Interviews with Prominent Directors – D.W. Griffith (by Roberta Courtlandt 1915) Motion Picture Magazine

Motion Picture Magazine – August 1915

Vol.X No.7

Interviews with Prominent Directors

“And the Greatest of These Is”—DAVID W. GRIFFITH

(Mutual)

By ROBERTA COURTLANDT

One doesn’t interview David Wark Griffith. He’s too busy. One simply stands about the studio, wherever he may be working in the open, and gathers up the verbal pearls of wisdom which fall from his clean-cut, aggressive – looking mouth. Unquestionably the greatest director of Motion Pictures in the United States (which, of course, means the world), he is an intensely ” human ” man, one in whom great trust may be reposed. Always courteous, first of all a gentleman, he has risen rapidly to a position in the picture world where he may know that his wishes are carried out as promptly and as respectfully as if commands.

1-dw_griffith_(1875-1948)
Billy Bitzer and D.W. Griffith on set

He is Southern all thru, having been born in Louisville, Ky., and it was in this town that he first saw a theatrical performance, at the ripe age of sixteen. And then it was decidedly against the wishes of his parents who were bitterly opposed to the stage and its connections. After seeing a performance of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, in Louisville, he made up his mind that he too, would be an actor. And his ambition was shortly realized. He soon began writing plays, drifted to New York, and there, while temporarily short of funds, gladly accepted work as an extra with the Biograph Company. And there he stayed until a short time ago, when he left them to make the Mutual pictures even more famous. The pictures which he produces personally, at present, are really his own, and are released under his own name. Thus the “Griffith Brand” has quickly sprung to fame and popularity.

Griffith Directing Battle of the Sexes
Griffith Directing Battle of the Sexes

“The Battle of the Sexes” caused a sensation in the picture world when released some time ago. It has been followed by “The Avenging Conscience” and “The Birth of a Nation,” which was lately released. Wherever it has been shown, it has met with applause equally as great as, if not greater than, “The Battle of the Sexes.” Mr. Griffith has had wonderful success at training young people with no stage or picture experience to become the most successful and popular players of the day. And his company is made up of young people. In fact, there is no company in the business today whose cast numbers so many young people as Mr. Griffith’s.

Griffith (Center), Donald Crisp (rear) and Robert Harron (left)
Griffith (Center), Donald Crisp (rear) and Robert Harron (left)

Scarcely one of the girls has passed twenty years of age. There’s charming little Lillian Gish, not quite nineteen, whose face is known and admired the world over, and her clever little sister, two years younger, Dorothy, the inimitable comedienne; Mae Marsh, whose work in some recent pictures, as well as past successes, has endeared her to all ; and Blanche Sweet, who, as the Biograph Blonde, had won fame and honors galore at an age when most girls are thinking of putting up their hair and wondering if mother will permit that nice young man on the next corner to take them to the theater. And there’s ever so many more. Space forbids my mentioning them all, but they are too well known to need it. Mr. Griffith has a strong disapproval of the words “silent drama” as applied to Motion Pictures, for he says of all mediums of expressing thought the Motion Picture is the loudest, and its message is received by multitudes. ‘ Suppose, ‘ ‘ he says, his eyes glowing with fire and the earnestness of his speech, “suppose one reads a book, perhaps an old classic. Nine out of ten people will forget it a few hours later. Show the same book in Motion Pictures and see how long the memory lasts. Where hundreds read the book, perhaps thousands will see the picture. And where ten people will remember the book, a thousand will remember the picture.”

DW Griffith and Lillian Gish
DW Griffith and Lillian Gish

He has very decided ideas as to “types,” and when he has a scenario calling for a certain type, he is untiring until he has found it. He also watches carefully the costumes and make-up of the players and criticizes freely, but his company are thankful for his interest and repay it by a loyalty that is as rare as it is beautiful.

DW Griffith directing Lillian Gish - background Robert Harron
DW Griffith directing Lillian Gish – background Robert Harron

“I had rather spend a week coaching and training a young, inexperienced girl who has no knowledge of picture acting, but who looks the part which she is to play, than to spend ten minutes reading ‘business’ to a capable stage actress. Why ? Because the girl, inexperienced tho she is, looks the part ; while the actress from the stage would be a matured woman, who would act splendidly, but who would look foolish as the innocent young ingenue. It takes years to acquire stage experience, where it takes months in Motion Pictures, if the aspirant has dramatic ability.”

The Avenging Conscience movie poster
The Avenging Conscience – movie poster

When assigning parts or rehearsing his company in the bringing out of some intricate bit of acting, Mr. Griffith will often assume the troublesome role in question, go into the scene and work out every gesture, showing the player exactly how it should be done. Often the very bit of acting that arouses a picture audience to enthusiasm and causes them to applaud artist, “The Avenging Conscience” would have developed into a “blood-and-thunder” feature. But as it is, we have a six-reel dramatic gem. Who save a Griffith could have thought of, or have had the courage to add, the intensely interesting touch preceded by the subtitle, “Nature is one long system of murder,” and which shows the survival of the fittest among ants, flies and spiders ? I repeat, there is only one David Wark Griffith! Would that there were more, and then, perhaps, the Utopia of perfect pictures would not be so far away, after all!

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