Ernest Torrence was a Scottish born film character actor who appeared in many Hollywood films, including Mantrap with Clara Bow, and Fighting Caravans with Gary Cooper and Lili Damita. A towering figure, Torrence frequently played cold-eyed and imposing villains.
He was born Ernest Torrance-Thomson on June 26, 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 and The Talk of the Town 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 World War I. 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 Hollywood filmmakers.
Torrence played the despicable adversary Luke Hatburn in Tol’able David 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 and gained attention from his roles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame as Clopin, king of the beggars, and Betty Bronson in Peter Pan as the dastardly Captain Hook. In an offbeat bit of casting he paired up with Clara Bow in Mantrap, 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 and Steamboat Bill Jr. as Buster Keaton’s steamboat captain father. During the course of his twelve year film career, Ernest made 49 films, both silent and “talkies”.