David Wark Griffith most often referred to as D.W. Griffith was the pioneering film director and best known for his epic 1915 film "The Birth of a Nation" and a year later, another film called "Intolerance" He was one of the first to use advanced camera techniques that was responsible for setting the stage for the feature-length film in the U.S.
Griffith was born in Crestwood, Kentucky and the son of a Confederate Army Colonel during the Civil War and then a state legislator. His dad died when Griffith was 10 and Griffith's family was poverty stricken. Griffith left high school to support his family and took his first job in a dry goods store. Griffith was creative and began his career as a playwright but with little success. He then tried acting where he would appear as an extra in a variety of plays.
He traveled to New York City and tried to sell his script to Edison Studios. The script was rejected but Griffith earned an acting part in "Rescued from an Eagle's Nest" He continued to refine his talents as a writer and learn the motion picture business. He landed a job with the Biograph Company and that is where his successful career bloomed. His first movie with Biograph was called "The Adventures of Dolly." Biograph's main focus was on short movies and didn't agree with Griffith's interest in developing full length films. Griffith and his group of talented actors left Biograph and formed Reliance-Majestic Studios and was later named Fine Arts Studio. It was there that Griffith produced a film called "The Clansman" that became "The Birth of A Nation" a blockbuster, film. It was considered one of the first feature length American films and transformed the film industry. Although the film was extremely controversial, it broke box office records and was enormously popular. The film created riots in the north because of it's racial content. His next film , "Intolerance"didn't get the record response but was very successful. Griffith would eventually create United Artists and was responsible for the careers of legendary actors and actresses including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and others.
Other works of Griffith include "Broken Blossoms" "Way Down East" "Orphans of the Storm" and "America"
Griffith was held in reverence by many in the film industry and was given a special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He was, however, treated poorly near the end of his career. Orson Welles said of Griffith "I have never really hated Hollywood except for its treatment of D.W. Griffith. No town, no industry, no profession, no art form owes so much to a single man."
D.W. Griffith has five films preserved in the United States National Film Registry as being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. He has earned numerous accolades including a ten cent postage stamp, the D.W. Griffith Award "the directors guild's highest honor, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Griffith was discovered unconscious at the Knickerbocker Hotel on July 23, 1948 and died soon after. His death was ruled a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 73.
A large memorial service (funeral program pictured) was held in his honor at the Hollywood Masonic Temple. It was said of Griffith "no one was respected more, nor wanted less." Sadly, few of his colleagues attended his funeral. He rests in the Mount Tabor Methodist Church in Centerfield, Kentucky. The Directors Guild of America provided his monument.