During the summers of 1909 to 1911, D.W. Griffith (1875-1948), the controversial film director who revolutionized cinema, brought his troupe of performers 90 miles northwest of New York City to Cuddebackville, New York, where they stayed at the Caudebec Inn, a roomy boarding house operated by the Predmore family that could accommodate up to 80 guests. Looking to escape the summer heat at his studios in the Bronx, Griffith looked to the scenic opportunities of the area with its old canal, rocky cliffs, old stone houses, and the picturesque Neversink River that passed through the hills.
On June 28, 1909, Griffith began work on his “Cuddebackville films,” one-reelers that would help perfect the techniques for which Griffith was so well known. The troupe’s first films, The Mended Lute (1909) and The Indian Runners Romance (1909), a “stirring romance of the Dakotas” filmed along the Neversink River, where they constructed an Indian village set.
Many of the actors and crew who frequented Cuddebackville would go on to be very famous in the film industry.
- Mary Pickford (1892-1979) became one of the most popular actresses of the 1910s and 20s. Known as “America’s Sweetheart,” this Oscar winning actress also founded United Artists with DW Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin.
- Billy Bitzer (1872-1944) is generally regarded as one of the most influential cinematographers in history. He developed camera techniques that set the standard for all future motion pictures.
- Donald Crisp (1882-1974) began by assisting Griffith with directing chores during Cuddebackville trips, but would go on to become a well respected, versatile actor, winning an Oscar for his role in How Green Was My Valley.
- Mabel Normand (1892-1930) became one of the comedy greats of early film, costarring with talents like Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. She also became one of the earliest silent actors to function as her own director.
- Florence Lawrence (1886-1938) often referred to as the “first movie star,” Lawrence appeared in nearly 300 films and was one of the very first stars whose name was used to promote the film. She was also an inventor who invented the first automobile turn signal.
- Mack Sennett (1880-1960) would become known as the ‘King of Comedy’ and the “Father of American Slapstick Comedy.” In 1912, he founded Keystone Studios, where he produced some of the era’s most popular comedies. Sennett brought Charlie Chaplin to film after seeing his Vaudeville acts.
Most of Griffith’s filming was done in nearby Sullivan County, where he found that the raw wilderness was perfectly suited to his Westerns and colonial-era films.
During his summers filming in Upstate New York, Griffith experimented with many of the innovative techniques that would later become his trademark.
On August 3rd, 1911, DW Griffith left Cuddebackville for the last time. He would go on to California and direct landmark films like The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.
The Caudebec Inn would continue to be a stopping place for other studios like Pathé, Thanhouser, and Gem.
The inn is no longer standing, but a historical marker identifies its former location.
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