That the public appreciates a really artistic film- provided it is cleverly produced and well acted- whether it ends on a note of conventional felicity or one of tragedy, is being amply and gratifyingly demonstrated at the Tivoli. “The White Sister” has not only proved a triumph for Miss Lillian Gish as an actress, and made the reputation of Ronald Colman as an actor ; it has also proved an outstanding financial success. Indeed, during some weeks the “White Sister” takings have actually topped the redoubtable ” Scaramouche ” records by a narrow margin. 60,000 people have seen ” The White Sister” up to the time of writing ! In the circumstances it is inevitable that we should have decided to continue the run of this film for some time to come.
LILLIAN GISH IS COMING.
In a few days time, Miss Gish will positively arrive in this country on her long-projected, and eagerly-awaited, visit. Her reception will be a remarkable one, for she is (beyond question) infinitely the most popular of the American film stars, with the people of this country. It is the best of good news that she has promised to make several personal appearances at the Tivoli.
At this writing Miss Gish is finishing the production of another big picture in Italy “Romola.” Our courier is over there, waiting for the last few scenes of this film to be completed. Immediately we hear from him that she is ready to leave for London, the fact will be nnounced through the press.
It is a somewhat embarrassing tribute to the position of the Tivoli as the only really first-class theatre showing films in London, that all the American entrepreneurs and stars have a habit of announcing that their forthcoming films are to be shown at this house. These announcements are sometimes premature, and should be accepted with a certain amount of caution. We cannot show more than one big film at a time, and consequently we cannot show every important, or allegedly important, picture that dawns on the horizon. We are honestly trying to pick out the very best among the big films for our patrons ; and so far your support has amply justified our judgment. We thank you very much.
The story of “The White Sister ” was taken from the novel of the same name by that American master of English prose, Francis Marion Crawford, and the picture was filmed entirely in Italy and Northern Africa. Since it is an outstanding attraction at the Tivoli, London, it is entirely appropriate that some of its incidents should have been enacted in Tivoli, Italy; and Rome, Naples, Sorrento, and Mount Vesuvius all provided backgrounds for its scenes. The eruption of Vesuvius is an essential feature of the story, and the producer, Henry King, and his camera men and artists spent three weeks in Bosca tre Cossa, a village at the foot of the volcano, waiting for the internal disturbance of the mountain, which should provide the lava and eruption they anticipated.
The Musical Setting for “THE WHITE SISTER” has been specially re-arranged for the Tivoli presentation, and under the direct supervision of JOHN REYNDERS.
Chicago Tribune – Saturday April 17, 1915 – Page 17
Flickerings from Flickers
By Kitty Kelly
Dorothy Gish Tires of Sunny California
Los Angeles, California, April 16 – When big sister’s away, then little sister chatters, is the modern version of the standard jingle, as adapted by Miss Dorothy Gish, which I plucked out of her picture, on the Majestic stage, when the sun retreated coyly behind a special gray cloud veil.
Miss Lillian Gish, with her mother, has gone back for a visit in Ohio, and Miss Dorothy is living all alone in their apartment endeavoring to learn to be self-reliant.
“You see, mother has always taken so much care of me, even more than she has of Lillian because she was the oldest, that I have never had to do things on my own responsibility, so I think this is a very good experience for me – but I don’t like it specially.
“Oh, I’m so tired of this country. I want to go back to New York, but I suppose we’ll always stay out here. We’ve been here fourteen months now.”
“Miss Gish, into the scene,” called Director Paul Powell, and Dorothy scurlled back to her counter in the store to be flirted at by the bold, bad drummer. But she came back, for the sun was fickle, though the weather carefully refrained from really raining. After some spasmodic efforts at conversation, continually interrupted by Mr. Powell’s parrot call, “Miss Gish into the scene,” Miss Gish took me off to her dressing room, though she assured me in advance that she hated to do it, for it looked “awful.” But I didn’t think so. It is one of the cheeriest, roomiest dressing rooms I have been in, and is, by the way, the best one at the Majestic studio. Dorothy and Lillian share it, and Dorothy has regular householding ideas about improving its appearance, decoratively speaking. In it are two couches, two windows, running water, hidden behind a bug burlap screen, a long dressing table under one window, a drapery hung wardrobe in one corner, a cupboard built into the wall, a pier glass, and some wicker chairs. That is about twice as much as in any dressing room I have seen – and I’ve seen dozen – and it is about twice as large as any.
