Ince-Cosmopolitan Headquarters-“Quiet on the Set”

Aerial view of the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California, 1918

Aerial view of the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, California, 1918
Big Things indeed!


Indulge me as I quote facts and steer you in a direction of genuine possibility, perhaps probability.
The Players: Thomas H. Ince, Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies
The Scene: Negotiating the deal “Ince-Cosmopolitan” Pictures
The Location: Remote Triangle on Ince Culver City property
The year: 1924- One of the most significant years in motion picture factory history…

Goldwyn-Ince Triangle studio would become MGM and Ince would leave the Triangle studios for his own brand-new studio cross town, thanks to city founder Harry Culver. Mr. Hearst and his mistress Marion were not your normal Hollywoodland players. They dictate what they want and get it. When Louie B. Mayer took charge, a new set of rules took place. Louie B. is a star maker, he runs a factory that can create them. Dancing lessons, singing, make up, all the bells and whistles- hence you and I become stars.

Hearst and Mayer were alpha-dogs and Hearst did not want any friction from someone else when it came to Marion Davies and what she would star in. Therefore, an alternate plan was being woven just a few blocks away. A period of time not fully accounted for in Hollywood history,

Thomas Ince’s 3rd Triangle was taking shape. Ince was battening down the hatches and nearly on board with Randolph Hearst to incorporate a cash infusion.

Picture if you will…

By 1924, Ince was said to be close to bankruptcy and began to discuss a merger with Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The deal would focus on production and distribution of the films of Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies. Davies was currently at MGM under the management of Louis B. Mayer. Hearst wanted control of Marion’s career and had the money to make this happen with Ince.

Fact – Hearst began negotiations for Cosmopolitan to occupy the Thomas H. Ince lot in late 1924. The part no one may know, but given the facts can easily speculate is, since the time this merger had been in the making, comfortable quarters were already being constructed on a tiny corner of Ince’s Culver City Studio. The star (Marion Davies) was treated as such on this little corner and was adorned with her own make-up trailer and bungalow complete with a koi pond, ornate statue, and patio that looked out on the lot. A refuge, office, and most likely love nest for Marion and Hearst (or Chaplin as you might suppose).

The famous mansion, headqurters of Ince Studios.

Aerial view of Ince Studios

A porcelain street sign once located at the corner of Ince and Washington Blvd.

The crux of this tract triangle on the left side of this picture would become a star compound. Private gates existed behind the house backdoor into the studio itself. Had this merger gone through, Lucerne Ave. most likely would become Cosmopolitan Blvd, where it would intersect with Ince Blvd.

Aerial shot of the same location

Ince-Cosmopolitan, the merger that never happened…

A signing party to seal the deal and celebrate Ince’s 42nd birthday was arranged on Hearst’s yacht. Guests would include Hearst, Davies, Ince, Chaplin, and Louella Parsons, Hearst’s publicist, who was paid handsomely to write complimentary columns on Davies. Her catch line was sometimes ridiculed “and Marion never looked lovelier”. It is unclear the events that unfolded on this yacht. The merger was never announced as Ince had to be taken away from the cruise in a stretcher and died just days later. First newspaper account said that Ince was shot in the head and swiftly, Hearst’s papers ran an entirely different account, stating Ince died of heart failure. “Silence” on the set. It was speculated that Hearst paid handsome hush money to Parsons and Chaplin for their silence as to what happened on that yacht.

Hearst’s yacht, the Oneida. Ince was dead at age 42. Quickly rumors circulated that Hearst had shot Ince in a jealous fit of anger—though not at the producer but at Chaplin, whom Hearst suspected was having inappropriate relations with his beloved mistress, Davies. In this whispered version of the events, Hearst stormed around the yacht late at night seeking out Chaplin, stumbled across Ince, and shot him in a case of mistaken identity.

