Looking for Mabel Normand

Madcap Mabel Normand


"If you have two theories which both explain the observed facts

 then you should use the simplest until more evidence comes along"


"The simplest explanation for some phenomenon is more likely to be

accurate than more complicated explanations."


"If you have two equally likely solutions to a problem,

pick the simplest."


"The explanation requiring the fewest assumptions is most

likely to be correct."


W. M. Thorburn, "The Myth of Occam's razor", Mind, 27, pp. 345-353, 1918.


Does The CAT’S MEOW Hold The Answer?
Marilyn Slater


Thomas Ince, D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett were the three sides of the famous Triangle Motion Picture Company formed in 1915; it was only a short but very productive partnership.  It was Ince of Inceville, with his Westerns and Adventures that by 1918 built the Ince Studio in Culver City, one of the most beautiful Studios in California

Although he is remembered as a film pioneer sadly, it is his death, which grips the public’s interest.  His death was untimely and the circumstances seem a bit sordid.
William Randolph Hearst was about as rich and famous as anyone hanging around Hollywood, when he gave a party Hollywood came, so it was that in 1924, Hearst gave a small party on his yacht, ‘Oneida’ to celebrate Ince’s 42nd birthday. 

"Marion Davies greets Tom Ince when he arrives aboard the yacht with balloons for this birthday celebration."

November 15, 1924, Saturday morning Hearst set sail on his yacht from San Pedro planning to sail down the coast of California to San Diego and back again, by being at sea, there was no problem about serving liquor at the party. On broad among a number of other guests for the weekend trip were Marion Davis, the film comedian and Hearst’s mistress; Charlie Chaplin, the comedy star; Louella Parson, a Hearst New York columnist; Daniel Carson Goodman, M.D., working for Hearst as production manager of his film interests. And less I forget Elinor Glyn, the writer of ‘It’ and ‘Beyond The Rocks’ among others of the same style, she was the mistress of Lord Curzon, who gave her, her sapphires. But Ince was late and the ‘Oneida sailed without him, as he had to finish some business in Los Angeles. He took a train down to San Diego to join the party already in progress. Sunday morning, Ince got to the yacht for his birthday, his wife was not with him.  It was a rather grand celebration dinner Sunday night with celebrating into the wee hours of Monday.  Early Monday morning, Tom Ince was taken ashore accompanied by Dr. Goodman, Ince died in his own home Tuesday, November 17, 1924.  Ince’s family doctor was Ida Glasgow who signed the death certificate listing the cause of death as heart failure.      

Now the newspapers took over the story in the Wednesday morning papers was the headline: "Movie Producer Shot on Hearst Yacht!" By the evening edition, that story had vanished from the papers.  Ince body was immediately cremated and after the funeral Nell Ince, his wife, now widowed sail for Europe.
William Randolph Hearst issued a story that ran in his newspaper that Ince became ill while visiting the San Simeon Ranch with Nell and the children.  The ‘Oneida’ was in San Diego with Ince on board; people had had dinner with him. No Nell, no children and he was nowhere near the Hearst ranch. That was the Hearst story.  
The story told around Hollywood was that Hearst shot Thomas Ince by accident. He had wanted to kill Chaplin because he thought that Chaplin was making a play for Marion Davies.  The birthday party was only an excuse to confront Chaplin and get him on the Oneida.  One of the much told versions of the tale is that Hearst did indeed find Chaplin and Davies together, went to get his gun, Davies cries for help woke Ince who came to see what was happening after a scuffle the gun went off and Ince was shot.  Or other story is that Sunday night Ince was with Davies looking in the galley for something to take as his ulcer, was acting up and Hearst walked in on them thinking Ince was Chaplin and fired.  Or another is the Hearst and Chaplin or perhaps two unidentified party guests struggled over a gun and the gun fired accidentally through a partition into Ince’s room.

If none of those stories are colorful enough then there is the one told by, Abigail Kinsolving, Marion Davis’ secretary, it was her tale that Ince rapped her on the yacht.  Abigail, a single woman had a baby a few months later and died mysteriously in a car accident near San Simeon, two of Hearst bodyguards found her body along with the usual suicide note, her baby was sent to an orphanage supported by Marion Davis. Now isn’t that an interesting story!

