Saturday, November 6, 2010

Happy birthday, Thomas H. Ince!

With Turner Classic Movies’ documentary Movies and Moguls: The History of Hollywood off to a running start, it seems only fitting to recognize that one hundred and twenty eight years ago on this date, Thomas Harper Ince was born in Newport, RI.  Ince’s future career as a pioneering movie mogul might have been dictated by the fact that he came from a family of stage actors—his father, John E. had been a comedian (who later became a theatrical agent) and Mother Ince (Emma) was an actress; brothers John and Ralph also displayed a flair for the buskin (and like their middle brother, went on to directing careers).

Ince has become known as “The Father of the Western”; though he made a number of movies that covered a variety of subjects he was drawn to oaters and Civil War dramas—he admired director D.W. Griffith’s work and aspired to be the same kind of groundbreaking filmmaker.  He would later partner up with Griffith and “King of Comedy” Mack Sennett to form the Triangle Motion Picture Company in 1916; the business venture lasted two years before Thomas sold out to Griffith and Sennett—and the studio was later acquired by Goldwyn Pictures in 1921, becoming M-G-M three years later.  After a brief stint with Adolph Zukor at Paramount-Aircraft studios, Ince got the independent itch and started his own autonomous “Thomas H. Ince Studios” in 1919.

Thomas Ince was forty-two years old when he decided to join his friend, publisher William Randolph Hearst, for a weekend jaunt on Hearst’s yacht in November 1924…a journey that was to set sail from San Pedro, CA to San Diego.  He was late getting to the party and ended up having to take a train to San Diego in order to meet up with the likes of Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Louella Parsons and other guests…but after dinner, Ince reportedly complained about an acute bout of indigestion.  Dr. Daniel C. Goodman—Hearst’s film production manager and, as luck would have it, a licensed (but non-practicing) physician—accompanied Ince via water taxi back to San Diego, and then the two men boarded a train headed back to L.A.  His condition continued to worsen, and once back at his Hollywood home he succumbed to what was diagnosed as a heart ailment.

Or did he?  There has been rampant speculation for years that Ince’s death wasn’t due to an oopsy tummy but that he was the victim of a stray bullet that was meant for the Little Tramp (Chaplin), who was apparently doodling around with Ms. Davies, aka Hearst’s “Rosebud.”  No one really knows for certain, though the chain of events was nicely dramatized in the 2001 film The Cat’s Meow, directed by Peter Bogdanovich.  Ince’s death and the circumstances surrounding it have unfortunately tarnished the man’s cinematic legacy—Thrilling Days of Yesteryear feels it’s only right to give the director of such silents as The Coward (1915) and Civilization (1916) a birthday shout-out, as well as these other notable celebrities:

Charles Dow (1851-1902) – American journalist who co-founded the Dow Jones and was the first editor of the Wall Street Journal

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) – Musician/composer who liked a good march

James Naismith (1861-1939) – Sports coach who invented basketball and is also often credited with introducing the first football helmet

Ole Olsen (1892-1963) – Partner of Chic Johnson

Frank Readick (1896-1965) – OTR great who replaced actor James La Curto in 1931 as The Shadow (and who actually did the sinister laugh on the intros and outros during the Orson Welles years) and later became a member of Welles’ Mercury Players, immortally emoting as the doomed CBS News reporter Carl Phillips in the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast

Rowland Brown (1897-1963) – Motion picture screenwriter who also directed my personal pick for best Pre Code film in a recent LAMB poll, Blood Money, in 1933

Francis Lederer (1899-2000) – Stage, film and television actor whose vehicles include Pandora’s Box, Midnight and Confessions of a Nazi Spy; also founded the American National Academy of Performing Arts

June Marlowe (1903-1984) – Silent and sound film actress best remembered as schoolteacher Miss Crabtree in the early Our Gang talkie two-reelers

Selena Royle (1904-1983) – Unsung film and television character actress whose vehicles include A Date with Judy, Joan of Arc, The Heiress and He Ran All the Way

Jonathan Harris (1914-2002) – Stage, film and television character actor immortalized by his role as the delightfully fruity “villain” Dr. Zachary Smith on TV’s Lost in Space

Ray Conniff (1916-2002) – Grammy Award-winning composer/bandleader of “easy listening” music who performed the theme song to Archie Bunker’s Place

Ronnie Brody (1918-1991) – Diminutive British character actor and second banana best remembered as a regular on Dave Allen at Large

James Jones (1921-1977) – Author who wrote such novels as From Here to Eternity, Some Came Running and The Thin Red Line

Sam O’Steen (1923-2000) – Motion picture film editor who worked on many of the films directed by fellow birthday boy Mike Nichols: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Silkwood, etc.

