THE slender, ethereal woman with the rust-colored hair strode center stage of the Helen Hayes Theater yesterday afternoon. She wore a green suit, white gloves and a double strand of pearls around a patrician neck. A burst of applause greeted her. The woman was Lillian Gish, and she was there Woman to tell members of In the the Actors Fund of America how to raise funds to build a hospital for needy performers. The group was holding its 83d annual meeting. Miss Gish’s participation in the meeting was in keeping with her philosophy of at least one new horizon a day. Her suggestion that prominent performers produce a show for television and turn over the profits to the fund was warmly greeted. The actress, who looks dreamy, fragile and wistful, is always in the forefront of causes in behalf of the theater. She has long argued that a Minister of F.ine Arts should sit in the President’s Cabinet and that Government should help boost the arts. She once said that while in this country dogs get “blue ribbons” and heroes “iron crosses,” an American who writes a fine book goes to Scandinavia to get a prize. A long-time friend of the actress said yesterday: “I’m always puzzled by her. She’s completely independent and never burned up about her image.
“What’s the reason? I think she has no vanity. She’s a wonderful and loyal girl. She’s an American institution and no one would take a crack at her anymore than they would at Casey Stengle.” After six decades as an actress, Miss Gish hasn’t even a glimmer of thought about retirement. “Retire? If you want to die, retire and die of boredom,” she says. At 67, she is as trim as a lass, energetic and constantly on the move. “I haven’t altered my wearing apparel since the 20′ s,” she says. She expects to leave for Italy soon to complete her biography of D. W. Griffith, the pioneering motion-picture director.
Why Italy? ”There’s too much distraction here,” she explains. The book is scheduled to be published in the fall of 1967 by Prentice Hall. Miss Gish became an actress at the age of 6, not for love of theater, but for want of money. We were very poor and the job paid $10 a week,” she recalls. Now, she says, she is an actress not for survival, but for love of her art. She was born in Springfield Ohio, on Oct. 14, 1898 ***. She does not remember her debut at all. Her parents brought her and her younger sister Dorothy, to New York, where the father had a candy store. When the parents separated, her mother turned to acting to support the children. One day Mrs, Gish agreed to let Lillian. golden-haired and wide-eyed go on the road in a blood-and-thunder melodrama called ”Convict’s Stripes.” At about the same time, Dorothy, then 4, was engaged to tour as Little Willie, a boy in “East Lynne.”
Eventually, the mother and the two girls were able to get work in the same touring show. We grew up this way, Miss Gish recalled, ”We learned to read and write in dressing rooms over the country.” Miss Gish has had no regrets about her early, uncertain days. She once noted: “From my mother we got great security-the security ot love, of trust, of peace. From my father we got great insecurity and, as I grow older, I wonder which was more valuable. It’s wonderful to give children insecurity early. It develops their characters.” As children Lillian and Dorothy became friendly with another juvenile player, Gladys Smith, who later changed her name to Mary Pickford. It was in a Mary Pickford movie that Lillian made her film debut and it was Miss Pickford who introduced her to Mr. Griffith.
From New York, Miss Gish followed Mr. Griffith to California, where she was a member of his company from 1913 to 1922. She emerged as a star from such films as “The Birth of a Nation,” “Hearts of the World,” “Broken Blossoms,” “Way Down East, and “Orphans of the Storm” In the nineteen twenties she appeared in such post-Griffith romances as “The White Sister,” “Romola,” “La Boheme,” ”The Scarlet Letter” and “The· Wind.”
She successfully returned to Broadway in “Uncle Vanya” and then went on to other memorable plays and performances in the theater – “Within the Gates,” Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet, Maxwell Anderson’s “The Star Wagon” and “Life With Father.” She last was seen on Broadway in “Anya,” the musical version of the play “Anastasia”, last year.
Miss Gish, who never married, lives on East 57th Street. She is looking forward to more acting assignments, but her current preoccupation is finishing the Griffith book.
FOR those still squirming from the way movie veterans Hal Roach and Frank Capra were poorly handled during the Academy Award ceremonies last week, tonight’s ”American Salute to Lillian Gish,” on CBS-TV at 9 o’clock, shows how these things can be done with thoughtfulness and a measure of grace.
As a rule, veterans of any sort tend to be getting on in years, which may make it difficult for them to keep up with the standard razzle-dazzle of manufactured entertainment. Paying no attention to this simple fact of life, the Oscar ceremonies confronted Hal Roach, whose producing credits include the ”Our Gang” comedies, with Spanky McFarland, who completely discombobulated his old boss with a question about what Hollywood was really like in 1912. Later, Mr. Capra, whose eyesight is obviously not as sharp as it once was, fell victim to faulty technology as his recorded announcements for best-picture nominees suddenly went silent, leaving him fumbling at the podium with cue cards.
The American Film Institute affairs, having reached their 12th annual presentation, are planned more carefully. As the ”salutes” are bestowed for a lifelong career in film making, the recipients are automatically veterans, and the list includes such performers as Bette Davis and Fred Astaire and such directors as Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston. A couple of years ago, the Life Achievement Award went to Mr. Capra.
