A Cannes Notebook – By Roger Ebert – 1987

Two Weeks in the Midday Sun

A Cannes Notebook By Roger Ebert – 1987

By evening, a certain controlled hysteria was growing in the press corps, as the Friday visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales drew closer. Every reporter in Cannes hoped to be included on the guest list, which was being selected by some sort of secret process involving the British delegation and the festival press office.

Charles and Diana were scheduled to arrive on Friday morning, accept the keys to the city at noon, take a guided tour of the marketplace displays (easily the tackiest and most depressing sight Cannes had to offer), and then be present in the evening at a dinner in honor of Sir Alec Guinness. I ran into Peter Noble, who repeated his claim that some of the London dailies were offering £1,000 for press credentials to the dinner. He also speculated that the royal couple had timed their arrival to come the day after the screening of the most prestigious British entry in this year’s festival, Prick Up Your Ears, the story of the murder of playwright Joe Orton by his homosexual lover.

“It’s not the sort of thing they want the royals connected with,” Noble explained.

“What will they be seeing?”

“ The Whales of August. Lillian Gish and Bette Davis. Most eminently respectable. The dodgiest part of their whole visit will be when they go down into the Palais basement to visit the marketplace. I imagine they have an advance team mapping out a route to get them from Canada to Australia to New Zealand without passing any porno displays. ”

The movie was by Lindsay Anderson, the British director, whose elderly cast included Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price, and Ann Southern. It takes place near the end of the season in the Maine cottage where Gish and Davis, sisters, have summered for years. Now they are facing a momentous question: Can Gish still find the strength to care for her blind sister? Price plays an indigent European count who explains, “I have spent my life as the guest of friends.” His latest friend has died, and now he is looking for a new home. Southern has her eye on him.

The movie is sort of an On Golden Pond about really old people (Gish is ninety-two). The actors and their characters are so old they they have passed beyond age and into a sort of status somewhere between survivors and saints. Anderson’s camera lovingly explores their faces, which are wrinkled and old but luminous. Davis, finally stripped of the mask of makeup she has adopted in her old age, looked especially beautiful.

Bette Davis Whales of August

Lillian Gish was in splendid form later in the afternoon, at her press conference in the Palais. She was A wearing a print dress and a floppy straw hat, and when the audience stood up and cheered her entrance, she looked as if she thought she deserved every moment of the ovation, which of course she did. This was the woman who starred in The Birth of a Nation, and whose presence at Cannes represented the whole life span of the feature film as an art form. Never married, rumored to still be carrying a torch for D.W. Griffith after all these years, Gish revealed some surprising memories, like the time Louis B. Mayer offered to boost her career by involving her in a scandal.

“Lillian,” she said Mayer told her one day in 1929, “you’re way up there on a pedestal and nobody cares. Let me knock you off. I know I can help your career—let me arrange a scandal for you. ”

Miss Gish paused for dramatic effect. “Well,” she remembered replying, “I’ve never had a scandal, Mr. Mayer. I ve never done anything that wasn’t public knowledge. The rest of the time, I spend with my mother and my sister Dorothy. ”

But Mayer was insistent, Gish said, and so she finally answered, “Give me three days. ” At the end of the three days she told Mayer she did not want to have her career helped by a scandal, and Mayer said, “I can ruin you! ” So, she said, she packed up and returned to Broadway—where she appeared on the stage for six years. Miss Gish nevertheless found time to make about 106 movies in a career that began with Griffith at the dawn of the feature film, and still continues, even though she lamented the fact that actresses seem to age faster than actors in Hollywood.

“When I was very young, I played the child of Lionel Barrymore. Some years later, I played the woman he loved. A few years after that, I played his wife. And I promise you, if Lionel Barrymore had lived long enough—I would have ‘ played his mother. ”

Nobody asked her what sort of scandal L.B. Mayer had in mind.

The press conference for Gish was an example of what has become an art form at Cannes, the ritualized confrontations between the stars, the directors, and the press. Most ofthe press conferences take place in the Salon du Presse, inside the Palais, but the biggest stars, like Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, or James Stewart, are moved upstairs to the Ambassadeurs nightclub to accommodate the overflow.

