In the mid-1920’s Miss Gish became embroiled in a long legal battle with Charles Duell, a socialite who had been her financial adviser (and, as she said in 1975, “sort of my Svengali”), over sums he claimed she owed him. Miss Gish munched carrots during the trial, and newspaper photographs of her stirred a carrot-chomping fad across the country. (New York Times)
New York Times – 1925 Headlines:
LILLIAN GISH SUED BY FILM PRODUCER; Charles H. Duell Seeks to Prevent Her From Acting Under Direction of Others. STAR CONDEMNS CONTRACT Her Attorneys Call It Tyrannical, and Say Story That She Is to Wed Duell Is Presumption.
Lillian Gish, star of the screen, was made defendant yesterday in a suit filed in Federal Court by Charles II. Duell, who seeks to prevent the star from making motion pictures except under the contract he has with her. (Jan 31, 1925)
“to answer to the charge of perjury.”
A brief lawsuit in which Lillian was involved at this time added greatly to her prestige. In October (1924), for what she felt to be just cause, she had broken off relations with her producers. Suit for breach of contract followed. At the trial, held in a small, crowded room of the Woolworth Building, the chief executive of the picture corporation testified to a number of remarkable things, among them that Miss Gish had engaged herself to marry him, all of which notably failed to convince Judge Julian W. Mack, who, on the second or third morning of the trial, rose and summarily dismissed the case against Lillian, and after a few well-chosen words to her accuser, held him “to bail in the sum of $10,000” (I quote the minutes) “to answer to the charge of perjury.”
He was indicted, but Lillian, with no wish, as she said, to send anyone to prison, declined to appear against him, and the case was dismissed.
Lillian’s following was now enormous … of the whole world, for in no obscure corner of it was her face unfamiliar, or unwelcomed. There was something almost magical about this universal homage. Men and women alike paid tribute. Reporters ransacked dictionaries for terms that would convey her elusive loveliness—likened it (one of them) to “the haunting sadness of an old Spanish song, heard as the light fades from the evening sky.” What heaps of letters! And if, as has been said, she was wanting in sex-appeal, why all the marriage proposals? Why so much poetry? Just one young man wrote eleven little volumes of poetry—pretty good poetry, if there is such a thing, even if not entirely sane (what poetry is?) —and it was printed by hand with the utmost care and beauty.
(Life and Lillian Gish – Albert Bigelow Paine – 1932)
Charles H. Duell’s name (Inspiration Pictures director) – was never mentioned in Paine’s book.
Duell asked me to assign my share of the profits from The White Sister to him. I realized that I was in trouble, but I did not know to whom I should turn. Not to D.W.Griffith; he was equally helpless when it came to legal matters. But the previous year in Rome I had met Senator Hiram Johnson, his wife and his son Jack. The Johnsons had treated me as an adopted daughter and had told me to call them if ever I needed help. I wrote to them of my troubles and they suggested a law firm to take care of my interests. Accordingly, I decided to go to Chadbourne, Stanchfield and Levy and to consult them about my predicament.
When I told Duell he said, “If you do that, I will ruin you.”
“How can you ruin me?”
“I can say whatever I wish about you, and they will believe me. You are only a motion-picture actress, while I am in the Social Register.”
If I had not been so startled by this treat, I would have thought it was something out of an old melodrama. In a letter written some time later, he suggested that I shouldn’t worry even if the percentages on The White Sister stopped briefly, as I would soon be getting my full salary on our next picture. He warned me that it would be to my advantage to agree without further fuss; otherwise, the consequences would be disastrous. The result of any conflict, he implied, would be to hurt us both in the industry.
The New York Morning Telegraph – January 31, 1925
A serious breach in the business relations of Lillian Gish and Charles Duell, her lawyer, trustee, adviser and employer, was forecast yesterday when Charles H. Duell Incorporated, filed a summons and complaint asking an injunction to restrain the star from appearing with any other company and asking that she be made to fulfill her contract with the Duell organization….
When questioned about the injunction proceedings brought by Charles H. Duell, Jr.’s personal company against Miss Lillian Gish, the latter’s attorney, Messrs. Chadbourne, Stanchfield and Levy said, “This latest move is part of a design to force Miss Gish to support Mr. Duell. The experiences of Richard Barthelmess and Henry King are only repeated in Miss Gish’s experience with Mr. Duell. Each of these outstanding artists has found it impossible to live under his business arrangements. Miss Gish’s situation discloses, in our opinion, the worst condition of the three.”
The New York Herald Tribune – February 14, 1925
… Max D. Steuer characterized Duell as a “deep-eyed scoundrel” for whom the actress would never work again even if it meant giving up her screen career …
… Steuer declared that Miss Gish’s contract was “grossly one-sided.”
Miss Gish appeared in court with her mother and listened intently to her lawyer’s argument. Holland S. Duell, brother of the plaintiff, testified in support of the producer’s complaint, declaring Miss Gish had already been stated in two successful pictures under the terms of the agreement which she wished to cancel. Steuer asserted that by five modifications of the contract, Miss Gish was defrauded of $120,000 by Duell …
“It was at that time that I became known as a vegetarian. Because I was nervous during the hearings, I took carrots with me to nibble on. The carrot fad thus began in the United States, with resulting world-wide publicity. Some friends took me to the Grand Street Follies to see a young actress impersonating me on the stage and eating a carrot”.
Finally, on April 2, 1925, extras were on the streets at noon carrying this headline:
“Duell Held as Perjurer; Lillian Gish Wins Suit”
“Lillian Gish – The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me – 1969”
DUELL ASKS TRIAL ON PERJURY CHARGE; Indictment Growing Out of Suit Against Lillian Gish, Pending Nearly a Year.
Gossip of All The Studios – By Cal York
LILLIAN GISH is back in New York after a long stay abroad, waiting to make “The Swan.” She’s living at a quiet little hotel on a side street—going to the theater now and again with George Jean Nathan, who seems as devoted as ever. Oddly enough, she came back on the same ship with her former boss, Charles H. Duell, who sues her for millions every now and then, and spent most of the trip avoiding him, to hear her tell it.
Her mother, Mrs. May Gish, is in London, carefully tended by Sister Dorothy. Mrs. Gish’s health is a little improved. She’s been an invalid now for some years, you remember.
Photoplay Magazine 1929