D. W. Griffith, Pioneer Film Producer, Dies (July 23, 1948)

Madera Tribune, Volume 16, Number 12, 23 July 1948

D. W. Griffith, Pioneer Film Producer, Dies

Hollywood, July 23—(U.R)—Pioneer Film Director David Wark Griffith, 68, whose “Birth of a Nation” lifted the movie industry out of the nickelodeon stage, died today of a brain hemorrhage. His death at 8:24 a. m. at Temple hospital occurred after he was stricken in his hotel room yesterday. Paralyzed from a hemorrhage on the left side of his brain, Griffith was administered oxygen. Dr. Edward Skaletar, his attending physician, was at Griffith’s bedside. Members of his family, including a niece, Ruth Griffith, and a nephew, Willard Griffith, both of Santa Ana, had spent part of the night at the hospital.

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In Retirement

For much of the last 20 years the movie pioneer, who had discovered such film stars as Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge, Richard Barthelmess and the Gish sisters, was in retirement. In 1930 he returned to the industry as an associate in the Roach organization, serving in an advisory capacity for the 1939-40 season. Entering the film industry in 1908 after brief careers in journalism and on the stage. Griffith produced the movies’ first epic and revolutionized screen technique. He daringly made films longer than one reel, and originated the “flashback,” and the “close-up,” “Mist-photograph” and the “fade out.”

 “Birth of a Nation”

“The Birth of a Nation,” probably the most famous picture ever made, was directed by Griffith in 1915. Nothing like it had been seen before, and seats sold for $1 when the film toured the country. The picture grossed $3,500,000—exceeded only by four other pictures in the next 20 years. It is still being shown. Mae Marsh, the “Little Sister,” Henry B. Walthall, the “Little Confederate Colonel,” Lillian Gish and Wallace Reid rode to fame in the picture which depicted the strife-torn days in the south after the Civil War. There were hopes that Griffith might produce the film again in sound— the original was a silent version—but Walthall died in 1936 and Griffith said “I couldn’t do it again without Walthall.”

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) With D.W.Griffith and his wife Evelyn in their West Coast home — with Lillian Gish and D. W. Griffith.
The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) With D.W.Griffith and his wife Evelyn in their West Coast home — with Lillian Gish and D. W. Griffith.

Recently Divorced

Griffith’s second wife, Evelyn Baldwin Griffith, 40 years younger than he, divorced Griffith last November, claiming he was a bachelor at heart. They were married in Louisville Ky., in 1936. His first wife was Actress Linda Arvidson, and they were divorced in 1938 after 25 years of marriage. “D W “, as he was known through out the movie industry, was born in La Grange, Ky., Jan. 22. 1880, son of Margaret Oglesby, and Col. Jacob Wark Griffith, known locally during the Civil War as “Roaring Jake” Griffith.

D W Griffith late 1890s
D W Griffith late 1890s

Newspaper Worker

Young Griffith worked in the mail room of his brother’s newspaper in a Kentucky town, then graduated to night police reporter for “Marse Henry” Watternson’s Louisville Courier-Journal. He also wrote theatrical notes and thus saw his first stage performance, Peter Baker in “America’s National Game.” After seeing Julia Marlowe In “Romola”, Griffith left newspaper  work to become a dramatist. He first appeared as an actor in a play, “The District School,” but he earn so little as a stock company actor in Louisville that he took a job mornings running a store elevator. He fared better later and played leading roles in “The Three Musketeers,” “The Ensign,” and ‘Elizabeth.” His literary efforts included a poem “The Wild Duck,” which he sold to Leslie’s Weekly for $35 and a play, “Fool and a Girl,” which opened at the Columbia theatre in Washington Sept. 30, 1907. But even with Miss Fanny Ward in the cast, it failed.

Lawrence Griffith, third from left at back, with the MeffertStock Company, Louisville, Kentucky 2897-98
Lawrence Griffith, third from left at back, with the MeffertStock Company, Louisville, Kentucky 1897-98

Saw First Movie

Griffith went to Chicago and there in 1907 saw his first motion picture, which was still in the  “flicker” era. He thought the film was stupid, but he was impressed by the long lines awaiting admission. A scenario he wrote—a screen version of the opera, “La Tosca,” — was rejected as too expensive to produce. A friend, Frank Marion, owned stock in the old Biograph Co., and he sent Griffith there. The scenarios aroused little Interest but Griffith was hired by Biograph as an actor at $5 a day.

Griffith - The Adventures of Dollie
Griffith – The Adventures of Dollie
Griffith Early Biograph career
Griffith Early Biograph career

In June, 1908, he became assistant director to H. M. Marvin, head of Biograph, and then began his rapid rise in the industry. His first film, “The Adventure of Dollie,” was billed as “one of the most remarkable cases of child-stealing.” Some of the actors he worked with at the Biograph were Owen Moore, Lionel Barrymore, Mabel Norman, Alice Joyce, James Kirkwood, Harry Carey and Constance Talmadge. In 1919. Griffith. Mary Pickford. Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks founded the United Artists Corp. He sold his interest in 1933.

 

Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish at Griffith's Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950
Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford, Evelyn Baldwin Griffith and Lillian Gish at Griffith’s Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950
Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish at Griffith's Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950
Richard Barthelmess, Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish at Griffith’s Memorial Lagrange Kentucky May 14, 1950

 

 

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