Reeducating Myself About Thomas Ince

I knew of Thomas Ince as part of the triumvirate that was the short-lived Triangle Film Company. I’d played for an Ince series at MoMA about ten years ago. Until my current Douglas MacLean project brought his name and work to the fore in my consciousness, that had been pretty much it.

The DVD of a pair of rare, rarely-seen Douglas MacLean features I’ll be releasing in early. 2020 will have an extra film, a twenty-minute short called A Tour Through the World’s Greatest Motion Picture Studios (1920). Produced by Ince, and directed by Hunt Stromberg, it’s one of the most thorough behind-the-scenes studio films I’ve seen from the silent era. You see every facet of production, as well as pre- and post-, at the Ince studios. The 2K scan of the Library of Congress’ 35mm nitrate print looks amazing.

Ince was an independent producer, had his own studios and facilities in Culver City that included his own laboratories, and he released through a number of different distributors, including one he was part of — Associated Producers. He was also a director, and was often involved directing scenes from films that bore his name as “entire production supervised by”, helping with scenarios and with editing. The Ince films I’ve seen have some of the best art titles I’ve seen in pictures from the early 1920s and use a hand-lettered typeface that appears to be unique to Ince productions.

Luckily there’s an excellent book on Ince, by Brian Taves, entitled “Thomas Ince: Hollywood’s Independent Pioneer” (University Press of Kentucky, 2011), which I’ve now read through as part of my getting into the world of Douglas MacLean and his films. It’s given me a lot info and insight into the short but dynamic career of yet another silent era filmmaker I marvel at, because of their innate understanding of what cinema was…while the production and language of movies were being invented themselves.

scenarist Bradley King
Screenwriter/scenarist Bradley King. Image sourced from the Women Film Pioneers Project website.

There were quite a number of stars and directors who were Ince discoveries or whom Ince starred in several pictures that helped established them as stars. Along with Douglas MacLean, actors William S. Hart, Lloyd Hughes, Enid Bennett, Hobart Bosworth rose to prominence thanks to Ince’s instincts. There were directors and other crafts-people, too, including a scenarist I’d never heard of and covered in one of Taves’ later chapters in the book. 

Bradley King was a prolific and versatile scenario writer who’d worked in pictures for a few years, and who had an average of three of her scripts filmed and released by Ince’s company every year from 1920-1924. King was the pseudonym chosen by Josephine McLaughlin while writing romance novels isn’t he late ‘teens. After Ince’s death in 1924 she continued working as a scenarist and screenwriter through the late 1930s.

Don’t hop over to IMDb to read her credits and thumbnail bio, though. Read Brian’s biography of Bradley King on the Women Film Pioneers Project site, here.

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Kenneth Henderson

Looking forward to the DVD or Blu Ray? next year. The studios lot I have been on in about 1972 when I was a guest of the former MGM company for lunch with an executive and two former long term names at MGM: JJ Cohn and Arnold(known as Buddy) Gillespie. Ince moved from Inceville in Edendale(now Echo Park neighborhood) to Culver City from 1916 which was where I went in Washington Blvd. Inbetween Ince and MGM was Goldwyn Pictures where Gillespie worked on special effects after returning from WW1 and stayed on after the demise of Goldwyn with the new… Read more »