Beverly Griffith, Gaining Ground by Grit: a Hollywood Story

Beverly Howard Griffith, Motion Picture Studio Annual, 1916

Beverly Howard Griffith, Motion Picture Studio Annual, 1916

Beverly Beginnings:

Beverly Howard Griffith was born on September 27, 1887 in Butler, Georgia, to Benjamin Howard “Howdy” Griffith and Mary Burke Butt. Butler is located some one-hundred miles south of Atlanta, and is the county seat of Taylor County. The Griffith’s did not remain in Butler long, moving to 82 Spring Street at the corner of Collins (now the intersection of Currier Street NE and Courtland Street NE); after the death of Howdy Griffith (September 12, 1902[1]) the family moved to 488 Peachtree Street.

As a youngster, Beverly was a singer and a flautist (he, his brother William and sister L’ Ella, often sang as a trio);[2] he was considered quite the gifted lad.[3] Griffith was a multi-talented, multi-tasking person, with a natural ability to coordinate and delegate; and by all accounts a likeable individual. Griffith was a strikingly good looking man, with dark hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion; not overly tall, 5, 10½ and at one-hundred-seventy-five-pounds (although, later he would weigh-in at near three-hundred[4]), and moderate statured. Griffith enjoyed the outdoors, swimming and boating (yet, apparently prone to seasickness[5]) and had a genuine passion for auto-racing. To understand the man Beverly Griffith, it is enlightening to gain a better grasp of his early influences, his inherent familial traits and the environmental impact of his family…

Beverly Background:

Griffith’s mother, Mary Burke, was a music teacher (she began to advertise her lessons in 1899[6]), a true instructor to Atlanta, Georgia luminaries, with references from notables, including the Governor’s office, a local judge, and the president of a college.[7] Mrs. Griffith was the founder and Director of the Griffith School of Music, located for several years in their home at 488 Peachtree Street, in Atlanta;[8] she was the first woman chimes-ringer in America, and played at the 1893, Columbian Exposition in Chicago.[9] Her fame spread abroad, being mentioned by author Victor Hugo when he said: “the twentieth century is woman’s century’ and as a proof that there is nothing the brain of woman cannot grasp, or her skill manage, Mrs. M. B. Griffith of Atlanta is a living witness.”[10]

The Times, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 15, 1895

The Times, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 15, 1895

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, July 18, 1917

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, July 18, 1917

 

This was truly a talented family, William, the eldest, born in 1880 played the mandolin, and served as secretary of the American Guild of Banjoists, Mandolinists and Guitarists.[11] He was a popular young gentleman in Georgia and was on the guest list for Annie Chandler, daughter of the Peach State Governor, Allen D. Chandler;[12] Will and all of the Griffith children rubbed shoulders with the high-society of Atlanta and Georgia.[13]

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, March 8, 1903

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, March 8, 1903

 

L’ Ella (Ella, Luella), the first Griffith daughter was welcomed in 1883, she was a pianist, and taught stringed instruments; in addition, she was a fourth-grade teacher at Formwalt Street School in Atlanta.[14] At one point L’ Ella was the Director of the American Guild of Banjoists, Mandolinists and Guitarists.[15]

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, April 8, 1917

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, April 8, 1917

 

Finally, Mary followed in 1890, she more gifted in organization and full of energy, almost tireless in her endeavors in encouraging children to learn history and the promotion of the mandolin, banjo and guitar. Ms. Mary Griffith established several fretted-instrument clubs and directed an Atlanta orchestra, which varied in size from twenty to seventy pieces;[16]  William, Ella and Mary each taught music, both privately and at the family owned music school.

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, September 22, 1918

Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia, September 22, 1918

 

Benjamin Griffith was a salesman in Atlanta at the Chamberlin, Johnson & Company, dry goods store; this clothing concern was located at 65 Whitehall Street.[17]  Benjamin was heavily involved with the local Methodist Episcopal Church in Butler, sitting on a committee in that congregation;[18] his father was a Physician and minister, Dr. James Griffith,[19] as well, his older brother was a minister, the Rev. Ignatious F. Griffith, at one time the pastor of the Second Street Methodist Church of Macon, Georgia and president of the Methodist ministers of Girard and Columbus, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama (a suburb of Columbus).[20]  In retrospect, Benjamin Howdy Griffith seems lost in the commotion that was the abilities and personalities of his wife and children, with great local celebrity and some national recognition. In contemporary terms, Mr. Griffith was not overshadowed by his four children, since he passed away before his offspring became so well known.  Still, he was able to bask in the light of his famous wife, Mary, providing a stable income and in a time when many women were restricted by the egos and upbringing of their husbands, Howdy seemed to have relished Mary’s success. With the aforementioned background, fortitude and elbow-grease, Howard, with the help of his wife afforded an environment conducive to learning, and the opportunities to fail or succeed in their children’s explorations of life. That is what each good father hopes and prays to be able to give and be remembered for.

