Newspaper Page Text
THE SUN, SUNDAY, APRIL 25, 1915.
PRODUCING A PLAY ON A STAGE FIVE MILES WIDE
Auto from which pictures of the onrushing Ku Klux riders were taken.
D. W. Griffith's Great Idea and How
He Worked Out Historically Accu
rate Battle Scenes With 18,000
Actors and 3,000 Horses
Scene after the battle of Petersburg.
N observing officer of a moving'
picture corporation was watcli
lm; rehearsals for a llttlo film
drama one morning seven
years ago when a complication de
veloped and It was patent that, as
arranged for, the Idea, In tho lan
cuagc of the studio, would not Ret
over. One of the players In the com
lany, a slcmt-.T young leading man,
went up to tho producing director
jnd raid: "Why couldn't It be done
10 and so?" indicating his plan.
The producing director nodded em
phatically. "Hlght!" he said, and It
was right. Whcrniupon the observ
ing oilicer first mentioned turned to
the actor, saying seriously: "Why
don't you try producing, Griffith?''
"I wouldn't mind having a chance
to work nut a few llttlo Ideas," was
"Work them out, then,"' was the
Up at the Liberty Theatric during
the last few weeks people are stand
ins in a line which stretches from
the box olllce nearly over to Seventh
avenue suffering for tho privilege
"f paying 2 a seat In marry canes,
to fee nothing but a moving picture,
drama. The man who produced that
12 movie Is the man addressed In the
twlio seven years before, the man
ho said he had a f ,w little Ideas
to work out.
He was Crllllth then, now he Is
Iavid Wark Griffith, for whom even
the most surfeited regular dramatic
irltlc had words of praise when, that
movie had Its first night !n New York
.tnd of whom also other men who
udy and observe rather than direct
Vlare that ho has raised the illm
drama to an art -with a capital A,
nd tin' he has unfolded new jxissl
'illtles. p. neered In hitherto unsus
In brief Mr. Griffith took "The
'".ansm.in a novel iby the Itev.
Thomas Dixon, and from It evolved .
an ambitious, spectacle for th camera
m wh.ch, working on a stage roughly
leaking five miles long and two
ml'.ei deep, he employed altogether
H.00O p. r.-ons and 3,000 horses. Ho
delli'.ciK (l lmttl scenes conducted no
'ird1 f the records preserved In
lie War Department at Washington,
'N.n art.ilery, cavalry and Infantry
.is they were used In a real battle of
ihe .vii var.
Hn irtihery duels were real nrtll
I'ry -m. is. his cavalry charges were
NfMil ' v the men who participated
in sji i a charge fifty years before.
His tin n du d as men had died In the
treni hes of the South and they suf
f'red . it as the men who did suf
1t mi I they had, He built or caused
' U- 1. 1 It no less tluin five complete
smith, rn towns, faithful to the last
roh tcetiirii detail, and he burned
hne .,f i m,
II m:.ed and handled great mobs
f w'i . nnl negroes as histnrv said
iine.s acted. He reproduced
re exactly life size n:ul de
' great national tragedy of
.itlon "f President Lin--'
.is history says it neeurred,
'. legislative hulls of a
st.ite and with an actual
jraph ns a model brougnt
! i" a scene In that chamber
iu-o. Ab .vc all througnout
- .i nil forty minutes he ran
i- of a love story.
. wis that Mr. Griffith leanel
i - Mialr pulling contentedly
' : lunche 'ii cigar, taking
o .itlon is about fourteen
! I" was at thnt .moment dl
imi .tig other things four
ik h would take several
l.d you learn how?"
I you do this?"
' Ill come after?"
. ii'itti told how he was born
1 v Mime thirty odd years
hi of Jacob Work Clrifflth.
' '.adier.General of the Oon
'nv. His family comes near
,i.e for nb'iut nil the pn-
s, for his grandfather
li lie! Griffith of the war
!i. the generation further on
.i ureal grandfather In the
iv war. Ilefore that tlmo
flilffliliH In Virginia.
