Born on November 6, 1882, in Newport, Rhode Island, Thomas Harper Ince was the second of three sons born to a traveling actor and actress (his brothers were John and Ralph Ince). Ince made his stage debut at age six, appearing on numerous occasions on Broadway and on the road.

Though motion pictures were held in low regard by serious actors in the early part of the 20th Century, Ince, broke and out of work, abandoned the theater, and in 1910 went to work as a motion picture actor for Biograph Films. He later joined Carl Laemmle's IMP Productions where he was given the opportunity to direct. Laemmle had signed actress Mary Pickford away from the Biograph Company, which was part of the Motion Picture Trust, headed by Thomas Edison.


In order to avoid legal hassles with The Motion Picture Trust, Ince and Mary Pickford went to Cuba where they set up production. The venture ended when their cameraman landed in a Cuban jail! Both Ince and Mary Pickford then moved on to Hollywood.

In Hollywood, Ince soon gained a reputation for directing films of superior quality. Tired of the low quality of the western films of the time, he put a whole Wild West show – complete with real cowboys, Indians and a herd of buffalo – on the payroll. He also purchased 20,000 acres of land (part of which is now Pacific Palisades, CA) to film his westerns. It became known as “Inceville.”

Francis Ford, the older brother of director John Ford, directed some of Ince's earlier westerns. Ince also brought actor William S. Hart, whom he had known from the Broadway stage, to the screen. Harte was to become the most popular western star of his era.

Ince later built two motion picture studios in Culver City, CA, both of them on Washington Boulevard, and both of which still stand today. In Culver City, Ince developed first the modern motion picture studio, creating various departments including a scene dock and a carpenter shop to build sets. He supervised the production of all the films coming from his studio and gave detailed shooting instructions to his directors.

Among the directors that Ince helped advance were Jack Conway who went on to direct many of Clark Gable's notable films including Boom Town, Frank Borzage, and Fred Nilbo who directed the silent version of Ben Hur. A popular Ince star of the early period was the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa who, in 1957, was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Colonel Saito in David Lean's classic film, Bridge On The River Kwai.

On the night of November 19, 1924, Ince was mysteriously and fatally injured aboard the yacht of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. The mysterious circumstances of his death and the subsequent tales that surrounded it have obscured the fact that Thomas Ince contributed greatly to the art and craft of making of motion pictures. His early studios and filmmaking techniques are comparable to the contributions of legendary director-producer D.W. Griffith's to the role of the film director.

> go back to History and Ince Award

Site managed by Not Maurice