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Young Red-Heads Are Models (Chicago Tribune – 1941)

Chicago Tribune – Sunday, March 16, 1941 – Page 31

Young Red-Heads Are Models at Club Anniversary

The Chicago Woman’s club had a colorful 65th anniversary party recently when it introduced 11 south side red-heads to Miss Lillian Gish of the “Life With Father” company. The girls, who modeled in a fashion show which was the highlight of the program, were entertained afterward by Miss Gish at a matinee box party, as well as backstage. Sitting next to Miss Gish is Eileen Kilday, 1365 East 53d street. Standing (left to right) are Marylyn Schaefer, Josephine Cousgrove, Kay Brennen, Lucille Maloney, Elinor Eaton, Helen Geary, Marietta Fox, Alecia Byrne, Jeanne Marie Fox, and Jamie Fox.

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) 16 Mar 1941, Sun Page 31
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

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America First To Hear Talk By Miss Lillian Gish (Chicago Tribune 1941)

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · 1 Apr 1941, Tue · Page 1

America First Rally Today To Hear Talk By Miss Lillian Gish

Miss Lillian Gish, stage and screen star, and Gen. Thomas S. Hammond, former head of the Illinois National Guard, will address an antiwar luncheon rally today at 1 p.m. in the Grand ballroom of the Hotel Sherman. The rally is sponsored by the first Chicago chapter of the America First committee.

Both Miss Gish and Gen. Hammond advocated the entry of the United States into war in 1917, but are now convinced that the participation in the present European conflict would bring dictatorship and financial collapse.

Miss Gish, who starred in British propaganda films which helped to draw the United States into the first world war, will describe propaganda technique again being used by the British and American governments. Gen. Hammond, chairman of the Illinois America First committee, will discuss the economic peril to America if the nation goes to war.

Mrs. Janet Ayer Fairbank, national vice chairman of the America First committee will preside. All the 55 state chapters are expected to send representatives to the luncheon.

Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

Miss Gish’s Argument

“Why not bring freedom of speech and religion, freedom from fear and want, to our own land before we set out to bring them to other lands by letting the people of the United States, who will have to pay, decide by vote on the issue of war?” Miss Gish asked. “If there is any foresight or justice in Washington, the question will be put to a vote.

“In 1936 I voted for Mr. Roosevelt. I didn’t vote in the last election, however, because I felt that both candidates were more interested in other countries than their own. We won the last war, but what did we get out of it? Three hundred forty-six thousand dead and wounded, an over-all cost of 45 billion, prohibition with its attendant hypocrisy, lawlessness, gangsters, ten thousand bank failures and a depression from which we have not yet recovered.

 “Now is a good time for us to recall George Washington’s words – that the nation which holds toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave – a slave to its animosity or its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interests.”

WWII Scribners COMMENTATOR Magazine 1941 War Propaganda

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“The Wind” By Mae Tinee (Chicago Tribune 1929)

Chicago Tribune – Monday, February 4, 1929 – Page 35

Desert Wind Blows Drama Into This Movie

Gives Lillian Gish New Laurels, Too.

“The Wind”

  • Produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Directed by Victor Seastrom
  • Presented at the Rialto theater

The Cast:

  • Letty ……………..…………… Lillian Gish
  • Lige ………………….……… Lars Hanson
  • Roddy ………………… Montague Love
  • Cora ……………… Dorothy Cummings
  • Beverly …………….…….. Edward Earle
  • Sourdough .….… William Orlamond

The Wind – Photo Gallery

By Mae Tinee

Good Morning!

I don’t just see what “The Wind” is doing in a burlesque theater!

It’s a compelling thing and Lillian Gish never has done a finer piece of work than her portrayal of the flower-like southern girl who goes into the west to face brutality, terror, love – and the desert wind that blows and blows and never stops, but only gets wilder with the days, lashing itself into tornadoes and the occasional dread “norther” that makes strong men grave and brave women mad.