The occasion – this year’s was taped on March 1 – takes place at a black-tie dinner in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom. While the guests, a great many of them instantly recognizable, sit at large dining tables, a small stage is set up with a podium and a large screen for sampling clips from the recipient’s work. With an appropriate fanfare and standing ovation, the guest of honor enters the room and sits at a special table to listen to friends and colleagues speak warmly of past accomplishments. The recipient offers a few words of appreciation at the end of the evening. Far from being just another silly orgy of star gazing, the event turns out to be a gathering of professionals taking justifiable pride in their work.
Lillian Gish, now somewhere vaguely around age 90, is a thoroughly deserving and delightful recipient. One of the biggest stars of silent films, she has always projected a certain physical fragility, but as this salute progresses it is clear that the lady is anything but fragile. She exudes a feisty spirit that clearly explains how she was one of the first film performers to command a hefty salary plus a percentage of profits, and to exercise creative control over her films. Lily Tomlin laughingly recalls how, after the premiere of ”9 to 5,” an enthusiastic Miss Gish ran up to her saying, ”Tell me you have a piece of it.”
The audience is reminded that Miss Gish’s career was hardly limited to silent movies. John Huston notes that she appeared with his father, Walter, in a 1902 stage production of ”In Convict’s Stripes.” She also did ”talking” movies, most notably, as Robert Mitchum points out, ”The Night of the Hunter.” And she has been active in television, appearing within the last year in ”Hobson’s Choice.” Her co-star, Richard Thomas, relates Miss Gish’s dissatisfaction with a low camera angle. ”Young man,” she told the cameraman, ”if God had wanted you to see me that way, he would have put your eyes in your bellybutton.”
But the silents, especially those associated with the legendary director D. W. Griffith, were the crown in Miss Gish’s career, and scenes are offered from four of her classics: ”The Birth of a Nation,” ”Orphans of the Storm,” ”The Wind” and ”Way Down East.” Special scoring by Carl Davis, the musical director, is played by an orchestra. The high-quality prints are run through special film projectors, lending urgency to the underlying theme of the evening: that old films must be preserved as artistic endeavors and as artifacts encompassing, in the words of an American Film Institute director, ”our collective memories, our dreams, our myths, our heritage.”
With Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as elegant host, tributes are offered to Miss Gish by, among others, Jeanne Moreau, Sally Field, John Houseman, Mary Martin, Colleen Moore and Richard Widmark. Miss Gish herself, while conceding that there have been some good talkies (” ‘Tootsie’ was wonderful’), praises the power of the silents with their great music and their great themes. She concludes with the simple statement: ”Thank you for my life.” The broadcast was directed by Marty Pasetta who, incidentally, performed the same chore for the Academy Awards. George Stevens Jr., co-chairman, was the producer.
BY COMMON CONSENT the greatest actress of the silent era, Lillian Gish personified that remarkable epoch. Her integrity and dedication are among the proudest aspects of the period.
There can be few actresses in film history with so many distinguished pictures to their credit: ”The Birth of a Nation,” ”Intolerance,” ”Hearts of the World,” ”Broken Blossoms,” ”Way Down East” and ”Orphans of the Storm,” all directed by the man she called the Father of Film, D. W. Griffith. When she left Griffith and became an independent producer, she contributed further classics — ”The White Sister” and ”Romola” — and while at MGM she made, with Victor Seastrom, ”The Scarlet Letter” and ”The Wind.”
Hers was always the one voice to champion the cause of silent film and music, even into recent decades, when to articulate such an idea was to risk being thought senile. Besides which, Lillian Gish associated herself energetically with the cause of film in the United States, from campaigning for Oscars for Henri Langlois, maverick curator of the Cinematheque Francaise (she succeeded), and Abel Gance, creator of ”Napoleon” (she failed), to promoting the restored versions of ”Napoleon” and ”A Star Is Born.” And somehow she still found time to act.
Now comes the happy news that her archives from many decades of film history have been acquired by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the equally happy news that the library, at Lincoln Center, is celebrating the acquisition with a series of free screenings and lectures. The program, ”Lillian Gish Remembered,” starts Thursday with the actress Irene Worth giving a one-woman performance of Gish moments.
Other evenings in the series, which will continue on Thursdays and Saturdays through June, will offer remembrances by friends and fellow actors. Among the Gish movies to be shown are ”The Scarlet Letter” (1926), ”Romola” (1924), ”Broken Blossoms” (1919) and ”The Wind” (1928), one of the last great silent films.
It was in connection with an earlier tribute that I met Lillian Gish in 1983. Spending time with her was exhilarating, not because she was so exquisite to look at — you didn’t mention things like that — but because, even in old age, she was so enthusiastic. My partner David Gill and I invited her to England to attend what were then called the Thames Silents — presentations of silent films with live orchestra sponsored by Thames Television. We had a huge West End theater at our disposal — the Dominion, on Tottenham Court Road — and during the London Film Festival we staged a tribute to Lillian Gish with two of her finest films, ”Broken Blossoms” and ”The Wind.”
At the airport, I scanned the arriving passengers. When I spotted a wheelchair, my morale plummeted. I rushed up and that most celebrated of faces emerged from the concealment of her hood and broke into a reassuring smile.
