Murder or Illness? The Mysterious Death of Thomas Ince

The death of producer Thomas Ince is one of those unsolved silent film mysteries that still has people talking.

The Rise of Ince in Hollywood

Ince was a successful silent film producer who started as an actor and director with D.W. Griffith and quickly moved up the ranks in Hollywood. He built “Inceville” the first major studio facility in 1913, formed Triangle Pictures with Mack Sennett and D.W. Griffith and had the Thomas H. Ince Studios in Culver City. ⁣

In 1924 he was working with newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst to have his production company Cosmopolitan Pictures be distributed by Ince Studios. To celebrate this contract and Ince’s 44th birthday, Hearst invited him to come aboard his yacht for the weekend. ⁣

A Dangerous Invitation

In attendance on the Oneida were a small who’s who of Hollywood society. It included Hearst’s longtime girlfriend, actress Marion Davies, comedian Charlie Chaplin, gossip columnist Louella Parsons and author of the flapper-centric phenomenon, “It”, Elinor Glyn. Ince came aboard on the second day of the voyage and they all had a celebratory dinner for Ince’s birthday. Then there are two sides of the story….⁣

Ince No More⁣

One theory is that Thomas Ince came down with indigestion due to his ulcers being agitated by dinner. He left the yacht the next day and was joined by his wife and a physician. Ince died of heart failure two days later. He was cremated according to his beliefs, his wife went to Europe a few months later. When she returned to L.A., she built the apartments Chateau Elysees (now a Scientology center) with her inherited wealth. ⁣

The other, more popular, side of the story involves Hearst, murder and cover-up. According to many, Hearst, suspicious of an affair between Marion and Chaplin, accidentally shot Ince, thinking it was Chaplin. Being the wealthy and powerful man that he was, he was able to change the narrative of the story and cover up his tracks. ⁣

As an eye witness, Chaplin’s manservant claims he saw Ince removed from the yacht, bleeding from the head of a gunshot wound. ⁣Ince was quickly cremated to hide the evidence, his wife was shipped off to Europe and paid off and everyone lived happily ever after.⁣

All parties involved always said that Thomas Ince died of a heart failure but popular culture, including the 2001 film “The Cat’s Meow” prefers the more salacious tale. What do you think happened?⁣

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