The story is a strange and thrilling one of the southwest of the early days. It is grim and full of incident, mostly gray and gritty as the blinding, blowing sands. It is one of those pictures that would be just too much to bear unless it had a happy ending.

Well – It has.

Miss Gish is supported by an able cast doing magnificent work. The direction is masterly. Photography – immense. The wind is so real it tears into your nerves.

“Choc’lit bars! ‘Sorted nuts ‘n’ raisins! Sundae with spoon service — !”

However DID “The Wind” get into a burlesque theater.”

See you tomorrow.

Behind the scenes – Photo Gallery

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Mother of Miss Gish (Chicago Tribune 1941)

Mother of Miss Gish

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · 10 January 1941, Friday · Page 17

Probably the last Christmas tree in Chicago to be taken down is that of Miss Lillian Gish, in her apartment at the Blackstone hotel. The tree, hung with ornaments and webbed in silver mist, the holly wreaths, the Christmas angels on the mantelpiece, and the Christmas candles go down today with the departure of Mrs. Gish for New York after a holiday visit with her daughter here in her long run of Life With Father.

Lillian Gish, Mrs. Robinson (Gish) and Dorothy after Mother had a stroke – press photo taken on the roof top of their apartment in NY

Mrs. Gish, who with her dazzling white hair and deep blue eyes is reminiscent of a Dresden figurine, is an invalid as a result of shell shock in the world war, when she accompanied her daughters, Lillian and Dorothy, to the war area, where they made propaganda pictures under the direction of David Wark Griffith. She lost 35 pounds during the stay in the war zone, and has been invalided ever since.

Lillian and Mrs. Gish sailed for England on the first boat to cross the Atlantic after America had declared war, the St. Louis. Dorothy Gish sailed later on the Baltic, the same boat that carried Gen. Pershing and his staff overseas, and took 13 days to do it.

Lillian Gish and The Little Disturber (Dorothy) – Hearts of The World

“Think of any one having the courage to face the movie camera,” the commander of the A.E.F. said to Miss Gish.

Lillian Gish – Hearts of the World

The Gishes were in London during two months of heavy bombardment. In September they sailed for France on a troop transport that started out twice and returned because of floating mines. Griffith had gone ahead to get into production, and when the two Gish girls arrived with their mother they went into the war area and made pictures in trenches and beyond the barbed wire. During their stay in Paris they lived with a French family in a bomb shelter, and learned to tell by the sound of the motors overhead what kind of plane and which country’s it was. The pictures made were Hearts of the World, The Greatest Thing in Life, and The Great Love. Remember?

Hearts of the World program – Little Disturber

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Jam Courtroom to Get Glimpse of Lillian Gish

Chicago Tribune – Saturday, March 28, 1925 – Page 3

Jam Courtroom to Get Glimpse of Lillian Gish

New York, March 27 – [Special] – In the hop of seeing Lillian Gish on the witness stand in the suit brought by Charles H. Duell to prevent her acting for other companies, admirers of the film star flocked in such numbers to the courtroom in the Woolworth building, that the corridor and the courtroom had to be cleared.

Miss Gish sat unperturbed through all the craning of necks in the back of the room. Her face was white. She showed no signs of nervousness, but it was evident that she did not look forward with pleasure to her appearance on the witness stand.

Lillian Gish and her lawyer Max Steuer – the Duell trial in 1925

The crowd, however, was disappointed in its hope of seeing Miss Gish on the witness stand. Hammond Duell, counsel for his brother, did not call the screen actress. The situation had changed and he said he might not want to question Miss Gish before Tuesday.

J. Boyce Sraith, who was secretary of Inspiration Pictures when Charles H. Duell was president and Miss Gish was one of the stars, remained on the stand for most of the day. He was succeeded by Miss Blanche C. Brigham, secretary to Mr. Duell. After Miss Brigham had identified correspondence between Duell and counsel for Miss Gish, court was adjourned until Monday morning.