' 1 war, of course, the (Irlf-
t in'ky had, like .many other
i.nlv their mcmorli s to live
and the products of a
ie edge of the Iblue grass.
,h born in that situation,
education at the nearby
i- year came to the boy
i tho ' meantime he had
I to act In the dialogues
May nfiei noons and u lit-
n tin y gave the plays at
v Society. In any event
,f ' :. .
" lv i
h '.r. .
''i l i
tii. re ,
ii. , ,
i in j
when he went out Into the world he
gravitated to Louisville and very
promptly applied for a position with
n modest little stock company which
was giving everything from Shake
speare to Charles 'Hoy t at local thea
tre. 'He was engaged, as he says, because
they needed s.mebody. Then there
were seven years of the stage, now In
road companies, now In repertoire,
all the lime getting up a little. Ho
played with Gertrude Coghlan, Walker
Whltesldes and finally Nance O'Ncll,
In the last year a leading man.
Something else happened. In an
odd moment on the road the young
actor had written a short story or two
and some verses. He came back to
New York and sent them to a maga
zine, which promptly accepted them.
Then he wrote a play, "The Tool and
the Girl,' and James K. Hackctt took
It. Another great rcmantlc drama was
begun, and Its acceptance promised.
This was In the latter part of 190C
and the early part of 1907.
"That ended the stage for me," he
explained. "No more of the hardships.
I was going to be an author and
draw down royalties. I wcke up In
about five months.
"The Hackett play failed and I have
always had a little bit of a sore spot
over that. I know a little bit more
about stage management tuw, you
know. Then short story writing was
not extra profitable and I came back to
New York from the country and
found the moving picture game grow
ing." He began writing moving lecture
scenarios then at and $10 apiece.
That was all right If you could turn
out enough of them. There are limits,
however, to the physical capacity of
even such plots as they used In those
days and the young man added mov
ing picture ncting to his other work.
He went Into the compnny cf a cor
poration, the first one mentioned,
studied the game as It was then, saw
that It might, be made an art and
bided his time until the olllcer heard
him make the suggestion to the pro
ducing director, whereupon another
era was lorn.
There Is no doubt the young man
ager grew a little more ambitious
about that time. Tho corporation for
which h worked had not leen par
ticularly prosperous, although to-day
it Is worth millions, but there was
somebody In It wise enough not to Im
pose any rules or regulations on the
Perhaps tho reader will remember
a modest, haunting little dim. "Pippa
Passes," the representation of Brown
ing's poem. Griffith did that and all It
was was a day of a young girl with
her ancient Italian guitar singing her
little song ending: "God's In His
Heaven; all's right In the world."
Then came "Tho Merchant of
Venice," rather ambitious; "The Blot
on tho Kscutchcon," "Enoch Arden,"
a sombre fancy: "Lines of Whlto on a
Sullen Sen," all of which led up to
"Oil and Water," written by Sir. Grif
fith himself. A little moro ambition
and then camo "A Corner In Wheat,"
the first pictures of which were,
modelled directly on Millet's "Glean
ers," and the audience liked that.
"Just about that time." he put In,
"It came to mo that a wonderful thing
could be done with 'The Life of Christ.
The divine tragedy has n universal
appeal, and adequately done with rev
erence It could not fall of approval."
He laughed. "I submitted my Idea
and It was approved, but when I got'
to talking about details, Palestine and
Jerusalem, a great cast, for I had
chosen two of the foremost actors In
the world an Initial expenditure of
thousands the thermometer dropped.
It was madness." He paused. "Do
you know It Is n little gratifying to
me now thnt within the last few days
I have been approached by a syndicate
which has asked me to do thnt very
need not worry about a little thing llko
f 500,000 or a $1,000,000 If I need It."
By this time It Is npparent Griffith
had swung Into his stride and a year
ago or a little more came "Judith,"
using about 2,000 people, where they
built forty foot concrete walls, wide
enough to have a battle on.
Then came "The Clansman." It
seems that the chief producing di
rector, as Mr. Griffith was. changed
from one company to another, and ac
cording to reports lie did so at a salary
that would pay the President's yearly
salary of $TS,000 and more. He
wouldn't talk about that. In any
event he had not worked long before
he .had the Dixon Ixiok handed over to
him to read. He read It and lost In
terest In about everything else.
