William Randolph's Hearse
Ince in Decline
After 1916 Ince's output as a director dropped markedly as he began focusing more on producing and the business aspects of the blossoming film industry. One of his last full-length films, Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning Anna Christie, is considered a classic of the silent film era. (Its 1930 remake also created a sensation as Greta Garbo's first role in a "talkie.")
However, by the time the '20s roared in, Ince's star was descending. He was considered old hat. Many of those in the industry who cut their teeth in his Culver City studio early in their careers were venturing out on their own and surpassing him. He was finding less and less of a market for his products and was making fewer pictures. His specialties, shorts and Westerns, were becoming passé (although Westerns would make a comeback in later years, especially after the advent of television). The industry became more focused on stars than on those who made them stars. Its sycophants in the media did likewise, loyally parroting the studios' official lines.
In The Cat's Meow, Hearst mocks Ince as "a cripple" in the film business and his cruel assessment wasn't far off base at that point in Ince's career. At the time of his death, Ince was widely believed to be verging on bankruptcy. One of his reported purposes for going on the fatal cruise was to try and salvage his sagging fortunes by convincing Hearst to merge his Cosmopolitan Productions with Ince's Culver City operation. Ince also reportedly wanted to manage Davies' film career, which would have ensured him of a steady, substantial income from the wealthy newspaper tycoon. However, Hearst was reportedly chilly to both ideas and, in the movie, this comes out in no uncertain terms.
As if to rub salt in the wound, Hearst is walking the yacht's deck with Ince in one scene, gleefully shooting at seagulls flying nearby. When he kills one and watches its corpse plop into the water, Hearst asks Ince if he's ever eaten seagull meat, to which Ince disgustedly replies no. "It's awful!" Hearst says. "Kind of like eating crow."