”We just thought a wheelchair was more sensible,” said her manager, James Frasher. She had twisted her ankle a day or so earlier, and he wanted to take all precautions.
A newspaper strike had wiped out all our publicity. I showed her the magazine articles that no one would see, including a long one in The Sunday Times with a photo by Lord Snowdon. Far from being dismayed, she took it as a challenge. ”We’ll do lots of radio,” she said. ”We’ve plenty of time before Thursday.”
At her suite at the Savoy Hotel, a mass of flowers from admirers awaited her. ”I first came here in 1917,” she said, looking out at the River Thames. ”Our suite was just like this, and Mr. Griffith” — she always called him that — ”held all our rehearsals here for ‘Hearts of the World.’ We were here when the Germans bombed the obelisk” Cleopatra’s Needle. ”There was no warning — just a sudden bang. We could hear the screaming, but they wouldn’t let us out. They had hit a tram. I believe 12 people were killed.”
During the first of her many television interviews, Gish was keenly aware of technique. I even heard her directing the lighting. ”Camera high, light low,” she said. She checked the result in a monitor; one could see how the light flattened out the lines in her face and enhanced the expression in her eyes.
Suddenly, the cameraman zoomed in. ”Don’t come so close,” she warned. ”You could come close to this old face years ago, but now you can’t.” They settled for what she wanted.
”Honestly,” said the interviewer, ”you have the most remarkable face. Whatever was there is still there.”
”I was born this way,” she said with a chuckle. ”I haven’t changed. I’ve got white in my hair, but it’s still a hundred different colors, you know — brown, black, white, blond. It’s still me.” She referred to the scene from ”The Wind,” which would be shown as part of the interview. ”But to match that face 60 years later! I did my best this morning with makeup. But you can’t perform miracles. You can help it with lights.”
”Only a little,” said the interviewer.
”Oh, it’s not for me — that’s vanity. It’s not to disappoint people who’ve seen me. They’d say ‘Oh, how awful!’ ”
She spoke eloquently about acting. ”This camera teaches you what not to do,” she said, gesturing at the lens. ”I used to hang a mirror on the side of the camera, because at first I was making faces. And then I found that you should start with the curtain down, your face in repose, and then whatever you had in mind, you thought it and the camera got it. If you were caught acting, they didn’t believe it.”
That evening, the lecture at the National Film Theater was sold out. Despite the December cold, a crowd lingered at the entrance. When Gish arrived, in black fur, it was like a Hollywood premiere, with flashbulbs firing. She was introduced as ”the first lady of American cinema” by Sheridan Morley, the celebrated critic and son of Robert Morley.
Someone in the audience asked if she had ever wanted to stop playing heroines. ”Oh, I’d have loved to have played a vamp,” she said. ”Seventy-five percent of your work is done for you if you play a vamp. When you play those innocent little virgins, that’s when you have to work hard. They’re all right for five minutes, but after that you have to work to hold the interest. I always called them ‘gaga babies.’ ”
Our first presentation, which opened with the film in which she and her sister, Dorothy, first appeared, ”An Unseen Enemy” (1912), followed by ”Broken Blossoms,” was a tremendous success.
”I have been going to the cinema for 50 years.” a man said to me in the foyer. ”This has been my greatest evening.”
But ”Broken Blossoms,” a romance of Dickensian violence with Gish as the waif, had long been celebrated as a classic; ”The Wind,” the story of a girl from Virginia who goes to live on a cousin’s ranch in a barren part of Texas, was almost unknown to British audiences. People were so anxious to see ”The Wind,” with its astonishing, climactic sandstorm — and to see Gish — that several flew in from France and the United States. ”The Wind,” for all its bleakness, has a certain amount of comic relief and this received a lot of laughter. Once again, the music exercised its power.
Carl Davis had composed a sophisticated score that precisely suited the film, which was full of psychological nuance and depended heavily on Gish’s brilliant, deeply felt performance.
Miss Lillian Gish – still frame (The Wind)
The Wind – Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) digging the grave for Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love)
Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) got mad alone in the house, watching Wirt Roddy’s grave – The Wind
Lars Hanson and Lillian Gish – The Wind
Lars Hanson and Lillian Gish (Rear) – The Wind
Lars Hanson (Lige Hightower) and Lillian Gish (Letty Mason) – The Wind
The Wind – Saw dust and smokepots
With the storm scene, the percussion rose almost to the threshold of pain, and a tornado seemed to batter the walls of the theater, driving one, whether one liked it or not, into the same mental state as the terrified girl. This musical storm combined with the terror on her face, transformed the show into a happening. As the storm died away, one could hear the communal sigh of an audience that had held its breath for more than half a reel.
”The most terrifying cinematic moment of the year,” said The Times of London. ”No one could ask for a greater instance of the cinema’s power to shake one’s being.”
Gish was greeted by a standing ovation. She told the audience that she had chosen Seastrom to direct her film. ”We worked out in the Mojave Desert in temperatures which were seldom under 120 degrees,” she said from the stage. ”There were eight airplane engines to create even more wind than we had already and to blow sand at us, together with smoke pots which burned little holes in my dress but luckily not in my eyes. I was the only woman in the troupe . . . so I had no double. I did all my own stunts, like falling off the horse.”