Wins Suit

Los Angeles California, April 24 – (AP) – Lillian Gish, screen actress, won the $5,000,000 breach of contract suit brought against her by Charles Duell, producer, today. A jury verdict for the defendant in the trial was returned when the court instructed that such a verdict be given on the grounds that all the issues of the case previously had been adjudicated in the federal court of New York.

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Boost Shop to Aid War Sufferers (Chicago Tribune 1940)

Chicago Tribune – Monday, September 23, 1940 – Page 15

Boost Shop to Aid War Sufferers

Miss Lillian Gish and Mrs. Ernest A. Hamill II. With a Toby jug that Mrs. Robert J. Dunham donated to the shop for the British War Relief society that decorators and architects of Chicago will open today. The jug will bring a considerable sum, no doubt, for it was made in 1780 by Ralph Wood, English potter. Miss Gish will assist in the shop late this afternoon.

Chicago Tribune – Monday, September 23, 1940 – Page 15

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Recalling the early shots with Lillian Gish (Chicago Tribune 1979)

Chicago Tribune – Thursday March 29, 1979 – Page 22

Recalling the early shots with Lillian Gish

Tempo

Her own first stage appearance came in a little theater in Rising Sun, Ohio, in a melodrama called “In Convict’s Stripes,” with Walter Huston as its star.

“There was an explosion in a stone quarry as part of the play, and when I heard the noise, I ran down to the basement to hide. They came and got me, and I took my first big curtain call perched on Mr. Huston’s shoulder.”

The Gishes at that time were friends with Gladys Smith, another child actress who had appeared in “the flickers.” When they went to visit her at the Biograph studio in New York, nobody knew her, and when they said they were sure they had seen her in the Griffith film “Lena and the Geese,” they were told, “Oh, you must mean our Mary.” Gladys Smith had become Mary Pickford of the movies, and it was she who introduced them to Griffith.

“Mother and Dorothy and I each got $5 for taking of our hats, putting on a little makeup, and sitting in the audience as extras,” Miss Gish recalls. “That was $15 a day, a lot of money in that time, even if it was in the movies, and not in the legitimate theater.”

‘My pride is constantly hurt when I see some screen acting today. I watched a bit of a new version of “The Scarlet Letter” on television and I swear every one of those people could just as well have been walking down 5th Avenue today.’

By 1912, the Gish girls had been featured in Griffith’s early social melodrama, “The Musketeers of Pig Alley,” and in 1914, while still a teen-ager, Lillian was a leading lady in the epoch-making “The Birth of a Nation.”

“We had to be young then,” she says, “because the photography was so bad. Old hags of 18 were playing character parts because camera made everyone look so old. When I saw the film, I told Mr. Griffith, ‘Oh look, I have a mole on my face.’ Mr. Bitzer (Griffith’s cameraman) gave me a mole.’”

She learned everything about the movies from her beloved Mr. Griffith. Of her, “he always said, ‘Well, she’s a woman, and she has no brains, but 85 per cent of my audience is women, so I want to have her reactions.’ He made me look at all the rushes and pick the shots I liked best. I helped write the subtitles. I watched him rehearse the actors, shoot the scene, develop the film.”

In 1920, while Griffith was away filming, he entrusted her with the direction of a romantic comedy she and Dorothy had written, “Remodeling a Husband.”

“I always felt that Dorothy had such a wit and a great gift for comedy. She used to say such clever things,” Miss Gish recalls, “and it was this quality I wanted to capture, so I found a little magazine story I thought was right for her. It was about a girl who tells her husband that men really admired her looks, and to prove this, she walks down the street and sticks out her tongue at every man she meets to make sure they’ll look at her. Years later, they used the same device in that movie with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, ‘Easter Parade.’ So that’s where that came from. That movie was actually a success. We made it for $58,000 and it grossed $700,000.

“But I was too frightened to do it again. I was so young to be directing all those experienced actors, and in those days, you had to know everything about the movies, including the carpentry, to direct a film. Well, I didn’t even know what feet or inches were, so, I was always getting the dimensions for the scenery wrong.”

