Maurice Tourneur was an important international film director and screenwriter.
Born Maurice Thomas in the Belleville district of Paris, France, his father was a jeweler. As a young man, Maurice Thomas first trained as a graphic designer and a magazine illustrator but was soon drawn to the theater. In 1904, he married the actress, Fernande Petit. They had a son, Jacques who would follow his father into the film industry.
Using the stage name Maurice Tourneur, he began his show business career performing in secondary roles on stage and eventually toured England and South America as part of the theater company for the great star Gabrielle Réjane. Drawn to the new art of filmmaking, in 1911 he began working as an assistant director for the Éclair company. A quick learner and an innovator, within a short time he was directing films on his own using major French stars of the day such as Polaire.
In 1914, with the expansion of the giant French film companies into the United States market, Tourneur moved to New York City to direct silent films for Éclair’s American branch studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey before moving to William A. Brady’s World Film Corporation, where he directed important early American feature-length films such as The Wishing Ring, Alias Jimmy Valentine, The Cub and Trilby, the last starring Clara Kimball Young and noted stage actor Wilton Lackaye as Svengali. Before long, Maurice Tourneur was a major and respected force in American film and a founding member of the East Coast chapter of the Motion Picture Directors Association. As the feature film evolved in the mid 1910s, he and his team coupled exceptional technological skill with unique pictorial and architectural sensibilities in their productions, giving their films a visual distinctiveness that met with critical acclaim.