Tribute to Gish telecast – April 17, 1984

Desert Sun, Number 209, 4 April 1984

Tribute to Gish telecast April 17

By Copley News Service

AFI Life Achievement Award A Tribute to Lillian Gish (1984) with AFI founder George Stevens Jr - Photo - Globe
AFI Life Achievement Award A Tribute to Lillian Gish (1984) with AFI founder George Stevens Jr – Photo – Globe

HOLLYWOOD The American Film Institute tribute to Lillian Gish, to be telecast April 17 over CBS, may bring back silent pictures. George Stevens Jr., founder of the AFI and producer of the salute, says among the reasons Gish was chosen to receive the Institute’s Life Achievement Award is her status as a silent screen star. The tribute program is therefore laced with clips from her pretalkie movies, so intriguing that the public may demand to see the rest of each picture.

ap wire press photo lillian gish, george stevens jr, life achievement award 84

Gish’s most famous movie is D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” set during the horrors of the Reconstruction. Lauded by film historians for its innovations it introduced the close-up for example it’s been damned in recent years as a racist exaggeration, a damnable lie, a rotten diatribe. Gish defends the film, taking the attitude that, if anything rotten has been going around, it’s been attacks against the movie from the uninformed.

Copley News Service – April 1984

AFI founder George Stevens Jr. and actress Lillian Gish
AFI founder George Stevens Jr. and actress Lillian Gish at the American Film Institute’s 10th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C..Photos at White House, Georgetown and Kennedy Center..Article title Eye View

 

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STAR GLITTERS – 1980

Desert Sun, Number 91, 26 November 1980

STAR GLITTERS

Veteran movie actress Lillian Gish peeps out from behind a bouquet of flowers as she arrives at London’s Phoenix Theater recently. Miss Gish, 84, attended the theater to see the musical “Biograph Girl,” which celebrates the vintage years of silent movies, and tells the stories of Miss Gish, Mary Pickford and pioneer director D.W. Griffith.

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ap wire press photo actress lillian gish london 1980

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Le Spectre de La Rose … (Charles Affron – 2001)

The nearly hundred years of Lillian Gish are a measure of the arts and their relationship to public life in the twentieth century. Lillian, who was born with the cinema and grew as the medium developed, became one of the first significant talents its technology preserved. But it is to television that we owe an extraordinary document that records the essential meanings of her image. She had already turned ninety when, on May 13, 1984, the Metropolitan presented Celebration, a gala performance that marked the history of nonoperatic presentations at the Opera House. In the darkened theatre we hear Lillian’s voice as she recalls a performance of Le Spectre de la Rose with Vaslav Nijinsky that, fifty years before, she had attended in the company of sister Dorothy and Charlie Chaplin.

Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet Le spectre de la rose as performed at the Royal Opera House in 1911
Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet Le spectre de la rose as performed at the Royal Opera House in 1911

(It must have been much more than fifty years because Nijinsky had retired by 1919, but, after all, Lillian was always vague about dates.) She was astonished by Nijinsky, who “actually seemed to stay suspended in air, and since then, she said, she had dreamed of being in the ballet. The curtain then opens and it is the audience’s turn to be astonished, so much so that, after a moment’s hesitation, it roars its ovation.

PARIS BALLET CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION Lillian Gish and Patrick Dupond of the Paris Ballet - Le Spectre de la Rose Sunday afternoon, at the New York Metropolitan May 14 1984

There is nonagenarian Lillian in the role of the girl, in a white dress, asleep in a chair, a rose in her lap. The girl in the ballet has little to do other than recline gracefully, rapt in her dream of the specter of the rose. Patrick Dupond executes the famous Nijinsky leap through the window, dances around her, hovers near her face, and finally exits just as she stirs. With the rose in her hand, Lillian rises from her chair and moves across the stage as if searching for the specter that came to her in her dream. She opens her arms wide, smells the rose, and the curtain falls.

Lillian was coached in the part by Natalia Makarova, who had learned the role from Tamara Karsavina, who had created Fokine’s ballet along with Nijinsky in 1911, just one year before Lillian had walked into the Biograph studio on Fourteenth Street and struck D. W. Griffith with her ” exquisitely fragile, ethereal beauty.” Lillian had come full circle, back to the beginning of her career. In he Spectre de la Rose, she may not perform arabesques of dance, but she incarnates arabesques of time. On the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in 1984, in the tenth decade of her life, Lillian Gish again becomes the girl first adored by Griffith, then by the world. And here, in the art of ballet, which, like pretalkie cinema, weds movement and music, she reminds us how she came to know the universal language of silent gesture so well that she taught audiences to hear words she  never spoke and, even more miraculously, to read her mind and heart.