This was nothing compared with the stunts she had done for Griffith, including floating down a river on an ice floe, her hand trailing in the water. ”Cold I can stand, but not heat,” she said, ”so ‘The Wind’ was my most uncomfortable experience in pictures.” She closed by praising the 40-piece orchestra: ”The music was 75 percent of the excitement you have just experienced.”
For a woman of 83, her energy and enthusiasm seemed amazing — later, we discovered she had drawn a veil over her real age. She was actually 90. (She died in 1993, only months short of her 100th birthday.)
Lillian Gish may have needed the toughness of a pioneer to get through all those pictures, but there was a quality the audience saw that night that can only be described as sweetness, a sweetness that transcended any role she ever played.
ABOUT A DOZEN films starring Lillian Gish are available on videotape, the earliest of them dating to her days with Mary Pickford and D. W. Griffith at the American Biograph Company in New York. Here are the more interesting ones, some of which will be shown as part of the series at Lincoln Center.
* ”The Birth of a Nation,” 1915. Gish stars with Mae Marsh in Griffith’s controversial Civil War epic.
* ”Hearts of the World,” 1916. A young boy struggles through World War I, as do Lillian and her sister Dorothy Gish on the homefront.
* ”Intolerance,” 1916. Gish again stars with Marsh in the silent classic with settings from Babylon to Paris.
* ”Broken Blossoms,” 1919. Gish is an abused daughter in London’s unsavory Limehouse District and Richard Barthelmess is the Chinese man who tries to save her in Griffith’s film, which, on video, comes with an introduction by Gish.
* ”Way Down East,” 1920. That’s Lillian out on that ice floe, a country girl tricked into a fake marriage by a slick playboy.
* ”Orphans of the Storm,” 1921. The French Revolution doesn’t help Lillian in her search for her sister (Dorothy).
* ”The White Sister,” 1923. In Henry King’s film, Lillian is an Italian aristocrat who is driven from her home and into a convent.
* ”Romola,” 1924. Lillian was supposed to drown in this pirate tale, but during filming she wouldn’t sink, resulting in a retake.
* ”The Wind,” 1928. In one of the last great silents, Lillian goes west, marries a cowpoke, is raped in a frontier town and endures a ferocious storm.
They seemed made for each other, the movies and Erte. One of Paris’ most original style dictators, creating frocks of startling beauty and luxury, Erte’ listened to the siren song of Hollywood, all agog to clothe gobs of beautiful stars. Thus he came to the City of the Angels and there—but read it yourself
IN the first place, he says our shoulders are like what you hang clothes on! Quite square and unshapely. Our long limbs he admires, for it is easy to swirl a hank of silk around long-legged ladies and make them look like sinuous sirens. But the beauty that is Hollywood’s— the legendary fairness of its damsels—he fails to find. Our film beauties, says he, are no more beautiful than any other women and offer no more inspiration. It has also been whispered that he said they were dumb —but it has not been verified! Romain de Tirtoff-Erte is the name of dreams. And Romain refers to dressing far more spicy than the salad. He is the Erte of Paris. The man who does the impossible with yards of slithering silks and stiff costly satins. Chiffons, too. he drapes on flat-bosomed mannequins—and hefty dowagers buy them. He makes bizarre follies that are copied by the Eollies Bergere. He made the centipede lash famous—the thicket-like lash that surrounds the glittering orbs of fashion magazine ladies.
Then he came to Hollywood to put Art in motion pictures. But it seems that Art wouldn’t stay in its proper niche and kept popping out for air and going on excursions. Which disgusted him. Too, what could an artist do with a lady—prettily plump — who refused to keep her corsets on while wearing a dress all ruffles and frills? And when young ladies with prominent shoulder blades “angel wings” the kids called them —would insist upon wearing decollete frocks? And whoever heard of a young miss—poor but of impeccable character — wearing finest silk from cuticle out? And the tragedy of designing four separate series of sets and costumes for a motion picture, and then to have the fifth draft of the story place all the action in the prop room!
It is to weep. Small wonder, then, from the sounds of strife emanating from his studio, that we pictured Erte as a peppery and volcanic French man with a goatee and grasshopper motions, who probably waved tape – line and shears in expostulatory manner. A cartoon Frenchman with comic opera trimmings. Instead, he is a mild-mannered man with smooth cropped black hair and a gently tilted nose faintly reminiscent of a sur prised rabbit. He wears a pearl bracelet about one wrist. His constant companion is a Prince who has the enviable ability of bowing gracefully from the waist. Renee Adoree was the first film miss who was trotted out for comment. Renee is a native of la belle France and Erte has nothing but admiration for her art but that adorable little Melisande of “The Big Parade” received a gentle rap about her rounded curves.
For her part as Musette in “La Boheme, ” Erte designed a gorgeous frock of huge puffed sleeves, voluminous skirts ami wasp-like bodice. (Incidentally, you fashion devotees, Erte is an arch enemy of that confining mode. It destroys the grace of line, he says, and will never be reinstated in the style world.)
” The first day she looked exquisite—like a doll. But on the second day she insisted that she could not wear corsets and eat —and eat she must, so off came her corsets. She looked like a balloon!” Two sensitive hands made an airy outline of her appearance. But to say a lady looks like a balloon! It simply isn’t done in Hollywood, you know. Not even at ‘”cat parties.”
