He saw her face for the first time on the screen - it was a small part in a forgettable picture. But that face - for some unknown reason, like a photograph in an album of memories, remained with him.
Then, a year later, there she was. He was directing a picture at Universal - and there was that face - watching him work - the face of the one with whom he fell in love and would spend the rest of his life.
Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1893. Seven years later and half a world away, Alice Frances Taaffe was born in Vincennes, Ind. How Fate leads two soulmates together is a mystery, but without a doubt these two lives were meant to come together and be shared. And that they did for 29 years of marriage without a hint of discord or the threat of parting.
Hitchcock migrated to the United States to seek his fortune, enrolled at Yale, and, through his roommate was introduced to Thomas Edison's son. Soon, young Hitchcock found himself employed by the Edison Motion Picture Company as a jack-of-all-trades, including actor. By the time he had served apprenticeships with Edison and Vitagraph, he joined Fox Films and changed his named to Rex Ingram. It was with his next employer, Universal, however, that he first entered the role that was to make him famous - that of film director.
Alice Taaffe's family moved from Indiana to Los Angeles when she was 15. Enid Markey, who was already somewhat of a star, lived in the same building and convinced her to try for a job at Inceville. Bits and pieces of work that included acting and film editing led to nothing, and Alice's confidence in herself as an actress was nil . . . that is, until she met Rex Ingram. And, under his mentorship and with a name change to Alice Terry, she became one of the most respected actresses of the silent era.
A 1921 Picture Play magazine article says the meeting mentioned above took place in the summer of 1916. Terry told Ingram biographer Liam O'Leary that the couple's first meeting was in 1917 when the director was making a picture with Henry B. Walthall (probably "Humdrum Brown"). She said she played an extra for two or three days, and Ingram left for Canada to join the Royal Flying Corps and do his part in the World War.
Ingram was only in the Corps for the last three months of 1918. One report says that as a flying instructor he was involved in a serious crash in which the metal of a propeller entered his lung. Although the army has no record of such a crash, it is a fact that he came back from service very ill and without a job. Also, a first marriage in 1917 had come to an end.
But he had not forgotten Alice. He called her one day to pose for a sculpture (Ingram had attended art school in Ireland and was an accomplished sculptor). According to Ingram, "When I came back ill, and couldn't get a job, Alice used to come to the studio I shared with another amateur sculptor and talk to me and pose for me. I did two heads of her."
Then, for some unknown reason, they didn't see each other for a matter of months. In the meantime, Ingram had gotten work with Metro, and, again, he thought of Alice. Whether Ingram requested her or not is unknown, but Alice received a call to do extra work in a picture he was directing. According to Terry, "He spoke very harshly to me, and I started to cry and I walked off the set and refused to go back. The next morning, Rex called for me himself and apologized and said to come back and that soon he was going to change studios and he would have a part for me."
O'Leary points out , "It was clear that Rex was deeply attracted to Alice at this stage," and, it turns out, the feeling was mutual.
Why is one person attracted to another, and what special chemistry takes place to make that attraction mutual . . . and passionate? Maybe it's the little things. Terry remembers being on location for a film, and she and Ingram had adjoining rooms. The connecting door would lock on Ingram's side but not hers. Apprehensive about Ingram's intentions, she sat up all night only to find he had had a good night's sleep.
In another instance, a slight hint of jealousy reared its head. After a streetcar ride to the end of the line, Terry still had a significant distance to walk to the studio. A taxi driver would pick her up and take her the rest of the way each day, free of charge. One day, Ingram heard the driver say, "Goodbye, Alice. I'll see you tomorrow morning." When he realized the driver was on a first name basis with Terry, he arranged transportation for her himself.
And Alice was enamored by the "older man" and his good looks, which was equal to any leading man of the day. Terry said the Prince of Wales was considered one of the handsomest men in the world at the time, but she thought Ingram was much better looking.
