Miscellaneous Brief Reviews
The New York Times – October 30, 1932, Section BR, Page 20
LIFE AND LILLIAN GISH.
By Albert Bigelow Paine. Illustrated. 303 pp. New York: The Macmillan Company. $3.50.
LILLIAN GISH had her first dramatic try-out, made her first triumphant entrance upon any stage, at the age of 3 in Baltimore on the shoulder of Nat Goodwin. He was serving as Santa Claus for a big Christmas tree on the stage of Ford’s Theatre, and needing a particularly angelic-looking child to perch on his shoulder and distribute the gifts, little Lillian Gish was chosen. Three years later she bad become, under stress of economic necessity, a little trouper playing in a barnstorming company which was presenting melodrama in one-night stands. Through several seasons she traveled with this and other companies, economizing on food to the edge of hunger, sleeping on telegraphic desks in cold stations, riding all night in day coaches, rarely having rest in a real bed.
During the Summers her mother had a candy and popcorn stand at the Fort George amusement grounds in New York City, and Lillian, in a timorous little voice, would try to help sales by saying gently to the passers–by. “Wouldn’t you like to buy some popcorn?” But her sister Dorothy stood on the counter and joyfully did “ballyhoo” for the enterprise by calling “out, “This way for the best taffy and popcorn in New York” The Smith family, mother, two daughters and son, afterward to become famous as the Pickfords, were living with Mrs. Gish and her little girls in her apartment, and then and afterward the two families were very close in friendship and work.
The narrative of Lillian Gish’s life reads like a fairy story. American biographical literature is full of marvelous tales of material success wherein poor boys starting out with nothing but good heads, willing hands and determined wills win through to high achievement and heaps of gold. But heretofore not many of them have been about women. And among these few there has been none so wonderfully fairylike in material and texture and denouement as the story of Lillian Gish. Albert Bigelow Paine, veteran author and man of letters, with perhaps two score of books of varied kinds to his credit, tells the story with a sensitiveness to its peculiar quality and a sympathetic response to its heroine’s appeal to eye and heart and mind that intensify the likeness. He tells it in straight narrative form that deals almost wholly with environment and conditions of life and Lillian’s share in them, with privations and struggle and hard work and dazzling achievements. But throughout he does enable the reader to envisage her “ln the round” whether as child trouper, young girl dashing on horseback over Oklahoman plains with an Indian girl playmate and trying hard to get an education in the intervals of work on the stage, successful movie actress, gaining world-wide fame on both screen and stage.
It is a complete story from her birth in 1896 to the present time, and although it does deal mainly with the outward aspects ot its heroine’s life, Mr. Paine endeavors to portray the outlines of her character and give the reader some understanding of her aloofness, her quiet serenity under all conditions, her orderly mental processes, her sense of duty. The book is the outcome of long talks with Miss Gish in which she went over with him her recollections of her life from her earliest years and of information obtained from her family and friends. Mary Pickford has made many contributions to the story of the period in which they were much together in their home and in their movie work. It was Miss Pickford who opened the doors for her entrance into the film world.
The biography is written in the romantic temper and in the spirit of a connoisseur of beautiful things who holds in his hand some piece of glass or gold or cloisonne and regards its exquisite loveliness with admiration and reverence. His feeling is not only for the nunlike, elusive beauty of her countenance, but also for the artistic qualities and the impressive, haunting beauty of her characterizations. Toward the end of the book there are some attempts to estimate the value of Lillian Gish’s contribution to dramatic art and some quotations from her conversations with him disclosing her ideas about the comparative values of the silent and the sound film, and the film and the stage.