— Charles Affron —

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Portrait of elderly Lillian Gish in field with flowing white dress 1960 by Nell Dorr - Amon Carter MTX
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Portrait of elderly Lillian Gish in field with flowing white dress]; ; Platinum print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth, Texas; Bequest of Nell Dorr; P1990.45.466

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Golden With Age – Chicago Tribune, 1987

`The Whales Of August` Is A Screen Survivors` Showcase

Chicago Tribune archive, 1987 (trilogy)

February 08, 1987|By Clarke Taylor.

Bette Davis and Lillian Gish were holding each other tightly as they stood on the edge of a treacherous Maine cliff, two frail figures at the mercy of the wintry, Atlantic wind, waiting once more for the movie cameras to roll. “Do you want to rest, or do it again?“ called director Lindsay Anderson, before taking a second shot.

“No, let`s get it over with,“ Davis called back.

“All the things we have done have prepared us well for this, haven`t they?“ Davis asked Gish.

“Oh, yes, we`ve been well prepared,“ Gish said softly, nodding her head in agreement, and adding. “There were no stunt men, and we worked quickly.“ “Yes, that`s the way it was in the early days of motion pictures,“ said Davis, before the second and final “take“ of the shot.

Lillian Gish and Bette Davis - The Whales of August, 1987
Lillian Gish and Bette Davis – The Whales of August, 1987

“You look at these women, and you see the whole history of motion pictures,“ said Anderson`s 24-year-old assistant, Marc Sigsworth, who was in awe of the pioneering film actresses.

Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern - The Whales of August, 1987
Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern – The Whales of August, 1987

The history of motion pictures was on many minds in the little community of Casco Bay, Me., during the recent shooting of “The Whales of August.“ In addition to Gish, whose career stretches from D.W. Griffith`s silents to this, her 105th film, and Davis, the film features veteran actors Ann Sothern and Vincent Price. The $3-million film, which is due to be released by Alive Films some time this year, wrapped after eight weeks` shooting on this rugged island location, a rough 45 minutes by boat from Portland, Me.

Bette Davis and Lillian Gish - The Whales of August, 1987
Bette Davis and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August, 1987

“It`s been a film buff`s dream,“ said Harry Carey Jr., the fifth and youngest member of the small cast, himself a 40-year veteran of films, including 57 Westerns. Carey`s father was a pioneering film actor and star of numerous films by John Ford, a native of Portland.

Harry Carey

“The first day I worked, I walked into the room, and there was Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Ann Sothern and Vincent Price, and for a cowboy actor that`s quite a jolt,“ said Carey, enthusiastically.

Bette Davis and Lillian Gish - The Whales of August
Bette Davis and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because of the combination of extraordinary elements that have come together here,“ said Sigsworth, who, like Anderson, is British. “The history, personalities, and techniques of these actors are very different, and they also represent virtually every film genre: silents, melodrama, Westerns, musicals, comedy and horror films.“

Lillian Gish and film director Lindsay Anderson - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish and film director Lindsay Anderson

The low-budget film, by first-time scriptwriter David Berry, from his own play, is set on a Maine island during a two-day period in 1954. It focuses on Gish`s character and the difficult, demanding blind sister for whom she cares, played by Davis. Sothern plays a good-natured, but lonely lifelong friend and island neighbor of the two sisters, and Price plays a ruthless, Russian emigre in search of home.

Vincent Price and Lillian Gish - The Whales of August (promotional)
Vincent Price and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August (promotional)

The conflict revolves around the characters` confrontations with timeless questions of old age and how to carry on. Anderson, director of such socially conscious films as “This Sporting Life“ and “If . . .,“ said the title refers to the whales that once visited the Maine coast. Their disappearance, due to modern development, is a symbol of change.

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A new generation of actors has also been cast in “Whales.“ Mary Steenburgen, Margaret Ladd and Tisha Sterling appear in a flashback scene as the Gish, Davis, Sothern characters, respectively. Sterling is the daughter of Sothern and actor Robert Sterling.

Ann Sothern and Lillian Gish - The Whales of August
Ann Sothern and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

“It`s a story of survival, and we are all survivors, by God, all of us,“ said Sothern, adding, “we have all been at it for a long time.

