D.W. Griffith

The son of a Confederate Army colonel, D.W. Griffith -- whose Southern heritage would shape and ultimately blemish his film career -- was born Jan. 22, 1875, in La Grange, Ky.

After struggling as a stage actor, Griffith found his way into the nascent movie industry, going to work for Biograph Studio, where he produced 450 short films between 1908 and 1913. During this time he pioneered numerous cinematic devices (including cross-cutting, close-ups and parallel action), all of which came together in 1915's Birth of a Nation, a Civil War epic that came to define the medium. Griffith's masterpiece, however, also stirred controversy because of its negative depiction of blacks.

Griffith -- a co-founder of United Artists -- went on to make a number of other notable films, including Intolerance (1916), Broken Blossoms (1919) and America (1924). He died of a cerebral hemorrhage July 23, 1948.