Anyho.... how to get away with murder...
tells the tale of
and his birthday party
on the Ship of Fools!...
…the last voyage he would ever take!
In San Pedro, California on Saturday, November 15th, 1924 a party was being planned for aboard the Oneida, a yacht owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. The host was already on board when his lady love, actress Marion Davies, arrived with actor Charles Chaplin and a Hearst columnist from New York, Louella Parsons. But the guest of honor, movie producer Thomas Ince, was attending the premiere of his latest production “The Mirage” in Los Angeles and couldn’t join them until the boat docked in San Diego early Sunday morning.
William Randolph Hearst
By his 42nd birthday, Thomas Harper Ince was already a phenomenon in Hollywood. He had come to Los Angeles in 1911 with his wife, actress Elinor (Nell) Kershaw to take over the California branch of the New York Motion Picture Company and literally set the standards for film production that still exist today…detailed “shooting” scripts and second unit crews with their own directors, screenwriters and cameramen to shoot several scenes at the same time in different locations. But he kept complete control and by 1913 he had made over 150 movies, mostly Westerns earning the title “Father of the Western”. After several other ventures Tom founded his most famous studio in Culver City in 1918.
Ince Studio in Culver City
Back on the yacht, the preparations for the fete continued through Saturday as the yacht made its way to San Diego. Marion had invited her two sisters, a niece, her personal secretary Abigail Kinsolving and three popular actresses Aileen Pringle, Seena Owen and Julianna Johnston to join the party. Also on board, presumably to mix business and pleasure was Ince’s business manager, George H. Thomas and Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman, a non-practicing physician now acting as film production head at Hearst’s new Cosmopolitan Productions. Notably missing from the guest list was Mrs. Thomas Ince….. Hearst had invited Ince’s mistress, Margaret Livingston instead. Poor Nell!
Thomas Ince joined the party in San Diego as planned and, by dinner time Sunday night, the festivities were in full swing. But by early Monday morning the guest of honor was being carried off the yacht to a waiting water taxi, escorted by the hitherto non- practicing Dr. Goodman and 48 hours later he was pronounced dead. Witnesses who saw Ince being carried off the yacht (including Toriachi Kono, Chaplin’s secretary), said the producer’s head was bleeding from a bullet wound. A Wednesday morning newspaper headline announced “Movie Producer Shot on Hearst yacht” but by evening that story had disappeared. Hearst papers reported that Ince had died at home of acute indigestion. The death certificate signed by Ince’s family physician cited heart failure as the final cause of death.
Davies greeting Ince in San Diego
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks
A funeral service was held on Friday, November 21st, 1924 attended by the Ince family, Marion Davies, Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Harold Lloyd. William Randolph Hearst did not attend and Ince’s body was cremated immediately afterward, There was no inquest and all the tangible evidence was now in ashes...
The official story….
What really happened after Tom blew the candles out on his birthday cake?
Persistent rumors about Ince’s demise continued to surface and the Hollywood rumor mill finally prompted the San Diego district attorney to initiate what he called a “thorough investigation’ (he called one witness, the good doctor Goodman and then closed the case). According to Goodman, Tom felt fine when he boarded the Oneidaearly Sunday morning but suffered a bout of indigestion during the night. Plans had already been made for Goodman and Ince to disembark and return to Los Angeles early Monday morning. On the train from San Diego Tom took ill again and had to leave the train. Goodman took him to a hotel and called a physician before continuing on. Later Ince apparently left the hotel and went home where his condition worsened.
The unofficial but somehow widely accepted version….
Gloria Swanson, Charles Chaplin and Marion Davies
The whispers of the other guests and crew aboard the yacht that night told a different story. With some variations it went like this.
Hearst was obsessed with actress Marion Davies, even to setting up his new Cosmopolitan productions to showcase the lovely but untalented lady. He was also aware of the gossip surrounding his lover and actor Charles Chaplin (who had conveniently left his pregnant fiancée Lita Grey at home). Late Monday night, finding Marion and Charlie in a compromising situation, Hearst went for his gun (he kept a diamond-studded revolver on board the yacht to practice sharp-shooting). But in the ensuing furor, it was Ince, not Chaplin, that caught the bullet.
Even more bizarre were the tales told or denied by the cruise’s celebrity guests….
Actress Aileen Pringle was among the guests
**Marion Davies would never admit that either Chaplin or Goodman were on board for the party but actively denied that Louella Parsons had ever been on the boat. She also said that Nell phoned her on the following Monday afternoon to tell her Ince had died….even though he hadn’t been pronounced dead until Tuesday night!
**Louella Parsons said nothing and was rewarded with her own Hollywood column. The wags claimed “Give Louella an Ince and she’ll take a column!”
**Charles Chaplin denied being at the party but insisted that he accompanied Marion and Hearst to visit the ailing Ince later that week and that Ince died two weeks later. It seems good-time Charlie forgot he was at the funeral service!
**Marion's secretary, Abigail Kinsolving, told the cops Ince had raped her during the night after the party on the yacht (a strange accusation since Ince’s mistress was presumably on board). Unmarried, she gave birth a few months later and, not long after that, died mysteriously in a car accident near Hearst's castle in San Simeon. There was a suicide note found in the car that was a bit suspicious (it seemed that more than one person had written it) and her body was conveniently found by two of Hearst's bodyguards. It also seems there were no complete police reports on the alleged “car accident”. The baby, Louise, was sent away to an orphanage, being financially supported by Marion Davies.
Hearst's castle at San Simeon
**Hearst gave Nell Ince a trust fund and she, in turn, had her husband cremated before leaving for Europe. Did she keep a secret remembering the affair between Ince and Margaret Livingston? Unfortunately the nest egg was wiped out by the Depression and Nell had to spend her later years driving a taxi cab.
**The yacht Oneida was henceforth known as “William Randolph’s Hearse”.
**D. W. Griffith often said “All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince’s name”.
The mystery surrounding the death of Thomas Harper Ince has never been solved but workmen renovating the Culver City studio say he still wanders those halls looking for the answers.
Culver Studio today
Arabella And Co