“I’m going to have all the woodwork painted white,” she explained. “See, I tried to do those window frames myself, but I got tired of it, for it was a lot harder work than I expected. Then I’m going to get some fresh hangings and have it all foxed when Lillian gets back and surprise her.”
I wish I had been a phonograph record so I could have gotten all of Dorothy down, for she said an amazing lot of things in the hour we visited, and she said them delightfully. She is a dear child, exactly like any schoolgirl, a bit more ripened in experience, perhaps, but perfectly fresh and unspoiled.
“We’ve been in pictures three years. We had just finished school and were thinking about stage engagements,” explained Dorothy. “Why, we never thought of pictures, but we knew Mary and she asked us to come over to the Biograph, where she was working, and we did, and Mr. Griffith saw us there and had us pose.
“It was the funniest thing. We didn’t understand Mr. Griffith’s name when he was introduced to us, and he was flying around so busy and important that we called him Mr. Biograph, because we knew it was the Biograph company and he acted as though he was the whole thing. And so, then, we’ve been working with him ever since.
“I started on the stage when I was 4 years old. There was a friend we had whom we called aunt, and she had a chance to play in ‘East Lynne’ if she could get a child to play with her.
“Well, she asked mother for me, and of course at first mother thought, ‘O, it’s perfectly dreadful,’ you know how that is, and wouldn’t let me, but finally she did, and I went and played little Willie.
“ And how I hated to wear the boy clothes. I used to pick the hems cut of my dresses so they’d come down as far as possible, and once I was naughty and Aunt Laurie made me wear them home. Of course they didn’t show under my coat, but I was sick because I knew they were there.
“I don’t want to do boy parts now. Of course you have to do what you are told, but I’m too fat anyway. I weigh 115 pounds. But I’ve done everything. I played extra for a year and I was Indians and colored people and maids and everything.
“O, I used to think if only I could be 18, because Mr. Griffith would always try me out in parts and then he’d say ‘No, you’re too young.’ O, I wanted to run the world then and be like Sarah Bernhardt. Now I want to be 21, but I don’t know about running the world either.
“I like to work in pictures, O, ever so much. They seem to me so much more real than the stage. And then Lillian and I can be together, and we have been separated so much that, that is lovely. It was just about impossible to get stage engagements together.”
I managed to suggest that sometime they might be separated, when they went and fell in love and were married. Dorothy laughed with girlish skepticism: “O, there’s not much danger of that.”
Then she turned sober. “You see we have seen so many unhappy marriages all about and among stage people that we feel seriously about marriage. The trouble is that people go into it so unthinkingly. They only know each other for a little while and don’t have a chance to know what they are really like and what faults they have, and all that, and then they rush off and get married, and after that they find out soon enough how little they were acquainted. I think if people would be more thoughtful and get to know each other better there would be many less unhappy marriages.”
Someone stuck his head in to “how-do-you-do” then and we lost that thread of thought. But Dorothy was ready with a whole loomful of other ones.
“I don’t care much about dancing, but I just love to go to picture shows. I think Chaplin is the most fun. Of course he does lots of vulgar little things that I wish he wouldn’t, and I don’t think he does quite so much now, but he has real comedy in him. I think he is just rich. He and Mary – that sounds funny to put them together when they are so different – are really the best drawing cards in pictures.”
Miss Gish always means Mary Pickford, of course, when she says “Mary.” There was a deal more said, but space is a tangible quantity with barriers, and I hit them so often with damaging results that I shall try to avoid them.
Dorothy Gish – one feels exactly like calling her Dorothy – is a refreshing experience and I’d relayed her remarks through in short paragraphs.
Chicago Tribune – Monday, March 01, 1993 – Page 55
Lillian Gish, 99, enduring star spanning the history of movies
From Chicago Tribune wires
NEW YORK – Lillian Gish, the last of the great silent film stars who went on to perform for more than 85 years in movies, theater and television, has died at age 99. Her personal manager, James E. Frasher, said she died in her sleep Saturday evening of heart failure.
“She was the same age as film,” Frasher said. “They both cam into the world in 1893.”
