Lillian Gish Photo Gallery (VI)

Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish photo gallery volume VI

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Lillian Gish in St. Louis

Lillian Gish became a boarder in the Ursuline Academy at Saint Louis [in 1909-1910]. Here she found herself in surroundings altogether novel. At first she was unwilling to have either nuns or fellow boarders know that she had been on the stage. In fact, she was under the impression that the sisters would consider an actress, even a fifteen year old one, a very undesirable boarder and she had had all of the labels removed from her trunks before coming to the convent.

Ursuline Academy at Saint Louis


Lillian was not long in coming to love the convent and all it stood for. She reveled in the solitude, the shut-in-ness of the place. She became utterly devoted to the nuns, and was heard to say more than once that they were the most truly refined women she had ever met. Naturally spiritual, she was attracted by the convent routine, and more than once was heard to say that she would like to be a nun. Her teachers say she was always gracious and pleasant to her companions, but her natural reserve kept her from being ‘a good mixer.’ She once asked her favorite sister to point out any faults she might be guilty of, saying: ‘I want to eradicate any fault in me that might be an annoyance to others.’ The sister declares that, after watching Lillian carefully for weeks, she was unable to find any fault in her. She was a perfect boarder.
Years later, when Lillian Gish played in ‘The White Sister,’ it was remarked by the critics that she must at some time have been intimately connected with nuns to be able to depict a religious so perfectly. She was very desirous of dedicating this play to her old teachers, but the management objected.

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

“Lillian Gish is a very famous star, and as such she is naturally of great interest to us. In addition, she has an appealing personality that exerts its charm even over the radio, and her beauty is apparent even in newspaper pictures. But she has a stronger appeal than all this to us Ursuline girls, because she was at one time an Ursuline pupil, having been at school about a year with our sisters when the academy was on Twelfth and Russell Boulevard in Saint Louis.

St. Louis Streets in the Early 20th Century (2)

Miss Gish Recalls –

St. Louis and Sodas at the Busy Bee

“My sister Dorothy and I loved to play in St. Louis because of the ice cream sodas. We hit St. Louis many times where we were children touring in Belasco’s productions. There was a place near the theater – I can’t remember the name of the play much less the theater – were we got the best ice cream sodas in the world. Chocolate. Not the sweet chocolate. Bitter chocolate. It was called the Busy Bee Ice Cream Parlor. Mary Pickford toured with us in a few shows (she was known as Gladys Smith then) and the three of us came to know St. Louis for its ice cream.”

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

But there were less happy days in the city. “Things got rough and my father left us. We had an aunt in St. Louis and my mother, my sister and I moved in with her. We opened a confectionery in the city and Dorothy and I went to school and worked in the store. (The Misses Gish attended Ur- suline Academy for a year. [1909-1910]) Somehow though we got back on our feet and back on the stage.”

streets-of-st-louis-missouri-1900s

Excerpts from Albert Bigelow Paine’s “Life and Lillian Gish” 1932

“Lillian does not remember where she first met “Nell” Nellie Becker, a sweet-faced, happy-hearted girl, somewhat older than herself. Lillian was tall for her years, and serious-minded—the difference did not count. What did count was their instant attraction to each other. Beginning in what school- girls know as a “crush,” it presently ripened into something less fleeting, something that was to stand the wear of years. Each was the other’s ideal — the companion of which she had dreamed. They shared their hearts’ secrets, read books together.

Lillian Gish in 1910

A fine young fellow, named Tom, was going to marry Nell one of these days; a boy called “Alb,” for short—a very proper boy, particular about his umbrella and overshoes—appears to have been wishfully interested in Lillian, who, being of a sober turn and not yet thirteen, was not too violently disturbed by his attentions. Whatever romantic love she had, she gave to Nell. When, at the end of the summer, she joined her mother in East St. Louis, she wrote frequent letters, though letter-writ- ing was always her bane.” (Albert B. Paine – Life and Lillian Gish)

