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D.W. Griffith – photos and quotes

D.W. Griffith

“I wonder if you realize that every community, from that of a city like London to the very smallest village in saddest Russia, is well acquainted with your mountains, roadways, streets, through the motion picture – and very well acquainted with a large part of your Los Angeles population, the motion picture people.”D.W. Griffith, in a speech he gave to the Million Club in January of 1916.


“Griffith was working as an actor for the Biograph and I as a cameraman when we first became friends. He was no John Drew. That’s the worst I’ll say about his acting. One day he got hold of a scenario entitled ‘Dolly’s Adventure’ and came to me with it. He thought there was a big chance with it and wanted to direct it. I diagrammed it out for him, the dramatic, the comedy, and the pathos and told him what could be done with each, little realizing that he knew more about that than I did. I was only judging him as an actor. Then he went to Mr. Marvin, who was president of the Biograph, and asked for a chance to direct the picture with the proviso that he would retain his job as an actor if he didn’t make good. He did. It was a dandy and he never acted again.”Billy Bitzer, cinematographer

Photo: 1913. With Billy Bitzer


“The industry owes more to Griffith than to any one man. He originated the ‘close-up’ and developed the technique of the photoplay. He had often complained to me in the old days about the actors being so far away the people could not see what they were thinking. He wanted to know if the camera could not be brought closer without losing the focus of the background. I didn’t think it could, but at his insistence, we tried it. The result did not impress me but Griffith said, ‘That’s something like what we want,’ and we stayed with it. That is only one of the things we have worked out together, although I do not want to seem to be claiming too much of the credit for his tremendous successes.”Billy Bitzer, cinematographer


Alexandria Hotel 1915Griffith lived for years at the Alexandria Hotel during the 1910s, notably on the 8th floor of the original building, where the most expensive suites were located. There are many stories about his lifestyle while there. For instance, he was known to sit in the lobby while smoking his pipe. He collected hundreds of record disks that he stored in his apartment suite. He often bathed with chilled champagne in the mornings and ate dinner at the hotel’s Indian Grill in the evenings.



D.W. Griffith's Fine Art Studio in 1915.
D.W. Griffith’s Fine Art Studio in 1915. Its address was 4516 Sunset Blvd.


Triangle Fine Arts Studio

Movie extras at the Fine Arts Studio, circa 1915.


Fine Art's Outdoor Stage
Fine Art Studio’s outdoor stages.

Photography Prints

Babylonian Set Intolerance 1915
The construction site of Griffith’s massive Babylonian set used in his epic film, Intolerance. The address was 4473 Sunset Dr.


Epping Avenue

Triangle Studio’s courtyard was named “Epping Avenue.” In this photo, Seena Owen poses outside her dressing room, circa 1917.

Intolerance 1916 Mae Marsh“The pictures have, thus far, produced just one genius. That is Mr. Griffith. He has combined a natural literary instinct that few men ever learned called, ‘Being camera-wise.’ Whatever success I have made is mostly due to his directing. I can’t work with other directors. I feel like a horse with a driver that doesn’t know the road. It always seems so clear in Mr. Griffith’s mind just what he wants.” — Mae Marsh

Photo: Intolerance (1916). With Mae Marsh and Billy Bitzer. 


D.W. Griffith Intolerance Babylon Film Set 1917

Part of Intolerance‘s massive Babylonian set, circa 1917 (a year after the film’s release).


“There was a man once who contended that fiction was a good deal stranger than fact and a darned sight more interesting. He had some grounds for his contention. Viewed as a drama, the war is in some ways disappointing. As an engine it is terrific. I found myself saying to my inner consciousness all the time, ‘Why this is old stuff. I have put that scene on myself many times. Why didn’t they get something new?’ Do you catch what I mean? It was exactly as I had imagined wars in many particulars. I saw, for instance, many troop trains moving away to the front. I saw wives parting from husbands they were never to see again. I saw wounded men returning to their families. I saw women coming away from the government offices, stunned with grief, a little paper in their hands to tell that the worst had happened. All these things were so exactly as we had been putting them on in the pictures for years and years that I found myself sometimes absently wondering who was staging the scene. Everything happened just as I would have put it on myself – in fact, I have put on such scenes time and time again….I said that many of the scenes of the war made me think of our own motion pictures; but not the battles – not the battles. A modern war is neither romantic nor picturesque. The courier who dashed upon a foam-covered charger now uses a desk telephone in a dugout. Sheridan wouldn’t bother to dash in from Winchester 20 miles away. He would sit in front of a huge map at Winchester and rally his troops by telling two draftsmen how to arrange the figures on the scale map while a man in a corner at the phone exchange with a phone headpiece would send out the orders over the wire. Everyone is hidden away in ditches.” D.W. Griffith