There are more tales, Toraichi Kono, Chaplin's secretary, told his wife that Ince was bleeding when he was taken off the yacht from a gun shot wound. That story spread everywhere and the rumors forced Chester Kemple, the District Attorney in San Diego to question Dr. Goodman.

Goodman told the DA that, Ince was ill and he was taking Ince by train back to Los Angeles but they got off in Del Mar because Ince became sick on the train and checked into the hotel.  Goodman called Nell Ince and a doctor.  Nell came down to the Del Mar right away. Goodman wasn’t sure if the problem was indigestion or a heart attack, he left Ince at the hotel before Nell arrived. The DA closed the investigation.
The suspicion and rumors just when on and on.  Years later, Chaplin said he wasn’t at the party and went to see Ince along with Davies and Hearst when he heard he was ill and that Ince died 2 weeks after their visit.  The facts were that Ince was died 48 hours after being taken off the Oneida by Dr. Goodman on Monday and the memorial service was later that very week on Friday, Chaplin attended the services.
Marion Davies denied that Chaplin, Goodman, Ince or even Louella Parsons were on the November Oneida trip to San Diego.  She only heard of Ince’s death when Nell Ince called her on Monday afternoon at United Studios but he didn’t die until Tuesday. That was Marion Davies story.

Louella Parsons after the Oneida trip went from a New York movie columnist at a Hearst paper to getting a lifetime contract with expanded syndication, becoming a power in Hollywood.

Hearst is also said to have provided Nell Ince before she left for Europe with a trust fund and he paid off Ince's mortgage on his Chateau Elysee apartment building in Hollywood. In exchange, did Nell refused an autopsy and ordered her husband's immediate cremation?

D.W. Griffith always said, "All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince's name. There's plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big."

So much like the swirl of misinformation and tales the surrounds the mystery of William Desmond Taylor's shooting the question of who or what really killed Thomas Ince have become a Hollywood tale to tell. A heart attack, ulcer, bullet take your pick.

If Marion Davies was on the yacht with Ince and if Ince was shot, it wasn’t the first time Davis was involved with a shooting.  She was the central figure in an alienation of affection case in which the wife shot her husband.  The newspapers called it ‘the Marion Davies Murder’.  This was before Hearst and Davies became a couple. The big shooting scandal, in her life was the Thomas Ince death perhaps it wasn’t his death but the cover-up, which created the turmoil. Did the cover-up happen because of the problems Mabel Normand had after Taylor and Cortland Dines shootings? It is most likely that Ince died of a heart attack following a severe ulcer attack and not an accidental shooting. Even after 84 or so years, the rumors win.

In 2002, a feature film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich called ‘THE CAT’S MEOW’. It was created as a look at the William Randolph Hearst’s yachting party, the guests on the Oneida November 1924.  It is the story told by the British novelist called Elinor Glyn a guest at the party. Included on the passenger list were Hearst, Davies, Chaplin, Ince, Louella Parsons, Elinor Glyn and others.  Bogdanovich has a real feel for this era. Jean-Vincent Puzos, the Production Designer did a lovely job with developing a sense of time and place.

The passengers all have their secret agenda, none particularly likable, self-absorbed, preoccupied, ambitious, eccentric. It was a lurid tale of deceit and deception. The usual schemes that seem to fill the movie screens, some think it runs a little long and perhaps begins a little slow, one hour and 53 minutes of drama. It obvious has an audience, here it is in 2008 and this 6 year old film is still creating discussion so it has “legs” although it wasn’t a huge moneymaker the US Box Office as of 2004 was only around 4,000,000 (you can’t make much with that, I am sure they lost money on it).  One of the problems may have been the marketing since this is a foreign film about a very American story.  It just didn’t have the big production company to promote it ‘The Cat’s Meow’ was produced in Germany and filmed in Germany, Greece and at Lionsgate Studios in England.  The film used Steven Peros play as source material, which is the retelling of the Hearst shooting Ince instead of Chaplin tale and then the cover-up.
Kirsten Dunst - Marion Davies
Cary Elwes - Thomas Ince
Edward Herrmann - William Randolph Hearst
Eddie Izzard - Charlie Chaplin
Joanna Lumley - Elinor Glyn
Jennifer Tilly - Louella Parsons
James Laurenson - Doctor Goodman.