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

First Letter written to Nell Dorr: “Not many girls of her age would have set out on a long railroad trip, with changes, but rail travel had few terrors for the child actress, who for six or seven years had known little else. She stopped over in Dayton, to see her Grandfather, and her first letter, with its very plain, school-girl writing, some uncertainty as to spelling, and a large indifference to punc- tuation, is dated from there: September 12, 1909:
“Well dear I am away from Massillon once again, but feel as if I had left something behind this time that I never left before. I arrived here at 4:05 yesterday afternoon and have been on one continual trot ever since then, and I leave here tonight at 11:25, and when I wake up I’ll be in St. Louis, as this is an awfully fast train. . . .” (Albert B. Paine – Life and Lillian Gish)

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

… “ [An all-night ride in a day coach, but what was that to her?]

Poor Dorothy what did she do when I left? I could hardly keep the tears back, and I couldn’t say a word for the lump in my throat. … I do hope she won’t be homesick. You know that feeling . . .

“You know that feeling“—who knew it better than herself? The letter ends, “Your loving make-be- lieve sister.”

It bears her East St. Louis address: 246 Collinsville Ave.

A week later she wrote, “How is my little fat sister? Does she seem to be satisfied? Bless her old fat heart, she is bad but I love her.” She tells of a day’s trip to a small town in Illinois, and how, when she got back to the store, they were “awfully rushed, so of course I had to help.” In another letter, we hear of a girl named Mertice, who is going to give a party for her, “at a big Hall.”

St. Louis Streets – in the Early 20th Century

They have ordered an automobile, seven passenger—45 horsepower, but it won’t be here untill March. Oh, I wish you would hear her talk about all the trips we are going to take. She knows all about you, Nell. She couldn’t help but know if she is around me very long.” (Life and Lillian Gish – 1932)

Lillian Gish Profile, cca 1910 – Everett

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Miss Gish’s Stage Debut (Risingsun Ohio)

Miss Gish made her stage debut in a melodrama called ”In Convict’s Stripes” in Rising Sun, Ohio. ”I was 5,” Lillian Gish said, ”and the only acting lesson I ever had was, ‘Speak loud and clear or else they’ll get another little girl!’ ”
”We had to do something to live in the summertime,” she recalled yesterday, ”because theaters closed down. No air conditioning.”
Her mother and her younger sister, Dorothy, also turned to acting with various touring companies, and thus the family supported itself.

Lillian Gish


Gish made her acting debut, as Baby Lillian, with Huston in ‘The Convict’s Stripes’ in a barn-turned-theater in Rising Sun, Ohio. She was 5 at the time and the daughter of a struggling actress. You can safely say that about stage players, for their performances survive only in the memory. But Lillian Gish’s performances exist in films that have been subjected to scrutiny again and again. The verdict is always the same: Lillian Gish is astonishing.

“You had lectures, you had performances, you had basketball games held in the opera houses, commencement ceremonies, that sort of thing,” said Michael R. Hurwitz, of Historic Opera Houses. “These opera houses at the turn of the last century were built in small communities to be a community center, to provide entertainment and were the heartbeat of the community.
(An opera house) truly was the community rallying point and the community center for all of these small towns throughout America.”
All historic opera houses have a connection to the rich history of their communities, but some boast especially significant ties to national history. An example of this is the Risingsun Opera House with its connection to actress Lillian Gish.


“Risingsun is historic, it is well preserved, and it has the cache of having Lillian Gish, who in theatrical circles and motion picture circles is truly one of the great pioneers of American theater and American film who performed on that stage. It’s a very significant piece of our history — Ohio’s history — but also theatrical history,” Hurwitz said.
Gish, nicknamed “The First Lady of American Cinema,” had her very first performance on the stage of the Risingsun Opera House when she was 5 years old. Along with this association to Gish, the Risingsun Opera House is notable because it is very well preserved.
Hurwitz, a theater technician, describes it as still being in “remarkably good condition,” as it appears to still be structurally sound and still has the stage, seating and balcony intact.

References

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Lillian Gish and her art are finding a home at BGSU – 1983 (Scanned PDF)

Can anything be written about a legend?