Lillian Gish, Vincent Price and Bette Davis - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish, Vincent Price and Bette Davis – The Whales of August

The extraordinary and long careers of all five actors were literally on display here with regularly scheduled on-island screenings of their films:

Gish`s “The Wind,`

` Davis` “All About Eve,`

` Sothern`s “Lady, Be Good,“

The Raven - Vincent Price (reading)

Price`s “The Raven`

WAGON MASTER (1950) - Ben Johnson - Harry Carey Jr.

` and Carey`s “Wagon Master.“

Ann Sothern b

But most of the attention was focused on the three actresses. “Lillian and Bette are the royal queens of the cinema, and I guess I`m the royal princess,“ said Sothern, pointing out that, at 67, she is the youngest of the three women.

Lindsay Anderson directing Lillian Gish in The Whales of August
Lindsay Anderson directing Lillian Gish in The Whales of August

Members of the young film crew often spent their free evenings playing poker with the gregarious Sothern, who brought her own chips. Or, on the set, during breaks and camera setups, they could be found lounging in the sun browsing through a picture book about Davis, “Bette Davis: A Celebration,“

Bette Davis - A Celebration
Bette Davis – A Celebration

or through Gish`s autobiography, “The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me.“

miss lillian gish in her new york apartment, photographed in 1972 by allan warren b

Often, when the actresses were on the set and free for a few moments, members of the crew could be heard reminiscing with Davis about her Warner Bros. days, or seated reverently at Gish`s feet listening to her reminiscences of Griffith, Charles Chaplin, or other film history.

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“You know, as a child I played with Sarah Bernhardt,“ she said, out of the blue, during one spontaneous session. “Of course, I couldn`t understand, because I couldn`t speak French . . .

Lillian Gish and Sir John Gielgud in "Hamlet"
Lillian Gish and Sir John Gielgud in “Hamlet”

“Who do you think is the best actor in the English-speaking world?“ she asked a rapt, silent young audience on another occasion. “Why, that`s easy,“ she answered for them. “Sir John Gielgud.“

 

 

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Golden With Age

`The Whales Of August` Is A Screen Survivors` Showcase

February 08, 1987|By Clarke Taylor.

Lillian Gish and Bette Davis  - The Whales of August (the last scene)
Lillian Gish and Bette Davis – The Whales of August (the last scene)

“A lot of us on the crew have stuck this out because of the great respect we all have for these three women,“ said production coordinator Janice Reynolds, referring to the remote, no-frills location. “There have been difficulties, but (the actresses) haven`t been all that demanding and certainly not as demanding as some of the younger actors we`ve all worked with who have reached so-called stardom early and are already used to all the comforts and perks that come with it.

Lillian Gish  - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

“These women are sitting here in their houses, with a companion, or sometimes alone, and every once in a while they call to ask us to bring something to them, usually something like decaffeinated coffee,“ said Reynolds.

Bette Davis - The Whales of August
Bette Davis – The Whales of August

The warm relationship that developed over eight weeks between the actresses and the crew was evidenced one day after Sothern`s last shots in the movie, when she made a spontaneous speech:

Ann Sothern and Vincent Price - The Whales of August
Ann Sothern and Vincent Price – The Whales of August

“I`ve done a lot of movies, but never with a more solicitous, dedicated crew than you guys. I`ve had a wonderful time, and I`ll never forget you,“ she said.

Lillian Gish - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

“And we`ll never forget you!“ responded Gish.

Said Sothern privately, on a more serious note, after she left the set:

“How do we know that this is not going to be the last hurrah for all of us?“

Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern - The Whales of August, 1987
Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern – The Whales of August, 1987

It was in 1981 when the film`s co-producer, Mike Kaplan, first saw Berry`s play at the Trinity Square Repertory Theater in Providence, R.I. He said he immediately saw it as a vehicle for Gish, whom he first met 18 years ago while working as a publicist on MGM`s “The Comedians,“ and possibly for Davis as well. Kaplan recounted the usual struggle to find interest and funding for the specialized film, which he was determined to make without the obligatory

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Lillian and Paul Ford in MGM's The Comedians (1967 - R.Burton - E.Taylor) — with Lillian Gish.

“sure-fire box-office“ star. He said Gish committed to the film soon after he took her to see an Off-Broadway production of the play, and that Anderson agreed to direct shortly thereafter. He said Davis declined the first time she was offered the role, but had agreed by the time he made his last rounds to the major Hollywood studios, including MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.

Kaplan also said that Sothern was considered for her role early on and that John Gielgud was the actor first considered for the role now played by Price.