Beverly Before Tinseltown:

Unlike his siblings, Beverly Griffith had no involvement with the Griffith School of Music; instead, following his father’s professional footsteps in sales. Beverly’s first paid position was that of newspaper carrier, with his own route for the Atlanta Constitution.[21] When Beverly was seventeen (1904) he was a clerk in a store located in the Equitable Building on Pryor Street at the corner of Edgewood Avenue, Atlanta, GA. In 1905 Beverly and his brother William went to Los Angeles, whilst there they attended the Barnum and Bailey Circus in late September, then were the quests at a post circus party at the home of Judge Sale; Beverly evidently had a position in San Francisco, in shoe-sales, for a while.[22] He followed that position with another in sales (1907) at a business-building situated at 43 Peachtree in Atlanta. Griffith was a graduate of the Georgia Military College in Milledgeville,[23] which lies about one-hundred-miles southeast of Atlanta. Georgia Military is a junior college and at the time of Mr. Griffith’s matriculation, it was a conduit, enabling graduates to enter higher learning at the University of Georgia.

Beverly or “Speed” as he was known had a fascination with racing, which lead to a school days (or during his racing days, which and when is unclear) relationship with Eddie Rickenbacker,[24] who would prove himself in WWI as the “ace pilot;” this friendship would benefit greatly, Griffith, two decades hence.

When Griffith left Atlanta, in 1910, he made a short term stay in Parker, in the territory of Arizona,[25] then moving on to Los Angeles. There he worked at the New Broadway Hotel at 205-207 North Broadway (between West 1st Street and Temple Street), first as a bell-boy, then advancing to steward, by summer he was the engineer for the hotel, next moving ahead to assistant manager and finally acting as general-manager of the hotel.[26]

New Broadway Hotel, Los Angeles

New Broadway Hotel, Los Angeles

 

Beverly in Hollywood:

Griffith worked in the film-industry primarily in the administrative field and was a resident of Universal City. His beginning foray into the movies came in early 1913 when Griffith went to Pinecrest, near San Bernardino, CA,[27] with the Keystone Company; he was working as an assistant to the property-man, and found his way into three films, two of which were directed by Mack Sennett.

Beverly Howard Griffith followed up the property-man job by earning the position of assistant to Mack Sennett; where he was credited as the “original Keystone stunt driver.”[28]  Next he was the assistant to general-manager to F. J. Balshoffer at the newly organized Sterling Motion Picture Company; while there he was described as the director of comedian, Ford Sterling.[29] How many untold credits are lost in the director’s chair for Mr. Griffith? We will most likely never know.

Griffith’s preoccupation with car-racing unfortunately extended to high speeds on public highways; he faced a one-year suspended sentence for speeding. Friends were concerned when during his probation he bought a new Packard, and whether or not he and the car could behave.[30]

Carl Laemmle hired Beverly away from Sterling to be the business manager for five producing companies at Universal and the occasional location manager;[31] also Griffith managed Animated Weekly and was the director, correspondent and chief cameraman for the news branch at Universal; it was with Universal that Griffith hit his cinematic stride. The need for speed for Mr. Griffith found its outlet in stunt-driving which director Otis Turner availed him of, in the five-reel flick, A Little Brother of the Rich, based on Joseph Medill Patterson’s novel. Griffith, the location (assistant-director or second-unit-director) drove a seven-passenger Oldsmobile, which cost more than $1,500.00 (more than $34,000 as of 2015). The gag required Griffith to cross the Santa Fe Railroad, with an approaching train coming full speed, he and his passengers survived with nary a scratch, although, at least one of the occupants of the car were afraid that they were going to die.[32] While at Universal, Beverly Griffith worked as an assistant-director on action-pictures under veteran director Henry MacRae;[33] a copse, as it were, of films Griffith was attached to but without credit and has been cut down from our knowledge.