And then there was Lillian Gish.
“I designed a pretty costume for her as Mimi in ‘La Boheme.’ Mimi is a poor girl whose poverty is shown in her clothes. Of inexpensive materials I fashioned the dress—of wools and cottons.
” ‘ But no!’ says Miss Gish, ‘I do not wear harsh fabrics next to my skin. They must be of sheerest silk.’
“Silks! Can you imagine silks for a girl who lives simply and whose marriage dowry is a mere tritle!
“So I told Miss Gish she may have the designs—is very welcome to them—but she is never to enter my studio door again. Let her make the costumes herself!”
Lillian Gish as Mimi in La Boheme
Lillian Gish as Mimi – Promotional for La Boheme
Lillian Gish Close Up – Mimi in La Boheme
CONSTANCE BENNETT, the idol of a million flappers as she cavorts upon the screen, is not perfect, either, in Erte’s eyes. Slender Connie needs a milk diet to hide the angles that are so hard to mask when designing gowns for her. Her slim, girlish shoulders were not intended for evening frocks that daringly reveal numerous vertebrae and even Erte couldn’t cover her naughty shoulder bones that provokingly thrust themselves out like twin blades. And, oh dear! Nothing seems quite right with our picture ladies. Aileen Pringle — artists have raved over her—has a beautiful face, but her body is dreadfully hard to clothe in lines of smooth symmetry. However, a dazzling blonde won Erte’s approval, and also a vivid brunette. Claire Windsor and Carmel Myers he mentioned with delight. Carmel, particularly, was a joy to gown, because she knew how to wear her clothes. Her movements are slow and undulating — not short and jerky. She moves with a grace that adds distinction to any frock. No useless motions of the hands—Erte loathes the technique that teaches of fluttering ringers.
Norma Shearer drew a compliment for her sleek coiffure, although it had not been his privilege to create a gown for her. “Miss Shearer should wear her hair drawn smoothly back from her face. It gives her a distinguished air. Fluffy hair is for faces not so beautiful.” Another thing that puzzles Erte, born of France — “Alas, my friends in Paris — they send me clippings of stories that have been published in French journals. One of the stories says, ‘Erte advocates shaving the brows from the face and using patent leather eyebrows!’ Imagine! ” My friends say, ‘ Can this be our Erte? He must have gone quite mad in Hollywood—poor Erte! Or perhaps some impostor has taken his name and fame!’ And at the studio the officials say this is publicity—this eyebrow thing. I have no regard for publicity.”
So Erte has packed his drawing book, pencils, eraser and paints and is hieing himself back to Paris, where Art is Art and the feminine form is divine. He does say one thing for Hollywood, tho—harken ye, Chamber of Commerce!
Erte says: “The climate—I love it’ It is glorious!”
LILLIAN, GISH, through her. contract with Charles H. Duell, Jr., becomes an ‘exclusive Metro-Goldwyn star, according to the announcement by Nicholas M. .Schenck, vice-president of Metro-Goldwyn. The deal is one of the most important that has occurred in the film business this year. It not only marks the first independent production of Charles H. Duell, Jr., but it sets at rest endless rumors regarding the future affiliations -of Miss Gish.
As the popular’ star of “The White Sister” and of “Romola,” shortly to be released by Metro-Goldwyn, she has been spoken of for several ‘famous roles, and her services have been sought after by every American company and .several foreign producers. “Romola,” made by Inspiration Pictures, is a Henry King production and was directed by him in Italy.. By the terms of the Duell contract, Miss Gish will appear exclusively in a series of special productions for Metro-Goldwyn, it was stated by Mr. Schenck. Metro-Goldwyn regards the new Lillian Gish series as among the most important it has ever handled. Mr. Schenck stated: “Our arrangement with Charles H. Duell, Jr., for the new series of Lillian Gish specials is particularly gratifying to us, as it will enable us to give exhibitors absolutely one of the most popular box-office stars before the public. Mr. Duell’s name connected with a picture has always been a guarantee of splendid artistic quality as well as assured box-office values. ‘ The White Sister” and “Romola” prove that. We anticipate immense success for Miss Gish’s new series, and are happy to continue our association begun with ‘The White Sister.’”
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 1
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 2
The new arrangement follows almost directly on the deal closed several weeks ago between Mr. Duell for Inspiration Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn for the distribution of Romola, a Henry King production over a year in the making at Florence, Italy. Dorothy Gish is featured in “Romola” with Lillian, who is starred. This is George Eliot’s famous novel. No announcement has yet been made by Mr. Duell regarding the producing organization that will surround Miss Gish. Several stories are under . consideration for the first picture under the new contract. When this decision is made, preliminary work will be started at once. In all likelihood the first production will be filmed in the East, which has been the headquarters of Mr. Duell’s picture activities.
