Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
April 17
Thomas Ince November 6, 1886
Thomas Ince born

Born into a stage family in Newport, Rhode Island, Thomas Harper Ince would grow up to be known as the “Father of the Western.” At the age of 15, Ince made his Broadway debut. But despite his theatrical blood, and performing in a number of plays and vaudeville shows, Ince could never make his acting career pay off. Instead, he turned to the new medium of film. By 1910, he was directing one-reelers. And by 1911, he’d convinced the New York Motion Picture Co. to send him to California. In Los Angeles, Ince’s ambition blossomed. He leased land close to Santa Monica, and hired a wild west traveling show to set up a makeshift studio making westerns and historical epics. In the next few years, he consolidated this venture into Inceville, a prototype for later Hollywood studios. In the process, he also redefined his role from director to creative producer, dictating what projects would be made and with what director and talent. As the studio grew, Ince instituted assembly line principles to the film production, breaking up the making of a film into various departments (writing, costuming, shooting, editing, etc). By 1915, Ince had sold Inceville and formed Triangle Pictures, a vertically integrated company that would handle production, distribution and exhibition, a move that again foreshadowed the future of motion pictures. Constantly changing, Ince personified the potential of this new industry. A contract player, Florence Vidor, later remembered, “One could not meet Thomas H. Ince in his studio without seeing that here was a great dynamic personality, having the brightest blue eyes, ready smile and charming manner; always interested in everything––perhaps the secret of his youthfulness.” In the end, however, Ince is perhaps as well known––if not better––for dying at the age of 42 under mysterious circumstance on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht.


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