The Sunday Intertitle: The Curse of “What Drink Did”


“A thoughtful moral lesson.”

A lot of nonsense is talked about “The Curse of THE EXORCIST” or “The Curse of SUPERMAN”, proving generally that you can make any series of unfortunate coincidences look sinister. But here’s a movie tale surely no skeptic can gainsay. Of all those who worked on D.W. Griffith’s 1909 morality play, WHAT DRINK DID, not a single one survives…

Griffith himself died in 1948, a mere 39 years after helming this film, victim of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was just seventy-three years old. Star Florence Lawrence committed suicide in 1938, no longer buoyed up by her amusing stage name. The film’s lead drunkard, David Miles was dead just six years after completing his role, under mysterious circumstances which even the internet Movie Database has been unable to uncover. Some might find this suspicious. I do.

Child star Gladys Egan, AKA “Little Gladys,” perished in 1997, her career long over — nobody thought to offer adorable moppet roles to a ninety-one-year-old. Way down the cast, we find Mary Pickford, who went on to become “America’s Sweetheart,” one of the greatest box-office sensations of the age and a founding member of United Artists, but even that could not save her — she died in 1979, aged 87, eerily enough, from a cerebral hemorrhage. Her body was buried and her house was demolished.

Another bit player, Mack Sennett, became a famed producer of slapstick comedies at the Keystone company and received an honorary Oscar, only to die at the comparatively youthful age of eighty.

More sinisterly still, bartender John R Cumpson was slain by diabetes and pneumonia in 1914, just five years after his role in this blighted picture, and another of the movie’s bartenders, Arthur V. Johnson, succumbed to tuberculosis just two years later. extra Flora Finch fell prey to a streptococcus infection in 1940, and “workman” Owen Moore had a fatal heart attack the previous year.

Coincidence? I think not.

You may smile (“I think they’re smiling, Gary”), but do you have the courage to watch the film? I tell you, this curse is attached not just to the poor doomed cast and crew, but also to the audience. Everyone who watches this film will die.


“Mr Goldwyn, I hate to tell you, but of all the people who ever lived on this earth, not one of them ever had a happy ending.” Dorothy Parker.

11 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: The Curse of “What Drink Did””

  1. La Faustin Says:

    “Drink Shot My Child”?

    I didn’t realize the National Rifle Association was active in 1909.

  2. The fatal shot… of whiskey.

    Guns don’t kill people, booze kills people! Well, of course booze DOES kill people, but not if used correctly. The firearm would seem to be the more decisive element in this little tragedy.

    Oh, watch out for the Biograph logo cunningly hidden in the set (as an assertion of copyright and a guard against print piracy). I’m grateful to David Bordwell for that info.

  3. What about the curse of Stalker? Or do readily explainable causes (toxic foam is bad) not count?

  4. La Faustin Says:

    David Bordwell, that is so cool!

    I can think of two logo appearances for purposes of comedy, not copyright:

    In THE ROAD TO UTOPIA, one of the snowy peaks the boys sled by is the Paramount logo.

    In WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE, the protagonists time-travel through the clouds from colonial Nieuw Amsterdam to WWII-era New York, century by century; their arrival in the 20th century is heralded by the familiar trumpet flourish and logo-shaped clouds.

    But there must be others! Shadowplayers?

  5. David Boxwell Says:

    DWG comes full circle with his last film: THE STRUGGLE (31), the title of which anticipates our contemporary discourse about addictions.

    It’s a static, proscenium arch Victorian meller, shockingly clumsy technically compared to what Mamoulian, Hitchcock, Garnett, to name just three, were doing at the time, (except when Griffith did some exterior shots on the Lower East Side).

  6. Those moralizing tendencies often tripped DWG up… his films on alcoholism tend to take a complete outside perspective, borrowing from popular theatre, as if Griffith had no personal insight into the subject whatsoever. Which you’d have thought he might have…

    Stalker and The Conqueror (not as good a movie!) are a slightly different case: not so much cursed as toxic.

    Tashlin of course was fond of spoofing studio logos, and Spielberg started a trend for weaving them into the movie’s opening shot (Universal’s Waterworld intro, which you can probably guess, is a particularly amusing one).

    In Carry on Up the Khyber, I think it is, a muscleman bangs a gong, and Kenneth Williams (as the Khazi of Kalabar) remarks “Ooh, Rank stupidity!”

  7. Christopher Says:

    aw..those girls are cute..dressed like little pinatas those kiddies away!..ahh..the two headed girl child!..Have you ever seen THE DRUNKARD performed in the WC Fields film The Old Fashioned Way?..Its pretty entertaining in and of itself.. :o))

  8. Oh yes! As Mr Ehrenstein’s link shows, old WC had a way with “thoughtful morality lessons.”

  9. This film rather reminds me of Wilde’s remark about the death of Little Nell.

  10. Well Dickens was surely a great influence on DWG, and I bet he never laughed — which is his weakness. Well, that and the virulent racism.

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