This is edited and greatly expanded from an entry in my “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire page, written around 2005.
Rex Ingram (né Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock) (15 January 1892-21 July 1950) was born in Dublin and attended St. Columba’s College. His father was a rector for the Church of Ireland in Kinnitty, County Offaly.
Rex immigrated to the U.S. in 1911 to study sculpture at Yale’s art school. He also wrote for The Yale Record, the school’s humour magazine. Yale gave him a BFA in 1921 for his film work, the first time film had been recognised by academia as a legit fine art.
He began acting in 1913, then turned to directing, producing, writing, and set design. His first turn at directing was 1914’s one-reeler The Symphony of Souls. He directed his first feature in 1916, The Great Problem.
In 1917, Rex married actor Doris Pawn. They divorced three years later.
Rex worked for several studios before moving to Metro in 1920, where he was put under June Mathis’s supervision. Many believe they were a couple. Their relationship, whatever its true nature, became more distant when June’s new protégé Rudy Valentino started eclipsing Rex’s star.
Rex and Alice Terry (pictured above) snuck off the set of The Prisoner of Zenda on 5 November 1921 to elope. They saw three films the next day, a Sunday, and were back to work as normal on Monday. After the film wrapped, they honeymooned in San Francisco.
Alice frequently starred in her husband’s films, always wearing a blonde wig. These films include The Conquering Power, The Prisoner of Zenda, Mare Nostrum, Scaramouche, The Garden of Allah, and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
Other films Rex directed include Ben Hur (the 1925 original with sexy Ramón Novarro), Black Orchids, The Magician, Where the Pavement Ends, and The Three Passions.
Rex wasn’t keen on most American writers, and so worked with source material from authors like Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Anthony Hope, Honoré de Balzac, W. Somerset Maugham, and Rafael Sabatini.
He hated the infamous Louis B. Mayer so much, he refused to credit him on the opening credits of his films. They instead said “Metro-Goldwyn presents…”
Rex also caused problems with the powers that be with his penchant for telling grand, epic stories which frequently went over budget (similar to his good friend Erich von Stroheim). He and Alice moved to Nice in 1923, where they built their own studio.
During Rex’s time in France, he mentored future director Michael Powell, who credited him as a giant influence. In particular, the young Michael was profoundly inspired by Rex’s frequent themes of surrealism, mysticism, dreams, illusion, and magic.
Directors David Lean and Dore Schary also lauded Rex as a major influence on both them and the motion picture industry.
Rex only made one talkie, Baroud (1932). He opted against converting his studio for sound, choosing instead to go back to L.A. to rekindle his passion for sculpture. He also did a lot of writing in his retirement years.
Though he planned to film a biography of Haitian leader Tousssaint Louverture, this never came to pass.
Rex converted to Islam in 1933, having become interested in the faith in 1927.
Rex died of a cerebral haemmorhage at age 58. He had no children.