Miss Gish still was performing as recently as the late 1980s. In 1986, she appeared as Alan Alda’s hilariously addled mother in “Sweet Liberty” and in 1987 she was praised for her sensitive portrayal of an indomitable old woman in “The Whales of August,” which co-starred another movie legend, Bette Davis.
“To become an actress, one cannot begin too soon,” said Miss Gish, who made her acting debut at age 5. Under the guidance of director D.W. Griffith, Miss Gish was to become the pre-eminent actress in such classics as “The Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Broken Blossoms,” and “Way Down East.”
After performing in dozens of one and two-reel silent movies – with running times of 10 or 20 minutes – and then in the longer Griffith epics, Miss Gish made a successful transition into the “talkies” and later into television.
Between film and television roles, she also worked on the stage. In 1930, she starred as Helena in Jed Harris’ Broadway production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” and in 1973 she appeared as the nurse in Mike Nichols’ revival of the play. She made her last Broadway appearance in 1975, in “A Musical Jubilee.”
Especially in her youth, Miss Gish evoked an aura of fragility, and hers was a vulnerable, waiflike beauty. The renowned theatrical impresario David Belasco pronounced her “the most beautiful blonde I have ever seen.”
Miss Gish, though not always in excellent health, was accustomed to hard work and took a no-nonsense view of her physical attributes.
“I didn’t care about being a beauty,” she said in an interview in 1975. “I wanted to be an actress. When I was in the movies, I didn’t care what I looked like, except for that image up there on the screen. I wanted to create beauty when it was necessary; that’s an inner thing. But if all you have is a façade, it isn’t interesting.”
Throughout her life, Miss Gish remained singularly devoted to her mother and her sister, Dorothy, who was younger, but became an actress about the same time Lillian did. Mrs. Gish died in 1948, after years as an invalid, and Dorothy Gish died in 1968.
Miss Gish never married and leaves no survivors. “I loved a lot of dear men, but luckily I never ruined their lives by marrying them,” she said. “What kind of a marriage would it have been to a wife who worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week?”
The artistic collaboration between Miss Gish and Griffith lasted more than a decade. During that time, she appeared in dozens of Griffith’s short films and starred in most of his critically and economically successful longer ones.
In some films, she played bit parts; in others, she played several roles; in some, she was the star. All of Griffith’s actors did the same, and it was not until after the success of “The Birth of a Nation” that any received on-screen credit.
Hendrick Sartow, a still photographer who eventually became a cinematographer for Griffith, invented for Miss Gish the “Lillian Gish lens,” *** now called a soft-focus lens, which gives its photographed subject a warmly blurred appearance.
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 she allegedly owed him.
During the trial, Miss Gish munched carrots, and newspaper photographs of her stirred a carrot-chomping fad across the country. Americans had become enchanted with the new artistic aristocracy – the movie stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and Miss Gish.
Earlier, after Miss Gish pushed up the sides of her mouth with her fingers to demonstrate feigned happiness in a movie, the gesture became a much-copied fad.
Miss Gish made the transition from silents to talkies in 1930 in “One Romantic Night,” with Rod LaRocque and Conrad Nagel. By that time, she had signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. “My contract called for six pictures in two years, for which I was paid, I believe, a million dollars,” she wrote.
Miss Gish made a triumphant return to the stage in 1930 in “Uncle Vanya” on Broadway. In 1936, she played Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet and Judith Anderson’s Queen Gertrude, and, in 1941, she began a record-breaking 66-week run in “Life With Father” in Chicago. In 1960, she starred in “All the Way Home” on Broadway.
When not before the cameras or an audience, Miss Gish toured the world, lecturing and showing Griffith’s classics.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized her work in 1970, *** presenting her an honorary Oscar, and the American Film Institute presented her its lifetime achievement award for 1984. In 1982, she received the Kennedy Center Honor.
She said current movie-making methods had ruined the quality of acting.
“No one rehearses anymore, so how do you know what to do? They just do takes 100 times over. Now, distributors make more money on popcorn than on the film, and deservedly so.”
*** Billy Bitzer invented the “Lillian Gish” lens not Sartov
*** The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Lillian Gish’s work in 1971, not 1970.
Chicago – Tribune Wednesday September 03, 1952 – Page 23
From Under My Hat
Hedda Hopper’s Memories of Early Movies and D.W. Griffith
By Hedda Hopper
When D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” hit the screen it gained many converts and fans for the movies from the legitimate theatre stars, who, up till then, had looked upon motion pictures as a not quite bright member of the entertainment family who should be kept out of sight when the aristocracy of the stage came to call.
