Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Born Today August 29: John E. Ince


Eldest Ince brother John Edward Ince was born on this day in New York City to immigrant vaudevillian parents from England. Though John in remembered mostly as an actor, he was also a prolific director--with over 50 titles to his name; and, after the sudden (and some say mysterious) death of his brother Thomas, a producer.  He, along with all of his siblings, were started on the stage at a young age and he remained a stage actor of merit throughout his life; he did not make his film acting debut, however, until the age of 35 in 1913.  He appeared as "Big Bill" in the Lubin Manufacturing short The Girl of the Sunset Pass, along with Edgar Jones and Clara Williams.  After he started acting in films, he instantly became a prolific presence in Lubin shorts, appearing in nearly two dozen shorts in 1913 alone.  He directed for them as well; in fact, his debut in the film industry actually came as a director the year before when he directed Arthur V. Johnson and Lottie Briscoe in the dramatic short The Spoiled Child (1912) [he first directed himself in The Hills of Strife in 1913].  He was a frequent  film actor up through 1915, after which, he decided to concentrate  exclusively on his directing [the last film that he appeared in--which he also directed--was In Love's Own Way (1915) with Mary Charelson].  Interestingly, for all of his creative input in the films under his direction, he has only one screenwriting credit for the feature length family feud film Her Man, made for Advanced Motion Picture Corp and distributed by Pathé Exchange in 1918 (the screenplay was an adaptation of a Charles Neville Buck novel); the film starred Elaine Hammerstein.  He didn't appear again in a film until 1921, when he made up one-half of cast of John Gorman's crime drama Fate.  Throughout the decade, he appeared sparsely in films, with the bulk of his time spent on his new found passion of production.  After his brother Ralph's death in 1924, he started his own company, John Ince Productions, that produced 5 films in the 1920's--the first of which, The Great Jewel Robbery, (self directed) in 1925.  Of those five titles, one of them--That Old Gang of Mine--was written and directed by that rarest of filmmakers in the silent era: a female director.  The film, a comedy, was the work of playwright and stage director May Tully--it represented her final work in life, as she died in 1924 and the film was released by Ince's company the following year.  The last silent film in which John Ince acted came out in 1927; Wages of Conscience was also directed by Ince, but was made for Superlative Pictures.  The last film that he personally produced was the 1928 western short The Rustler's End, which was directed by Robert J. Horner--a curiosity in the lower end Hollywood world of B-pictures (he has been called the "Ed Wood of the 1920's").  After this, he was absent from films for a few years, returning as an actor in the George Archainbaud talkie Alias French Gertie in 1930.  This was the first film Ince had any association with that incorporated sound of any sort.  He would continue in films, but only as an actor (many of his roles uncredited), for almost 20 years. His last film came in 1949 in the Jack Irwin b-crime feature Gun Cargo, which was released close to two years after his death.  Ince passed away after a bout of pneumonia on the 10th of April, 1947 at the age of 68, having outlived both of much more famous younger brothers by many years.  Nothing is noted as to his burial or interment, but his much more famous brother Thomas had been cremated after a lavish open casket funeral, so it is at least as likely that his older brother was cremated as well.  

Main poster for his adapted film Her Man from 1918.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Born Today August 19: Lawrence D'Orsay


Prominent late 19th century stage actor, turned 20th century film actor Lawrence (or variously Lawrance--this is the spelling he used in autographs) D'Orsay was born Dorset William Lawrance in Peterborough, England (which is located in Cambridgeshire/East Anglia--the important ancient settlement of Flag Fen located not far from his birthplace).  Like so many artistic types that ended up in the theater in one form or another, his family had intended him to study law.  He became an actor instead. The lion's share of his career was spent on the stage, where he was noted as a highly entertaining actor of comedy. His type-casting from plays as the "upper crust" type carried over into many of his film roles as an older gentleman of means.  He first appeared on the silver screen at the age of 59 in 1912 in the American Film Manufacturing Co.'s The Border Detective.  His next film appearance came in a role for which he was already famous from the stage, that of Lord Cardington in Universal's The Earl of Pawtucket in 1915; the film was based on the Augustus Thomas play of the same name that D'Orsay had starred in on Broadway. His last film appearance came in 1926 in one of D. W. Griffith's forgotten efforts of the mid to late twenties The Sorrow of Satan as Lord Elton. In all, he is credited with appearing in 8 films, most of them in the 1920's; but first and foremost: he was a man of the stage.  D'Orsay died in London on the 13 of September in 1931, not long after his 78th birthday.  There is no information on his burial. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Born Today August 18: Jack Pickford