John C. Vennema - Frank Barham


Some of the reviewers seem to be a little disappointed that perhaps this film was a missed opportunity. Not enough of a story a wish for more, then a “rambling melodrama of love triangles and business deals.” Director Peter Bogdanovich does seem to have successfully recreated the opulence of Hearst's lifestyle and the spirit of the Roaring Twenties right down to the bootleg moonshine and the Charleston. The style was there but perhaps not enough substance. For someone with a feel and love for the era this is a divine mix of Agatha Christie with a pinch of film noir, a movie for the devotee of the ‘Roaring Twenties’.   

















IMDb: The Cat’s Meow, Tom Ince, Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Elinor Glyn.


Box Office Mojo: The Cat’s Meow, Domestic gross $3,209,481; Distributor Lions Gate; Release Date April 12, 2002; Running Time 112 min. wildest release 153 theatres.


Debra Pawlak, The Media Drome,  The Mysterious Affair of Thomas Ince


Nasaw, Crime Library; notorious murders, celebrity, William Randolph Hearst


Prairie Ghosts, Hollywood, Ince Studio Culver CityIn the years that followed, Hearst discreetly provided Ince’s widow, Nell, with a trust fund that was later wiped out by the Depression. Broke and penniless, Nell finished out her days as a taxi dancer.”


1924, November 17, Ada Evening News, The; Ada Oklahoma

“Ince picture head has to take a rest at Beverly Hills as he a nasty touch of la grippe from being out of the water so much for the picture.”


1924, November 18, Bridgeport Telegram, The; Bridgeport, Connecticut

Hearst papers in Boston New York and Chicago has assumed control of the Times Publishing Co publishers of the Bridgeport Telegram


1924, November 19, Modesto Evening News; Modesto, California


HOLLYWOOD Nov. Ince the motion picture leading producers and directors died at his palatial Beverly Hills residence today His wife Nell Ince, two sons and two brothers Ralph and John were at his bedside when the end came abruptly Ince with his wife and children had been guests Hearst at his up-state ranch for several days. Late yesterday while returning to Los Angeles the pioneer film man was stricken with acute indigestion attended by two specialists and nurses was hurried back to Los Angeles in a special car last night unconscious. 


1924, November 19; Lincoln Star, The; Lincoln, Nebraska

Ince known motion picture producer died at 30 that his home in Hollywood foothills of heart trouble it was announced at studio.  Death was due to heart problems, Ince became ill on a trip to San Diego was taken from a train at Delmar and brought to his home last night The attack was sudden he having been in the midst of his motion picture up to the time he was stricken Ince was one of the leaders in the motion picture started taking small parts In 1911.


1924, November 20; Nevada State Journal; Reno Nevada

Ince Leading Figure in Movie Land Dies After Short Illness  Nov. Tom Ince motion picture leading producer died today at his home in Hollywood death was due after a trip to San Diego last Monday the film director was apparently in the best of health and was active in motion pictures.


1924, November 21; San Antonio Light; San Antonio, Texas

Ince Is Loss to Films WHEN a man of the ability and popularity of Thomas Ince is removed from any industry by the hand of death there results a void it is extremely difficult to fill Mr. Ince passed away in the strength and vigor of accomplishment when all the faculties are the keenest and success  being most notably achieved. He was known either or by reputation to practically the entire nation as his career as actor and motion picture him to all America.



