David Wark Griffith’s “Way Down East”
Writers: Lottie Blair Parker (from the play by) William A. Brady (play)
For an enormous sum at that time – $ 165.000, Griffith bought a stage melodrama “Way Down East”. The purchase price was over twice the entire cost of “The Birth of A Nation”. For the first time in his life, DW Griffith hired a young playwright, Anthony Paul Kelly, to do a script.
“We all thought privately that Mr. Griffith had lost his mind. Way Down East was a horse-and-buggy melodrama, familiar on the rural circuit for more than twenty years. We didn’t believe it would ever succeed. As I read the play, I could hardly keep from laughing. I was to play the role of Anna Moore, a country girl who is tricked into a mocked marriage by a city playboy and abandoned when she becomes pregnant.” Lillian Gish – The Movies, Mr.Griffith and Me.
- Lillian Gish … Anna Moore
- Richard Barthelmess … David Bartlett
- Mrs. David Landau … Anna Moore’s Mother
- Lowell Sherman … Lennox Sanderson
- Burr McIntosh … Squire Bartlett
- Josephine Bernard … Mrs. Emma Tremont
- Mrs. Morgan Belmont … Diana Tremont
- Patricia Fruen … Diana’s Sister
- Florence Short … The Eccentric Aunt
- Kate Bruce … Mrs. Bartlett
- Vivia Ogden … Martha Perkins
- Porter Strong … Seth Holcomb
- George Neville … Constable Rube Whipple
- Edgar Nelson … Hi Holler
- Mary Hay … Kate Brewster – the Squire’s Niece
- Creighton Hale … Professor Sterling
- Emily Fitzroy … Maria Poole – Landlady
Filming Locations: Farmington, Connecticut, USA (Ice floe scenes) Mamaroneck, New York, USA White River Junction, Vermont, USA Orient Point, Long Island, New York, USA Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA
The scenes on the ice floes were not only very dangerous to film, but for Lillian Gish, they had lasting ill effects.
“The blizzard finally struck in March. Drifts eight feet high swallowed the studio. The trees on Orienta Point lashed the sky and groaned, as the chains that held them together were stretched taut. Mr. Griffith, Billy, the staff, and the assistant directors stood with their backs to the gale, bundled up in coats, mufflers, hats and gloves. To hold the camera upright, three men lay on the ground, gripping the tripod legs. A small fire burned directly beneath the camera, to keep the oil from freezing.
Again and again, I struggled through the storm. Once I fainted – and it wasn’t in the script. I was hauled to the studio on a sled, thawed out with hot tea, then brought back to the blizzard where the others were waiting. We filmed all day and all night, stopping only to eat near a bonfire. We never went inside, even for a short warmup. The torture of returning to the cold wasn’t worth the temporary warmth. The blizzard never slackened. At one point, the camera froze. ” (Lillian Gish – The Movies, Mr.Griffith and Me)
Until the day she died, her right hand was somewhat impaired due to the extended filming where her hand was in the icy water.
During the filming of the ice floe scenes, a fire had to be built underneath G.W. Bitzer’s camera in order to keep it warm enough to run. According to G.W. Bitzer, D.W. Griffith was frostbitten on one side of his face during the shooting, and it bothered him the rest of his life.
While there is a lot of inter-cutting in the editing, the basic ice floe scenes were filmed in White River Junction (Hartford Village), Vermont during the late winter. Included among the ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, edited by Steven Jay Schneider.
“The farm scenes and the interior scenes were filmed on the studio lot. We filmed the baptism of Anna’s child at night in a corner of the studio, with the baby’s real father looking on. Anna is alone; the doctor has given up hope for her child. She resolves to baptize the infant herself. The baby was asleep and, as we didn’t want to wake him, I barely wihspered the words “In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost …” as I touched the tiny temples.
There was only the sound of the turning camera. Then I heard a thud. The baby’s father had slumped to the floor in a faint. D.W. was crying. He waved his hand in front of his face to signify that he couldn’t talk. When he regained control of himself, he took me in his arms and said simply, “Thank you.””
“The Movies, Mr.Griffith and Me” – Lillian Gish /Ann Pinchot
Way Down East – Photo Gallery
Photos: Mamaroneck NY – filming sets /location (Griffith Studios – 1921)