Jack Pickford, "the Pickford brother," an actor and director in his own right, was born John Charles Smith on this day in Toronto, Canada (he was known, most famously as being "Mary's little brother" in the press for most of his short life--for good or bad [I think bad...]).  As a young boy, he was pulled into the performance life of his two older sisters: Gladys (who would become Mary Pickford) and Lottie.  Though he is remembered now as the brother as the possibly the most influential woman in early Hollywood (Mary), he was well possessed of talent in his own right.  He is was, by all accounts, an engaging and charming child presence on and off the live stage from a young age.  To be sure, when Gladys Smith was transformed into Mary Pickford around 1909/1910, the entire family benefited; as she saw to this personally.  Jack first appeared as an extra in films for Biograph, the company that "discovered" Mary, in 1909. He was a member of the crowd in D. W. Griffith's The Message (1909) [another credited member of the crowd is Mack Sennett].  What we know of the film, which was released in early July, comes largely from a synopsis written Moving Picture World. This dates his entrance into film acting about six months after that of famous elder sister, his age would have been 12. He is credited with appearing in four more films from 1909--all of the Griffith films; in fact Griffith was said to be fond of Jack Pickford, and was impressed with his talent.  It appears that the first film in which he appeared with Mary was one of these films: To Save Her Soul (1909), in which he played a stagehand (the film also includes Griffith's own wife Linda Arvidson and Mary's future first husband Owen Moore in "the audience").  After the invention of "Mary Pickford" at Biograph, his career hewed close to hers--appearing in numerous Griffith films featuring her in early 1910.  Jack stars in his own right in Biograph's The Kid in 1910, the film was directed by Frank Powell and may or may not have featured an appearance by his more recognizable older sister; nonetheless, this was a starring role for him in his own right (the film also featured Florence Barker, one of the film industry's early tragedies, dying at the young age of 21 of pneumonia). For a short while in 1910, Jack was a regular in Powell's films. Throughout the rest of 1910, he would show up in numerous Biograph films in a small or extra roles that both featured and didn't feature his increasingly famous sister. The first film that he in which he appeared that has any significant historical interest is Griffith's His Trust Fulfilled, which was released in January of 1911.  His first non-Biograph film came in The Sneak in 1913 for the competitor film studio founded, in part, by a former Biograph sales manager:  Kalem Co.--the film stars Tom Moore, brother of Owen, so it's likely that Tom got him the job. He continued to appear in a spate of Biograph films steadily through 1913; during this period of time, Griffith headed up Biograph's move west to Hollywood. Jack's tagging along with this move accounts for his early appearance in the soon to be movie mecca out west.  He was, from the beginning, a needy sort and that led to troublesome behavior. He is thought to have developed a problem with drink before his 18th birthday (the family's father was an alcoholic of massive proportions, so the condition was inherited for sure).   In 1917, the year his sister signed her monster contract with First National, Jack finally scored his starring role; it came in the Famous Players produced--Robert Vignola (in part) directed--adaptation of Charles Dickens Great Expectations. He also starred in the title role of Tom Sawyer in 1917--making the romp The Ghost House, directed by William de Mille (brother of Cecil), along the way.  In 1918, he was packed off, via the US Navy, to World War I, getting into enough trouble as to almost receive a dishonorable discharge. Upon his return from the war, he resumed his film career with an eye toward production, founding his own namesake company. In the years following, he would also direct two films.  They were: Through The Back Door and Little Lord Fauntleroy both in 1921 and both of which he co-directed with Alfred E. Green; they also starred his sister Mary and were produced by her. He wasn't very successful in the directing endeavor, but he may have had more success had his first wife, Olive Thomas, not died a death that is still whispered about today. She died by what appears to be a truly accidental poisoning in Paris on the 10th of September 1920, five days after ingesting mercury bichloride. Though he would marry twice more and would continue in the film business, there could be little doubt that the event must have affected the rest of his life in the negative.  By 1923, he was back to appearing in films that can only be labeled as "B movies," some of which were made by his production company Jack Pickford Productions.  Of interest is his appearance in the pretty famously lost 1923 Paramount comedy Hollywood, which amongst other notable cameos, has an appearance by--post scandal--Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Jack also appeared in the 1926 mystery/horror/thriller The Bat, produced--and probably directed--by Roland West. He found himself in a film utilizing sound for the first time in 1928 in the crime drama Gang War, which was the final film of that decade that he had anything to do with.  The last film he appeared in was the 1930 short all sound Warner production All Square; still playing--at the age of 35--the young man. "The Faithful Son." Pickford died three years later in a American hospital in Paris on the 3rd of January--cause of death was listed as multiple neuritis, which can be caused by extreme alcoholism and vitamin B-12 deficiency (also a side effect of excessive drinking).  The last time that his sister saw him in 1932, he was notably emaciated and looked frail for his years.  He was just 37 years old. Mary had his body shipped back to California, where he was interred in the family plot at Forest Lawn in Glendale.