Also, this was the period when Griffith earned the nickname “Speed,” (one would have assumed the moniker was for his love of car racing) when, as director of Animated Weekly he began to scoop other film-news services in Los Angeles. Particularly, this was true on September 24, 1915, when his camera-crew shot footage of the memorial service where the last honors were paid to the Reverend Thomas J. Conaty (Bishop of the Monterey and Los Angles diocese). Within six hours after the service closed, the news-reel had been developed, printed and dried and then put into the caring hands of Beverly Griffith. He personally delivered the film to Quinn’s Superba Theater at 518 S. Broadway, in downtown Los Angeles.[34]

Beverly also was responsible for some scenarios at Kalem, Sterling and Universal;[35] the two titles that are known are The Bingville Fire Department, 1914 and The Diamonds of Destiny, 1917. With Diamonds of Destiny, real diamonds were supplied by the Los Angeles jewelry concern of the Montgomery Brothers (long time jewelers in the area); the stones valued at $325,000 were personally escorted by Monroe Montgomery.[36] Any other scenario work by Griffith, is lost to time and the vagaries of early cinematic attribution. In 1918 he was with Sunshine Comedies (a subsidiary of Fox), as an assistant manager.[37] Beverly Griffith when not involved with office politics and scheduling productions and overseeing location shooting, saw war first-hand. Universal sent Griffith to Mexico to be imbedded with the United States Army, in pursuit of Francisco (Pancho) Villa. His job was to secure actual photographs of the fighting and subjects that would prove interesting for Animated Weekly, the Universal news-reel. Beverly Griffith acted as correspondent for the eleven-week Mexico excursion into the battle fray with Gilbert Warrenton his cameraman; taking in scenes of both American and Mexican armies and expeditions. No sooner had Griffith returned to Universal City, that he and cameraman Robert Walters went back to the Mexican border and the footage sent home revealed they got the “close up” of the military actions.[38]

What is missing from Mr. Griffith’s résumé is that he directed for Universal, What Darwin Missed (AKA: The Missing Link), in 1916.[39] This movie and other credits that belong to Mr. Griffith have incorrectly been attributed to Beverly H. Griffith, an actress; this is a mistake and is cleared up by a press release seen in newspapers and trade-papers in 1916.[40] Mr. Griffith of Universal and it’s Animated Weekly, is directly connected to, The Missing Link or What Darwin Missed.[41] As stated before (I know, by now, ad nauseam) these titles in his work-history are lost by the thoughtless and sometimes capricious lack of onscreen credit.[42]

As with most in early Hollywood even if the work was behind the scenes or behind the camera, sometimes the opportunity arose to go in front and do a little acting. Griffith was no exception and appeared in, The Sleuths at the Floral Parade, Toplitsky and Company and Cohen Saves the Flag, each released in 1913. Making a Living was the next project for him before the camera in 1914 and finally his turn in Cheating the Public, which opened in 1918.

Sleuths at the Floral Parade, 1913Sleuths at the Floral Parade, 2 1913

 

During these years, through the onset of WWI and its conclusion, Eddie Rickenbacker and Griffith kept in close contact, even when separated by thousands of miles and the Atlantic Ocean. Of course Rickenbacker oft decorated, but Griffith acquitted himself well in the war effort, rising to the rank of Sergeant Major, stationed seven months in Seattle, Washington, as a master electrician, air service.[43]

Beverly Private and Eastern:

Griffith married actress Edna Maison, with the ceremony on Thanksgiving Weekend, of 1917 in Los Angeles.[44] Mr. Griffith traveled much during their marriage, with extended time apart, often taking a room at a boarding house rather than at a hotel. His business (various film exchanges) journeys took him to Hawaii, Cuba, England and China.[45] Contrary to popular belief, Maison and Griffith did not remain wed until her death; the couple was divorced in 1938, it being finalized in Dade County, Florida. This was year two for Griffith with Eastern and Miami International Airport was the headquarters for the airline company; which goes a long way explaining the reason for the dissolution of the Maison and Griffith marriage in Florida, since having been wed in California.[46]

Edna Maison

 

Subsequent to Beverly Griffith’s time in Hollywood, it was natural after the movie-industry (especially with his experience in sales and promotion), that he would accept a position in public relations. In a way this was a professional return of sorts for Griffith, having started in publicity prior to 1910. He became the director of public affairs at Eastern Airlines.[47] He was hired in 1936 by close friend and famed WWI Medal of Honor pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, who had recently been appointed as General Manager of Eastern.[48] Griffith’s tireless work and affability with all, garnered him the honor of being listed as one of the “Big Four,” of 1939, amongst airline publicity men.[49]  His hard work and ideas were not confined to promotion but thinking outside the box, being on the alert for novel ideas. He championed the proposal of transporting mail from Camden Airport to the Philadelphia 30th Street, Post Office by autogiro (10 minutes in transport) rather than by truck which needed about 45 minutes allowed for the transfer; realizing what faster mail delivery would do for Eastern.[50] On the occasion of his fiftieth anniversary (1957) in public-relations, seventy-eight of the nation’s prominent newspaper, radio, television and newsreel personalities signed a scroll to commemorate and honor Griffith’s long work in the field.[51]

eastern-logo-1950sEastern Air Lines Beverly Griffith

 

Beverly Griffith died in 1970 on April 17 and was interred at the Butler Memorial Cemetery, in Butler, Georgia. Eastern Air Lines in tribute to Griffith flew a jet over the cemetery.[52] Beverly Griffith lived life as he drove: fast, hard and with the purpose of winning.

