D.W. Griffith (I) (1875–1948)

Director | Writer | Producer

Date of Birth 22 January 1875, LaGrange, Kentucky, USA
Date of Death 23 July 1948, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA  (cerebral hemorrhage)
Birth Name David Llewelyn Wark Griffith
Height 5' 11" (1.8 m)

David Wark Griffith was born in rural Kentucky to Jacob "Roaring Jake" Griffith, a former Confederate Army colonel and Civil War hero. Young Griffith grew up with his father's romantic war stories and melodramatic nineteenth-century literature that were to eventually mold his black-and-white view of human existence and history. In 1897 Griffith set out to pursue a career both acting and writing for the theater, but for the most part was unsuccessful. Reluctantly, he agreed to act in the new motion picture medium for Edwin S. Porter at the Edison Company. Griffith was eventually offered a job at the financially struggling American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., where he directed over four hundred and fifty short films, experimenting with the story-telling techniques he would later perfect in his epic The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Griffith and his personal cinematographer G.W. Bitzer collaborated to create and perfect such cinematic devices as the flash-back, the iris shot, the mask and cross-cutting. In the years following "Birth", Griffith never again saw the same monumental success as his signature film and, in 1931, his increasing failures forced his retirement. Though hailed for his vision in narrative film-making, he was similarly criticized for his blatant racism. Griffith died in Los Angeles in 1948, one of the most dichotomous figures in film history.

Spouse (2)

Evelyn Baldwin (2 March 1936 - 1 November 1947) (divorced)
Linda Arvidson (14 May 1906 - 2 March 1936) (divorced)