Of course, no relationship will survive without respect - and these two held a deep respect for each other. She, from the very beginning, knew he was an exceptional director. He held a high regard for her acting abilities, even though she, herself, had little confidence, at least in the beginning, for what she was capable of. According to Ingram, when he offered Terry the lead in "Hearts Are Trumps," "to my amazement, though her eyes brightened, she shook her head. 'No, Mr. Ingram,' she said, 'I can't. I haven't had enough experience in the playing of important roles like that.' 'Just give it a try,' I urged. 'You're the right type, and you can leave the acting instructions to me.' She refused, shy and frightened at the idea, for a long time, but finally she consented to try.'"
And it was not only her acting he respected - he was very open to her suggestions regarding both direction and business. Ingram commented, "If Alice had been married to someone else when I met her, I think I would promptly have engaged her as my business manager."
In a 1921 article on their engagement, Ingram refers several times to he fact that he and Terry were "pals" in the beginning. They would meet at a Pasadena tea room and talk about their lives and their ambitions. Alice would occasionally cook for him. Unknown to them, this "sharing" of the little things in their lives during this time was building the foundation for a rock solid relationship that would last until Ingram's death.
The two also experienced success together at this time, the greatest of which was "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" which was released in 1921. It proved mutually beneficial to both of them, solidifying his reputation as one of the greatest directors of his day and establishing Terry as a major star.
All of these pieces came together to cement that relationship that, at the time, neither one of them realized needed marriage to satisfy its needs. It took a separation to bring Ingram to this realization. He was in New York after the release of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," and it suddenly dawned on him just how miserable he was without Terry by his side. "What the deuce is the matter with me?" he said. "Suddenly I realized I was missing Alice. I called her up on the telephone right away. And from 3000 mile away - I asked her to marry me!"
The same 1921 article noted that, during their engagement, the couple would "take motor trips together to Pasadena or the beach, dine, and usually ride home early, sometimes hardly exchanging a word when Ingram happens to be weary or engrossed in thinking out a story. At other times, they talk over his work."
'I don't know how she puts up with me,' said Ingram with affectionate gallantry. 'I never take her to the theater, nor do I care much for dancing. I'm absorbed in my work much of the time when other girls would, I'm sure, think I should be with my fiancée. But she's always the same serene companion, genial, sympathetic and helpful.'"
The couple were finally married Nov. 5, 1921, on a Saturday, spent most of the day at the movies on Sunday, and Monday morning were right back at work on "The Prisoner of Zenda."
It is obvious that Terry was totally devoted to her husband and his career, which was far more important to Ingram than Terry's career was to her. It is possible she may not have even pursued her career had it not been for Ingram. O'Leary described Terry as "a most capable housewife," adding that she "did not allow her career to interfere with her domestic chores." ". . . she was not consumed with a burning ambition to get to the top and stay there at all costs," he said.
In a 1924 article, Terry said, "Real love, the kind that lasts and brings companionship and happiness to one's old age, must be founded on mutual respect and trust - a sort of glorified friendship . . . Some of the finest love matches which I have seen among my married friends have begun as friendships and ripened into a truly beautiful love."
And the two were not only lovers, they were, indeed, best friends. Terry was Ingram's favorite actress, and he exhibited an unfailing confidence in her abilities. Ingram was Terry's favorite director, and she was at her best under his guidance. The two also worked side by side with Terry offering advice and assistance on his movies, being more than just an actress to him. Ingram's respect for her contributions is evidenced by the fact that Terry is listed as co-director on his last film, "Baroud" (1932).
Although Ingram's usual style of directing was brash and driving, he adopted a different style for his wife. A 1923 article noted, "With Alice Terry, Ingram's method is different. He will rehearse her just as many times, but he doesn't storm. For the most part he simply suggests. Abrupt criticism only invites calamity with Alice. She is hypersensitive. Upon one occasion, when he had been a little more vigorous than usual, the tears welled into her eyes - and tears were not in demand just then. The rest of the scenes were carefully punctuated with "That's fine, Alice dear."
Ingram's long-time dream of leaving Hollywood behind and making films in Europe was realized in 1925 when he acquired the Victorine Studios in Nice, France. Being from Ireland, of course Ingram was more at home in Europe, but, without question, the shy little girl from Indiana was right at her husband's side far away from the land she had known as home for the past 26 years.