So when Douglas Fairbanks was approached by D.W. Griffith to come to Hollywood and star in “The Lamb,” he quickly said yes. Wolfie, like the others, had an offer for a year in Hollywood with options. The offer came over the telephone, but he insisted that the man bring the contract to Siasconset for his signature. He and the fellow players who signed along with him entered on a period of having their eyes opened. Wolfie’s chief asset was his voice, but unfortunately the pictures were silent.
Doug Fairbanks’ first wife, Beth, found a home for us in Hollywood and engaged a Japanese couple to run it. The Fairbankses also had a Japanese couple, so when either of us entertained we pooled servants. And such a service! Doug, dispensing with a chauffeur, drove his own car. It was several years before he started to make real money.
There were three major studios then: D.W. Griffith’s, Thomas Ince’s and Mack Sennett’s, but few independents. The Christie boys were still making two reelers. There were rivalries but no rapier jealousies like those of today. Feuds weren’t as much fun then. You were in the same business, the studios were close together, and sometimes you were in the same pictures. You kept running into your rival each day. If you went to a party, there he was, and you couldn’t avoid speaking. I’ve remedied that situation today. I can look right thru ‘em and not see ‘em. But in the early days no false fin lines were drawn; no social hoop-de-do, and no better than Wrestler Bull Montana.
D.W. Griffith was the father of our industry. Many men have tried to claim that title since, but it was due to Griffith that Hollywood grew great. He was one of the great pioneers of the business in developing screen technique, but his cameraman, Billy Bitzer, and not Griffith, as is so widely supposed, invented the close-up.
After giving us “Birth of a Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Way Down East,” “Orphans of the Storm,” and “Broken Blossoms,” Griffith started to grow old, and upstart producers said his usefulness was at the end. In his latter years he lived at the Knickerbocker hotel. Griffith didn’t need money; he needed a job to uphold his pride. There was nothing left for him to do in the art form he had largely perfected. He wandered around Beverly Hills and Hollywood, drinking in one tavern, then going on to the next bar.
I went to several bigwigs in the business. “You must find something for that man to do; give him back his faith in life.” “What could we do?” they asked me. They had the face to ask that question! “The industry has passed him by!” Passed by the man who made it possible for every one of them to be where they were! In Hollywood gratitude is Public Enemy No.1.
I also talked to the executives of the Motion Picture Relief Fund Country home. “Give him a job,” I begged. “Let him go over the lists of applicants – he will give understanding to people who, like himself, have grown old in this business and are now on the shelf. Make the money nominal – $50 a week – D.W. doesn’t want or need charity; but give him back his sense of belonging.” Well, they didn’t quite see how it could be done.
Finally, on June 23, 1948, Griffith died. Could it be because he no longer had the will to live, and just loosed his grasp, opened his hand and let life fall away from him?
It was a fine funeral. The flowers were abundant. Why not, when the studio controllers could O.K. the bills as necessary business expense! I made it my business to arrive early for the services, and took a front seat where I could see everyone and they could all see me. All the big brass was there. I had a little list and checked them off as they walked past. Then I stared at them until they were forced to look me in the eye. A more sheepish looking crowd I never expect to see in Hollywood.
Charles Brackett, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who never knew Griffith personally, read the eulogy. Among other things, he said: “There was no solution for Griffith but a kind of frenzied beating on the barred doors of one day after another. Fortunately, such miseries do not endure indefinitely. When all the honors a man can have are past honors, past honors take on their just proportion. The laurels are fresh again and the applause loud. He lies here, the embittered years forgotten, David Wark Griffith, the Great.”
A few months after Griffith’s death I had occasion to lunch with Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, who was very pleased with himself.
“Hedda,” he said, “You’ll be happy to know that the producers are going to build a great monument to D.W. Griffith over his grave in Kentucky.”
I looked at him. “Are they out of their minds? The men who would do nothing for him while he lived are now to show their generosity by buying a shaft of granite to mark his resting place?”
In May 1950 three famous stars of the silent screen – Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – went to La Grange, Ky., and dedicated a dignified and honest memorial to the man they loved. It’s a simply inscribed seven foot Georgia marble memorial. Near the cemetery is the white frame church where Griffith attended Sunday school.
Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes have tea in the Gish home in New York before an outing. Asked about their long careers, they agreed that one should always have curiosity and vitality to carry it out. The two have appeared together only once – in a 1956 CBS-TV special, “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Miss Gish is godmother to Miss Hayes’ son, actor James MacArthur, and to her grandson, Charles Macarthur. (August 19, 1977 UPI)
Still Just Horsing Around
Actresses Lillian Gish and Helen Hayes team up to share a horse laugh with another veteran entertainer – one of the few remaining cab horses in New York. The women, friends for 56 years, still continue acting.
The first reviews of “The Birth of a Nation” or “The Clansman” as it was then known ever published following its first screening to the public in Riverside, California on January 1, 1915.
Riverside Enterprise Sunday January 2 1915
“The Clansman” Receives Enthusiastic Approval
Crowded Houses Audibly Express Approbation of Spectacular and Gripping Photoplay Depicting Strong Story
The biggest thing in the way of a thrill producer that has ever been seen in Riverside, or probably anywhere, is now showing in the Loring Theater – D.W. Griffith’s “The Clansman,” a picturized version of the book and play of the same name by Thomas Dixon Jr. It would be difficult to imagine more exquisite photography than has been achieved in this production. Of marvelous beauty are the settings against which the swift action of the story is thrown. Whatever may be the attitude of the audience toward the pro-southern ideas of the play, there is no denying that it grips the attention from the start and that it works up into a tremendous climax.
Below are presented the articles in their entirety, including the original newspaper pages of that time.
I went to tea with Lillian and Dorothy the following afternoon. Their New York apartment was charming and they had a Southern butler, straight out of “Gone with the Wind” who appeared to have been with them for years. From the elegance and richness of the furnishings, it was obvious that Lillian and Dorothy had not squandered their money like so many of the early silent stars; having known what poverty was from their youth, they had, in fact, sensibly invested in real estate.
I was shown into the drawing-room where the sisters introduced me to their mother, a beautiful, exquisitely dressed, white-haired old lady whom they obviously adored. This was the actress who had instilled into Lillian her love of the theatre and whose own career had come to a tragic end. In 1925, Lillian, who was starring in ” The Scarlet Letter ” in Hollywood, heard that her mother was seriously ill in New York. Greatly distressed, she told the director, Victor Seastrom, that she must go to New York at once: he understandingly agreed. When she arrived, Lillian found that her mother had had a stroke which had totally deprived her of the power of speech. Ever since then, Lillian and Dorothy had looked after her; she lived with them, met their guests, was present at all their dinner parties-a gracious, fragile, silent and infinitely touching figure.
On that first visit, while we were taking tea, there seemed to be a mad cocktail party going on in the adjoining dining-room, the door to which was not quite closed. Through the small gap came a babble as of a coven of witches gossiping, with malevolent chuckles and shrieks of eldritch laughter; then one cackling voice could be heard with disconcerting clarity saying, ” That Dorothy Gish-she thinks she’s an actress ! Hee-hee-hee ! She’s no actress-that Dorothy Gish!” I coughed and rattled my teacup on its saucer and made conversation in a loud voice to drown the flow of disparagement from next door. Nobody else took the slightest notice of it and eventually the sounds died away; I assumed that the cocktail-takers had drunk themselves into a coma.
One of them, it seemed, came to just as I was leaving. I had telephoned for a cab and when the porter rang back to say he had one waiting for me I said, ” I’ll be right down.” From the next room a horrid, mocking voice echoed, ” I’ll be right DOWN ! ” ” Who was that? ” I asked, unable to contain my curiosity. Oh, that’s our parrot,” said Lillian, ” you must meet her next time you come. She’s very lively for her age-we’re told she’s well over a hundred-and really a lovely person.” Dorothy, who had just entranced me by announcing, “I’ll go along with Rodney-I’m meeting Zasu and Gloria,” made no comment on the bird; it was conceivable that her affection for the garrulous ancient was more restrained than Lillian’s.