“All the studio people said they liked the film, but,“ recalled Kaplan, who said he got all the“classic reasons“ for rejections, such as the fact that “people don`t want to see a movie about old people,“ or the fact that there was no “Jane Fonda role,“ as in “On Golden Pond,“ to add a youthful point of view. But the project finally came together last spring with the formation of Alive Films (a result of the split-up of Island Alive Films). Kaplan is president of marketing for Alive and is co-producing this, his first film, with Alive`s co-chairman Carolyn Pfeiffer.

Lillian Gish and film director Lindsay Anderson - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish and film director Lindsay Anderson

Gish, Davis and Sothern all credited Kaplan for keeping the film project going, and Alive Films for taking what Davis referred to as “a tremendous box-office gamble.“ They all expressed hope, but also great skepticism, that in today`s movie market, the film would be a success.

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“I didn`t do it because it was a gamble, I don`t want to gamble anymore, I want to make money,“ Davis said candidly, adding “and frankly, I think there are enough movies with old people–sometimes I think there are too many–thank you very much. I did it because it was a good script and a good part. I don`t know why I changed my mind, I just did,“ she said. She also thought “it would be nice“ to make a theatrical film after an eight-year absence, during which she endured a stroke, a mastectomy and a major hip operation.

Lillian Gish in "The Whales of August" (1987)
Lillian Gish in “The Whales of August” (1987)

Gish declined to talk about the film in any detail. “I haven`t seen it, it isn`t finished, I don`t know what it`s like, and I won`t know until I do see it,“ said Gish, noting that she does not see daily rushes of her films, because “I think I`d look terrible and would be discouraged.“ She said she committed to the role because she liked the idea of the film and because she couldn`t say no to “a fine, dear face“ like Kaplan`s. “I never thought at all about the character.“

Lillian Gish - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

Gish had returned to her island quarters after a 12-hour, nearly non-stop day on the set, changed into a full-length, green velvet lounging gown and was rushing a visitor over to a picture window overlooking Casco Bay to catch the sunset.

Lillian Gish in "The Whales of August"
Lillian Gish in “The Whales of August”

“Now, if you want an interview, just ask me questions,“ said Gish, as if following an obligatory routine of her 81-year-long career, but with her mind and her voice still clear as crystal.

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“I started working so young (at age 5) that I don`t know how to play,“ she said, when asked how she coped with the strenuous schedule demanded of a leading role.

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Golden With Age

`The Whales Of August` Is A Screen Survivors` Showcase

February 08, 1987|By Clarke Taylor.

Final scene - real photographs of Lillian Gish's relatives (The Whales of August)
Final scene – real photographs of Lillian Gish’s relatives with some add ins suited for “The Whales of August”

Throughout the day, shooting a cramped kitchen scene with Sothern, Gish demonstrated that there was more to her work. She moved slowly, and found difficulty remembering and hearing her lines, and she seemed passive, almost indifferent as she sat silently awaiting the call to “action.“ But when the cameras rolled she seemed to switch on, too, speaking her lines in the right mood, and looking into the right light at just the right time, as though she knew exactly what to do–meticulously, professionally and effortlessly. At one moment, Sothern was overheard whispering to Gish, “It`s an honor to act with you, darling.“

Ann Sothern and Lillian Gish - The Whales of August
Ann Sothern and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

“She is completely unique,“ said Anderson. “These are not just Hollywood stars,“ he said of the three actresses, “they are artists.“

Lindsay Anderson rehearsing a scene with Lillian Gish (The Whales of August)
Lindsay Anderson rehearsing a scene with Lillian Gish (The Whales of August)

Sothern, who has not made a feature film since 1976, when she suffered a severe back injury in a stage mishap, was the opposite of Gish on the set. Feisty, and appearing to move in a whirlwind, despite the fact that she actually moved very slowly and only with the aid of a cane, Sothern demonstrated her experience as an actor on stage and in 75 films, as well as a production executive on her long-running (nearly 200 episodes) TV series.

Ann Sothern (Radio star)
Ann Sothern (Radio star)

“It`s a dammed good thing we know what we`re doing,“ she growled, at the reminder of “too little rehearsal time. “I know about production. I know how to cut a film,“ she said, acknowledging that she and Anderson “have had it on a couple of times. “But it all comes down to respect. There have been no big ego clashes here,“ she said.

