D.W. GRIFFITH Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Name: David Llewelyn Wark Griffith                                                   
Born: 22 January 1875 La Grange, Kentucky, United States                             
Died: 23 July 1948 Hollywood, California, United States                               
David Llewelyn Wark "D. W." Griffith (January 22, 1875 – July 23, 1948) was a       
premier pioneering Academy Award-winning American film director. He is best           
known as the director of the controversial 1915 film The Birth of a Nation and       
the subsequent film Intolerance (1916).                                               
Griffith was born in La Grange, Kentucky to Jacob "Roaring Jake" Griffith and         
Mary Perkins Oglesby. His father was a Confederate Army colonel, a Civil War         
hero, and a Kentucky legislator. D.W. was educated by his older sister, Mattie,       
in a one-room country school. His father died when he was 10, upon which the         
family experienced serious financial hardships. At age 14, D.W.'s mother             
abandoned the farm and moved the family to Louisville where she opened a             
boarding house, which failed shortly. D.W. left high school to help with the         
finances, taking a job first in a dry goods store, and, later, in a bookstore.       
D. W. began his career as a hopeful playwright but met with little success. He       
then became an actor. Finding his way into the motion picture business, he soon       
began to direct a huge body of work.                                                 
Between 1908 and 1913 (the years he directed for the Biograph Company), Griffith     
produced 450 short films, an enormous number even for this period. This work         
enabled him to experiment with cross-cutting, camera movement, close-ups, and         
other methods of spatial and temporal manipulation.                                   
On Griffith's first trip to California, he and his company discovered a little       
village to film their movies in. This place was known as Hollywood. With this,       
Biograph was the first company to shoot a movie in Hollywood: In Old California       
Influenced by a European feature film Cabiria from Italy, Griffith was convinced     
that feature films could be financially viable. He produced and directed the         
Biograph feature film Judith of Bethulia, one of the earliest feature films to       
be produced in the United States. However, Biograph believed that longer             
features were not viable. According to actress Lillian Gish, " thought               
that a movie that long would hurt [the audience's] eyes". Because of this, and       
the film's budget overrun (it cost US$30,000 dollars to produce), Griffith left       
Biograph and took his whole stock company of actors with him, and joined the         
Mutual Film Corporation and formed a studio, with Majestic Studio manager Harry       
Aitken known a Reliance-Majestic Studios(which was later renamed Fine Arts           
Studio). His new production company became an autonomous production unit             
partner in Triangle Film Corporation with Keystone Studios and Thomas Ince; the       
Triangle Film Corporation was head by Griffith's partner Harry Aitken, who was       
released from the Mutual Film Corporation and his brother Roy. Through               
Reliance-Majestic Studios, he produced The Clansman (1915), which would later be     
known as The Birth of a Nation.                                                       
D.W. Griffith on a movie set with actor Henry Walthall and others.                   
The Birth of a Nation is considered important by film historians as the first         
feature length American film (previously films had been less than one hour long),     
and arguably changed to film industry to the standards of which it is recognized     
today. It was enormously popular, breaking box office records, but aroused           
controversy in the way it expressed the racist views held by many in the era (it     
depicts Southern pre-Civil War black slavery as benign, and the Ku Klux Klan as       
a band of heroes restoring order to a post-Reconstruction black-ruled South).         
Although these views matched the opinions of many American historians of the day     
(and indeed, long afterwards), the National Association for the Advancement of       
Colored People campaigned against the film, but was unsuccessful in suppressing       
it. It would go on to become the most successful box office attraction of its         
time. "They lost track of the money it made," Lillian Gish once remarked in a         
Kevin Brownlow interview. Among the people who profited by the film was Louis B.     
Mayer, who bought the rights to distribute The Birth of a Nation in New England.     
With the money he made, he was able to begin his career as a producer that           
culminated in the creation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. Margaret Mitchell,         
who wrote Gone with the Wind, was also inspired by Griffith's Civil War epic.         
However, after seeing The Birth of a Nation, audiences in some major northern         
cities also responded by rioting over the film's racial content. After The           
Birth of a Nation had run its course in theaters, Griffith would also respond to     
the negative reception a vast amount of critics gave the film through his next       
film Intolerance, which attacked the institution of slavery. During its release,     
however, Intolerance was not a success. The production partnership was               
dissolved in 1917, so Griffith went to Artcraft (part of Paramount), then to         
First National (1919-1920). At the same time he founded United Artists, together     
with Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.                           
Through United Artists survived as a company, Griffith's association with it was     
short-lived, and while some of his later films did well at the box office,           
commercial success often eluded him. Features from this period include Broken         
Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920), Orphans of the Storm (1921) and America (1924).
Griffith made only two sound films, Abraham Lincoln (1930) and The Struggle (1931).   
Neither was successful, and he never made another film. For the last seventeen       
years of his life he lived as a virtual hermit in Los Angeles.                       
He died of cerebral hemorrhage in 1948 on his way to a Hollywood hospital from       
the Knickerbocker Hotel where he had been living alone. He is buried at               
Mount Tabor Methodist Church Graveyard in Crestwood, Kentucky.