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) September 12, 1902

[2] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) April 3, 1898

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) December 30, 1901

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) March 1, 1902

[3] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) April 3, 1898

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) September 13, 1900

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) December 30, 1901

[4] Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the twentieth Century, by W. David Lewis, Published by John Hopkins

University Press, 2005, page 324

[5] Moving Picture World, August 7, 1915

[6] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) August 30, 1899

[7] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) September 2, 1900

[8] The Musical Blue Book of America, 1921-1922

[9] The Atlanta Exposition, by Sharon Foster Jones, Published by Arcadia Publishing, 2010, page 16

[10] National Register of Historic Places, Continuation Sheet, Section 8, Statement of Significance

[11] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) May 28, 1920

National Register of Historic Places, Continuation Sheet, Section 8, Statement of Significance

[12] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) January 2, 1902

[13] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) August 31, 1902; January 18; September 11; 13, 1903; November 1, 1908;

October 22, 1922

[14] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) November 21, 1897

[15] National Register of Historic Places, Continuation Sheet, Section 8, Statement of Significance

[16] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) January 20; May 3; October 14, 1917; February 3; September 22; 1918

December 27, 1918; January 13; February 18;  21, 1919

[17]  Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) April 11, 1885; June 22, 1895; September 19, 1897

[18] Georgia and the Southeast Historical News

[19] United States Genealogy Web Project

[20] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) September 12, 1902

Macon Methodism From 1826 to 1903, Compiled by Orville A. Park, 1904, pages 65-66

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) December 20, 1905

[21] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) March 23, 1919

[22] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) September 25, 1905

Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) October 1, 1905

Great Silver Fleet News, volumes 23-24, 1959

[23] Motion Picture studio Directory, Published by Motion Picture News, 1919

[24] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) March 23, 1919

Index-Journal (Greenwood, South Carolina) May 1, 1941

Eddie Rickenbacker: An American Hero in the twentieth Century, by W. David Lewis, Published by John Hopkins

University Press, 2005, page 324

[25] Brooklyn Daily (Brooklyn, New York) July 11, 1958

[26] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) August 20, 1910

Los Angeles and San Diego Standard Guide Including the Panama California exposition at San Diego, Compiled

And published by the North American Press Association, 1914

Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) February 13, 1915

[27] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) June 15, 1913

[28] Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio and His Keystone and Mack Sennett

Comedies, with Biographies of Players and Personnel, by Brent E. Walker, Published by McFarland & Company,

Inc., 2010, page 590

[29] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) February 13, 1915

[30] Motion Picture News, September 5, 1914

[31] Motion Picture News, June 26, 1915

[32] Macon Times-Democrat (Macon, Missouri) November 11, 1915

[33] New York Dramatic Mirror (New York, New York) January 22, 1916

Variety, March 31, 1916

[34] Winnipeg Tribune (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) October 23, 1915

[35] Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, Published by Motion Picture News, 1916; 1918

[36] Sunday Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) October 22, 1916

[37] Photoplay, January, 1918

[38] Variety, March 31, 1916

Motography, July 8; 22, 1916

[39] Motion Picture News, July 15; 22, 1916

[40] Motion Picture News, July 15; 22, 1916

Portsmouth Daily times (Portsmouth, Ohio) October 5, 1916

[41] Motion Picture News, July 15, 1916

[42] Moving Picture World, June 22, 1918

[43] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) March 23, 1919

[44] Variety, December 14, 1917

[45]Motion Picture News, May 10, 1919

Exhibitors Herald, February 4, 1922

Film Daily, September 9; December 18,  1923

Variety, March 22, 1932

Motion Picture Herald, February 10, 1934

[46] Florida Divorce Records, United States Genealogy Web Project

[47] Beverly Griffith Papers, Emory University, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

[48] Eastern Air Lines: A History, 1926-1991, by David Lee Russell, Published by McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013,

Page 51

[49] Popular Aviation, March, 1939

[50] Realizing the Dream of Flight, edited by Virginia P. Dawson and Mark D. Bowles, Published by NASA History

Division, 2005, page 80

[51] Brooklyn Daily (Brooklyn, New York) July 11, 1958

[52] Find a Grave

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