She made many films for Griffith – “Broken Blossoms,” “Way Down East,” “Intolerance,” and “Orphans of the Storm,” among others – but after “Orphans” was completed, Griffith gently told her it was time to leave the nest and earn the salary she could then demand.

Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish – Orphans – Vanity Fair November 1921

“Mother thought Dorothy should be the one to leave,” Miss Gish remembers, “because I got along with him better, ‘Don’t tell me; show me,’ he always used to say; but Dorothy wanted to talk about it first, and he was too much in a hurry for that. When Dorothy did talk to Mr. Adolph Zukor, the producer, about making pictures for him, she came home and told us she had refused his offer of $1 million for a series of comedies. We wanted to know why on Earth she had turned him down, and she said, ‘All that money! It might ruin my character!’ I felt like telling her, ‘Give the money to Mother. I won’t ruin her character!”

Typically however, when Miss Gish did go off on her own, she made sure that she struck a deal in which, besides making money, she had approval of the pictures she was to make and the people with whom she was to make them.

Lillian Gish, Cheryl Callaway, Bill Chapin, Mary Ellen Clemons, Sally Jane Bruce, 1955 The Night of The Hunter

“We always liked to work with the best people,” she says. “That’s something I learned from Mr. Griffith and I tell it to young people today: ‘Go with the people, not with the money, and you’ll be happy in your work.

Actresses had to be young then, because the photography was so bad. ‘Old hags of 18 were playing character parts because the camera made everyone look so old.’

When she went to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, making a salary of $1,000 a week, “I couldn’t sleep at night because I was making all that money and not working regularly, so I went to Irving Thalberg, who ran the studio – oh, I adored him – and told him I had a couple of stories in my trunk that I wanted to make. These included “The Scarlet Letter.” But they told me I couldn’t do it because the women’s clubs and churches would object. I said, ‘Why should they object? It’s an American classic; they teach it in schools.’ So I wrote to women’s clubs and churches all over the country and said I wanted to make the movie, and I got enough good response to convince the MGM people that we could make the movie.

“It was my film from the beginning to the end. Lars Hanson was the leading man; Victor Seastrom was the director. I’m still very proud of it.”

Miss Gish made one other memorable film with Seastrom, “The Wind,” before she left MGM in the early 1930s and returned to work on the stage. She returned to films in 1940s, when she laughingly told friends that now she was playing “old ladies.” In 1955, she made an unforgettably gallant, indomitable “old lady” in “The Night of the Hunter,” the only film Charles Laughton directed. She has remained active on stage and screen ever since, completing her 100th film here in 1977 with director Robert Altman’s “The Wedding.”

A Wedding

“When I first started making movies, we would shoot them in one or two days, and that was that. But we always rehearsed them carefully first. That’s why Mr. Griffith took only people who were experienced in theater or ballet or music. He wanted them to have the discipline of that training. Today, it takes months and millions of dollars to make a film, and they rarely rehearse anything. We never rehearsed with Altman; he doesn’t work that way.”

I asked her, finally, if she could tell, from her long experience, how and why some actresses endured as movie stars. Was it, after all, because they played well to the camera?

“It’s got to be more than that,” she said. “There’s something more basic. It’s research and study and rehearsal and preparation. Why, my pride is constantly hurt when I see some screen acting today. I watched a bit of a new version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ they’re showing on television, and I swear that everyone of those people could just as well have been walking down 5th Avenue today. When we made movies, Mr. Griffith would say, ‘Don’t just study your character. Study the whole world around you.’ That’s the thing they don’t remember to do today.”

It was time then for her to get ready for the picture taking and for her appearance onstage at the Opera House, an appearance that was to be greeted with a standing ovation.

First, however, she wanted to fuss with her makeup a bit. She stood at the mirror in the little dressing room and took out a few pins so that her hair fell down. She turned to ask a question, and in that moment, with her braids now flowing down to her waist, she looked exactly as if she was ready to go before the cameras again, the lovely heroine of the silent screen who had somehow defied the years and survived with all her innocence and strength intact. It was another moment that will not be forgotten.

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