Linda Arvidson

Linda Arvidson (July 12, 1884 – July 26, 1949; sometimes credited as Linda Griffith) was an American actress who became one of the earliest movie stars. Since actors were usually not credited on screen in the first years of cinema, she was often referred to as simply one of the "Biograph Girls". Arvidson had been encouraged to work in the new medium by her future husband D. W. Griffith, who impressed her as an innovative film director. Their marriage was kept secret for reasons of professional discretion.

Linda Arvidson
c. 1916
Born
Linda Arvidson Johnson

(1884-07-12)July 12, 1884
DiedJuly 26, 1949(1949-07-26) (aged 65)
Other namesLinda Griffith
OccupationActress
Years active1907–1916
Spouse(s)D. W. Griffith
(m. 1906-div. 1936)

Biography

She was born Linda Arvidson Johnson, and became the first wife of film director D. W. Griffith. She played lead roles in many of his earliest films.

In 1925, she authored her autobiography When the Movies Were Young (1925, 1968). She is mentioned in William J. Mann's The Biograph Girl, a novel based on Florence Lawrence.

On July 26, 1949, Arvidson died in New York City at age 65.[1]

Career

Arvidson's first professional role was on stage at the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco in a 1904 adaptation of The Christian by British novelist Hall Caine. In that production she portrayed one of the fisher girls and earned a weekly wage of three dollars and 40 cents for her performances. One experience called up after another, as Arvidson performed in a variety of recitals across San Francisco's greatest concert halls. She appeared as a servant boy in the play Fedora. It was on that production where she met a supporting actor and future husband, David Wark Griffith, who at that time worked under the stage name Lawrence Griffith. Through the next few months in which Arvidson and Griffith were together, Arvidson spent time performing small roles in productions at the Burbank Theatre in Los Angeles, as well as at the Orpheum.

Film Career

In 1906, as a married couple, Arvidson and Griffith, moved to New York where they began rehearsals for playwright Rev. Thomas Dixon's play The Other Woman. As the two settled into the New York theatre scene, Griffith was advised from a colleague about a location on eleven east 14th street that companies under the titles of the Biograph Company and the American Mutoscope resided there. Their focus revolved around a new innovation of moving pictures, and actors performing in front of a camera. Griffith encouraged Arvidson to go down to the company and introduce herself. At the time, society viewed motion pictures as something not to be taken seriously, as Arvidson viewed the concept of acting in front of a camera as lowbrow and unsophisticated; an easy way to earn more money. Arvidson's first picture at Biograph, When Knights Were Bold, was directed by Sidney Olcott and included Griffith in the cast as well, marking the couple's first and only appearance together on screen time.

In 1908, Griffith rose to directing his first picture for Biograph, The Adventures of Dollie, in which Arvidson played the leading female character. Arvidson in her memoir describes most of the characters she played in her early film career as "the sympathetic, the wronged wife, the too-trusting maid… waiting for the lover who never came back." At the time, the studio did not want the women in their films to be identified, so the leading women they featured like Arvidson, Mary Pickford, and Florence Lawrence were all known as the Biograph Girls. During their days on set, the women would spend time getting ready with elaborate makeup for the camera, while Griffith as a director would take only the men out to lunch. As more actors began to emerge into this new medium, the old timers like Arvidson were given a double in salary, accumulating to ten dollars a day. On October 4 of 1909, Arvidson and Griffith's biggest picture at the time was released, Pippa Passes. The film was the first of their productions to attract the attention of The New York Times and to receive a favorable review from the prestigious newspaper. In 1910, the Biograph team traveled to Los Angeles to shoot on location there rather than using the sound studios and other facilities they had in New York and New Jersey. Films produced in California during that period include The Rocky Road, The Woman from Mellon's, and The Two Brothers. The commercial success of those films and the film industry's rapid expansion on the West Coast convinced Biograph in 1912 to shut down its New York operations and to relocate permanently to Los Angeles.

Relationship with D. W. Griffith

When meeting Griffith on the set of Fedora, Arvidson was immediately struck by his presence, his talent and booming voice. He too grew infatuated with her quickly; in Arvidson's memoir, When the Movies Were Young, Arvidson recalls Griffith's encouragement, "Said I had wonderful eyes for the stage and if i ever went to New York and got it right, I'd get jobs 'on my eyes.'" Arvidson also mentions that Griffith advised her to never get married if she wanted to continue to have a career as an actress; an ironic sentiment since the two end up marrying less than 2 years later. When the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake hit, Griffith was finding work in Boston when Arvidson sent him a telegramme explaining what had happened. Griffith’s theatre company was booked for a 6-week engagement in Boston, so he got Arvidson a railroad ticket there. When Arvidson arrived, the two spontaneously rode over to the Old North Church and wrote their names in the wedding registry, as a now married couple, before moving to New York City to start their lives together.

In 1908, when Griffith encouraged Arvidson to test her talent on camera, Arvidson recalls in her memoir that he told her not to mention that she is his wife, because it is "better business not to." As they grew more experienced with acting on camera and more in tune with the people at Biograph, Griffith still wanted to leave for a summer and do a summer stock theatre show, yet Arvidson convinced him to stay and continue his relationship with the company. Arvidson served as the leading person who supported Griffith's success in his budding film career, first as an actor, then writer, then director. Their relationship was put to the test when they would shoot on location, Griffith would ponder about the stories that would unfold if public spectators witnessed them together and how that would affect the work they created together. As of 1909, those at Biograph were unaware of Arvidson and Griffith's marriage. The two kept their relationship confidential since personal and business matters were not known to intermingle; and was deemed as "unprofessional." The couple separated around 1912, and finally divorced on March 2, 1936, when Griffith wished to remarry.

Partial filmography

References

  1. Katchmer, George A. (2009). A Biographical Dictionary of Silent Film Western Actors and Actresses. McFarland. p. 10. ISBN 9781476609058. Retrieved 8 September 2018.

Bibliography

  • Finler, Joel W. The Hollywood Story. Wallflower Press, 2003. ISBN 1903364663
  • Griffith, Linda Arvidson. When the Movies were Young. Dover Publications (1925, reprinted in 1968). ISBN 0-486-22300-0
  • Menefee, David W. The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era. Praeger Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0275982599
  • Wexman, Virginia Wright. Creating the Couple: Love, Marriage, and Hollywood Performance. Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 0691069697
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