The Real Deal
by E.J. Russell
While Silent Sin is about a purely fictional couple who are surrounded by a mostly fictional secondary cast, there are some references to people who lived and worked in Hollywood at the time (although mostly they’re simply mentioned). Some of these names may be familiar to readers—others might not. But because they deserve to be remembered, I’ll introduce you to some of them here.
J. Warren (Jack) Kerrigan
The fan magazines called him “The Great God Kerrigan,” and he was the fledgling film industry’s first bona fide superstar. He was also gay, living in his “Komfy Kerrigan Kottage” with his mother, his lover tucked away downstairs as his “secretary.” His sexuality, of course, was never overtly stated: when confronted with the infamous Marriage Question, his usual response was that he hadn’t yet found a woman who measured up to Mother. He topped the fan magazines’ popularity polls from 1913 through 1916, but then, in May 1917, when a reporter asked him if he was going to join the war, Kerrigan shot his own career in the foot when he said he said no—“… first they should take the great mass of men who aren’t good for anything else…” He went on, unfortunately for him, and the papers picked it up: The Great God Kerrigan thought he was better than everybody else and too good to fight for his country. His popularity never recovered.
William S. (Bill) Hart
Bill Hart was a former Shakespearean stage actor who transitioned to films at the age of 49 and became a star of early film westerns—he’d actually been a friend of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and owned Billy the Kid’s six-shooters. His films were grittier and more authentic than the flashier stars like Tom Mix who later supplanted him, and his popularity waned. He retired in 1925 following the lackluster performance of his self-financed film, Tumbleweeds. His damaging public statements about Roscoe Arbuckle’s presumed guilt prompted Buster Keaton (Arbuckle’s best friend) to produce, direct, and star in The Frozen North, a parody of Hart (the premise written by Arbuckle) that presents him as a thief and a bully. Hart didn’t speak to Keaton again for years.
Thomas Ince, the “Father of the Western,” was associated with over 800 silent westerns in his career—some of them starring Bill Hart. Ince was the first producer to build his own self-contained studio on nearly 19,000 acres in Santa Ynez Canyon between Santa Monica and Malibu. Its official name was the Miller 101 Bison Ranch Studio, but it was generally referred to by its nickname: Inceville. Not only did Inceville contain shooting stages, outdoor sets (and not just for westerns), dressing rooms, production offices, printing labs, and a huge commissary—it was also home to its own stock performing company. Ince leased the entire 101 Ranch and Wild West Show from the Miller brothers and installed the troupe (comprising cowboys, cowgirls, horses, cattle, bison, and an entire Sioux tribe) at the site. Ince’s death is another early Hollywood scandal/mystery: in 1924, when he was just 44, he was taken ill following a party on W.R. Hearst’s private yacht, spawning gossip and rumors that persisted for years. The 2001 movie, The Cat’s Meow, with Cary Elwes as Ince, Edward Herrmann as Hearst, and Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies, is based on the rumor that Hearst shot Ince, mistaking him for Charlie Chaplin, whom he suspected of having an affair with Davies.
So Hollywood almost didn’t need movies—the lives of film’s early practitioners provided plenty of drama on their own. Continue reading