2002 April 9, Blackweldwe, Rob, Spliced, ‘Director Peter Bogdanovich discusses Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies in ‘The Cat’s Meow’


2002 The Cat’s Meow  VHS & DVD

One of Hollywood's most notorious unsolved mysteries is the basis for this vibrant film from Peter Bogdanovich. A party hosted by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Edward Herrmann) takes place on his yacht in 1924. Attendees include Hearst's mistress, actress Marion Davies (Kirsten Dunst); Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard); and film producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes), who, by the trip's end, will be found dead due to mysterious circumstances. With Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Tilly. 112 min.

2002 April 25, Park Cities People, Dallas Texas, Cats Meow … “William Randolph lavish yacht turns murderous in this fact based drama Edward Hermann offers a complex portrait of the over sized press and Kirsten Dunst sparkles as his mistress Marion Davies The weak link is Eddie Izzards unconvincing stab at Charlie Chaplin who persistently woos Davies carousing and buffoonery by the forms a colorful backdrop.”


2002 May 9, Frederick News-Post, Frederick Maryland, Cats Meow“Director Peter Bogdanovich Picture Paper returns to the big screen after a nine-year absence Fans will be delighted to learn that he directs with smoothness obtaining sharply drawn performances from a well-chosen ensemble cast Edward Herrmann plays newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst who gathers a group of notables on his yacht for a weekend of revelry Not everyone makes it off the yacht alive Herrmann Kirsten as Hearst’s mistress actress Marion Davies.”


2002 May 17, The Capital, Annapolis Maryland, Cat’s Meow… “This thriller is based on events that may have taken place when publisher William Randolph Hearst suspected Charlie Chaplin was having an affair with actress Marion Davies Starring Edward Herrmann Kirsten Dunst Eddie Izzard Jennifer Tilly Playing at Crown Harbour Center IX


2002 May 31, Intelligencer, Doylestown, Pennsylvania…Hearst did or did not get away with murder on board his private yacht Oneida on Nov On that day Hollywood producer Thomas Ince possibly died or was murdered Or perhaps not In Hollywood at the time whispers about death and Hearst’s involvement were easily heard and the story told in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow is the film tells us the per heard most often If Hearst did commit murder there is no question he was powerful enough to cover it up.


2002, June 8, Daily Herald, Chicago Illinois, Cats Meow… “A textbook Agatha Christie style whodunit mystery a cast of the colorful characters on Randolph yacht looking suspect With Edward Herrmann Kirsten Dunst and Jennifer Titty Reviewed by Amy Carr 



Director Peter Bogdanovich discusses Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies in 'The Cat's Meow' & his history with young leading ladies

By Rob Blackwelder

(Some questions in this interview have come from another journalist present for the Q&A.)

After two decades of friendship with Orson Welles and writing two books about Orson Welles, prolific actor-director and unabashed movie buff Peter Bogdanovich got a golden opportunity to tread where few but Welles have dared: He's made a movie that brings to life a persistent rumor about publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst was, of course, the major inspiration for the title character in Welles' "Citizen Kane," and Hearst quite famously blew his top over the release of that film in 1941. Bogdanovich's film, “The Cat’s Meow,” probably would have inspired a similar reaction. It takes place on Hearst's yacht in 1924, where several Hollywood icons gathered for a weekend fete at the invitation of Marion Davies, an actress and Hearst's young mistress.

One of the guests -- among them were novelist and socialite Elinor Glyn (Joanna Lumley in the film), gossip columnist Louella Parsons (Jennifer Tilly), struggling producer Thomas Ince (Cary Elwes) and Charlie Chaplin (Eddie Izzard) -- died under suspicious circumstances that weekend. "The Cat's Meow" is, as Glyn puts it in the film's prologue voice-over, "the whisper told most often" about what went down, including flirtations between Chaplin and Davies, witnessed and reported to Hearst by Ince, who hoped to suck up to the billionaire for an investment in his production company.

Bogdanovich knows about such career struggles. After three back-to-back hits in the early 1970s ("The Last Picture Show," "What's Up, Doc?" and "Paper Moon"), he's had 20 years with only a few hits and many misses. He also has an infamous, intimate familiarity with both young starlet lovers -- at 32, he became involved with 20-year-old Cybill Shepherd while directing her acting debut in "The Last Picture Show" in 1971 -- and with untimely showbiz deaths. He was involved with (and directing) former Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten when her ex-husband murdered her in 1981.

