On this Day in Movie History, July 23, 1947: D. W. Griffith Dies

It was on this day, July 23, 1947, D. W. Griffith died in Los Angeles in 1948, one of the most dichotomous figures in film history.Griffith was discovered unconscious in the lobby at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, where he had been living alone. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 23, 1948, at 3:42 PM on the way to a Hollywood hospital.

Born David Llewelyn Wark Griffith in rural Kentucky to Jacob “Roaring Jake” Griffith, a Confederate Army colonel and Civil War hero, he grew up with his father’s romantic war stories and melodramatic nineteenth century literature that were to eventually mold his black-and-white view of human existence and history.

In 1897, Griffith set out to pursue a career both acting and writing for the theater but for the most part was unsuccessful. Reluctantly, he agreed to act in the new motion picture medium for Edwin S. Porter at the Edison Company. Griffith was eventually offered a job at the financially struggling _American Mutoscope & Biograph where he directed over 450 short films, experimenting with the story-telling techniques he would later perfect in his epic The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Griffith and his personal cinematographer G.W. Bitzer collaborated to create and perfect such cinematic devices as the flashback, the iris shot, the mask, and crosscutting. In the years following Birth, Griffith never again saw the same monumental success, and, in 1931, his increasing failures forced his retirement.

Though hailed for his vision in narrative film-making, he was similarly criticized for his blatant racism.

Griffith was named an Honorary Life Member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) in 1938. The DGA award for best lifetime achievement was named for Griffith in 1953. In 1999, television director and DGA president Jack Shea persuaded the DGA National Board, to rename the award without consulting its membership, due to the “intolerable racism” in Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), even though producer H.E. Aitken, Louis B. Mayer, and many other producers invested and profited from the film which helped fund their vast motion picture empires in Hollywood.

The growing outcry against political correctness led the DGA in 2002 to announce that it would not rename the award, although it would keep a lifetime achievement going in its arsenal of kudos.

1894 – Arthur Treacher (Veary) (actor: National Velvet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Little Princess, Heidi, David Copperfield, The Merv Griffin Show; fast-food chain: Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips; died Dec 14, 1975)

1908 – Karl Swenson (actor: The Hanging Tree, The Gallant Hours, North to Alaska, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Vanishing Point; died Oct 8, 1978)

1912 – Michael Wilding (actor: Waterloo, The World of Suzie Wong, The Glass Slipper, Under Capricorn, The Courtney Affair; died July 8, 1979)

1913 – Coral Browne (actress: Auntie Mame, The Killing of Sister George, Eleanor, First Lady of the World, The Courtney Affair; wife of actor Vincent Price; died May 29, 1991)

1921 – Calvert DeForest (actor: Late Night with David Letterman: Larry “Bud” Melman; Mr. Write, Leader of the Band, Heaven Help Us; died Mar 19, 2007)

1925 – Gloria DeHaven (actress: Two Girls and a Sailor, Three Little Words, Summer Stock, Broadway Rhythm, Nakia)

1938 – Ronny Cox (actor: Scissors, Total Recall, Loose Cannons, RoboCop, Beverly Hills Cop series, Some Kind of Hero, Taps, The Onion Field, Harper Valley P.T.A., Gray Lady Down, Bound for Glory, Deliverance, Sweet Justice, Spencer, Second Chances, St. Elsewhere, Cop Rock, Apple’s Way)

1947 – Larry Manetti (actor: Magnum P.I., Baa Baa Black Sheep, Exit, The Take)

1950 – Belinda Montgomery (actress: Man from Atlantis, Doogie Howser, M.D., Stone Fox, Tell Me That You Love Me)

1951 – Edie McClurg (actress: WKRP in Cincinnati, The Hogan Family, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, A River Runs Through It, Eating Raoul)

1961 – Woody Harrelson (Emmy Award-winning actor: Cheers [1988-89]; White Men Can�t Jump, Natural Born Killers, Indecent Proposal, The Cowboy Way)

1962 – Eriq La Salle (actor: ER, Another World, Coming to America, Under Suspicion, Color of Night)

1967 – Philip Seymour Hoffman (actor: The Talented Mr. Ripley, Scent of a Woman, The Getaway, Twister, Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, Patch Adams, Magnolia, State and Main, Almost Famous)

1972 – Marlon Wayans (writer, actor: The Wayans Bros, Scary Movie, Scary Movie 2; brother of Damon Wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Kim Wayans, Shawn Wayans)


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