four months of idleness, the Ince studio was ready to begin operating again.¹The Silver Sheettried to make the most of it: “A brief lull in production work had given every one on the Ince lot a new supply of pep and enthusiasm for the business of picture-making.”²

      Under the new contract, Ince’s first release was in September 1922:Skin Deep.The story was inspired by the notorious East Side gangster “Monk” Eastman, whose real name was William Delaney. The law was on his trail when he joined the army in 1917, but he earned the Croix de...

    • 14 Case Study of a Production and Its Personnel: Her Reputation, 1922–1923
      (pp. 211-230)

      Ince’s next several releases for First National were a series of contrasts that emphasized the steady progression of his career and films, culminating in his single most personally prescient production,Her Reputation.These movies demonstrated the public interest in stories dramatizing changing gender roles in society, and the regional interests at the heart of Ince’s work. They also highlight Ince’s leading director and writer, and many favorite performers.

      Scars of Jealousy,released on March 5, 1923, was written and directed by Lambert Hillyer from an Anthony Rud magazine story titled “Brotherhood of Hate,” the original title of the production. Most...

    • 15 Initial Distribution beyond First National, 1923
      (pp. 231-246)

      In the final two years of Thomas Ince’s career, First National was to become steadily less central, only one among several distribution outlets. One of the key concessions as a result of the litigation between Ince and First National was that, while he maintained his output for them, additional movies, boasting his name, could be released through other concerns after March 1, 1923. Ince contracted with a number of companies to bring his product to theaters, finding commercial success with special arrangements with specific distributors, based on star, budget, or content. This became official policy at the board meeting of...

    • 16 At the Crossroads, 1923–1924
      (pp. 247-254)

      Even with the releases through Metro and FBO, in addition to First National, keeping the lot busy on a rental basis, and collecting the payments due, remained Ince’s primary concern. In June 1923, the assignments of Beck’s Baird productionsThe Destroying AngelandThe Miracle Makerswere made to the Bank of Italy for a $90,000 loan to the Ince Corp. The prior Beck moviesIs Divorce a Failure?, Don’t Doubt Your Wife, When Husbands Deceive,andWhen the Devil Driveswere assigned to the Commercial National Bank as security for the notes received from Beck and endorsed by the...

    • 17 The Steady Hum of Independent Production, 1924
      (pp. 255-270)

      Learning from the initial experiences of distribution beyond First National with Metro and FBO, Thomas Ince shifted further toward distribution that offered possibilities to handle a variety of movies. Despite all his attempts since 1919 to lavish most of his efforts on six to eight specials annually, the unreliability of First National as a distributing outlet led Ince to labor over a steadily increasing number of movies, the most since his years at Paramount. The new movies were budgeted at varying levels, although the concept of “B” or “programmer” did not exist at this time, and none of Ince’s work...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 271-282)

    Upon Thomas Ince’s death on November 19, 1924, the studio shut down only briefly, to ensure that employees would not suffer from being thrown out of work.¹ However, by the end of November, eighty-five employees had been laid off.² No new movies were started, but several were still shooting or in the editing phase, and contracts required their delivery.³ His wife, Elinor, quickly took an active part in the company’s direction.

    Because I was familiar with Mr. Ince’s ideas and ideals I perhaps best understood his wishes…. I am going to co-operate with the executives at the studio to carry...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 283-342)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 343-354)
  14. Index
    (pp. 355-372)