Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Born Today January 16: Ralph Ince


Ralph Waldo Ince (that's right, as in Emerson), who was the youngest of the "Brothers Ince," was born on this day in Boston.  Ralph, like his older brothers--one of whom was Thomas H. Ince, the studio founder and mogul--got into motion pictures when the medium was quite young.  The family was a theater family to begin with, and almost all members were engaged in some way with performance arts.  Ralph appeared as an actor professionally for the first time on the stage as a child.  Ralph himself studied cartoon illustration and eventually went to work for newspapers and magazines in New York as a cartoonist.  He then graduated to work in early animation and worked for Winsor McCay; but he entered films as an actor, not as an illustrator, at the age of 20.  His first film appearance came in Vitagraph's Athletic American Girls (1907) with the two Florence's: Florence Turner and Florence Lawrence in only her 4th film appearance.  It did little to give away his future importance in both writing and directing.  He appeared in a couple of more shorts before getting into writing scenarios himself.  His first foray into film writing came with a super depressing little drama Drumsticks in 1910 (it probably takes longer to read the synopsis of the film than it was to watch it).  The film again was a Vitagraph production, which Ince starred in it.  From there, it was just a short jump to directing shorts that he appeared in.  Troublesome Secretaries was his directorial debut; the film not only featured Ince, it also features Mabel Normand is one of her earliest surviving performances. It was the beginning of a very long directing career that would see him at the helm of more than 1970 films, most of them in the silent era (his acting credits are nothing to sneeze at either--numbering well over 100).  Although his much more famous brother Thomas would go into the studio business in 1915 with the likes of Mack Sennett and D.W. Griffith, younger Ralph would stay at Vitagraph through 1916 (and never really had much to do with his mogul brother's studios).  The last film that he appears to have headed up for them was the 1916 release The Ninety and Nine.  In 1917, he would join up with Harry Rapf and actor Robert Warwick's production companies to direct the mystery The Argyle Case.  He bounced around for a couple of years working with different production entities, before returning to Vitagraph in 1919 (see, Two Women).  He then go on to work for/with Lewis J. Selznick's company.  He celebrated the brand new decade with the release of His Wife's Money (1920), starring Eugene O'Brien and Zena Keefe.  A few films that he directed during the 1920's stand out for various reasons:  The Uninvited Guest (1924)--underwater sequences, His Bitter Half (1924) & Dumb and Daffy (1925)-shorts made with Al St. John, and Lady Robinhood (1925)--featured one Boris Karloff.  By the mid 1920's, Ralph finally went to work under his brother's production house; he directed a few films in 1924 and 1925 with the Thomas H. Ince Corp (see, for example, Dynamite Smith and Playing with Souls--and note that his brother had actually died by the is time).  He also had a production business entity of his own that when in and out of existence over the years.  Probably the most important film that the company produced was his 1926 version of Jack London's The Sea Wolf.  An example of an late "all Ralph Ince" production can be had with The Singapore Mutiny in 1928, directing and starring in the film, he also had a hand in writing it as well (though he is merely credited with "Titles").  Ever a man of the silent cinema, sound didn't come to a movie he directed until the very end of 1929 in Hurricane; filmed with MoiveTone sound and produced with Columbia.  Thus ended the 1920's for Ralph Waldo Ince.  Things changed for him with the coming of the 1930's.  The first film that he directed in the decade was curiously a Spanish language affair; La fuerza del querer (1930) was released into theaters with no subtitles (not unusual), strangely featured Stepin Fetchit, and was produced by the rather odd individual that was James Cruze.  Ince wouldn't direct a film again for two years.  Flaming Gold was made for RKO and stars William Boyd before his Hopalong Cassidy days.  Ince continued to direct at a steady pace after Gold's release, right up until his untimely death in 1937.  His acting career has to really be taken on it's own merits; it has a life of it's own. And, as far as acting is concerned, Ince was curiously associated with playing Abraham Lincoln very early on.  While at Vitagarph, he played the 16th President a number of times, starting with The Battle Hymn of the Republic in 1911.  Ince would play Lincoln again in 1920 and 1921 in two films produced for Lewis Selznick's Selznick Pictures Corp.--Ralph directed both of them (The Land of Opportunity and The Highest Law).    His first expedience with sound in an acting role came in Roy William Neill's Wall Street in 1929.  He also appeared in over 30 films in the 1930's--most of which he did not, himself, direct.  The last time that he appeared in front of the camera, however, did come in one of his own films:  The Perfect Crime; where he took the supporting male role.  The last film that he directed (at least by release date) was The Man Who Made Diamonds (1937); the film was released in June of 1937, several months after his death, in the UK, where he and his third wife had relocated earlier in the 1930's.   Ince died after hitting his head the dashboard of the car he was traveling in crashed into a pole; his wife, who was driving, escaped with only minor injuries.  He died from his injury on the 10th of April, leaving behind a small child who was only months old.  There is no information as to his memorial, but the custom in the family was for cremation and personal urns being retained by loved ones.  

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