All these elements make "The Cat's Meow" especially interesting viewing for those with a knowledge of Hollywood history, although there are no prerequisites for watching the picture, which is why I'm not giving away who dies here.

Although tired from a short night's sleep, after a cup of coffee Bogdanovich was enthusiastic to talk about the film and all related topics on a recent trip to San Francisco. We began by discussing Kirsten Dunst, who gives a spectacular, spunky, sensual, savvy lead performance and makes a period-perfect flapper in the role of Marion Davies.

Q: Kirsten Dunst is extraordinary in this film. She seems completely incapable of being false.

A: Yes, she's really terrific. I agree with you. I think she's a wonderful actress. I enjoyed working with her a lot. She's so smart and she has emotion in her fingertips. She's got it everywhere. She's not old enough to know that much (about acting) but she knows it intuitively. She knows it as an artist. She knows things that she probably doesn't know in life. But she knows them in a scene. She really has an artistic, intuitive sense of things. And the camera loves her.

Q: Did you and she do a lot of brainstorming about Marion Davies, about the character?

A: People ask me if I directed her the way I directed Cybill or Tatum (O'Neal, who made her Oscar-winning acting debut in "Paper Moon"). No, because she was a pro. Kirsten has been acting since she was 3. It was like talking to an old pro, you know? She knew what she was doing. We talked about technical things, like I said "Get your voice down for the part." This woman has been drinking and she's older (than Kirsten) so her voice is lower.

Q: You shot the film's exteriors in Greece. Why?

A: It was because of the yacht.

Q: The yacht you wanted was there?

A: There was only one yacht. Well, there were two yachts, but one guy said forget it. This one was in Athens...and it was the only period yacht that somebody would let us use that had enough similarity to the Hearst yacht. So the production designer and the cinematographer went looking for a location close to Athens (that could substitute for 1920s coastal California) and they found a little fishing village on the Mediterranean coast of Greece -- which, P.S., was not easy to get to! It took the cast and crew 11 hours by bus from Athens.

Q: Wow! Did you feel like you were back on the horse again with this film? It feels like a true Peter Bogdanovich movie.

A: Thank you! Well, I don't know. No. I didn't. I felt rather apprehensive [laughs] all during it. I followed my instincts, but it was not an easy shoot. Every scene counted. I wasn't sure, but I pretended to be. You're asking me, and the truth is, underneath it I wasn't sure. I just kept going forward. But I had good actors and we never settled for anything. We kept trying to get it better.

Q: Did it start to feel good after you started seeing rushes? Did you ever get comfortable?

A: Good question. No. [Laughs] Not until about the last week -- and I wouldn't say comfortable. But about the last week (I was better) because I did see some of the stuff cut together. I don't like rushes. I've never liked rushes. Rushes are, by necessity, in pieces. You don't see the whole scene. So to me it all seems bitty. I don't like to see it that way. I remember John Ford never looked at rushes. I asked him once why he didn't look at rushes, and he said [affecting Ford's blustery voice], "If there's a problem, I'll hear about it!"

In my career, I've never shot anything as tight as this. There was no fat and there was no coverage. There were no extra shots, there were no luxury shots. What you see -- with the exception of three set-ups -- is exactly what we shot. And those three set-ups we took out, we took the scene out. Two little scenes, about a total of a minute and 20 seconds of the whole movie. Everything else you see, that's what we shot. Some of it, like the black and white stuff, we did in a single take!

Q: The producers must have loved that.

A: Well, we only had one day to do that sequence (the title sequence, in which the characters arrive at a funeral in old limousines). We had six or seven old cars. Extras and old cars. They take time. The car would pull up, the extras were yelling, the people would get out, close the door, I'd say "Cut! We got it? Everybody happy? That's it." Walk away. If I'd said to do one more, we gotta move the cars back [makes belchy antique car noises], turn them around, get the extras set up -- it would take 20 minutes. I didn't have 20 minutes. And I did that on almost every set-up in that movie. We did 50 shots one day.