Bette Davis in The Whales of August 1987 V

Everyone on location would not have said the same about Davis. “She is difficult,“ said one after another of those who worked closely with her, from the unit photographer, to British production designer Jocelyn Hebert, to Anderson. They also all called her “totally professional.“

Bette Davis by Ron Galella

Toward the end of a difficult day`s shooting, during which she gave what Anderson called “a brave and serious performance“ as the old, silver-haired blind woman, Davis agreed to put a reporter to her test. Earlier, she had put the entire company to the test, by declining to shoot a scene that had been planned and carefully set up for the day, because the wig she was to wear in a closeup shot did not suit her. She worked out a compromise shooting schedule with the crew, however, resulting in little waste of time or money. Said Kaplan: “She knows what we have to get done, maybe more than anybody does.“ Having changed from her dowdy costume into chic gray slacks and silk blouse, and draped in a full-length mink coat, Davis seemed strong and indomitable as ever as she sat alone with the reporter in a rustic room off the set and proceeded to take control of an interview. Chain-smoking, she brushed aside attempts to discuss the challenge of her latest role–“it`s not so tough, although I guess photographing me without my eyes is totally different“–and she also cooly cut off an attempt to discuss the history represented by the five actors on the location.

Bette Davis and Lillian Gish - The Whales of August, 1987
Bette Davis and Lillian Gish – The Whales of August, 1987

“You can`t talk about Miss Gish and me together,“ she snapped. “It`s all totally different. She`s 81 years an actress, starting in the silents. It`s fun that we`re working together, but there is nothing similar in our backgrounds . . . Well,“ she added, on second thought, “she did start in the theater, which I never knew until I read her book here, and her mother was a tremendous help to her, just as mine was to me. But we are totally, totally different actresses. At the risk of jeopardizing any rapport that had emerged, she was asked for her thoughts about being considered “difficult.“

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“Well, if they hire me, and don`t know I can be difficult, it`s too bad,“ she said, quickly adding, “but it`s not a question of being difficult. Sometimes, there is a very important issue at stake. “Lately, if I feel that I am going to get into a big hassle on a film, I am apt to say to myself, `Forget it,` You get lazy. Then, I give myself a talking to and say, `No, you must say something, you owe it to the film.` “Today, for instance, my wig was not right. I thought to myself, `I am the one who is going to be seen up there (on screen),` and that gave me great insecurity. I agreed to do a big, wide shot of the scene, because they had it all set up. And I thought, now, I suppose I should let them go on and do the rest of it. And then I thought, no, it would not be right, I wouldn`t be secure and I wouldn`t play it as well. I thought, I`ve done the rest of the scene, and now we`ll pick this up tomorrow.

Lillian Gish and Bette Davis - The Whales of August (1987)
Lillian Gish and Bette Davis – The Whales of August (1987)

“It all boils down to professionalism, which also means accepting a responsibility for the film.“ she said, adding, “we`re much more professional, we older people who have been in this business for a long time.“

Lillian Gish and Bette Davis (The Whales of August)
Lillian Gish and Bette Davis (The Whales of August)

Outside in the encroaching cold of another sunset, Gish and Sothern, white from the cold and shivering, were preparing to shoot Sothern`s final scene. The crew was rushing to get the final moments of the day`s light, but Gish, apparently noting that the camera angle was not set correctly on her face, stopped everyone short by uncharacteristically speaking up.

Lillian Gish - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

“I`m looking up, not down, or else my eyes will look half closed,“ she said, suggesting with a slight nod the correct angle. “Look through the camera,“ she said to a skeptical but attentive and now dutiful camera crew. And with the adjustment made, she looked out at the Atlantic Ocean whitecaps as though she really could spot a whale. And the scene was quickly completed.

Lillian Gish - The Whales of August
Lillian Gish – The Whales of August

“Nobody needs to tell her how to do it,“ whispered one young member of the crew to another.

“She invented it.“

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Cannes, 1987

Cannes, 1987

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THE DANCE: MET OPERA GALA

By ANNA KISSELGOFF  MAY 14, 1984

The New York Times Archive – Time Machine

MOST people will tell you a centennial comes along only every hundred years. But if you’re the Metropolitan Opera, you celebrate your hundredth birthday twice.

Lillian Gish in the 80's 6

And last night as a followup to October’s big centennial anniversary gala for itself with, naturally, opera singers, the Metropolitan Opera staged an equally stellar gala with some of the biggest names in international dance. Entitled ”Celebration!,” the gala performance commemorating 100 years of performing arts at the Metropolitan Opera reminded us that the Metropolitan had never been exclusively in the singing business.

True – there were singers like Yves Montand, John Denver, Lionel Richie and even Placido Domingo, a pop star if there ever was one, to recall that popular entertainers as well as dancers had not only appeared but also been presented or toured by the Metropolitan.

