By Jane Feehan
Famed film director David Llewelyn Wark “D.W.” Griffith traveled to rustic, tropical Fort Lauderdale to film The Idol Dancer in 1919. During that project, he decided to take a boat to Nassau with his company of actors and friends to shoot additional scenes. It turned out to be a dramatic – and dangerous - voyage.
On December 8, the group set out in rough seas from Miami on the 60-foot yacht Grey Duck Typically the trip would take 12 hours. The boat did not arrive that day or the next, setting off a highly publicized search. The nascent film industry had already generated its celebrities, Griffith being one of them. The search garnered front-page news in the New York Tribune. A reporter wrote that Fort Lauderdale Mayor Will J. Read, “a wealthy real estate operator and his 16-year-old daughter, Marion” were aboard the vessel as well as “A. Reid and 10 men of the crew.”
The Tribune reported a search party comprised of a “flying boat, a coast guard cutter and a submarine” returned without news of the lost Grey Duck. A few years before, during war loan drives, Griffith had befriended former Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo. McAdoo got involved in the search for Griffith and requested then Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to ask “navy officials to redouble efforts.”
On December 15, it was reported by the Tribune that a “wireless message had been received from Hotel Lucerne in Nassau” sent by Griffith. It had been a perilous voyage, he wired New York - three days without food and little water. Two people had been swept off the Grey Duck but were rescued. The boat drifted and nearly capsized, though the seas were “only 30 feet.” The pilot was injured but they eventually made it into the Northwest Channel. A few members of the party were bedridden due to exhaustion.
Despite the unpleasant adventure, Griffith returned to Fort Lauderdale in 1923 to shoot The White Rose. By that time, the little town lost some of its primitive appearance to development, which included canal sea walls; he completed the film elsewhere.
*D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin (seated) and Douglas Fairbanks at the signing of the contract establishing United Artists motion picture studio
New York Tribune, Dec. 19, 1919.
Tags: DW Griffith, Fort Lauderdale history, Mayor Will Read, Florida film researcher, historical researcher