Introduction to Rex Ingram’s memoirs


A Long Way From Tipperary

The manuscript A Long Way From Tipperary is an autobiographical account written by Rex Ingram of the period from his birth in Ireland in 1893 to his return, after many years working and travelling in Europe and North Africa, to the United States, now his home, in 1936. It is divided into three sections (Books). The first covers the time from his birth in Dublin to his departure from Ireland, in 1911, for the United States. It describes the death of his mother, his childhood in the Irish midlands, and his unhappy experience of boarding school. The second commences with his arrival in the United States and covers his first job, working in the New Haven docks, his period studying sculpture at Yale, and his entry into the early film industry, starting as an actor in New York and culminating in a move to Los Angeles. It details his shift into writing and direction, and his growing reputation as a director in the industry. His career is halted by the outbreak of World War One and this section culminates with his training as a pilot in Canada and the end of the war. Book Three covers his ill health as a consequence of a flying accident, his slow return to the film industry and his greatest years as one of Hollywood’s top directors. It details his move to the Victorine Studios in France and his decision to end his career and travel in North Africa, culminating with his return, on St Patrick’s Day 1936, to the United States and his second wife and longtime star, Alice Terry.

The memoirs were written over a number of years. Ingram was finishing his first draft in 1935 in North Africa when the Italians invaded Ethiopia. He completed them during the Second World War at his home in Studio City, California and on the ranch he purchased in the Santa Barbara area after being turned down for active service due to ill health. They were evidently written with a view to publication, although this wasn’t to happen.

Following his death in 1950, all Ingram’s personal effects passed to his wife Alice Terry. These included the memoirs. Alice Terry remained living quietly in California with her sister, Edna. During the years up to her death, in 1987, she kept in touch with some of Ingram’s and her co-workers from his years as a director and survived long enough to see a new generation of historians and scholars rediscover their films. Irish film historian, Liam O’Leary, began his research on Ingram in the 1950s for his publication, Rex Ingram, Master of the Silent Cinema (1980), and with it initiated a lengthy correspondence with Terry. Evidently, he suspected the memoirs were still in existence, and Terry quoted from them in her letters to O’Leary. However, they also began to acquire an air of mystery. What exactly did they contain? Within the scholarly circle of the time, the question hung in the air as to whether they did indeed disclose the exact nature of Ingram’s and Terry’s relationship or if they identified him as a gay man. In a letter to O’Leary on 17 March 1960, Ingram’s brother, Frank Hitchcock, himself a detailed correspondent on his brother’s life, advised the following:

I do not know if Alice Terry informed you that Rex was working on his own memoirs – but I would not suggest you should broach her on the subject. It is my desire to help you in any way I can & I only tell you this in order that should you be stuck for a date or the verification of a fact, you could approach her without referring to the fact that you knew he was working on his memoirs.

With Alice Terry’s death, following several years living with Alzheimer’s disease, the whereabouts of the memoirs became unclear. Eventually, we tracked them down to the ownership of Terry’s nephew, Geoff Balkan. Balkan had kept the manuscript in safe storage and it was in excellent condition. The original is now held under copyright in the Manuscripts and Archives  department of the library of Trinity College Dublin (IE TCD MS 11448)and the copy available here is a digitized version of it, finally allowing scholars and Ingram fans full access to it. The digitization was carried out by Dr Conor O’Kelly, Teaching Fellow, Department of Film, Trinity College Dublin.

Liam O’Leary’s correspondence with Alice Terry and Frank Hitchcock is held at the National Library of Ireland: MS 50,000/373-452 .

For questions of copyright and use of this material please contact the Library of Trinity College Dublin: