In 1924 the media magnate William Randolph Hearst – one of the richest and most powerful men in America – hosted a glittering cruise on his luxury yacht off the coast of southern California.
On this trip film producer Thomas Ince was celebrating his 42nd birthday on board Hearst’s yacht. Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, columnist Louella Parsons, author Elinor Glyn and a few young up-and-coming actresses were among the guests. As the party continued through the night and alcohol was flowing, rumor has it that Hearst had suspected Davies of having an affair with one of the men on board. It was not until he caught Davies with Chaplin in one of the rooms, that Hearst’s jealousy threw him into a violent rage. When Hearst aimed to kill Chaplin with one of his guns, Ince may have been the one caught in the crossfire and took a bullet. Thus ending Ince's life.
After Ince’s death, the first headlines in the papers to appear read "Movie Producer Shot on Hearst's Yacht", but quickly vanished. Then there was a story that Ince had fallen ill on Hearst's ranch, but later it was proven they were never there. Then Hearst’s newspapers reported that Ince had left the yacht complaining of bad indigestion and later died in his wive’s arms by a heart attack upset by said indigestion. Could have there been intimidation from Hearst’s power over the published word and the ability to cut down a person’s reputation with his papers if the truth got out? Or did Ince really die of a heart attack? D.W. Griffith, once stated, “All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince’s name. There’s plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big to touch.”
Hearst and Davies
Ince was immediately creamated, his widow was given a large sum of money by Hearst and left the country, the others were given high salaried jobs at some of Hearst's companies. Foul play? A theory duly emerged that Hearst himself had shot the dead man. According to this version of events – dramatised in the film The Cat’s Meow starring Kirsten Dunst and Eddie Izzard – the jealous tycoon had mistaken Ince for Chaplin, who had been sleeping with Davies.
Hearst’s biographer believes the real reason for the cover-up was the vast amount of drinking and drug use.