"I read the book." he says, "and I
saw It. Not the book entirely, but ns
an opportunity for me to set forth,
first, the birth of the South following
the travail of the civil war.
"I saw a chance to tell the story of
how they suffered through what I be
lieve to be the most, dramatic period
In the history of the country recon
same thing, and they have said that Istructlon. There was a chance to
show what the South thinks of Lin
coln; there was a chance to show
that the negro of the South did not
of hU own volition degenerate Into tho
human being who made the Ku Kiux
Klan necessary, but rather he was
seduced by the unscrupulous adven
turers, who exploited a situation tor
their own selfish ends.
"There was nothing of race In my
Idea, and may I say there Is nothing
of nice antagonism in my production.
It Is slmpiy tho plctorlallzlng of an
Taking the book, reading It nnd
dreaming about It, however, did nut
do the work. There were eight months
of Incubation. First three men, nnd
they were professors of colleges, wero
asked to work out the correct his
torical data. There were Interviews
with veterans of the civil war on most
Important points, recourse to maps
and reports down at Washington and
Anally a patient county by county
tour of Louisiana, Mississippi, Ala
bama and North Carolina until Pied
mont was discovered.
Then came the location of the
battlefields, after which the veterans
Mr. Griffith directing actors from top of sixty, foot tower.
Ford's Theatre Reproduced in Actual
Size and Five Southern Towns
Built and Burned for the Sake
of a Moving Picture
with their maps went forth to lay
out a battlefield Just as It was at
Petersburg and Just as It was In
pat't during the march of Sherman's
inny from Atlanta to the sea. Where
approved territory was found the ex
perts went to work upon It.
If a road wound this way, If there
was a brook or a river, op a house
or a barn, that road, brook, house and
barn were found or put In. if a town
was needed along came an architect
with his corps of builders and they
put It up Just ns some gray haired
old man remembered It.
They remembered burnings, and a
town, two towns were put In live
altogether were built. One man re
membered the burning of a town by
night. Something must .be done about
that. A fireworks man said he could
build bombs which exploding In the
nlr would give enough light for the
camera to work at night. Incidentally
It may be added the bombs cost ISO
apiece, but they did the wopk.
"Was It difficult to get the actors?"
"No." rcp'.Ied Mr. Griffith, "not diffi
cult, but tedious. You see we adver
tised In the newspapers that we
wanted so many persons, men, women
and children. We established employ
ment bureaus, so to speak, nnd made
"How about the negroes?"
"They were the easiest. The negro
Is a natural no tor. and I do not mind
saying that niih iig the 4,000 of them
we took out of the fields, out of the
shops and from every othep place wo
found Mime with remarkable talent. A
producer some day may put forth the
tragedy t the negro on the Illm
he will find men and women of that
race fully competent."
Of course. It was explained, they did
not use the K.00O persons all the live
or six months they were actually
photographing the drama. While it
is true that by the time he had
finished hi" long term f study Mr.
Griffith did not use a scrap of paper,
a 'book or scenario, yet ho had ar
ranged It all In his mind.
The great multitude for the lllght
from Atlanta and the town scenes
were not actually under employment
longer than two weeks. Then It may
be added that the expenses ran f.il
up Into the thousands every day.
"Tho only way we could handle
them w.is 'by military discipline," sa.d
Mr Griffith. "W.- laid out a .amp for
the whites and u camp for tho blacks.
We set up two commissaries. Then
wo divided our forces into section'',
each section commanded by a captain
who had his stalT under htm. That H
how the picture was worked out.
"Uvery section bader in the big
battle scenes of the town scenes ki pt
his section, leheai'sed it mid louki d
after it. Complete telephone sysums
were installed for every seition and
ihe orders deliv rod from heiuliiiiar-
Mr. Griffith posing his extras for the panic flight of the citizens out of Piedmont, S. C.
Above The camera platform from which the battle scenes were made.
ters were megaphoned by tho captains
to their commands."