Source: Harry C. Carr (1918)

Hearts of the World (1918)


“As you look out across No Man’s Land, there is literally nothing that meets the eye but an aching desolation of nothingness – of torn trees, ruined barbed wire fence, and shell holes. At first, you are horribly disappointed. There is nothing but filth and dirt and the most soul-sickening smells. The soldiers are standing sometimes almost up to their hips in ice-cold mud. The dash and thrill of wars of other days is no longer there. It is too colossal to be dramatic. No one can describe it. You might as well try to describe the ocean or the milky way. The war correspondents of today are staggered almost into silence. A very great writer could describe Waterloo. Many fine writers witnessed the charge of Pickett’s army at Gettysburg and left wonderful descriptions. But who could describe the advance of Haig? No one saw it. No one saw a thousandth part of it. Back somewhere in the rear, there was a quiet Scotchman with a desk telephone and a war map who knew what was going on. No one else did.”D.W. Griffith

Source: Harry C. Carr (1918)

Hearts of the World (1918)


“A curious thing that everybody remarks who has seen a modern war is that the closer you get to the front, the less you know what is going on. I know a war correspondent who was with the Austrians when they retreated before the Russians in the Carpathian Mountains in the spring of 1915. I asked him to tell me just what the route of the modern army looked like. My friend looked sheepish and finally told me he would kill me if I ever told but – ‘The truth is,’ he said, ‘I didn’t know they were retreating until I got back to London three months afterward and read about it in the files of a newspaper.'”D.W. Griffith

Source: Harry C. Carr (1918)

Hearts of the World (1918)


“By rare good luck, I was able to get into the front line trenches. This honor was never before accorded to any American motion picture man. The Missus Gish, Robert Harron, and the others of my company were permitted to go to one of the ruined French villages and we made the greater part of the picture there that I am now finishing here in the studio.”D.W. Griffith

Source: Harry C. Carr (1918)

Hearts of the World (1918)


“The most interesting and dramatic place in a modern battle is four or five miles back of the line. Back there, you get something of the stir and thrill of the movie battle. Artillery is moving, ambulances come tearing down the roads with the dying screaming as they take their last ride. Streams of prisoners are marching in tatters and dejection back to the bases; wounded soldiers are making their own way. Motorcycle messengers go tearing to and fro. Strange engines of war covered with camouflage are trundling by on their way to some threatened point. It is back there that you begin to catch the meaning of this terrific machinery of battle. You begin to realize that, after all, you’re face to face with a drama more thrilling than any human mind could conjure up. The drama that is in modern machinery is not at first realized. The world of art used to bewail the passing of the picturesque old phases of life and the coming in of machinery. It took a Pennell to see the wonderful artistic possibilities of machinery. Just so it finally comes to you that the real drama of this war lies in the engulfment of human soldiers in these terrible war monsters men have built in workshops. “D.W. Griffith

Source: Harry C. Carr (1918)

Hearts of the World (1918)


“Promoters often boast of having made motion pictures for which the settings and actors cost a million dollars. The settings of the picture I took cost several billion dollars. When you see the picture, you will see what I mean. I thought in my mimic war pictures, I was somewhat prodigal, for instance, in the use of cannon. In my picture made at the French front, I made one scene showing 36 big guns standing almost wheel to wheel firing as fast as the gunner could load and fire. I think I will be able to make good the claim that I will use the most expensive stage settings that ever have been or ever will be used in the making of a picture.”D.W. Griffith 

Source: Harry C. Carr (1918)

Hearts of the World (1918)


“The conditions under which these girls worked were exceedingly dangerous. The town was under shell fire all the time. We all feel that, as we shared their dangers, we would like to give the proceeds to alleviating the hardships of those who were left behind and have to face it through to the end. The entire proceeds of this picture will go to some war charity – probably for the benefits of the minesweepers whose lives are sacrificed to make the seas safe for the rest of us to travel.”D.W. Griffith

Source: Harry C. Carr (1918)

Hearts of the World (1918)