But the truth is that most people had paid up to $1,000 to see possibly the very last performance that the Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso might give as Giselle, albeit in truncated form. And they had been rightly attracted by the idea of seeing Dame Margot Fonteyn, the radiant Sleeping Beauty of 1949, still radiant when awakened this time from a briefer nap onstage by her Pygmalion, Sir Frederick Ashton. If you thought Alexandra Danilova and Frederic Franklin would make a cameo appearance to recall their exciting seasons as stars in the same old house with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, you were right.

Alexandra Danilova - Fredric Franklin
Alexandra Danilova – Fredric Franklin

But perhaps you didn’t expect Lillian Gish to fulfill a lifelong fantasy and find herself in a ballet of sorts, pretending to be asleep in a chair, as a young man in a rose-petal costume whirled around her.

If the impression is coming across that a good percentage of those onstage were hardly at the age when dancers are at their peak, it would not be incorrect. In addition to those ages 60 through 80 or thereabouts, a notable few who still managed to go through their paces were in their mid- 40’s and their mid-50’s.

As wonderful as it is to welcome back the dancers one loved most, it is just as realistic to say that this was not a gala that faithfully represented the state of dance as it is today in its completeness.

Nonetheless, it was a gala that carried on in the true Metropolitan Opera tradition. It was thanks to Otto Kahn, the Metropolitan Opera’s chairman, that Anna Pavlova made her debut in the United States at the opera house in 1910. Typically, she appeared onstage just before midnight after a four-act opera.

Anna Pavlova 1912
Anna Pavlova 1912

Those who thought they could begin nibbling at a reasonable hour on the lobster, asparagus and chocolate truffles to which a top-price ticket entitled them, found that the gala lasted four hours. In the end, they managed, despite a soaking rain, to enter the white party tent, 150 by 200 feet, outside on the Lincoln Center Plaza just before midnight.

Atmosphere, however, was what counted most. As Kenneth Schermerhorn, who is also the American Ballet Theater’s chief conductor, raised his baton in the pit at the start of the evening, Isadora Duncan’s own Metropolitan debut flitted across the mind. Invited to dance Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony at the opera house in 1908 by the famous conductor Walter Damrosch, Duncan had this to say in her memoirs:

Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan – Grande Marche

”When I looked down from the stage and saw the great brow of Damrosch bent over the score, I felt that my dance really resembled the birth of Athena, springing full-armed from the head of Zeus.”

One wonders what Yoko Morishita, the Japanese ballerina, was thinking of when she saw Mr. Schermerhorn’s brow – probably if it’s Sunday, it must be New York. She had flown in the same day from Tokyo to dance with Ballet Theater’s Fernando Bujones in the ”Corsaire” pas de deux.

Maniya, Makarova, Morishita and other Giselles in Manila
Maniya, Makarova, Morishita and other Giselles in Manila

As it happened, Mr. Bujones and Miss Morishita, along with Natalia Makarova in another pas de deux, provided the only dancing that could be compared to greatness. Miss Morishita is a thorough professional and perfection is in her every move. As for Mr. Bujones, he is simply one of the finest dancers in the world and he delivered the goods, excitingly and eloquently, that the audience had been waiting for all evening. This was dancing.

There was also nostalgia and sentiment. There were two moving moments. When Alicia Alonso and her Cuban partner, Jorge Esquivel, danced an adaptation of the pas de deux from Act II of ”Giselle,” there were some in the audience who felt history had come full circle. Miss Alonso danced her first Giselle in 1943, at the Metropolitan with Ballet Theater. She had always wanted to dance her last Giselle, a role with which she has been identified for 40 years, in New York.

Alicia Alonso, Jorge Esquivel en Carmen
Alicia Alonso, Jorge Esquivel en Carmen

The fact that she is partially blind and just past age 60 is well known. New Yorkers have not seen her for more than five years, and if one did not expect her to be fully the same, it was not surprising that the essence of the role is still with her. If anything she seemed more like a 19th-century lithograph than ever, and as usual her fabulous entrechats brought down the house.

A similar moment occurred when Miss Makarova, who is rumored to be retiring from classical roles, danced the adagio from Act II of ”Swan Lake.” For this occasion, she brought out of retirement Ivan Nagy, her former partner at Ballet Theater. Granted, Mr. Nagy retired in the 1970’s in his 30’s, but it was good to see him back, as considerate as ever with a ballerina whose crystalline dancing was lyrical in every move. Her onstage musicians, incidentally, were Itzhak Perlman and Lynn Harrell.

Natalia Makarova as Juliet
Natalia Makarova as Juliet

The evening opened with Dvorak’s Carnival Overture by the opera orchestra, followed by the Martha Graham Dance Company in ”Diversion of Angels,” Lynn Seymour wonderfully militant and tragic in Sir Frederick’s ”Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan” and Miss Gish with the high-leaping Patrick Dupond of the Paris Opera Ballet in ”Le Spectre de la Rose.”

