Image of Ernest Torrence

Ernest Torrence

He was the man you loved to hiss. This towering (6' 4"), highly imposing character star with cold, hollow, beady eyes and a huge, protruding snout would go on to become one of the silent screen's finest arch villains. Born Ernest Thayson Torrence-Thompson on June 26, 1878, in Edinburgh, Scotland, he was, unlikely enough, an exceptional pianist and operatic baritone. A graduate of the Stuttgart Conservatory, Edinburgh Academy before earning a scholarship at London's Royal Academy of Music, he toured with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in such productions as "The Emerald Isle" (1901) and "The Talk of the Town" (1905) before serious vocal problems set in. Both Ernest and his actor brother David Torrence came to America directly from Scotland prior to WWI. Focusing instead on a purely acting career, both brothers developed into seasoned players on the New York stage. Ernest made his Broadway bow with "Modest Suzanne" in 1912 and a standout role in "The Night Boat" in 1920 brought him to the attention of Hollywood filmmakers. He earned superb marks playing the despicable adversary Luke Hatburn in Tol'able David (1921) opposite Richard Barthelmess, and immediately settled into films for the rest of his career. Adept at both comedy and drama, Ernest avoided what could have been a damaging stereotype with his sympathetic portrayal of a grizzled old codger in the classic western The Covered Wagon (1923). He further bolstered his celebrity with plum, lip-smacking roles alongside Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) as Clopin, king of the beggars, and Betty Bronson in Peter Pan (1924) as the dastardly Captain Hook. In an offbeat bit of casting he paired up with Clara Bow in Mantrap (1926) as a gentle, bear-like backwoodsman in search of a wife, and participated in other silent classics such as The King of Kings (1927) (as Peter) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) as Buster Keaton's steamboat captain Dad. Despite his celluloid villainy, Ernest was known as a courtly and cultivated gentleman in private. He made the transition into talking films intact and was able to play a marvelous nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, to Clive Brooks ' Sherlock Holmes (1932) before his untimely death. Ernest died following his filming as a smuggler in I Cover the Waterfront (1933) starring Claudette Colbert in New York on May 15,1933, at the relatively young age of 54. It seems that while en route to Europe by ship, Torrence suffered an acute attack of gall stones and was rushed back to a New York hospital. He died of complications following surgery. Looking and usually playing much older than he was, Hollywood lost a marvelously talented and robust character player who had dozens of films ahead of him.

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Jun 26, 1878 In Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Movie/TV Credits:
First Appeared:
In the movie Tol'able David 1921-12-31
Latest Project:
Movie I Cover the Waterfront 1933-05-19
Known For
Poster of Fighting Caravans
Poster of The Pony Express
Poster of Night Life of New York
Poster of The Side Show of Life
Movie I Cover the Waterfront Eli Kirk (Julie's father) 1933-05-19
Movie Sherlock Holmes Professor James Moriarty 1932-11-05
Movie Hypnotized Prof. Horace S. Limberly - Hypnotist 1932-12-25
Movie Shipmates Chief Bosuns Mate Scotty McTavish 1931-04-25
Movie Fighting Caravans Bill Jackson 1931-02-01
Movie The Great Lover Potter 1931-07-18
Movie Sporting Blood Mr. Jim Rellence 1931-08-08
Movie The Cuban Love Song Romance 1931-12-05
Movie New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford Blackie Daw 1931-10-03
Movie Officer O'Brien John Patrick O'Brien 1930-02-16
Movie Strictly Unconventional Lord Porteous 1930-05-03
Movie Sweet Kitty Bellairs Sir Jasper Standish 1930-09-05
Movie Call of the Flesh Esteban 1930-08-16
Movie The Bridge of San Luis Rey Uncle Pio 1929-03-30
Movie Desert Nights Steve 1929-03-09
Movie The Unholy Night Dr. Ballou 1929-09-13
Movie Speedway Jim MacDonald 1929-10-07
Movie Untamed Uncle Ben Murchison 1929-11-23
Movie Steamboat Bill, Jr. William 'Steamboat Bill' Canfield Sr. 1928-05-09
Movie Across to Singapore Captain Mark Shore 1928-04-07
Movie The Cossacks Ivan 1928-06-23
Movie The King of Kings Peter 1927-04-19
Movie Captain Salvation Captain of the 'Panther' 1927-05-14
Movie Twelve Miles Out Red McCue 1927-07-08
Movie The American Venus King Neptune 1926-01-31
Movie North of 36 Jim Nabours 1926-03-20
Movie Mantrap Joe Easter 1926-07-24
Movie The Rainmaker Unknown 1926-05-10
Movie The Dressmaker from Paris Angus McGregor 1925-03-30
Movie Night Life of New York John Bentley 1925-08-02
Movie The Wanderer Tola 1925-08-19
Movie The Pony Express 'Ascension' Jones 1925-09-03
Movie The Fighting Coward Gen. Orlando Jackson 1924-03-14
Movie The Heritage of the Desert August Naab 1924-01-23
Movie The Side Show of Life 1924-07-21
Movie Peter Pan Captain James Hook 1924-12-29
Movie The Covered Wagon Jackson 1923-03-15
Movie The Brass Bottle Fakresh-el-Aamash 1923-07-22
Movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame Clopin 1923-09-06
Movie Singed Wings Emilio 1922-11-26
Movie Broken Chains Boyan Boone 1922-12-10
Movie Tol'able David Luke Hatburn 1921-12-31