He has been called "the father of film technique," "the man who invented Hollywood," and "the Shakespeare of the screen".
In 1920, he established United Artists with Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford.
Interred at Mount Tabor Methodist Church Graveyard, Centerfield, Kentucky, USA. (30 mins North of Louisville).
In 1975, the U.S. Postal Service honored Griffith with a postage stamp.
15 December 1999: Declaring that Griffith "helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes," The Directors Guild of America's National Board - without membership consultation - announced it would rename the D.W. Griffith Award, the Guild's highest honor. First given in 1953, its recipients included Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, John Huston, Woody Allen, Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, and Griffith's friend Cecil B. DeMille.
He produced and directed the first movie ever made in Hollywood, In Old California (1910) which was produced by the American Mutoscope & Biograph Co. which is still in existence today and the oldest movie company in America. The film was rediscovered by Biograph and shown on the 6th of May 2004 at the Beverly Hills Film Festival attended by the President of Biograph Company Thomas R. Bond II and Mikhail Vartanov. On the same day, a monument was erected near the site where the film was made (Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. However, almost a year later in 2005, the 2.8 ton monument was stolen overnight, under mysterious circumstances and is no longer there, but was found almost one year after its disappearance near a garbage bin not far from where the monument stood on Vine Street in Hollywood.
His first sound film was Abraham Lincoln (1930).
He was said to be a imperious, humorless man.
Was voted the 15th Greatest Director of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
Biography in: John Wakeman, editor. "World Film Directors, Volume One, 1890-1945". Pages 415-427. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company, 1987.
He tried to sell a story to The Edison Company. They hired him as an actor instead.
He went from being a bit player to being the industry's leading director in a period of only five years.
The film America (1924) is regarded as a major turning point in his career. Its failure ended his tenure as the industry's preeminent director.
Same date of death, 21st of July, as the legendary Sergei Parajanov
After The Birth of a Nation (1915) was released and criticized as being racist, Griffith was very hurt. He decided to make Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) as a follow-up, to show how damaging and dangerous people's intolerance can be.
On May 26, 1918, he was elected president of the Motion Picture War Service Association, an organization charged with boosting war bond sales.
Was named an Honorary Life Member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) in 1938. The DGA award for best lifetime achievement was named for Griffith in 1953. Awarded for "distinguished achievement in motion picture direction," the directors honored include Cecil B. DeMille (the first recipient), John Ford, King Vidor, William Wyler, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Elia Kazan, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. However in 1999, television director and DGA president Jack Shea persuaded the DGA National Board, to rename the award without consulting its membership, due to the "intolerable racism" in Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), even though producer H.E. Aitken, Louis B. Mayer, and many other producers invested and profited from the film which helped fund their vast motion picture empires in Hollywood. The growing outcry against political correctness led the DGA in 2002 to announce that it would not rename the award, although it would keep a lifetime achievement going in its arsenal of kudos.
Was the first person, after Charles Chaplin's special award at the first Academy Awards (Chaplin had had his nominations rescinded and placed out of competition), to win an honorary Academy Award. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Frank Capra thought it would be good publicity for the Academy, which was then structured as a company union, as the Academy was being boycotted by the trade union guilds and turnout at the 1936 Oscar ceremony was predicted to be low. The citation read: "For his distinguished creative achievements as director and producer and his invaluable initiative and lasting contributions to the progress of the motion picture arts."
In his declining years, Griffith lived off the income from an annuity that he had invested in when he had been on top in Hollywood.
Was hired as a first-time director in 1908 at the American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., when the chief director fell ill. Over the next two decades many of the biggest names of the silent screen would get their first movie jobs from Griffith and Biograph, including Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett, Blanche Sweet, Lionel Barrymore, Lillian Gish,Dorothy Gish and Florence Lawrence. The American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was active from 1895 to 1928. A new corporation with the same name was incorporated in California in 1991.
Began his career as a playwright, then moved to acting, and then finally (and famously) to directing.
The Adventures of Dollie (1908), a Biograph Company release, was his directorial debut in 1908.
Ironically, the release of The Birth of a Nation (1915) inspired many African-Americans to start making their own films in an attempt to counter the film's depiction of them and to offer positive alternative images and stories of the African-American people.
The NAACP attempted to have The Birth of a Nation (1915) banned. After that effort failed, they then attempted to have some of the film's more extreme scenes censored.
Charles Chaplin called him "the teacher of us all".
Was an ardent Jeffersonian.
Pioneered the technique of parallel editing, which he used extensively after 1909.
Lillian Gish called him "the father of film" (although Griffith considered her a close friend, she had so much respect for him that she never referred to him as other than "Mr. Griffith", even long after Griffith died).
Although Griffith was thought by many to be a bigot and racist, he detested the manner in which whites and the "white man's government" treated and oppressed Native Americans. This was a theme that he explored in several of his early short films, most notably in The Red Man's View (1909) and Ramona (1910), which are very strong denouncements of the oppression of Native Americans by whites.
Several filming innovations belong solely to Griffith (some of which he invented during his collaboration with G.W. Bitzer at The Biograph Co. They include the flashback, the iris shot, the mask, the systematic use of the soft focus shot and the split screen.
He directed more than 450 films for Biograph Co. Amazingly, 440 of them still survive, accounting for a large portion of Biograph's shorts that survive.
By 1909 he was turning out 2 to 3 films per week.
After the 1915 release of The Birth of a Nation (1915), riots broke out in several black neighborhoods across the country.
His movie The Birth of a Nation (1915) is generally considered as the birth of modern American cinema.
Started to write an autobiography, but never finished it. [1926]
Is portrayed by Charles Dance in Good morning Babilonia (1987) and by Colm Feore in And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself (2003)
Ironically, Griffith produced and directed the Biograph Company film The Rose of Kentucky (1911), which showed the Ku Klux Klan as villainous, a sharp contrast to The Birth of a Nation (1915) made 4 years later, in which the KKK was portrayed in a favorable light.
On August 17, 1908, the Biograph Company signed him to a contract at $50 per week plus a small royalty on each film.
Some of the investors for his controversial film The Birth of a Nation (1915) were Louis B. Mayer, H.E. Aitken and Jesse L. Lasky among many others in Hollywood at that time. The films success is what financed Mayer, Aitken and Lasky into forming their own studios in Hollywood, eventually becoming MGM and Paramount among others.
He is one of the the most prolific directors of all time, with over 450 shorts and over 80 feature-length films to his credit. Of non-television directors, he ranks as the 4th most prolific after Louis Feuillade and Georges Méliès, both of whom also directed silent shorts, and Dave Fleischer, an animated short director.
'Lillian Gish' claimed that D.W. Griffith invented false eyelashes in 1916 for his film Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916). Griffith wanted Seena Owen (who plays Attarea, the Princess Beloved, in the film's Babylonian segment) with lashes luxurious enough to brush her cheeks when she blinked. In collaboration with a wigmaker, who did the actual fabricating, the solution Griffith was credited with involved weaving human hair through a fine strip of gauze, creating false eyelashes. However, like many Hollywood legends, this claim proves to not be true. In 1911, a Canadian woman named Anna Taylor received a U.S. patent for the artificial eyelash; hers was a crescent of fabric implanted with tiny hairs. And even before that, hairdressers and makeup artists tried a similar trick. A German named Charles Nestle (nee Karl Nessler) manufactured false lashes in the early 20th century and used the profit from sales to finance his next invention - the permanent wave. By 1915, Nestle had opened a New York hair-perming salon on East 49th Street, with lashes as his sideline. Also, one of the earliest known attempts to enhance eyelashes was during the times of the Ancient Egyptians, when royalty used black powder called 'kohl' to protect their eyes against sand, dust and bugs. However, this was to provide practical benefits, rather than cosmetic.
Was the first to utter the catchphrase "Lights, camera, action!" in 1910, on the set of In Old California (1910). It, like many of his techniques, are still widely used in filmmaking.
D.W. Griffith was buried in his birth state of Kentucky, in the Mount Tabor Methodist Church Graveyard, Crestwood, Oldham County, Kentucky.