Q: Holy cow!

A: It was quite something. That was a marathon. I felt good that day -- when it was over! I'll tell you when I did feel good. When the editor had put together what's called an assembly -- which is really basically just the slates cut off, cutting where I say "cut," picking up where I say "action," and putting it together the way the script indicated -- I saw that about a week after we wrapped, and I thought, The picture works! I didn't know until then, and I was shocked.

Q: You were shocked?

A: I was shocked and moved to tears. I thought, "Holy s**t, it works!"

Q: So when you first heard this story -- from Orson Welles as I understand -- I just imagine he must have relished in dishing this dirt.

A: He just told it to me in passing actually, as an example of how different Hearst was from Charles Foster Kane. Kane is in fact a composite of three or four different historical figures, including a guy named McCormack, who built the Chicago Opera House for his girlfriend, who was a singer. That whole aspect of Kane, all that stuff is about McCormack and had nothing to do with Hearst. In fact, Orson always felt the big libel in Kane -- when people thought that Kane was Hearst and therefore thought that Susan (Kane's untalented mistress) was Marion -- he said he always felt guilty because the misunderstanding led to a real libel of Marion, who, as Orson said, was a fine comedienne and a loyal person to Hearst.

Q: With the way Hearst was supposed to have flown into a rage over "Citizen Kane," I can't help but imagine what he would do over "The Cat's Meow."

A: [Grins] We had jokes (about that). When we were in Greece and the weather kept changing, we were caught between two weather systems that were fighting each other. It would be raining, then the sun would come out, then it would start to rain again, then the sun would come out. You can't shoot that way! So we made a joke, the actors and I. We were kidding around saying, "That's Hearst" when the weather got bad. We decided that Marion was on our side and that Ince was on our side, but that Hearst and Chaplain probably weren't. That was our guess.

Q: Although all four come across as human and sympathetic in the film. Even when they're being manipulative. Even when they're being dishonest.


A: Well, I think you understand them. The minute you understand somebody, really, it's hard to hate them. They're human. We're all human. We all have our insecurities and our shortcomings. That's what I liked about the way the film evolved, because when we started it seemed Hearst was the (story's) villain, but when we finished the picture and I saw it, I thought he's not really a villain. It's just life. It gets in the way.

Q: On the subject of understanding the characters, I have to ask: You've had relationships with young actresses...

A: Putting it mildly...

Q: Well, I'm trying to be tactful! [Laughs] You were involved with Cybill Shepherd, and you've been close to a showbiz murder -- Dorothy Stratten. Did you incorporate these experiences in the way you told this story?

A: Well, let's put it this way: I certainly could empathize with and understand the men in the story. I hope I understood the women too. But I had a personal empathy with, for example, Chaplain in this movie. (Here) he's not the genius filmmaker, he's a movie star on the make. I've been there.

Q: ...coming off a failed picture. ("The Cat's Meow" takes place immediately after Chaplin's box office flop "A Woman of Paris.")

A: Coming off a failed picture, that's right. I've been there! Now Ince is a guy who's having a hard time. He'd a guy who's had it all and seems to be losing it. I can certainly identify with that. Hearst is a man who is obsessed with this girl, and she was everything to him. I can understand that. In fact, that makes him rather likable. It makes him more real. So, yes, I've had personal experiences with some of this.

For me, I think the death has such resonance in the picture. (Narratively) because you know there's going to be a death -- it tells you right at the beginning. You don't necessarily know who or how or why (unless you know the rumors the film is based on), but you know. But I felt it was (personally) important to show the terrible repercussions that one death can have. One death can destroy lives, alter them forever. It happened to me, our family and Dorothy's family. We were all irrevocably changed by that night.

People say, "Have you gotten over it?" Well, I've learned to live with it. You don't get over it. Human beings are not built well for shock, so we don't get over it. We just learn to live with it. That was something that was very important to me to try to convey. I think, tragically, because of Sept.11 an awful lot more people have come to understand that. Each of those families understands in their own way.

 More information about Tom Ince and his magnificent brothers (and his sister, too!)