Lillian Gish, famous the world over for her work in silent films, stage productions and sound motion pictures, has probably been asked more questions by more reporters than any other actor or actress in America. And with good reason, because no other actor or actress alive today has appeared in as many productions, in every decade of this century, as Lillian Gish.


Despite her fame and abundant talent, this wisp of a woman with the strong, rich voice is disarmingly humble. The actress seems delighted to be honored by Bowling Green, the university only 20 miles from the site of her professional debut in Risingsun. An Ohio native, Miss Gish has been officially recognized several times by the university. She, in turn, has unofficially adopted Bowling Green as her favorite university – endowing a scholarship fund, presenting her lecture series, visiting campus four times since 1976 and delighting the University community with her spunky comments and vivid recollections of a long-ago era. The occasion of her most recent visit was the October dedication of an impressive collection of photographs in the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater in Hanna Hall. Commemorating the enduring career of the pioneer cinema star, the collection was originally displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, for the 1980 Lillian Gish Retrospective.
Elegantly dressed in a black velvet suit and a lacy white blouse, Miss Gish relaxes in a loveseat in the University Guest House before the evening ceremony in Hanna Hall begins. Her manager, James Frasher checks last minute details as special invited guest Eva Marie Saint arrives, back from a tour of the campus, which she had not seen for 36 years.

Gish returns. She is an impressive woman at 5’7″ and carries herself with dignity. Always attractive, her delicate features radiate an inner joy, retaining the beauty of the young actress who played opposite such leading men as Lionel Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, John Gielgud, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster and others.
“Oh, tell them how happy and proud they’ve made me,” she instructs when asked how she felt about the University’s acquisition of the photo collection. “Of all theaters, if I could have my choice, it would be this one.”
Her pride in the theater is obvious, mainly because it also honors her sister Dorothy and her mother, Mary McConnell Gish, as well as Lillian. She is devoted to their memories.

“I like people from Ohio,” Gish declares. “Of course, since I was born here, I may be prejudiced, but I do think they have the best manners and are more considerate of the other fellow than most people are. I got my start just down the road here, in Risingsun, so I really feel like I’ve come home when I come here.”

Ralph Wolfe, a University English professor, first suggested naming the theater in honor of Miss Gish, to commemorate her first performance in Wood County at the age of five. Then-University President Hollis Moore was in favor of the idea, so Wolfe contacted Miss Gish’s agent, Frasher, and she accepted, on the condition that the theater be named not only for her but also for her sister. Thus the “Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater” was dedicated on June 11,1976. The next day Moore presented Miss Gish an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts degree during spring commencement exercises.
Since that first visit, Miss Gish has shown true interest in the University, especially the Film Studies Program. When Wolfe established a scholarship for the annual film, studies award, Gish endowed it. She returned to Bowling Green in the fall of 1976 for the theater’s opening and again in 1979 to accept the Popular Culture Association Achievement Award and speak at a campus film restrospective at the theater.
The first phase of the theater renovation project included the construction of a marquee, an improved movie projection area and a lobby for featuring the Gish photographs. The improvements were made possible through private funding. Alumni Howard Beplat, James R. Good and Ronald Cohen of New York City, and Wolfe, who lives in nearby North Baltimore, donated the funds to obtain the photographic collection from the Museum of Modern Art. Wolfe had been invited to the 1980 retrospective and contacted the curators about the possibility of adding the Gish photos to the University theater. Through the joint efforts of Moore, Wolfe, the alumni office and the Museum of Art, Bowling Green now owns the collection, which includes stills from some of the Gishes’ most famous films.

Dedicated at BGSU on June 11, 1976, The Gish Film Theater and Gallery was originally located in Hanna Hall, and was named to commemorate the achievements of Ohio natives Dorothy and Lillian Gish in the history of American film. In May 2019 the university decided to remove the Gish name from the theater and call it “The BGSU Film Theater,” while retaining the endowment and Lillian’s personal memorabilia. For a university to dishonor her by singling out just one film, however offensive it is, is unfortunate and unjust.
Doing so makes her a scapegoat in a broader political debate. A university should be a bastion of free speech. This is a supreme “teachable moment” if it can be handled with a more nuanced sense of history.