At our subsequent meetings, Lillian, probably realizing that my love for the cinema was incurable, allowed herself to be lured into talking of early Hollywood days. I wanted to know how Griffith had got that wonderful close-up of her with frozen eyelashes in the blizzard scene of ” Way Down East “; had it been faked? Lillian was indignant. Certainly it had not been faked; the scene had actually been shoL in a blizzard, for which they had waited weeks, and not only her eyelashes but all of her had been frozen. ” I thought I would die of cold,” she said, ” but Griffith just kept shouting, ‘Give her some more hot tea and carry on.’ “
How, I asked, had she done that terrifying scene, in the same picture, where she was on an ice-floe when the ice broke up?
“Why, I just did it,” said Lillian, looking mildly surprised at the question. ‘We all did things in those days.” Recalling the wide use to-day of stand-ins and stunt-men, it seemed to me the modem actor was somewhat lacking in spirit. ” But, I said to Lillian, gazing at her with awe, ” surely you were risking your life? “
”Oh, yes, I suppose so,” said she: “as a matter of fact, I was in hospital for six months after that film.” One of Griffith’s most promising women players, Lillian told me, had actually died in the blizzard scene; Griffith re-cast the part and went on shooting.
Reminiscing about “Birth of a Nation,” she told me, with amusement, how one scene, which is still regarded as an outstanding example of screen art, came to be shot. The scene is that which shows the Southemer Colonel Cameron, returning from the Civil War to his ravaged home : he looks like a man who has been through hell. Griffith, it appears, was all set to shoot the scene of the colonel, full of high hopes and patriotic zeal, going off to the Civil War-but Henry B. Walthall, who was playing Cameron, had been on a terrific bat the night before and turned up at the studio looking ghastly and suffering from an imperial hangover.
Griffith immediately changed his plans : ” We can’t shoot him like that setting out,” he said. “We’ll shoot him coming back.” And it was done.
“Everything was so different in the old days,” said Lillian. ” There were no strict union rules then, of course, and everybody was adaptable; we all worked together to make a good film-and we took pride in working together. Films lost so much when talkies came in, I just felt I must leave Hollywood. So in 1930 I crone to New York-and played in Jed Harris’s production of ‘Uncle Vanya.'”
” But surely you did make one talking picture? ” I asked.
“Wasn’t it ‘ One Romantic Night,’ with Rod la Rocque, directed by Paul Stein? ,,
At the mention of that name, Lillian’s face became (as Edmund Pearson described her ‘Lizzie Borden ” face in the play ” Nine, Pine St.”) .. as venomous and implacable as that of the great murderous queen in ‘ Agamemnon.’ ” ” I can’t bear to think of it,” she said. We agreed that it was the only stinker she had ever appeared in. She had, of course, not yet made ” Duel in the Sun.”
Lillian recalled her experiences with Ronald Colman, whom she had discovered as a small-part stage actor. In 1923 she formed her own film company with Henry King and (which may surprise those who think the current fashion to film in Italy is something new), took Colman to Italy to appear with her in her film of “The White Sister ” which she made there. In one scene, Colman, cast as the impetuous Italian lover, had to display burning passion as he tried to persuade Lillian, the nun of the title role, to break her vows. The scene was rehearsed over and over again. Mr. Colman’s display of passion was not even lukewarm. It seemed as if his inner self, clad in white flannels and brandishing an embarrassed tennis racquet, held him back, murmuring, ‘Oh,. I say, old man-look here ! That sort of thing’s all right for foreigners, but I mean to say …. ! ” In desperation, Lillian poured him half-a-tumblerful of brandy; in desperation, Mr. Colman drank it down, neat and in one gulp. A few minutes later, positively incandescent with passion and alcohol, he gave a performance so scorching that, when it reached the screen, women in the audience glowed with responsive rapture and swooned away. Out of the glass of brandy a star was born.
One of the reasons I stayed on in New York (apart from the delight I took in Lillian’s company) was that I was trying to get somebody to present my play of ‘Crime and Punishment ” there. The New York Theatre Guild took an option on it and we at once began to discuss casting. I wanted Lillian to play Katerina Ivanovna-the part Edith Evans had played in London-but could not think of an actor to play Raskolnikov. Lillian suggested Burgess Meredith, who was then appearing in “The Playboy of the Western World.”
There was a charming story going the rounds at the time. The New York Irish took as great exception to the play as the Irish in Ireland had done when it was first presented, and one night a crowd of Irish toughs gathered at the stage door and mobbed Burgess Meredith and his wife, Paulette Goddard, as they sat in their limousine. The finger of scorn was pointed at Miss Goddard and Mr. Meredith was challenged to ” get out and foight.” ” Don’t you do it, Buzz,” cried Paulette. “Just open the window and let me hit them with my diamond necklace.”
