Billy Bitzer; his story
It occurs to me that perhaps a brief outline, somewhat personal, of D. W. Griffith as I knew him in my sixteen years of association might bring out some facets of his real personality, instead of the glorified descriptions handed out by press agents. Nothing I have read even does justice to his personal traits of character.
Giving was one of his deepest virtues. Not only would he give the applicant the first bill he extracted from his pocket, but if the case was more than trivial, he would detail one of his assistants to follow up and help someone in trouble. It was not show-off stuff or ego.
His kindly efforts to produce results were incredible. He might chide the one making a mistake in a gentle manner. “What were you thinking of?” he would ask. “You knew we had to have that article here.” Then a full stop, a pause long enough for the error to sink in, which would hurt more than if he had flown into a rage.
Perhaps at most only a half-dozen times did I ever see him in a rage, and like most extremists, he was over it at once.
To prevent outbursts, he would act very quickly. If outsiders on location tried to cause a disturbance, he would walk up and ask them to desist, and if that didn’t stop them, he would reach in his pocket and pay them to get out. I saw many instances where this was abused, and I stubbornly suggested I wouldn’t have paid, only to hear his logical reasoning: “The delay would cost us much more than I paid.”
Once he had made up his mind to get results, whether of portrayal in acting or some photographic effect, he would keep at it from all angles until successful.
Even when handling big situations, such as mob scenes, with things going awry, he would break out in snatches of song, a bit of psychology that seemed to calm the excited performers, causing them to be less tense. His bag of tricks was enormous, and if one trick did not work, he would try another. If you did not possess the ability he was searching for, you weren’t fired, just demoted. He did it by easy stages, until you realized for yourself you didn’t fit and just let yourself out. Although he called his players children, he was a stern parent if crossed. He would allow the one in error to talk to a finish, during which time he would not say a word. Then, “Well, you know better, of course,” after which he would remain silent as a sphinx, leaving you guessing whether you had really won the debate or not.
Photo Gallery – D.W. Griffith and W.G. (Billy) Bitzer