Mrs. D.W. Griffith on early film costume practices

Linda Arvidson (Mrs. D. W. Griffith) circa 1910-1915

“Any one with ‘clothes’ had a wonderful open sesame. A young chap whom we dubbed ‘the shoe clerk’ – who never played a thing but ‘atmosphere’ –got many a pay-check on the strength of his neat, tan, covert cloth spring overcoat—the only spring overcoat that ever honored the studio (An actor could get along in the spring with his winter suit and no overcoat!)

Clothes soon became a desperate matter, so Biograph consented to spend fifty dollars for wearing apparel for the women. Harry Salter and I were entrusted with the funds and told to hunt bargains. We needed negligees, dinner dresses, ball gowns, and semi-tailored effects. The clothes were to be bought in sizes to fit, as well as could be, the three principal women. (71)

In that day, on Sixth Avenue in the Twenties, were numbers of shops dealing in second-hand clothing, and Mr. Salter and I wandered among them and finally at a little place called ‘Simone,’ we closed a deal. We got a good batch of stuff for the fifty – at least a dozen pieces—bizarre effects for the sophisticated lady, dignified accoutrements for the conventional matron, and simple softness for young innocence.

How those garments worked! I have forgotten many, but one—a brown silk and velvet affair—I never can forget. It was the first to be grabbed off the hoot—it was forever doing duty. For it was unfailing in its effect. Arrayed in the brown silk and velvet, there could be no doubt as to one’s moral status—the maiden lady it mad obviously pure; the wife faithful; the mother, self-sacrificing.

Deciding, impromptu, to elaborate on a social affair, Mr. Griffith would call out: ‘I can use you in this scene, Miss Bierman, if you can find a dress to fit you.’ The tall, lean actresses, and the short ones found that difficult, and thus, unfortunately, often lost a day’s work. Spotting a new piece of millinery in the studio, our director would thus approach the wearer: ‘I have no part for you, Miss Hart, but I can use your hat. I’ll give you five dollars if you will let Miss Pickford wear your hat for this picture.’ Two days of work would pay for your hat, so you were glad to sit around while the leading lady sported your new head-piece. You received more on a loan of your clothes, sometimes, than you did on a loan of yourself. Clothes got five dollars always, but laughter and merry-making upstage went for three.” (72)

–Linda Arvidson (Mrs. D.W. Griffith). When the Movies Were Young, New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1925. pgs 71-72

Below is an early film (by D.W. Griffith) The Adventures of Dollie, starring Linda Arvidson and Harry Salter.

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