Lillian and I went to see Burgess to ask if there was any possibility of his being able to play in” Crime and Punishment.” For the time being, there was none : he planned to go to Dublin when the run of ” The Playboy ” ended, to appear there with Paulette in” Winterset.”
He did go to Dublin-and when I met him a year later he told me the play had not been very enthusiastically received. On the morning following the first night, a chambermaid entered their hotel bedroom bearing a breakfast tray and a bundle of newspapers. She put the newspapers at the foot of the bed and set down the breakfast tray. “There y’are now,” she said cosily. “Eat up yer breakfast before ye desthroy yerselves reading the notices.”
I had told Bill Gillette I was going to America to see Korda but the moment I arrived in New York I had to confess to myself that there was somebody else I simply must see, somebody I really looked forward to seeing-and before I telephoned the film magnate who had, as I thought, caused me so much trouble, I telephoned the star who had, from my boyhood days, given me so much pleasure and inspiration : Lillian Gish.
Nine years before, I had been sitting in my room in the Albany flat when Arthur Boys, who had been dining with friends of ours, came in and said casually, “Who do you think is staying with the Parkers?” “I’ve no idea at all,” I said. “Well, guess! ” urged Arthur, “Hitler?” I suggested. “No,” said Arthur, ” Lillian Gish.” I sprang up in the greatest excitement, ” It can’t be! ” “But it is,” insisted Arthur, pleased at being the bearer of such sensational news. If he had not been adamant in refusing to disturb his host and hostess at half-past midnight, I would have forced him to telephone the Parkers then and there to ask if I might meet their distinguished visitor. He spoke to them next morning and they amiably invited me to dine the following evening. I arrived in a state of awe and on being introduced to Lillian Gish became completely tongue-tied-as I usually do when confronted with one of my idols. (Had Tchekov lived in my time and I had met him, I’ve no doubt I should be dumb-struck to this day.) I could only gaze at Miss Gish. It was incredible : she looked exactly the same as she did in the old days-except for two fine lines under her eyes. Her face was so young, it seemed to me; she must have drawn those lines on, in order to play a character part. I sat beside her at dinner, my mind full of memories. When had I first met Lillian Gish on the screen? Was it in 11 The Angel of the Settlement,” a two-reeler in which she had saved George Walsh from being lynched? I recalled seeing that with my sister Kay; it had been a gala day for us at the Grand Theatre, Fulham-for Lillian Gish was my favourite star and George Walsh was Kay’s best-loved actor, and the other film in the bill had been ” The Voice from the Minaret,” with Nonna Talmadge. Suddenly I became aware that some contribution to the conversation was expected from me. ” Oh, Miss Gish,” I said nervously to her, ” there’s something I remember about one of your earlier films which apparently nobody else does : you were once on a horse rushing to someone else’s rescue.” Miss Gish looked at me as though I must be out of my mind. ” I was on a horse . . . rushing to rescue somebody? ” she said, incredulously.
” Yes,” I asserted, ” it was called ‘ The Angel of the Settlement.’ ” Miss Gish shook her head and said in a gentle but firm voice :
“No, no. You must be mistaken. I can’t remember any such film or incident.”
I was surprised and abashed. I hadn’t at that time learned that film stars who have appeared in a great many films always forget the early ones. I did not, in fact, realize this until Robert Helpmann, long afterwards, told me he was afraid he had off ended Bebe Daniels : he had said to her, ” I remember you, dressed as a moth, dancing on a table in’ Singed Wings.'” Miss Daniels had not remembered having done anything so ” idiotic.” She had genuinely forgotten the f:tlm-and one must hope it is never unearthed and shown on TV as it might rock the millions who enjoy that cosy” Life with the Lyons.” Though my first meeting with Lillian Gish had opened somewhat inauspiciously, it led to her becoming a dear friend of mine. We met a number of times during her stay in London-and I discovered that though I had always thought of her as a film star, she regarded herself as essentially a stage actress. Her mother had been an actress in a touring company and Lillian and her sister Dorothy, as children, had travelled abbut with her; it was not a very successful touring company and they often went hungry to bed in the stuffy dressing-rooms of fifth-rate theatres because there was not money enough to pay for a meal or lodgings. The vicissitudes of her childhood had not destroyed Lillian’s born love of the theatre. The years she had spent making films in Hollywood (from 1910 to I930, I believe) represented to her no more than a temporary break in her stage career.