Mike Nichols (1931-     ) – One time comedic partner of Elaine May who graduated to stage and film directing; his vehicles include…well, see above listing for Sam O’Steen

Stonewall Jackson (1932-     ) – Country music singer-songwriting great…and a direct descendant of the Confederate Army general of the same name

Gordon Wharmby (1933-2002) – British character actor best remembered as the henpecked Wesley Pegden on the landmark Britcom Last of the Summer Wine

Michael Schwerner (1939-1964) – Civil rights activist who, along with James Cheney and Andrew Goodman, was killed by the Ku Klux Klan near the town of Philadelphia, MI in 1964

Doug Sahm (1941-1999) – Singer-songwriter and frontman for the Sir Douglas Quintet

Guy Clark (1941-     ) – Country music singer-songwriter who wrote one of the best damn country songs ever in Desperadoes Waiting for a Train…but you’re going to hear him extol the virtues of homegrown tomatoes

Wild Man Fischer (1945-     ) – His name is Larry
Sally Field (1946-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress/Boniva shill who started out as Gidget and the Flying Nun before learning that people like her, they really like her
Glenn Frey (1948-     ) – Singer-songwriter and ex-Eagle
Brad Davis (1949-1991) – Stage, screen and television actor who’s best remembered for his role as American tourist-turned-prisoner Billy Hayes in the film Midnight Express
Nigel Havers (1949-     ) – British film and television actor seen in such vehicles as Manchild, Brothers and Sisters and Coronation Street…but remembered around here as Tony Britton’s doctor son on the Britcom Don’t Wait Up
John Falsey (1951-     ) – Emmy Award-winning television writer-producer who created such series as St. Elsewhere, I’ll Fly Away and Northern Exposure
Ron Underwood (1953-     ) – Film and television director-producer-writer whose vehicles include Tremors, City Slickers and Heart and Souls
Catherine Crier (1954-      ) – Former district court judge turned TV personality
Maria Shriver (1955-     ) – American journalist-author and Kennedy family member who is currently the First Lady of Cal-lee-for-nyuh
Lori Singer (1958-     ) – Actress-cellist-dancer whose vehicles include Footloose, Trouble in Mind and TV’s Fame and VR5; sister of Marc
Trace Beaulieu (1958-     ) – MST3K writer and performer (again, it’s all for Scott)
Lance Kerwin (1960-     ) – Moppet actor whose vehicles include James at 15/16 and Salem’s Lot; his recent conviction for second-degree theft (he received probation) shows these kids just can’t seem to stay out of trouble
Peter DeLuise (1966-     ) – Actor son of Dom DeLuise and Carol Arthur best known for his roles on 21 Jump Street and SeaQuest DSV
Rebecca Schaeffer (1967-1989) – Actress-model (My Sister Sam) whose career was cut short when she was shot by a deranged stalker/fan
Ethan Hawke (1970-     ) – Film and television actor whose vehicles include Dead Poets Society, Before Sunrise and Assault on Precinct 13 and who is the male equivalent of my actress nemesis Julia Roberts
Thandie Newton (1972-     ) – Smokin’ hot British actress whose vehicles include Flirting, Jefferson in Paris and Beloved
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Jeff Overturf said...

There's only two things that money can't buy, and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes!

Scott said...

Happy birthday to Crow and Dr. F!

When Francis Lederer died, someone on the old Classic Horror Board on AOL observed that of all the actors to have ever played Dracula (in his case, 1958's The Return of Dracula), Lederer was the only one who had lived in three different centuries.

TheLadyEve said...

It was very good of you to honor film industry pioneer Thomas Ince on his birthday by spotlighting his career. His mysterious demise is intriguing but, over time, it has far overshadowed his accomplishments.

Stacia said...

Trace Beaulieu (1958- ) – MST3K writer and performer (again, it’s all for Scott)

And meeee!!! I don't mean to step on Scott's toes, so I hope it doesn't come off like that. It's just that I am a huge MST3K and Trace fan.

"The Cat's Meow" wasn't bad, but there were a few unfortunate acting choices. Cary Elwes was great, as was Jennifer Tilly who stole the show.

Scott said...

Step freely, Stacia! My toes always have room for a fellow fan (particularly of Trace, who, as you probably know, is as charming and funny in person as he is on camera).

Stacia said...

Unfortunately, I can only assume Trace is charming! The MST3K crew came to visit our university in the 1990s but our town at the time didn't get Comedy Central, so no one knew who they were. I avoided the MST3K stage in our student union because I thought "That looks stupid!" I am an idiot.

A year later we got the MST3K Hour in syndication and proved that, indeed, I was an idiot. Thus was my only chance to see any of the MST3K crew live.

Scott said...

Well, the original cast (plus 2) of MST3K has, as I'm sure you know, reformed as Cinematic Titanic, and they do live movie-riffing shows all over the country. I've caught them once in Seattle and twice in LA, and can testify that it is worth every penny of the reasonably-priced tickets.

In addition, they always hang out afterwards for autographs and photos.