Little Bits of History

Shooting Shooters

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2013
D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith

October 31, 1912: The Musketeers of Pig Alley is released. The movie is credited with being the first gangster film. It is 17 minutes long and filmed at 16 frames per second or 16,320 frames. It was directed by D.W. Griffith and written by him and Anita Loos. The short starred Elmer Booth as the Musketeer gang leader and Lillian Gish as The Little Lady. Lionel Barrymore had a supporting role.

The silent movie is about a poor married couple living in New York City. The husband is a traveling musician and while on the road, he is robbed by a gangster. Later, he recognized his assailant during a shootout. He wants his money back. The movie was shot on location and is rumored to have used actual street gang members as extras during the filming. D.W. Griffith is credited not only with starting a new film genre but of using “follow focus” for the first time as well.

Gangster or crime films are any movies involving any aspect of crime or criminal justice. They can be dramas, thrillers, mysteries, or film noir with the quintessential form being the Mafia movie. There are subgenres such as crime comedies, legal dramas, and prison films.

Follow focus is “a piece of equipment that attaches to the focus ring of a manual lens via a set of rods.” It does not alter the functionality of the camera, rather it permits the cinematographer to be more precise and the resulting film to be clearer and of better quality.

D.W. Griffith was born in La Grange, Kentucky in 1875. He hoped to be a playwright without initial success. He moved to California in 1907 in pursuit of his dream. He again failed but was given a bit part in a film. He soon began directing his own movies, the first was The Adventures of Dollie – a 12 minute silent film. He went on to direct 534 films between 1908 and 1931. In 1912 alone, he put out 70 movies. His Birth of a Nation was the first feature length film in America. He survived the controversy surrounding the movie as well as the financial difficulties associated with feature length films. He made only two sound films, neither successful. He died in 1948 at the age of 73.

“I’m not bitter about Hollywood’s treatment of me, but of its treatment of Griffith, von Sternberg, Buster Keaton, and a hundred others.” – Orson Welles

“The movies are the only business where you can go out front and applaud yourself.” – Will Rogers

“Separate together in a bunch. [And don’t] stand around so much in little bundles!” – director Michael Curtiz to movie extras

“Hollywood is a place where people from Iowa mistake each other for movie stars.” – Fred Allen

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Anita Loos was born in Sisson, California in 1889. She was a screenwriter, playwright, and author. She is most famous for her comic novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The book began as a series of short stories published in Harper’s Bazaar and were known as the “Lorelei” stories. They were satirical in nature and cast a jaundiced eye on the sexual escapades of the times with just vague hints of intimacy. They quadrupled the magazine’s circulation. Lorelei Lee was the heroine, a bold and sassy flapper who preferred the gifts her suitors bestowed upon her rather than the suitors themselves. The book was published in 1925 and it was soon followed by But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes which was published in 1927. While she wrote both fiction and non-fiction books, what she is most noted for are the many film credits to her name. She crafted movies from 1912 to 1956. She died in 1981 at the age of 92.

Also on this day: “I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vows to never return to the US.
Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1923, a heat wave began in Marble Bar, Australia.
95 Theses – In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Disputation on the church door.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 5, 2012

Signing of the United Artist contract in 1919

February 5, 1919: Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford join together to form United Artists (UA). They each owned 20% of the company with lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo owing the remaining one-fifth. Each of the four stars was to independently produce five pictures per year. Within a year, the film industry had changed. Feature films lasting 90 minutes (eight reels) were replacing shorts. By 1924 Griffith had dropped out. Others were brought in for financial reasons. Joseph Schenck joined and brought along guest producers Samuel Goldwin, Alexander Korda, and Howard Hughes.

By 1933 the talkies had essentially shut out Pickford and Fairbanks. UA restructured under Darryl F. Zanuck. Walt Disney, Walter Wanger, and David O. Selznick became “producing partners.” Through the next few decades the studio held on to some measure of success. There were reorganizations and mergers along the way. However, UA’s star power continued to decline. By the new millennium they were not much more than a distribution company. On November 2, 2006 Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner announced they were resurrecting UA. Paula Wagner’s departure from the studio was announced August 14, 2008. Cruise maintains a small stake in UA, now a subsidiary of MGM Holdings, Inc.

Charlie Chaplin was born in England in 1889. Chaplin’s natural talent led him to the theater. He first toured in the US in 1910. He was hired by Keystone Film Company and his first one-reel comedy, Making a Living, made him an instant success. He not only acted, but produced movies. He also wrote and played musical background. Douglas Fairbanks was born in Colorado in 1883. He began doing amateur theater at an early age and was a sensation by the time he was a teen. His first film, The Lamb, displayed to great advantage the athletic abilities for which he was to become so famous.

Mary Pickford, also called America’s Sweetheart, was born in Canada in 1892. Like Fairbanks, Pickford worked with D.W. Griffith soon after coming to Hollywood. Mary starred in 52 feature films and by 1920 her pictures were grossing over $1 million. Pickford and Fairbanks eventually divorced their respective spouses and were married in 1920. D.W. Griffith was born in Kentucky in 1875. He moved to Hollywood to become a script writer and became an actor and producer instead. He is credited with producing the first feature-length film in 1915. Chaplin called Griffith “The Teacher of us All.”

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. – Charlie Chaplin

Every week we had a different story and setting. Some were costume and period; some were modern. Some were comedy; some were tragedy. Some were melodrama. They were all different. – Douglas Fairbanks

I pick out young people and teach them in less time than it would take me to alter the methods of people from the boards, and I get actors who look the parts they have to fill. – D. W. Griffith

One of the great penalties those of us who live our lives in full view of the public must pay is the loss of that most cherished birthright of man’s, privacy. – Mary Pickford

Also on this day:

Articles of Confederation – In 1778, South Carolina became the first state to ratify the Articles.
Roger Williams – In 1631, Williams arrived in Boston.
Bombs Away – In  1958, a USAF plane drops a nuclear bomb in the waters off Savannah, Georgia.