Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Irish Hitchcock

By Peter Feehan

Irish Life
An autographed portrait of Rex Ingram
On 15 January 1892, in 58 Grosvenor Square, Rathmines, Kathleen Ingram gave birth to Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock. Reginald was educated at St. Columba’s College, near Rathfarnam, along with his brother Francis Clere Hitchcock

Reginald’s father was a Church of Ireland clergyman. His career with the Church of Ireland meant the family moved around quite a bit but they would eventually settle in Kinnitty, Co. Offaly, where his father was made rector.

From an early age, Ingram showed signs of a rebellious nature. One of his classmates once remarked that as a “rebel at heart he had a discomforting disdain for authority, and escapades brought him into close conflict with those responsible for discipline”. It is said he once challenged his schoolmaster to “see who was the better man” behind the gym.

Ingram’s mother died when he was fifteen years of age. This trauma, coupled with his failure to secure a place in Trinity College, and the lack of opportunities in Ireland led to his emigration to America in 1911.

American Dream
On the 25th June 1911 the RMS Baltic docked in New York along with the nineteen-year-old Hitchcock. Chasing his dreams, Reginald would never again return to Ireland. He enrolled in a sculpting course in Yale but he later left the course to pursue a career in film.

Fascinated by the new medium of silent film, he took up a job at a production company based in New York. This was the breakthrough into the industry that he needed. It first began with small, menial parts in films like ‘Beau Brummel’ (1913) and ‘The Artist’s Great Madonna’ (1913). He had a leading role in the 1914 short ‘The Witness to the Will’
Rex Ingram & Alice Terry

Never one to settle he moved to a larger production company called Vitagraph. After a short time Ingram moved once again, this time to Fox Film Corporation where he produced scripts and scenarios.

It was while at Fox that Reginald changed his name to Rex Ingram, in honour of his mother. A falling out with Fox executives led Rex to yet another move. It wasn’t long before he arrived at Universal Film Manufacturing Company.

At Universal Rex was finally given the chance to direct his first film. ‘The Symphony of Souls’ starring Robert Z Leonard and Ella Hall was released in 1914. But it wasn’t until his second film, ‘The Great Problem’ (1916), starring Violet Mersereau, that Ingram began to garner attention.

He would produce two more films in 1916, ‘Broken Fetters’ starring Violet Mersereau, and ‘The Chalice of Sorrow’. Rex had finally made it to the big-time, but it still didn’t stop the “rebel” from falling foul of company executives, forcing another move to Paralta Plays Inc.

1917 - 1932
In 1917, Rex enlisted in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps. World War One was reaching its conclusion and he never saw any real action. When he arrived back from service, he found himself having to call in favours to restart his career. He also married his first wife in 1917, actress Doris Pawn.

In 1919 he directed ‘The Day She Paid’ for Universal, and then ‘Under Crimson Skies’ in 1920 before moving production company again, this time to Metro Studios. It was here that he would be introduced to June Mathis. Mathis and Ingram would go on to make four films together; ‘Hearts are Trump’ (1920), ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ (1921), ‘The Conquering Power’ (1921), and ‘Turn to the Right’ (1922).

With his first marriage ending in divorce in 1920, it was rumoured that June Mathis and Rex Ingram were romantically involved, but Ingram would marry Alice Terry in 1921, with who he remained for the rest of hi life. Alice Terry was the lead actress in ‘The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse’.

In 1925, Ingram and fellow director, Fred Niblo, co-directed the hugely successful ‘Ben-Hur’. After the completion of ‘Ben-Hur, Ingram and his wife, moved to the French Riviera. They set up their own studio in the city of Nice and made several more silent films together.

Ingram would only ever direct one talking film, Baroud for Gaumont British Pictures in Morocco. The film was a commercial failure and he left the film business. He would never direct again.

Rex Ingram with artist Henri Matisse
Life after film
Rex returned to Los Angeles to concentrate on his sculpting and writing. He converted to Islam in 1933 after becoming infatuated with the faith over several years. He would go on to publish two books; The Legion Advances (1934), a gorey story about the French foreign legion, and Mars in the House of Death (1939), a story about a bullfighter and his doomed love.

Rex Ingram died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 21 July 1950, aged just 58.


 In 1949 the Directors Guild of America awarded Ingram an honorary life membership. For his contribution to the film industry he was awarded a star on the Hollywood walk-of-fame, located at 1651 Vine Street.

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