"It's like writing history with lightning," President Woodrow Wilson said about Hollywood's first epic movie, "The Birth of a Nation." Griffith's film decreed that movie makers would forever seek to roil the emotions, to write with lightning. Wilson wasn't the only politician to note cinema's new and mighty influence. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George stated that Griffith had perfected the most powerful instrument over mens' hearts and bodies the world had ever known; Soviet Premier Josef Stalin later remarked that if he had Hollywood, he'd have the world.
The movies could have a dubious influence: "The Birth of a Nation" revived the then-moribund Ku Klux Klan. But people tend to remember the happier influences on love and style. The American youth of 1910, who had been accustomed to such heroes as Buffalo Bill Cody and Florence Nightingale, were suddenly being escorted into the smoky bedroom of vamp Theda Bara, or dragged into the desert with Rudolph Valentino, whose slicked-back hair began a national fad. When Douglas Fairbanks Sr. wore sunglasses in Paris, all the smart people did the same. Clark Gable took off his undershirt, and undershirt sales plummeted. Joan Crawford was sheathed in a square-shouldered dress by MGM designer Adrian, and suddenly the world wore square shoulders. The Hollywood view, propelled by motion pictures, became the American view--a view that was then successfully sold around the world.