In 1875 Oldham, KY had a significant contribution to the filmmaking industry with the birth of D.W. Griffith, “The Father of the Motion Picture,” and again in 1935 when Shirley Temple starred in the movie, “The Little Colonel.” The Little Colonel children’s fiction series was based on the 1895-1908 series of Annie Fellows Johnston, written about Oldham’s town folk in Pewee Valley. “The Little Colonel” series was the Harry Potter of its time, and Annie Fellows Johnston’s home is a gorgeous, private historic residence on the current Little Colonel Driving Tour (brochure available in Tourism office) through Pewee Valley. One of the longest running community theaters in Kentucky, “Little Colonel Playhouse” also calls Pewee Valley home.
Oldham continues those contributions to movies and television today. We have become a sought-after location and backdrop of modern film due to our historical buildings, well-maintained historic downtown La Grange – complete with a running train on Main Street – and our gorgeous farms on stretches of country roads that are surrounded by untouched land. With picturesque open green spaces, historic homes, horses in pastures, old barns, and access to the Ohio River, Oldham, KY still maintains our film legacy.
David Wark “D. W.” Griffith (January 22, 1875 – July 23, 1948), born in Crestwood, KY was known as the “Inventor of Hollywood”, was an American film director, a writer, and producer who pioneered modern filmmaking techniques. He is known for his groundbreaking films The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). His film The Birth of a Nation made use of advanced camera and narrative techniques, and its immense popularity set the stage for the dominance of the feature-length film in the United States.
Birth of a Nation, filmed at a cost of $110,000, returned tens of millions of dollars in profits, making it, perhaps, the most profitable film of all time. Several of Griffith’s later films, including Broken Blossoms (1919), Way Down East (1920) and Orphans of the Storm (1921), were also successful, but his high production, promotional and roadshow costs often made his ventures commercial failures. By the time of his final feature, The Struggle (1931), he had made roughly 500 films.
Griffith is one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and widely considered among the most important figures in the history of cinema. He is credited with popularizing the use of the close-up shot and the “moving” motion picture.
D.W. Griffith passed away at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Los Angeles, and is buried in Oldham, KY at the Mount Tabor Cemetery in Centerfield. In 1950, the Directors Guild of America provided a stone and bronze monument for his gravesite. A historical marker can also be found at the cemetery.