PARIS BALLET CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION Lillian Gish and Patrick Dupond of the Paris Ballet - Le Spectre de la Rose Sunday afternoon, at the New York Metropolitan May 14 1984

Jean-Charles Gil of France’s Roland Petit Company held the stage strongly in a quirky solo by Mr. Petit to music, believe it or not, by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Jerome Robbins came onstage to present a bouquet to Alexandra Danilova. The Royal Danish Ballet sent Lis Jeppesen and Arne Villumsen for the balcony pas de deux from Sir Frederick’s ”Romeo and Juliet.” Marcia Haydee, Richard Cragun, Antoinette Sibley, David Wall, Karen Kain, Rudolf Nureyev, Erik Bruhn, Carla Fracci, Tamasaburo Bando, and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, jiving with Mr. Richie and his musicians to ”All Night Long” rounded out a superstar cast.

Alexandra Danilova - The Making of Markova
Alexandra Danilova – The Making of Markova

Produced by Jane Hermann, the Metropolitan’s director of presentations, and staged by Donald Saddler, it was an evening that stressed the past more than the present. Like dance, it had its treasured ephemeral moments – notably Sir Frederick handing Dame Margot four roses, one by one, in a gloss upon the Rose Adagio in ”The Sleeping Beauty” before they tripped off in a sequence known, after its creator, as the Fred Step.

Fantasy merged into reality, however, when the those who came in black-tie (many did not) made their way toward the dinner tent. ”I thought it was great,” said Lee A. Iacocca, chairman of the Chrysler Corporation. ”I enjoyed it all. I don’t get to do these things too often. Lionel Richie livened things up. It was a great thrill to be here.”

Former Gov. Hugh Carey thought the evening was ”the usual great New York display of talent,” and Barbara Walters ventured that the gala was ”beautiful but long,” and ”wonderful nostalgic commentary for those of us who could remember, but it’s a little long for those of us who have to go to work the next day.”

Legend of stage and screen, Lillian Gish, appears with Patrick Dupond and fulfills a lifelong dream at the Metropolitan Opera Gala, celebrating 100 years of performing arts at the Met. In her introduction, Miss Gish recalls a performance of “Le Spectre de la Rose” with Vaslav Nijinksy that she had attended with her sister Dorothy and Charlie Chaplin over 65 years before.

Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet Le spectre de la rose as performed at the Royal Opera House in 1911
Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet Le spectre de la rose as performed at the Royal Opera House in 1911

Taped on May 13, 1984. ” ‘Le Spectre de la Rose’ is a ballet of the Ballets Russes based on a poem by Théophile Gautier. The music, by Carl Maria von Weber, was taken from his short piece Invitation to the Dance. Choreography was by Michel Fokine and set and costume design by Léon Bakst. It premiered on April 19, 1911 by the Ballets Russes in the Théâtre de Monte Carlo.

The story is about a debutante who falls asleep after her first ball. She dreams that she is dancing with the rose that she had been holding in her hand. Her dream ends when the rose escapes through the window. The dancers at the original performance were Vaslav Nijinsky as the Rose and Tamara Karsavina as the Girl.”

Lillian Gish Patrick Dupont

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Gish Sisters Attend Cousin’s Wedding

Tuesday March 24, 1953

Massillon’s famous Gish sisters, well known stars of stage and screen, paid a dual visit to Massillon over the weekend to attend the wedding Saturday of their cousin, Miss Becky Merrill, to Robert G. Risher.

It was the first time in a number of years that the Misses Lillian and Dorothy Gish of New York City had visited their home city together.

The wedding took place Saturday afternoon in St. Timothy’s Episcopal church, where both the sisters were confirmed while they were residing in Massillon with their aunt, Mrs. F.B. Cleaver, 442 6th st. NE, whom they visited over the weekend.

Although Lillian has visited Massillon a few times in the past several years – she was here last two years ago to participate in ceremonies celebrating the completion of the Massillon Conservancy district’s flood control – grade crossing elimination project – this is Dorothy’s first return trip to Massillon since 1940. At that time, she was starring in “Life With Father”, which was presented in Canton.

Lillian Gish Major Weirich and Irene Beamer Massillon Museum photo

Lillian Gish Viaduct Dedication ceremony 1947 Massillon Ohio (Mayor Weirich)

Although both of the sisters are well – known on the stage and in motion pictures, Lillian also has attained renown in the television field. Her latest television venture was made three weeks ago when she appeared in a play presented on the Television Playhouse theater program.

