D. W. Griffith

Historical Marker #650 in Crestwood commemorates David Wark Griffith, known to many as an American film pioneer and visionary. He produced the first feature-length motion picture, Birth of a Nation, in 1915.

Griffith had a knack for telling a story and for appreciating history. His grandfather, David Weatherly Griffith, had participated in the War of 1812. His father, Jacob Griffith (1819-1882), volunteered in the Mexican War as a member of the 1st Regiment of Kentucky Cavalry. He was often referred to as “Roaring Jake.” Jacob married Mary Oglesby in 1848 and they lived at the 264-acre family farm near Curry’s Fork in Crestwood, Lofty Green, where D.W. was born on January 22, 1875. Mary Oglesby was the daughter of prominent Oldham Countians, Thomas Oglesby and Mary Carter. D.W. attended a one-room schoolhouse and was taught by his older sister, Mattie Griffith. Mary and the children left the farm and moved to Louisville four years after her husbands’ death. In 1907, Griffith moved to New York to begin an extensive career in film, becoming hailed by actress Lillian Gish as the “father of film.”

D.W. Griffith had a long and prosperous career in filmmaking and has been called “the man who made Hollywood.” He pioneered the industry with such cinematic techniques as close-up and fade-out. Griffith’s epic silent movie, Birth of a Nation, was originally released on Feb. 8, 1915. The movie was full of Griffith’s innovative cinematic ideas, but caused controversy as soon as it was released because of its distorted views of the South after the Civil War. The movie was based on the novel and play, The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon, Jr. Birth of a Nation immediately swept the nation, catching the eye of everyone. On March 21, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson attended a special screening at the White House. Throughout his career, Griffith directed over 450 short films for the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company. His first sound film was Abraham Lincoln (1930).

Throughout his life, Griffith was honored with many awards such as an Academy Award (1936) for outstanding contribution to the art of film, and the Director of the Year (1931) award by the Academy of Arts and Sciences. For a short time, he lived in a house at Fourth and Madison Streets in La Grange (1939). He was married twice and had many relatives in Oldham County. Griffith was living in Hollywood at the time of his death from a cerebral hemorrhage on July 23, 1948. His body was initially buried in Hollywood, but two years later his body returned home to Kentucky for burial at Mt. Tabor Cemetery in Centerfield. The Screen Actors Guild of America dedicated a monument to him at the cemetery.

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