“Romola” Editing Completed
Gish Girls Picture Hailed One of Greatest Films Ever Produced Lillian Gish, star of Henry King’s “Romola,” and Dorothy Gish, featured player, are ready to be seen by the public in their newest and greatest roles. The editing and titling has been completed and the production was reviewed in its final form by Metro-Goldwyn executives last week. Metro-Goldwyn will distribute the big Inspiration Picture special, which was over a year in production at Florence, Italy. The verdict of those who saw “Romola” as it will be presented to the public is that Henry King’s production is unquestionably one of the greatest screen achievements brought to the films. It is claimed that the spectacular scenes in the film have never been surpassed. The story is of the time ‘of Columbus’s discovery of America and is laid in Florence. Lillian Gish is seen as a Florentine maid and Dorothy Gish as a peasant girl lessa. William Powell and Ronald Colman have important roles.
December 13, 1924 MOVING PICTURE WORLD
Lillian Gish Starred in Pictorially Beautiful Adaptation of George Eliot’s Classic Novel
Reviewed by C. S. Sewell
George Eliot’s classic novel, “Romola,” with its story laid in Florence, Italy, in the fifteenth century, has reached the screen as a Henry King production for Inspiration Pictures, Inc., with Lillian Gish as the star and Dorothy Gish featured, and is being distributed through Metro-Goldwyn. The most striking feature of this production is its magnificence and wonderful pictorial beauty. Filmed on the actual locations called for in the story, so finely has it been handled, with such painstaking attention to accuracy of detail, that it is a vivid presentation of the life of that period, and the spectator is made to feel as if he has been actually transported’ back to Florence in the days of the de Medici. “Romola” is certainly a masterpiece of beauty and splendor, with wonderful shots of the city of Florence, its palaces, streets, market-places and cathedrals, with striking interior scenes, gorgeous costumes and wellhandled mobs. We doubt if there has ever been a picture that can excel it in these respects.
As to the story, while there are scenes that are dramatically and emotionally effective, they occur mostly in the latter part of the picture. Narrative in form, it is lacking in love interest, and concerns mostly the rise to fame of the rascally adventurer, Tito, and his marriage to Romola, who does not love him, while her love for Carlo is only suggested and he is provided with no opportunities of a romantic nature. As presented at the Cohan Theatre in New York, this picture is in thirteen reels, and particularly in the first half there is a noticeable slowness of movement due to the elaborate attention to details and the holding of some of the scenes too long. The tempo quickens in the second half and there is no lack of real action in the climax. These sequences have been effectively handled, and the scene where Savonarola is fastened to a pole and a fire built under him is undeniably impressive, but it is unpleasant and, although rain puts out the fire, he apparently meets death as a martyr, by hanging. The scene where Tito is choked and held under water by the foster-father he has disowned, until he drowns, is decidedly gruesome. The performance of the players is uniformly excellent.
Lillian Gish is not only strikingly beautiful as Romola, with an ideal spiritual type of beauty, but her acting is remarkably effective. Dorothy Gish as the little peasant girl shows to advantage and contributes excellent comedy and human interest touches. W. H. Powell as Tito has the lion’s share of the action and is not only a remarkably good type for the role but makes a distinctly fine impression and gives a wonderful performance. Charles Lane does excellent work as Baldassarro, and Bonaventura Ibanez likewise as the blind father of Romola. The portrayal of Savonarola by Herbert Grimwood is remarkably effective and he bears a marvelous likeness to the pictures of the Florentine ecclesiastic painted by the Italian masters. Personally, while we felt its pictorial charm, the story did not get a strong hold on our emotions and the interest was weakened by the maze of detail and incident, and we doubt whether the magnificence, splendor and beauty of this picture, plus the excellent work of the cast, will outweigh these other considerations in the minds of the average patron. In a word, its box office reaction will rest largely on its pictorial appeal.
Romola ……………………………. Lillian Gish
Tessa …………………………….. Dorothy Gish
Tito Melena ………….. William H. Powell
Carlo ………………………….. Ronald Colman
Baldassaro …………………….. Charles Lane
Savonarola …………. Herbert Grimwood
llarilo Bardi ………. llonaventura Ibanez
Adolfo Spini …………………… Frank Puglia
Brigida ……………… Amelia Summerville
Nello …………………………….. Fduilio Mucei
Based on novel by George Eliot.
Directed by Henry King.
Length, 12,S>74 feet.
A boat approaching Italy is set upon by pirates and Baldassaro, a noted scholar, gives his adopted son Tito a ring that will be a passport with all men of learning. Tito escapes but Baldassaro is captured. Tito reaches Florence at the time that the people incited by the priest, Savonarola, has risen and cast out their ruler, Piero de Medici. Accidentally he aids Bardi, a blind man and noted scholar and is received with honors, finally winning consent to his marriage to his daughter Romola who loves Carlo, an artist. Through the aid of Spini, an adventurer who has become the real power behind the government, Tito rises to the post of chief magistrate. In the meantime he flirts with Tessa a peasant girl, going through a mock marriage during a carnival, which is very real to Tessa, so he installs her in a house and a child is born to them. Tito shows his real nature when he sells the priceless books of Bardi, and Romola leaves him. He issues a decree that means death to Savonarola but his ambition overleaps itself and he is chased by the mob. Jumping into the river he meets death by drowning at the hands of Baldassaro, whom he has refused to recognize. Romola meets Tessa and befriends her, and finally finds happiness with Carlo who has remained faithful to her.