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Lillian also will begin work soon on a new play, “Seven Women”, which will be presented in the late summer or early fall in New York.

The former Miss Merrill is the daughter of Mrs. Emily C.Merrill of 625 Lincoln Way E and Henry M. Merrill of Chicago. Mrs. Merrill is a first cousin of the Misses Gish. Risher, a seaman in the United States Navy, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Sterling Krueger of Chardon.

Following a 10-day leave, Seaman Risher will go to New Orleans, La. where he expects to be stationed for the next year. Mrs Risher will join him in June following graduation from Kent State university.

Tuesday March 24, 1953

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Lillian and Dorothy Gish attend cousin's wedding, 1953 b

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Lillian Gish, My Religion, Helen Keller, and Jim Patterson – 1974

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller’s “My Religion” to vinyl recording for distribution to libraries for the blind. (Photo – Talking Books Studios and Swedenborg Foundation.)

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller's My Religion 1974
Photo Caption: Lillian Gish, silent screen star of the 1920’s, recently recorded My Religion, a personal account of Helen Keller’s faith, for talking books. Miss Gish did the recording at the request of the Swedenborg Foundation, Inc. and because of her personal friendship with Miss Keller. The book was Miss Keller’s tribute to Emmanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Swedish scientist and theologian. (American Federation of the Blind Newsletter, vol 9, No 3, October 1974.)

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller's My Religion 1974 b

In a typed note by Marguerite L. Levine dated July 9, 1974,

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974

Subject: Meeting with Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios.

Miss Gish came today to the talking Book studios escorted by Mr. Darrell Ruhl, Editor of the Newsletter of the Swedenborg Foundation, in order to record “My Religion,” one of Miss Keller’s works.

Miss Gish met Helen Keller first in Hollywood in 1918 when Miss Keller was making the film “Deliverance.” The Gish sisters, Lillian and Dorothy, were invited to join Helen Keller and her party on a horseback riding excursion. Dorothy refused as she expected it to be a dreadful experience, but Lillian went along and remembers it as one of the gayest times she ever had. Helen was obviously having great fun and shared her pleasure with her companions.

Another memorable occasion for Miss Gish was the premiere of “Helen Keller in Her Story” at which she sat next to Poly Thomson who interpreted for Miss Keller who seemd to follow the film with the greatest interest and ease.

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 e

There was never any correspondence between Miss Keller and Miss Gish but they met frequently through their respective lives.

Miss Gish will return July 11 to continue her reading of “My Religion,” At that time we will visit the Helen Keller Room together and take pictures for the AFB Newsletter and the Swedenborg Newsletter.

From Box 35 of Lillian’s Papers:

Box 35

Letter from Darrell Ruhl, Swedenborg Foundation, March 5, 1974,

Lillian in the recording booth reading Helen Keller's My Religion 1974 c

Background: “Helen Keller her wonderful life of service which inspired countless numbers of people the world over. Helen Keller was a reader of Swedenborg In 1927 Helen Keller wrote a tribute to Swedenborg an eloquent little book entitled “My Religion” in which she credited the Swedish author with her spiritual development. The book has inspired thousands over the years and has been reprinted 13 times. It was made into a “talking book” for the disabled many years ago but Swedenborg lost the recording.

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 c

“We want to re-record it and make it available free of charge to libraries for the blind and offer it at cost to anyone else. The last time this book was recorded it was read by a man, but this time we feel it should be read with the feeling that Miss Keller herself were talking. It would have so much more impact than an impersonal voice.”

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 d

“We feel you would be an ideal actress for this project and would be most interested to learn your feelings regarding the undertaking of recording this book. We are aware that your time is valuable and your stature is such that your professional services might well be prohibitive, but unless we approach you, we’ll never know.

“If you can find the time to read “My Religion,” I think you will find it as poetic and inspiring as Dr. Norman Vincent Peale did as you will note in his introduction to the book. “

Darrell Ruhl, Assistant to the Manager, March 5, 1974.”

March 12, 1974 letter from Darrell Ruhl to Miss Gish:

“Thank you for telephoning yesterday.  I was most pleasantly surprised and certainly pleased to hear from you.

Miss Lillian Gish at AFB Talking Book Studios July 9 1974 b

“We are thrilled that your reaction to Helen Keller’s book was so favorable. It has long been a goal of mine to have this book recorded again and preferably by an actress who could make the book live. You have the necessary qualities. As a matter of fact, I wrote to you first thinking I would start at the top and go from there.

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