Naturally, during our meetings I argued fervently in favour of the cinema and told her it was my ambition, my dream, to become a film director. She used to smile at me as if I were being rather foolish-but one day she spoke very seriously. Since I had last visited her, she had been to see “After October ” and had read several of my other plays. “Rodney,” she said,” I beg of you don’t waste your time pursuing that dream of yours. You are a playwright-why do you want to be a film director instead of writing plays-plays that nobody else could write? There are hundreds of competent film directors and to get to the top in that profession you must be ruthless-you must be tough enough to take hard knocks and keep fighting and fighting. It is not worth it for you; you have better things to do-you have your plays to write. Think of the number of plays you could have written in all this time you’ve been messing about with films ! Don’t you see?”
I saw that she spoke in earnest and I loved her for it. I was, in fact, deeply moved : I muttered out inadequate thanks for her kindness. “Well, think about it, anyway,” she said-and then, to put the conversation on a less emotional level, changed the subject. “I should love to play in a London theatre” she sighed. I asked what she had been doing before she came over here. “I was playing in New York in Sean O’Casey’s ‘Within the Gates.’ The front-of “house people told me they used to hear dear old ladies coming into the theatre at matinees saying, ‘ Oh, I always like Lillian Gish, she’s so sweet, always so refined . .. ‘-and then, when the poor things sat down and opened their programmes a gasp would go through the whole auditorium. You see, I was down as ‘ Lillian Gish-The Young Whore.’ “
When I telephoned her in New York, Lillian suggested that as Mary Pickford was giving a little party for a few friends at the Waldorf Astoria that day, I should meet her there at six o’clock.
That, I thought, would be charming. Having just arrived from the wilds of Canada, I felt, though, my wardrobe, designed for roughing. it in the wild North-West, was scarcely suitable for a party, however small, at the Waldorf Astoria. I couldn’t afford to buy very much, having only my dollar allowance, and anyway I hadn’t the time, as it was already half-past four. I would let my one good suit to be pressed by the hotel valet service and meantime could slip out in my rumpled tweeds and at least get a new shirt. No haberdasher in the vicinity of the hotel seemed to understand what I wanted so I journeyed to Fifth Avenue. Here, having browsed luxuriously through a variety of shirtings such as had not been seen in England since before the war, I discovered suddenly that it was later than I had thought. I hastily bought a shirt and, clutching it under my arm, emerged from the shop into the inconceivable chaos of New York’s rush hour.
The sidewalk seethed with hot, harassed people, scurrying in all directions, pushing and elbowing each other fiercely and showing such a frenzied determination to escape from Fifth Avenue as quickly as possible that one would have thought an outbreak of bubonic plague in the area had just been announced. There were no taxis to be had-no buses. One stream of fugitives bore me up Fifth Avenue, another swept me clown-and it was nearly six o’clock. There was no time to return to my hotel. I would have to forego the freshly pressed suit and fight my way to the Waldorf Astoria as I was. Arriving, panting and more rumpled than ever, I plunged into the gentleman’s cloakroom, had a quick wash and changed into my new shirt; to my chagrin, it had the kind of cuffs that demand links, and I was linldess. The friendly attendant comforted me with the information that I could buy a IC cheap pair-just junk” at a kiosk in the foyer. With the cheapest pair I could find holding my Cliffs decently together, I asked to be conducted to Miss Mary Pickford’s party.
A supercilious page flung open a door-revealing thousands and thousands of people, as resplendent and as raucous as macaws, milling about in the ballroom beyond. Dazed and almost deafened, I stood by the doorway feeling lost and hoping that Lillian Gish would find me. At last, looking herself slightly dazed, she did and as we fell on each other’s necks she said in my ear, IC But I promise you, Mary did say just a few friends.” I was fascinated to meet Mary Pickford, though I did not exchange more than a couple of words with her-not, on this occasion, because I was tongue-tied but because she was so busy receiving the hordes of guests who continued to arrive. Her circle of friends was apparently infinite. Unlike Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford had changed a great deal since the old days; she bore no resemblance at all to the ringletted darling who was the world’s sweetheart.