William Randolph's Hearse
Floating Pleasure Palace
Standing slightly behind her, the graying, distinguished-looking William Randolph Hearst stepped forward and extended his hand.
"Happy birthday, Tom. Welcome aboard the Oneida," Hearst said, smiling and shaking the visitor's hand with a confident, firm grip.
"Thank you, W.R," Ince replied, formally addressing the much older man, who most of his other friends called Willie or Bill. Or "Pops," as only Marion called him. "Sorry for the delay but, you know, they released my latest picture yesterday in L.A. and I had to be there for the premiere."
"We understand, Tom," Hearst answered, still smiling pleasantly. "Business before pleasure. That's what I always say."
"Thanks for being so understanding, W.R. I got down here as quickly as I could, on the last train leaving L.A."
"Better late than never, Tom. We're just starting on our little jaunt. You haven't missed much so far. We're going to sail her clear on down to Mexico. Ensenada, I believe. Or maybe Tijuana. I don't know; I'd have to check with the captain."
"That sounds like fun. I'm looking forward to it," Ince said.
"The gang's all here, Tom," Hearst said, looping his arm lightly around Ince's shoulders. "Chaplin, Aileen Pringle, Seena Owen, Julanna Johnston, and a few other movie people. Elinor Glyn ... you know ... that steamy British romance writer. I've even got my movie reviewer from New York, Lolly Parsons, onboard with us.
"Great! I'd love to meet her, W.R," Ince replied with carefully suppressed excitement. "Maybe she can help me promote the picture we premiered yesterday, The Mirage."
"Come on down to my cabin and I'll introduce you to her. I'm sure she'd love to chat with you about your long and distinguished film production career. And we've got plenty of imported French champagne on ice, too. In your honor, birthday boy."
A look of concern spread across Ince's normally serious face.
"W.R, are you sure you're okay having booze on board?" Ince questioned worriedly. "The Feds have been cracking down hard on Prohibition violations lately, you know. They've been boarding private boats off the coast and searching them."
Hearst laughed and, as if right on cue, Marion giggled along with him. "Don't worry, Tom. I'm no bootlegger and these guys know it. I've got them bought and paid for. I'm too powerful for them to lay a hand on me, and if they do I'll ruin them. They'll quickly find out what it's like to be unemployed for the rest of their lives. Let's go drink a toast to the birthday boy. How old are you now, Tom?"
"Forty-three. And, W.R, can we discuss that deal we were talking about earlier? About you renting part of my studio in Culver for Marion's next pictures?"
Hearst chuckled again and squeezed Ince around the shoulders. "Come on, Tom. Ease up. We're not on location right now. Loosen your tie, for God's sake, and relax. There will be plenty of time to talk business later. After the cruise. As Marion here can tell you, I don't like mixing business with pleasure. For now, let's just relax and have a good time. We'll talk business later, okay?"
"Okay, W.R. Thanks," Ince replied with resignation in his soft voice, as Hearst and Marion both put their arms on his shoulders.
As the three of them made their way toward the lower deck, little did Thomas Ince know that the yacht he had just boarded would be sailing that night. Sailing straight into a fog bank of mystery, intrigue, and controversy that continues to this day — more than 80 years later.