03 June, 2012

Rex Ingram

Rex Ingram was an Irish film director, producer, writer and actor.

Early life
Born Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock in Dublin, Ireland, was the son of a clergyman. He was educated at Saint Columba's College, near Rathfarnam, County Dublin. He spent most of his adolescent life living in the Old Rectory, Kinnitty, Birr, County Offaly where his father was the Church of Ireland rector.  He immigrated to the United States in 1911. His brother Francis Clere Hitchcock went on to join the British army and fought during World War I where he was awarded the Military Cross and rose to the rank of Colonel.

Ingram studied sculpture at the Yale University School of Art, but soon moved into film, first taking acting work from 1913 and then writing, producing and directing.  His first work as producer-director was in 1916 on the romantic drama The Great Problem. He worked for  Edison Studios, Fox Film Corporation, Vitagraph Studios, and then MGM, directing mainly action or supernatural films. In 1920, he moved to Metro, where he was under supervision of executive June Mathis. Mathis and Ingram would go on to make four films together, Hearts are Trump, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Conquering Power, and Turn to the Right. It is believed the two were romantically involved. Ingram and Mathis had begun to grow distant when her new find, Rudolph Valentino, began to overshadow his own fame. Their relationship ended when Ingram eloped with Alice Terry in 1921.

He married twice, first to actress Doris Pawn in 1917; this ended in divorce in 1920.  He then married Alice Terry in 1921, with whom he remained for the rest of his life. In 1925, Ingram and Fred Niblo directed the hugely successful epic Ben-Hur, filming parts of it in Italy. He and his wife decided to move to the French Riviera. They formed a small studio in Nice and made several films on location in North Africa, Spain, and Italy for MGM and others.

Among those who worked for Ingram at MGM on the Riviera during this period was the young Michael Powell, who later went on to direct (with Emeric Pressburger) The Red Shoes and other classics. By Powell's own account, Ingram was a major influence on him. Indeed Ingram's influence on Powell's later work can be detected, especially in its themes in illusion, dreaming, magic and the surreal. David Lean also admitted he was deeply indebted to Ingram,  and MGM studio chief Dore Schary once listed the top creative people in Hollywood as D. W. Griffith, Ingram, Cecil B. DeMille, and Erich von Stroheim (in declining order of importance).

Unimpressed with sound, Rex Ingram made only one talkie, Baroud, filmed for Gaumont British Pictures in Morocco. The film was a not a commercial success and Ingram left the film business, returning to Los Angeles to work as a sculptor and writer. Interested in Islam as early as 1927, he converted to the faith in 1933.

Rex Ingram's films were considered by many contemporary directors to be artistic and skillful, with an imaginative and bold visual style. In 1949, the Directors Guild of America bestowed an Honorary Life Membership on him. For his contribution to the motion picture industry he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1651 Vine Street.

He also wrote two novels, Mars in the House of Death and The Legion Advances.

Rex Ingram died from a cerebral hemorrhage on 21 July 1950 and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

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