Europe Praises “Romola”
“Such a work of art merits every success,” was the statement by Georges Clemenceau, former premier of France, after witnessing Lillian Gish in Henry King’s Inspiration production of “Romola,” a Metro-Goldwyn picture, with Dorothy Gish in a featured role. Numerous other European celebrities have expressed their enthusiasm over “Romola,” including Giavonni Poggi, resident director of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, and curator of all the royal galleries of Tuscany; P. Bonnard, one of the greatest living French painters; Leonce Benedite, director of the Luxembourg Museum and the Rodin Museum in Paris; Santiago Alba, former Minister of Fine Arts in Spain; Dr. Guido Biagi; and Firmin Gemier, director of the Odeon National Theatre, Paris.
“Romola’s” Great Beauty Fascinated N. Y. Critics
BEFORE a distinguished audience Lillian Gish’s long-awaited appearance in Henry King’s Inspiration production of “Romola,” with Dorothy Gish, occurred on December 1st at the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York. “Romola” is a Metro-Goldwyn picture, based on George Eliot’s greatest novdl, and it was acclaimed by metropolitan critics. There was a large delegation of film stars. Marcus Loew, Adolph Zukor, Joseph M. Schenck, Edward Mi Bowes, William E. Atkinson, Jesse L. Lasky, Harry Rapf, Hiram Abrams, Nicholas M. Schenck, David L. Loew, Leopold Friedman, Charles K. Stern, Arthur M. Loew, David B. Bernstein, J. Robert Rubin, Charles C. Moskowitz and Messmore Kendall were among the prominent executives in the industry who were present. After the opening night it was reported that the remainder of the week was then practically sold out. “Personally, I like ‘Romola’ better than ‘The White Sister,’ ” said Louella Parsons in the New York American the morning after the premiere. As the story was filmed on the actual locale at Florence, Italy, the unrivaled beauty of the settings received marked comment from the press, Miss Parsons said, “The scenery in ‘Romola’ will please the most fastidious and act as a tonic for those who believe films the lowest form of art.” “It seems a perfect product,” was the praise of Harriette Underhill in the New York Herald Tribune, adding that, “it reppresents the art of the cinema in its highest form.” Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times wrote: “This is a film to be remembered, and the gorgeous scenes will never be forgotten.” “To the end the charm of the Gishes hold one,” wrote the reviewer of the New York Morning World, calling it “amazingly wondrous to behold,” adding that “the mob scenes are excellently done,” and stating that “the aesthetic pleasure of admiring the profile of Lillian is almost enough for one picture.” “An ambitious picture,” was Mildred Spain’s endorsement in the New York Daily News, adding that the picture “boasts the rich tale by George Eliot, superb photography, able direction, noteworthy backgrounds.” “Henry King has produced a lovely work of art,” said the New York Evening Post, adding that many shots are “lovelier than words can describe.”
Grauman Books Lillian Gish in “Romola” for Hollywood
ONE week after its world premiere at the George M. Cohan Theatre in New York, the Lillian and Dorothy Gish special, “Romola,” will go into Sid Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, for a long run starting December 8.
Sid Grauman plans to give Henry King’s new Inspiration production, distributed by Metro-Goldwyn, the most elaborate prologue he has staged in the Egyptian Theatre. As the Egyptian prologues are famous for their lavish beauty, Mr. Grauman’s intention in regard to “Romola” indicates that the production is expected to achieve a record run there. With “Romola” playing at both ends of the country at the same time, the publicity from these two engagements is expected to “cover” the entire United States territory in which the picture will afterward play. “Romola” has an immense audience waiting for it, as the George Eliot novel on which the picture is based is one of the most famous standard books, and the reunion of Lillian and Dorothy Gish in the picture is counted on to prove a big draw. Dorothy has a featured role in the production in which Lillian is the star.
“Romola” was filmed in Florence, Italy, more than a year being required for the massive production, which abounds in spectacular features.
Lillian Gish – Romola (detail)
Lillian Gish – Romola (mid)
Lillian Gish – Romola
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Cover
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 1
Moving Picture World (Dec 13 1924) Romola Poster 2
San Francisco Critics Find “White Sister” True to Life
LILLIAN GISH’S latest feature, “The White Sister,” which Metro is to release under the terms of the contract recently closed with Inspiration Pictures, Inc., came in for praise by San Francisco newspaper critics, following its opening at the Capitol Theatre in that city.
“Words are futile things with which to describe the charm of the tragic romance. Lillian Gish is the star of The White Sister and as always, this supreme tragic actress of the American films holds the eye by her wistful beauty, frail intensity, her restrained pathos,” said the San Francisco Journal.
“The sincerity of Miss Gish’s acting is the greatest tribute to her genius. The balance of the cast have been expertly chosen,” is the opinion of the San Francisco Examiner critic.
“Beauty, reverence, the swirl of wild passion, the power of purity, a man’s sacrifice for his fellows — these are some of the impressions brought away from looking at The White Sister,” stated the San Francisco Chronicle.
“There are two outstanding features of The White Sister. One, and that which is called first to the attention of the viewer, is the beauty of the production. The second is the acting of Lillian Gish in the title role,” said the San Francisco Call and Post.
