Thomas H. Ince was born in 1882 in Newport, Rhode Island, the son of travelling stage actors. Ince followed in the footsteps of his parents and began acting at the age of six, performing on stage, on the road and on Broadway. He later married thespian Elinor Kershaw in 1907 and acted in films for the Biograph studio in New York. When acting work became scarce, Ince started directing for Carl Laemmle’s Independent Motion Picture Company which sent him to Cuba to make films out of the reach of monopolistic film companies. After his first son was born, Ince moved his young family to California, and began working in the Los Angeles studios of the New York Motion Picture Company to make westerns, a genre which highly interested Ince and eventually earned him the moniker, “Father of the Western.”
Ince managed every aspect of the films he directed or produced. His wife Elinor later recounted the long nights he spent editing at their kitchen table. In 1912 he built his own expansive studio and called it “Inceville,” headquartered on nearly 20,000 acres in the area where Sunset Boulevard meets the Pacific Coast Highway today. Inceville provided every service, building, stage and set needed for filming. Ince even hired a Wild West show to set up a camp to be used in the westerns filmed there. Ince’s style of organizing and overseeing productions by housing filmmakers, talent and staff together on site would eventually become the standard for studios.
While filming one of his westerns on Ballona Creek, Ince was discovered by Culver City founder Harry H. Culver who saw what he envisioned could be the economic base for his “dream city.” Culver facilitated Ince’s move from Inceville to the area that would become Culver City and arranged for Ince to acquire land along Washington Boulevard to build a new studio. Ince supervised the construction, consisting of a two-story administration building, four glass silent film stages and the Greek-Revival colonnade which served as the grand main entrance to the now-historic studio lot. Barracks from World War I served as early office buildings. The new studio was named Triangle Studios and was founded by Ince, D.W. Griffith, and Mack Sennett. The first movie made at the new studio was CIVILIZATION which Ince directed.
Ince opened his second studio in Culver City in 1919, known today as The Culver Studios. Ince was so well-known that he attracted famous talent, moviemakers and royalty to his studios to learn about the emerging industry that had not yet added sound. At the time of his premature death in 1924, Ince had already earned acclaim as a gifted producer, director, screenwriter, actor and studio chief.
Thomas Ince, 1923, a year before his untimely death.
Thomas Ince, 1914, at work behind the camera.