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)
The New York Herald, Sunday December 19, 1920
Famous stars to be guests at 44th Street Theatre
Tomorrow (Monday) evening at the Forty-fourth Street Theatre Mr. D .W. Griffith will have as his guests of honor Miss Lillian Gish and Mr. Richard Barthelmess, the occasion being the celebration of the 200th performance of his latest production “Way Down East.”
On Tuesday evening Mr. Griffith will be host to Mr. Burr McIntosh (“Squire Bartlett”), Miss Vivia Ogden (“Martha Perkins”), Mr. George Neville (“The Constable”), Mr. Creighton Hale (“Professor Sterling”) and other prominent “Way Down East” players whose work has endeared them to the public.
Today’s matinee at 2:15, opens the Seventeenth Week of “Way Down East” at the Fourty-fourth Street Theatre. The production is shown twice daily, at 2:15 and 8:15, with special orchestral and vocal accompaniment. All Seats are reserved.
My dear Mr. Griffith:
I have for the second time seen your picture of “Way Down East.”
Any personal praise of yourself or your genius regarding the
picture I would naturally consider redundant and a little like
carrying coals to Newcastle….
I have not the honor of knowing Miss Gish personally and I am
afraid that any expression of feeling addressed to her she might
consider impertinent. I merely wish to tell you that her
performance seems to me to be the most superlatively exquisite and
poignantly enchaining thing that I have ever seen in my life.
I remember seeing Duse in this country many years ago, when I
imagine she must have been at the height of her powers—also Madame
Bernhardt—and for sheer technical brilliancy and great emotional
projection, done with an almost uncanny simplicity and sincerity
of method, it is great fun and a great stimulant to see an
American artist equal, if not surpass, the finest traditions of
I wonder if you would be good enough to thank Miss Gish from all
of us who are trying to do the best we know how in the theatre.
— John Barrymore —