It has been commonly accepted that Ince died of heart failure but elatedly, the popular view is that Hearst shot Ince in the head, a bullet intended for Chaplin, who he suspected of having a fling with Marion. Yet, what we know for sure is that Ince died at home a few days later and Hearst remained friends with Chaplin for years to come. Whether accidental or on purpose, the Ince-Cosmopolitan merger would never be.

The alternate ending that changed film history…

So, what became of Marion’s make-up trailer? I’ll tell you what happened! I discovered it where it has been sitting for over a hundred years. When you connect the dots, there leaves little doubt that the make-up trailer I have discovered belonged to Marion Davies, as it can be matched up in pictures.

A colorized photo of Marion’s make-up trailer

One of the oldest picture found thus far of this trailer is dated 1926, with Marion in an MGM costume. One may assume the picture was taken on the MGM lot, but it could very well have been taken a few blocks away. This is no further from MGM lot 1 than the MGM backlot is, in other words, keep me away from the cattle.

During filming of The Fair Co-ed. The B could stand for-Billionaire… One of the oldest picture found thus far of this trailer is dated 1926, with Marion in an MGM costume. One may assume the picture was taken on the MGM lot, but it could very well have been taken a few blocks away. This is no further from MGM lot 1 than the MGM backlot is, in other words, keep me away from the cattle.
Shingles would be added to preserve the exterior, plumbing for a sink and electricity came from the house on this compound. A koi pond separates the house from the Make-up trailer. Not only is this the first star trailer, it’s the first star compound. The things this door has seen and been part of will stagger your mind!
Hollywood’s first mobile star trailer…

Was the trailer moved to MGM with the horse hitch that was attached? Was it built at MGM and then moved to this little corner of Ince’s studio property to spend the rest of its days? And if so, why?

MGM built her second trailer, with a refrigerator. My research leads me to this trailer was built at Paramount before MGM existed. 

This room could be towed around by horses. The same horses could then be unhitched, throw a cowboy on the saddle, and that same horse is now in front of the camera. Yesterday’s version of 399/SAG. A horse that can act, but doubles as a driver…before unions and guilds. Mr. Ince was known to travel from set to set directing his films while sitting atop a horse. The “General” of filmmaking.

One of the two back wheels… This is a horse hitch for this make-up trailer

A souvenier token from the movie “When Knighthood was in Flower” recently shown on TCM.

Connecting the dots…

For me, and until proven otherwise, I stick to the more romantic theory that the make-up trailer has never moved from this unassuming spot and that Marion frequented this private, comfortable home away from the set perhaps in between shots, for a few years at least. And who could blame her? At MGM, just a few short blocks away, she was thrown into communal make-up rooms of all the stars of the day, like cattle if you will.

Big stars don’t work as cattle, the bigger the star, the more perks. But, you gotta be big to put your nose in the air. Marion could call her shots prior to MGM. This compound allowed Marion to be Marion, she is not part of a herd.

This star make-up trailer is opulent, still, over a 100 years later. I will share with you going forward the heirlooms that were hidden inside this make up trailer. Each item ties to a different era. This was an active make up room up to the early 70’s, Hogan’s Heroes cast was often in this yard since Stalag 13 was next door. A guard tower – number 3 inside the camp looked down into this yard.

Sneaking into Stalag 13 in 1972 is when I first became aware of this peculiar structure. It disguised itself as a garden shed and has remained hidden in plain sight…for close to a hundred years.

50 years later, after my eventful sneak into Stalag 13- this room discovered me! We’ve reunited, older but wiser.

The Phantom will personally take you inside this room in future posts as we try to connect dots and salvage as much as we can from what is probably the first ever Make-up trailer in…Hollywoodland !

An heirloom- full of heirlooms from movie history…Follow each discovery on YouTube, Phantomofthebacklots...
Common’ inwe’ve been waiting for ya!

Written and lived by Donnie Norden and Maureen Miller…

Visit us on YouTube for much more…

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