Photoplay – November 1929
The Other Side of the Story – By Marquis Busby
Tragedy and misfortune have stalked many who “Got their chance with Griffith”
WHEN a movie star kneels down in his little nightie and offers up a prayer he says—”Please let me do a picture with Griffith. Amen.” Ever since “The Birth of a Nation” these fervent prayers have been wafted skyward.
All actors were firm in the belief that David Wark Griffith, THE Great Griffith, THE Master Director, would get the utmost from them—more than any other director could achieve. It was, and is, true. Popular favorites of the screen have offered to work for nothing in his pictures just to gain the advantage of his training. Griffith stars were the most envied people on the screen. It meant much to be hailed as a Griffith “discovery.” It was almost an assurance of success. To appear in a Griffith picture meant as much as to appear in a Belasco play. Actors who played extra roles in “Intolerance” boasted of being Griffith “discoveries.”
There are about as many people in Hollywood today who will tell you impressively that they were with Griffith as there are descendants of “Mayflower” Pilgrims in the United States. Griffith was a man of magic. He had the rare quality of revealing the souls of his people.
His heroines were delicate, fluttering girls, helpless and virtuous. His heroes were noble and pure, and poetic looking. Other directors did not want fluttering girls, and too poetic men. And usually, unfortunately for the players, Griffith’s stamp was indelible.
TRAGEDY has dogged the footsteps of Mae Marsh, Blanche Sweet, Carol Dempster, Eric von Stroheim, George Walsh, Mildred Harris, Henry B. Walthall, Miriam Cooper, Dorothy Gish and Winifred Westover. Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess have been more successful, but their success has not been without the attendant hand-maidens, trial and unhappiness. Not many are left on the screen today from the marvelous “The Birth of a Nation” cast. Nor are there many from “Intolerance,” “Hearts of the World” and “Way Down East.” Wallace Reid achieved a vogue that no other male star has held, with the single exception of Valentino. Yet big, handsome Wally, who attracted so much attention as the heroic blacksmith in “The Birth of a Nation,” died a tragic death at the height of his career, a victim of his own weakness.
George Seigmann, the hated villain, Gus, in “The Birth of a Nation,” died while still a young man.
STRANGELY enough, one of the last appearances made by Gladys Brockwell was in a picture wherein she died. It was the tragic end of a tragic career. After her thorough Griffith training, and a brief period of fame as a vamp, Gladys almost dropped from sight.
Talking pictures brought her back. A new and greater career was at hand, but fate willed differently. She died following a dreadful automobile accident on busy Ventura Boulevard.
Lillian Gish, the greatest of the Griffith stars, had a difficult time coming back in other hands. The fragile Duse of the cinema might never have returned but for her wonderful performance in “The White Sister,” made in Europe. Even her later pictures at M-G-M were not great box office attractions. Some of the old spark had gone, and a helpless, fluttering heroine in this modern day of flappers seemed quaint and incongruous. Lillian is the enigma of the screen. Even now she may return and reveal herself again as the superb Griffith star of the past.
Dorothy Gish has never been an unqualified success away from Griffith’s guiding hand. Even there she was somewhat overshadowed by her sister, Lillian. For several years she has made pictures abroad. The few efforts to reach America were received coldly. Yet, who will forget The Little Disturber in “Hearts of the World”?
IF Henry B. Walthall had retained his health he might have been greater than John Gilbert. The Little Colonel of ” The Birth of a Nation” was a dark-eyed romantic fellow, and a marvelous actor. Yet there were many years of illness. He appeared old and ill. He was forced to play character parts, when he should have been cast as dashing heroes. He is still very much in demand for these character parts, but he has been cheated out of his rightful destiny.