D.W. Griffith

“I believe that the motion picture is a medium of expression as clean and decent as any mankind ever has discovered. A people who allow the suppression of that which we all consider so highly – the printing press. Can you imagine a young Edgar Allan Poe of the present-day sitting down and writing with the knowledge that a censor in every state of the Union was to delete his article before it was published? What sort of literature would be written? Can you imagine it? All inspiration, enthusiasm, and great idealism would be oozed away from any creative writer by the knowledge that three or four political delegates from each of the states, to say nothing of the villages and hamlets, where each and everyone to take the scissors and cut the inspiration to suit their tastes. Our books, magazines, plays and speeches, everything which the eye can see and the ear hear; every instrument employed for painting, printing or the other expressions and proclamations of thought should be left to the corrective force of that greatest board of censors, unappointed and unpaid – the American people. The laws of every city are sufficient to suppress libelous, obscene, indecent, immoral, and impure pictures, just as they always have been sufficient to suppress the publication of vicious literature and no further censorship is needed in the premises.”D.W. Griffith‘s speech to the U.S. Joint Committee of the Senate and House on Moral and Social Welfare in 1920


Billy Bitzer D.W. Griffith Way Down East 1920

“The best answer I can give to this wave of doubt about the theatrical business is embodied in the plans now in the making concerning ‘Way Down East.’ This is one production I try to know all about and be in intimate touch with at all times. Pardoning the personal allusion to one of my own attractions, it is excused on the ground that it best sets forth our purposes. By the first of the year, we will have 20 organizations on tour in the United States and Canada presenting this production in first-class theatres at the regular scale of price. The weekly expense for each touring organization will run close to $7,000. At the customary division of receipts between the attraction and the theatre, we must play to $10,000 weekly to break even. When all the ‘Way Down East’ companies are operating our weekly overhead will approximate $140,000. In the face of this heavy figure, we are working day and night to get these different companies booked and underway and as pointed out at the beginning, this is the best illustration I can offer as to what we think of the theatrical outlook for the immediate future. There will be no inflation of prices just because we have something the people want. We are content to leave the answer to public judgment. Personally, I think it is a good time for showmen to check up on the trend of the times and be governed by the unmistakable signs that are in the air. Our present experience makes us believe that theatrical business is in a healthy condition under the proper adjustment of prices if the attractions weigh up to public expectations. If you are interested in additional figures regarding the one show I know most about, here are some facts, open to complete verification, which demonstrate very clearly how we arrive at our conclusions: ‘Way Down East’ is in the seventh week at the 44th Street Theatre, New York City. Our business has steadily increased at the rate of from $2,000 to $3,000 weekly until we are now up to practical capacity. Last week, the receipts for seven days were $19,097.25. The biggest day’s take was October 16, when the gross equaled $3,351. This is the regular night scale of $2, excepting that we have about 140 special seats which are sold at $3.30 a seat. The same week in San Francisco, in seven days, the gross receipts were $17,678. Saturday, the biggest day, reached $3,082. Other shows are playing in Philadelphia and Boston, where there are no Sunday presentations, and we are limited to six days a week. The week in Boston grossed $16,665.50, and the Saturday total was $3,070.50. The Philadelphia week ran to $16,637.50, with the Saturday receipts at $3,301.50. These returns are all from companies that are well into runs at representative theatres in each city at regular $2 prices. I am sure that anyone interested will agree that upon the basis of such figures, we are justified in thinking theatrical business is not in such a bad way. By an easy adjustment of prices to suit the trend of the times, and given an attraction the people want, it is not difficult for a producer to earn a just reward for his labor and the heavy expense entailed in touring a first-class attraction if he measures up with current requirements and at the same time does not lower the standard of his productions.”D.W. Griffith in 1920



Dorothy Gish Lillian Gish D.W. Griffith

Griffith was a man of warmth and good spirits. But there was an air about him that forbade intimacy. In all the years I worked with him, I never called him anything but Mr. Griffith, and he called me Miss Gish until about 1939 when we went on a first-name basis.” – Lillian Gish

Source: 1987

Photo: Dorothy Gish, Lillian Gish, and D.W. Griffith in 1922.

Purchase your Fine Art America Print, Coffee Mug, T-Shirt, etc. of this image by pressing here!


One Exciting Night (1922), Directed by D.W. Griffith. Bizarre Los AngelesOne Exciting Night (1922). With Carol Dempster.

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