Monday, January 15, 2018

Born Today January 15: Rex Ingram (Director)


Irish born silent film director Rex Ingram (not to be confused with the groundbreaking African-American actor of of the same name) was born Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock (Rex for short) in Dublin; his father was a Church of Ireland rector.  He immigrated to the U.S. in 1911 at the age of just 16 with the express purpose of continuing education at University.  He attended Yale University and majored in art, studying sculpture.  While there, he worked as a contributor (writer) for student magazine The Yale Record.  As a result of his attendance at the university, he became embroiled with the movie industry in the New York area.  He first entered films as an actor in 1913, by way of being hired for set design that included painting.  He appeared in a Vitagraph historical adventure short Beau Brummel, and was credited as Rex Hitchcock.  He also went to work as a writer in the film industry; his first credit for a screenplay comes on the 1913 Edison historical short about the Spanish American War (very recent at the time) The Family's Honor, also in 1913.  His writing career for film lasted the duration of his time in pictures, though most of his original written work was produced in the teens.  For his directorial debut, he self produced the short The Symphony Of Souls in 1914, and managed to get a distribution deal with Universal.  The film gave a glimpse of what was to come from him as a director (it was around this time that he decided to go by his first two names: Rex Ingram).  His next picture, The Great Problem (1916), was wholly his own project; having written the film and casting Violet Mersereau.  The picture was filmed in Fort Lee, NJ on the Universal lot there (Mersereau would appear in his next film, Broken Fretters, as well--she would reappear in California in front of his camera in 1917).  His first film actually shot in Hollywood also came in 1916 with The Chalice of Sorrow; again shot on Universal property.  His next film, Black Orchids, which displays sophisticated horror elements, would more fully display his growing work--and fascination--with the supernatural and macabre.  Around the beginning of 1920, he came into contact with the powerhouse that was June Mathis; this would be life changing.  With the dawning of a new decade, he had by that time directed 12 films in the 1910's and worked on many mare.  His last film using the Universal lots and distribution machine was Under Crimson Skies released in 1920.  Mathis worked in a powerful position at Metro, and was a bit of a "collector" of beautiful men.  She had been working on an adaptation of a Cecil Raleigh play, and hired Ingram to direct it for her.  The film was Hearts Are Trumps (1920) and was his first large production shot on location (several locations in what was then rugged areas in California were used for the film).  The film is now one of those lamentably lost treasures.  His next film for Metro and Mathis would make star of them all, including it's leading man, and the women who would become Ingram's second wife.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was released in March of 1921 and starred one Rudolph Valentino and Alice Terry, whom Ingram married that same year.  The film was a huge success; grossing,  what was for the time, an unheard of sum $100,000+ and turned Ingram into a star director.  This was also adult, sophisticated art--the screenplay penned by Mathis was based on an Ibáñez novel and took on full blown tragedy with a backdrop of World War I (again, so recent!) and ran for over 130 minutes.  When his next film project, The Conquering Power, was promoted, "A Rex Ingram Production" was plastered across the poster.  The film repeated Valentino and Terry in the starring roles, with Mathis this time adapting material by Balzac; and though a success, it didn't gain nearly the attention, or money, that Horsemen did.  This had to have been the beginning's of Ingram dissatisfaction with Hollywood in general and Metro in particular.  He hated the pitching that went on the town that was now them capital of movie production.  His personal relationship with Mathis also frayed when he married Terry.  He made one more film at the studio based on one of Mathis' adaptations for the screen:  Turn To The Right (1922), starring his wife Alice Terry.  He and Terry left the United States for Nice, France in 1923, but not before Ingram had directed an additional two films for Metro.  The first is well known to this day, over two hours long, The Prisoner of Zenda (1922), starred Terry and Lewis Stone.  The second, Trifling Women, is a kind of melodramatic remake of his own 1917 Black Orchids, which he penned himself.  In Nice, the couple set up their own studio, complete with production facilities.  They also frequently shot on location in a number of exotic locals--their first effort in this regard, Where The Pavement Ends (1923), was shot in Cuba.  His first well known film made after leaving Hollywood,  Scaramouche (1923), was a film that made a star of the next "Latin Lover" Ramon Navarro.  In 1924, Ingram adapted an Edgar Selwyn play for the screen and made The Arab, which he shot in Tunisia, again with Novarro in the lead.  He and Terry had an agreement with Metro that was passed along when the studio became MGM that the company would distribute Ingram's foreign made films, but a disagreement between Ingram and Louis B. Mayer lead Ingram to promote the film as an "Metro-Goldwyn" film.  The film also probably marked the beginnings of his fascination with the religion of Islam.  Ingram's next film did not come out until August of 1926, in part because he had been attached to some part of the huge production that was the 1925 Ben Hur, but mostly because Mare Nostrum (again based on work by Ibáñez) was large production that was shot in 4 different countries.  Also released in 1926, his The Magician, was based on the work of British writer W. Somerset Maugham, hearkened back to his early fascination with supernatural mysteries; the film was wholly the product of his and Terry's studio in Nice, and reportedly inspired James Whale when making is Frankenstein films in the 1930's.  His 1927 The Garden Of Allah, shot in Algeria, is often cited as the filming experience that started his curiosity about Islam--if it was not the inspiration for his interest, it certainly cemented his desire to study the religion further.  His last film of the twenties is The Three Passions (1928), filmed in France, and shot under the auspices of a British production company, it was another war drama starring Terry (United Artists signed on to distribute in the U.S. in 1929).  Ingram made just two additional films in his lifetime (the two films were linked to each other--so technically it was one big film production that produced two films) in 1932.  The first, and the lesser known, was Baroud; made for the British arm of Gaumont, it was shot entirely in Morocco and utilized RCA sound.  His last film, Love in Morocco--which was an alternative language version of Baroud with a completely different cast, was also shot largely in Morocco under the same production arrangements and sound system, but parts were also made at his studio in Nice and would be the last time he used the facility.  This is the better known of the two films and was released in 1933.  Both films were co-directed by Alice Terry, with her receiving full credit (she had "shadow directed" his Where Pavement Ends).  Ingram then sold off his film property and embarked on a writing career.  Before long he was back in Los Angeles, where he also worked as a sculptor.  Many sources cite that he formally converted to Islam in 1933.  Ingram died after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the 21st of July, 1950.  He was just 58 years old.  He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.

Official Website (Trinity College)

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