As if to validate her contentment to be wherever her husband was, Ingram's first film at the studio was Terry's favorite, and, most likely, her best performance. As Freya Talberg, a beautiful spy working for the Germans during World War I in "Mare Nostrum," she was at her best and most captivating. The two couldn't have been happier with their lives or each other.
This was in spite of the fact that Ingram's behavior was not always predictable, yet Terry remained the devoted, and most understanding, wife. For instance, Ingram and Terry had lengthy separations while he was busy with a project or whatever was interesting him at the moment. As a matter of fact, while he was making preparations for his 1927 movie "The Garden of Allah," Terry returned to Hollywood to make "Lovers" with Ramon Novarro. But, as soon as this was completed, she was back in Europe with her husband playing the lead in "The Garden of Allah."
Ingram became enamoured with North Africa and the Arab culture in general when he filmed parts of "The Arab" (1924) on location in Tunisia. This "strange affinity," as O'Leary calls it, that he felt for the Arab people, was, no doubt, why he chose to make such films as "The Garden of Allah" and "Baroud" as well as adopting a young Arab boy, Abd-el-Kader .
It is obvious that Terry was very understanding of her husband's character (or eccentricities?), and she allowed him the freedom to fulfill his dreams and desires, even to the point of stepping out of the way when necessary. O'Leary notes that during the period of "The Magician" in the early days at the studio in Nice, "Alice lived her own life more or less independently" while Ingram was preoccupied with the studio and his next movie.
The Ingram's lifestyle led to some assumptions in a British magazine that Ingram was leaving filmmaking because of his "revulsion" for Hollywood, he and Terry were having marital difficulties, and that he had converted to Islam, none of which was true. He sued the magazine's publishers and won.
Although these years at the Nice studio were "heady" days for Ingram, Terry is the one who apparently "kept her head" and steered her husband toward wise investments - not an area in which Ingram was very adept.
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the Ingrams, either. After a few years in Nice, he lost his beloved studio, and the onset of sound in films did not suit him or Terry well. Terry retired, and Ingram made only one more film, "Baroud," in which he starred and directed.
By 1934, the Ingrams had left Nice and were living in Cairo. However, Terry soon moved the California where her mother had died, and they did not see each other for two years while Ingram wandered in North Africa and wrote his first novel.
Ingram and Terry reunited and settled in the San Fernando Valley of California where they maintained two adjacent homes, one as a main residence, and one where Ingram could take refuge when he shunned visitors or wanted to indulge in his sculpting.
World War II came, and his precious collection of art that he had left with the Cairo Museum could not be retrieved until after the war. He took an extended trip in 1947 and 1948 during which time he regained his treasures and visited his father and brother one last time. He had been suffering from ill health, and, when he returned to Terry and their California home, he was obviously in worse health.
In July, 1950, he entered the hospital to have some tests and X-rays made. The day before he was to be released, Terry visited him there. He instructed her to pick him up the next morning for a visit to a clinic in the Valley and to pick out something for her birthday which was coming up shortly. However, by the time she arrived home, the hospital called and said he was unconscious. Terry rushed back to the hospital and was at his side when he passed away a short time later.
Although Terry was only 51 years old when she lost her husband, she never remarried. She remained in her home, and for most of the rest of her life, she shared it with her elder sister, Edna. Terry passed away 37 years after she lost her beloved husband.
Looking back over their lives, it is obvious Rex Ingram and Alice Terry had few regrets, and this is due in no small part to the fact that they were able to share 29 years of their lives with one another. Ingram's films wouldn't have been the same without Alice Terry. It is very likely he would not have been able to pursue his dreams or indulge his passions the way he did with anyone but his Alice whom he adored and who understood him like no other. It is also safe to assume Terry would not have become the person or actress she was without Ingram by her side and guiding her career. And, because of his love for her, his confidence in her abilities and his respect for her as an actress, through the masterpieces he has left, we can still see that face . . . yes, that face just as Ingram saw it and fell in love with her all those many years ago.
For more information on Ingram and Terry, see "Mare Nostrum" (1926) as our Feature of the Month.
Copyright 1999 by Tim Lussier. All rights reserved.
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