As Tarzan in 1918
Gordon S. Griffith|
July 4, 1907
October 12, 1958|
Los Angeles, California
Gordon S. Griffith (July 4, 1907 – October 12, 1958) was an American assistant director, film producer, and one of the first child actors in the American movie industry. Griffith worked in the film industry for five decades, acting in over 60 films, and surviving the transition from silent films to talkies—films with sound. During his acting career, he worked with Charles Chaplin, and was the first actor to portray Tarzan on film.
Griffith was born on July 4, 1907 in Chicago, Illinois, to actors Harry Sutherland Griffith  and Katherine Kiernan Griffith. He had two siblings, an older sister Gertrude, and a younger brother Graham—also an actor. Griffith was already an experienced actor when, at age seven, he got his first acting role as a regular character in the Little Billy series of films. Mack Sennett of Keystone Studios cast Griffith in many of his slapstick features, where he eventually earned supporting roles in Charles Chaplin films, including Tillie's Punctured Romance, in which he portrayed a paperboy, a role that Milton Berle frequently claimed to have played.
His big break came with the role of young Tarzan, in the 1918 film Tarzan of the Apes. He was required to do his own stunts, such as climbing trees, swinging from vines, and interacting closely with a chimpanzee. Griffith also has several nude scenes in the first half of the film. Griffith appears before the actor portraying the adult Tarzan—Elmo Lincoln—making him the first actor to portray Tarzan in film. After seeing the movie, a critic described Griffith as "a youthful actor of uncommon gifts."
Griffith received the role of Tom Sawyer in Huckleberry Finn. Later he was again cast in the first Tarzan serial as Tarzan's son, Korak, a role that has been described as "anticipating John Sheffield's 'Boy' roles [in later Tarzan films]." He continued to act in silent films well into his teen years, including a role as Mary Pickford's older brother in Little Annie Rooney (1925).
Both of Griffth's parents died in the 1920s—his mother in 1921 and his father in 1926. At the time of the 1930 census, he and his brother were living with his sister and her family in Pasadena, California.
Although his career survived the transition from silent films to sound, Griffith received smaller and smaller roles—occasionally not even being credited for his performances. As his acting career cooled, Griffith moved into other areas of the film industry. At the age of twenty-three he got his first job as an assistant director. His final acting credit came six years later in 1936's Outlaws of the Range. Griffith continued to work in the film industry until his death. Between 1931 and 1940, he worked as an assistant director in over 20 films, including those at Monogram Pictures.
Between 1941 and 1953 he was an associate producer or producer on four films. He was an associate producer under Robert E. Sherwood, and for Gregory Ratoff Productions. In 1941, Griffith became a production manager at Columbia Pictures, and later served as an associate producer for RKO.
Selected filmography as actor
- Little Billy's Triumph (1914)
- Little Billy's Strategy (1914)
- Little Billy's City Cousin (1914)
- Chicken Chaser (1914)
- Those Country Kids (1914)
- Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914) as Paperboy (uncredited)
- Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)
- Little Sunset (1915)
- Billy's Cupidity (1915)
- If My Country Should Call (1916)
- Tarzan of the Apes (1918)
- The Romance of Tarzan (1918)
- Hitting the High Spots (1918)
- Cupid Forecloses (1919)
- The Son of Tarzan (1920)
- Huckleberry Finn (1920)
- The Adventures of Tarzan (1921)
- Penrod (1922)
- More to Be Pitied Than Scorned (1922)
- The Village Blacksmith (1922)
- Main Street (1923)
- Little Annie Rooney (1925)
- The Cat's Pajamas (1926)
- Danger Ahead (1935)
- Bars of Hate (1935)
- Gun Play (1935)
- Speed Limited (1935)
- Hot Off the Press (1935)
- Blazing Justice (1936)
- Outlaws of the Range (1936)
- IMDb Gordon Griffith mini-biography by Ed Stephan
- New York Times citing Hans J. Wollstein, Allmovie
- Harry Griffith on IMDb
- Katherine Griffith on IMDb
- ancestry.com citing the 1920 United States Federal Census, Los Angeles Assembly District 63, Los Angeles California; Roll: T625_106; Page: 18B; Enumeration District: 169; Image: 1019.
- ancestry.com citing the 1930 United States Federal Census, Pasadena Los Angeles California; Roll: 169; Page: 14B; Enumeration District: 1246; Image: 241.0.
- Gordon Griffith on IMDb
- Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 30-32.
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