Tho headquarters alluded to in tho
kittle scenes was a sixty foot tower
In front of tho whoUt scene. It was
there that George W. Bltzer. "best
camera man In the world," Mr. Grif
fith says, and five assistants set their
cameras. Every scene It may be said
was taken six times.
Finally when every move of every
section had been gone over again ami
again In rehearsal, when the soldiers
knew when to charge or fall back,
when to die or drop, even when the
artillery knv.w the exact second when
to wheel Into action and the cavalry
had Its time schedule perfect even to
the exact place where a horse must
stumble or fall, the section leaders
came to headquarters.
Back tn the hills the thousands
wore waiting. They dashed back to
their commands. Word came that alt
was ready and to the beat oS a watch
under telephone orders the action be
gan. The air tilled with smoke the
soldiers appeared as If In a real fight.
Trains of panic stricken refugees
wound over the hills In flight, and
then they stopped.
"We Uied the greatest number In all
the scenes where they apoar without
reference to the position the picture
appear In the production," said Mr.
Grlfllth. "That Is always done. Th
multitudes were taken tlrt and
gradually the number was cut down
until at last we had only the principals
In the.r scenes.
"Swine of the scenes which apr ar In
order to-day wero taken three or four
months apart. That made m re
trouble, but it had to be done that
way. You must remember i xaetly
what the Individual did the first time
in order to preserve uniformity,
exactly how he or "he wore a hat.
entered a house, wore the hair. ordld
anything Ise. That brings gray fiair.
Then we had a few little stunt'.
" "You remember that case where the
negroes) are shot and fall when the
Ku Klux come Into the town. The
horses jump over them as the. He In
the street. It took considerable per
suasion to get men to do that, al
though th- horses nnd the.r riders
were the best trained v biulnable. We
to k It up with some men. 'llo-s, we
won't do that for less'n 3 a day,' they
said. They got It.
"Take another case In the guerrilla
Invasion of the town. It may be re-
ailed that a man shot falls from the
roof of a fr nt porch head tlrst on the
ground. Many think the fall Is made
by a dummy. A rnl man does It nnd
piacti-ed In a lire net until lie got his
fall Just right, timed exactly ns It
bad to be done to lit In with the scene.
"There Is one ease where a rider
i ninlng out of a house makes a flying
leap into the saddle over the tall of
bis hoi'M1. That took time and It do s
not show, but the man who did that
bad to Jump over a railing encumbered
by a t'o'ie.
"Many things were done In the work
that do not appear in tb - Illm. Theio
ii e twenty-tlve Held guns In the battle
scene pound ng .rway and they were
too far away for the eye of the
unci. i lloues are burned of which
"U catch only a vague glow, people
ate Hoeing , ver the hills and you can
hardly see them.''
The actual work was all over In
tlve nio'itlis, Mr. Griffith said, l'roni
heir Hist camp they went to Cali
fornia for Interiors and the hone
moon scene, the allegories and theatre
scene sh. wing the assassination of
"The theatre was the exact size of
l'.i'ls in Washington." Mr. Griffith
e.!,uned. "and It was an exact impli
cit o Mid prints gave us every detail
ee. down to the appearance ,if Laura
Keeiie and 'her compnny In 'The
American t'oiisin." We sought long
before we pit a man who could tMtii-fy
us ns President Lincoln, and every
nun who became a member of his
Cabinet was required to look like tho
original In size and general makeup.
"It was there that detail became
almost overpowering. Men who llvi d
ill the old days were besieged. How
did this man walk; how did he ges
ture; how did he wear his clothes;
did he have at y mannerisms? I tell
you It kept a great many people
awake nights. We took the famous
painting of the surrender of Lee and
we never inal it down until I hellevn
that every man In it had an exact
double before our cameras."
Thus tt all came out. There were
more monihs as the illm wasi per
fected mil made ready for the public.
Hut at last It was nil done.
"Now what Is tho future of the
The man being Interviewed lifted
Ills hands. "Why, there are nn limits
to Its possibilities In artistic work.
Tills Is only child's piny,