“The White Sister scored an artistic success upon the speaking stage, but no greater success than accorded The White Sister of the screen,” wrote the San Francisco Bulletin. “In every respect it is infintely worth while, a screen classic. A critic would have to scatter superlatives to do justice to the production and the star,” stated the San Francisco Herald.
“Filmed entirely in Italy, the background is romatic to a high degree, and the photography, to say nothing of the acting of Miss Gish and the Italian principals, directed by Henry King, noted for his work in Tol’able David, make the picture one of the most important of the year,” is a portion of the review in the San Francisco News.
Lillian Gish in “The White Sister,” the inspiration picture that Metro will soon give national distribution, played the Alhambra Theatre in Milwaukee recently. “With no stretch of the imagination this picture can at once be placed in the list of the best productions,” said the Evening Sentinuel.
“Miss Gish has never done better work.” “Lillian Gish is better in ‘The White Sister’ than in anything she has ever done,” said Peggy Patton in the Wisconsin News.
“From any standpoint it is splendid.” “ ‘The White Sister’ unquestionably is an out-of-the-ordinary contribution to the screen,” said the Milwaukee Leader.
“When you see a certain actress in a certain role and you say to yourself, ‘There’s no one else in the world could have played it as she does’ then you know it’s a pretty splendid performance. And if you are that rare combination—a film fan and book reader—you can tell in advance what the fragile and lovely Lillian Gish would make of F. Marion Crawford’s novel, ‘The White Sister.’ To tell you more would be to steal from your enjoyment of the picture.” Thus wrote Mary Mac in the Milwaukee Journal.
Moving Picture World (Feb 1924) Praise The White Sister 1
Moving Picture World (Feb 1924) Praise The White Sister 2
BELIEVING a better characterization of the role taken by Lillian Gish in ” The House Built Upon Sands,” it was arranged this week to have a number of scenes made at the home of the Fine Art actress. A corps of electricians installed artificial lighting system in the Gish home, and the hundred thousand dollar bed-room suite rented for scenes in this production were used there. The antique is owned by General H. G. Otis, owner of the Los Angeles Times, and is known as the Madame Du-Barry suite. It is of French design and was brought to this city by the millionaire publisher.
The entire Fine Arts studio is to be remade. Work was begun more than a week ago on the erection of a mammoth enclosed stage, and now Business Manager J. C. Epping gives out the statement that $50,000, are to be spent on improvements. The present enclosed stage will be converted into offices for the scenario department members, directors and heads of departments. A new paint shop, 30 by 50, scene dock 40 by 100 and other improvements are to be made.
Photoplay Magazine Volume XXVI, Number Two – July 1924
“Birth of a Nation” Breaks All Records
Seven years before the producer of “The Birth of a Nation,” then just Larry Griffith, an actor out of a job, found a chance to play a role in a little one-reel Edison drama for five dollars a day. Seven years since he sold his first script to Biograph for fifteen dollars.
“The Birth of a Nation” broke all manner of theater records in various world capitals and became, as it remains today, the world’s: greatest motion picture, if greatness is to be measured by fame. It has ever since continued to be an important box office success. Early in 1924 “The Birth of a Nation” played in the great Auditorium Theater in Chicago, surpassing any previous picture audience record for that house.
No other dramatic screen product has lived so long, with the single and interesting exception of the little one-reel Sennett Keystone comedies featuring Charles Chaplin.
Lillian Gish – Birth of a Nation
Henry B. Walthall in “The Birth of a Nation”
Here, perhaps, is a test of screen art. “The Birth of a Nation” was Griffith vindication for his flourishing departure from Biograph. Because of the halo that “The Birth of a Nation” has conferred upon them, some of the now famous names from the cast must be recalled: Henry Walthall, Mae Marsh, Elmer Clifton, Robert Harron, Lillian Gish, Joseph Henabery, Sam de Grasse, Donald Crisp and Jennie Lee.
Lillian Gish Promotional Hartsook – The Clansman (The Birth of a Nation)
The Birth of a Nation (David W. Griffith Corp., 1915). Herald2
Lillian Gish Salem Daily Capital Journal article (Of The Birth of A Nation) – NOT Lillian Gish in the photograph
Griffith’s attainment in “The Birth of a Nation” must be credited with a large influence in extending an acceptance and appreciation of the screen art into new, higher levels. Here was a picture that could not be ignored by any class. It also exerted a large, even if indirect, influence on the course of motion picture finance. Hundreds of thousands and million were now to become easy figures in the manipulation of the thought of the industry. “The Birth of a Nation” is said to have cost over a quarter of a million. It would have been cheap at a million. The public has paid 815,000,000, according to the estimate of J. P. McCarthy, who has put the picture on the screens of the world.
In this single picture, Griffith, above all others, forced an indifferent world to learn that the motion picture was great. In the next chapter we shall tell some untold tales of screen destiny, rich with personal drama and adventure, stories of Charles Chaplin, Pancho Villa. Jack Johnson and Jess Willard. a curious bypath story of the world war and Broadway, and the amazing truth of how one idea and one little girl, Mary Pickford, rocked the whole vast institution of the screen and set all of its invested millions a-tremble.