Ernest Torrence

Ernest Torrence

Torrence as William Jackson in the western The Covered Wagon
Born Ernest Thayson Torrence-Thomson
(1878-06-26)26 June 1878
Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland, UK
Died 13 May 1933(1933-05-13) (aged 54)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Years active 1918-1933
Spouse(s) Elsie Reamer Bedbrook (1902-1933) (his death) (1 child)
Children Ian Torrence (b. 1907)

Ernest Torrence (26 June 1878 - 13 May 1933) was a Scottish film character actor who appeared in many Hollywood films, including Broken Chains (1922) with Colleen Moore, Mantrap (1926) with Clara Bow and Fighting Caravans (1931) with Gary Cooper and Lili Damita. A towering (6' 4") figure, Torrence frequently played cold-eyed and imposing villains.


Education and early work

He was born Ernest Torrance-Thomson to Colonel Henry Torrence Thayson and Jessie (née Bryce)[1] on 26 June 1878, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and as a child was an exceptional pianist and operatic baritone and graduated from 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 disarming vocal problems set in and he was forced to abandon this career path.

Sometime prior to 1900, he changed the spelling of Torrance to Torrence and dropped the name Thomson. Both Ernest and his actor brother David Torrence went to America, in March 1911, directly from Scotland prior to the First World War. Focusing instead on a purely acting career, Ernest and his brother developed into experienced players on the Broadway New York stage. Ernest received significant acclaim with Modest Suzanne in 1912 and a prominent role in The Night Boat in 1920 brought him to the attention of the early Hollywood filmmakers.

Film career

Torrence played the despicable adversary Luke Hatburn in Tol'able David (1921) opposite Richard Barthelmess and immediately settled into films for the rest of his career and life. He played an old codger in the acclaimed classic western The Covered Wagon (1923) and gained attention from his roles 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. He played an Army General who escapes into the circus world and becomes a clown in The Side Show of Life (1924).

In an offbeat bit of casting he paired up with Clara Bow in Mantrap (1926), unusually as a gentle, giant type backwoodsman in search of a wife. He appeared in other silent film classics such as The King of Kings (1927) (as Peter) and Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) as Buster Keaton's steamboat captain father. During the course of his twelve-year film career, Ernest made 49 films, both silent and "talkies".


Torrence made the transition into talking films very well, starring in Fighting Caravans (1931) with Gary Cooper and Lili Damita. He was able to play a notable nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, to Clive Brook's Sherlock in Sherlock Holmes (1932) in one of his last roles.

Filming for I Cover the Waterfront (1933), in which he starred as a smuggler opposite Claudette Colbert in New York, had just been completed when he died suddenly on 15 May 1933, at the relatively young age of 54. While en route to Europe by ship, Torrence suffered an acute attack of gall stones and was rushed back to a New York hospital but died later of complications following surgery.

Selected filmography


  1. Who Was Who in the Theatre: 1912-1976 vol.4 Q-Z p.2381; compiled from editions originally published annually by John Parker, 1976 edition published by Gale Research....Retrieved September 23, 2014
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