LILLIAN GISH GETS FIRST STAGE SONG;
Writers for ‘Anya’ Accepted Her Voice, Says Star
By Louis Calta
The New York Times Nov. 9, 1965
“You better wait until you hear me before you use the word ‘sing,'”, Lillian Gish said yesterday. She confirmed a report that she will be heard in song on Broadway for the first time in her career. As the dowager empress of Russia in „Anya,” the musical version of the play “Anastasia,” opening here Nov. 29, Miss Gish will sing a special number, „Little Hands.”
”George Abbott, the director, asked me.” she said. “I might be frightened in less professional hands than Mr. Abbott’s, but I’m excited instead.”
Miss Gish said she had not taken any voice lessons. “The time is too short and it might confuse me,” she explained. “I met Robert Wright and George Forrest, the show’s song writers. They heard me and·they said that it would be all right for me to do the song.
Miss Gish made her stage debut in Ohio when she was 5 years old, in a melodrama with Walter Huston as the young leading man.
She had always wanted to be in a musical, she said, and even went so far as to take voice lessons from Victor Maurell, a teacher of half a century ago, and from Margaret Carrington.
I was only 19 then, and I’m afraid I did not fully appreciate the opportunity,” Miss Gish said wistfully. „But I’m sure I got some good from it.”
Although biographical data usually list in Miss Gish’s birth date as 1896, the energetic star says that she is actually only 65 years old.
„When we were little,” she! said – referring to herself and her sister Dorothy -„we would say that we were older because of the laws prohibiting youngsters from appearing on the stage.”
„Anya,”which deals with the purported survival of a Russian princess of the Bolshevik massacre in 1917, teams Miss Gish with Constance Towers, Michael Kermoyan and lrra Petina.
KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 5 IN ARTS
By Irvin Molotsky, Special To the New York Times
Aug. 16, 1982
George Abbott, Lillian Gish, Benny Goodman, Gene Kelly and Eugene Ormandy were named today as the recipients of the 1982 Kennedy Center Honors for their contributions to the performing arts.
”I’m in such good company – that’s marvelous,” said Mr. Kelly when told the names of his co-winners. ”It’s a gang I feel very comfortable with.”
Mr. Kelly, who was cited in his award for his work as a dancer, choreographer and director, was reached by telephone near Nogales, Mexico, where he is vacationing with his family, and his designation will mean his second trip this year to the White House for a meeting with President Reagan, an old friend.
This year Mr. Kelly was the host for a nationally televised performance by young dancers at the White House.
Youngest of the Five
”Nothing could have pleased me more than to have been selected,” Mr. Kelly said. ”I was very moved and touched when informed of it.” At the age of 70, Mr. Kelly, who has retired from dancing, is the youngest of this year’s recipients. The oldest is Mr. Abbott, who is 95.
Just a week ago Mr. Abbott announced that he would stage a revival in December at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts of ”On Your Toes,” a musical he wrote in 1936. His collaborator for the revival will be George Balanchine, who choreographed ”On Your Toes,” his first Broadway musical.
Mr. Abbott thus joins Mr. Balanchine as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors; the choreographer was in the first group of winners in 1978.
Mr. Abbott’s other Broadway writing credits include ”Three Men on a Horse,” ”The Boys From Syracuse,” ”Where’s Charley?,” ”The Pajama Game” and ”Damn Yankees.” The plays he has directed include ”Sweet Charity,” ”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and ”Call Me Madam.”
Broadway and Hollywood
Mr. Kelly’s career includes movies as well as the stage. He appeared on Broadway in ”The Time of Your Life” and ”Pal Joey” and in such movies as ”Singin’ in the Rain” and ”An American in Paris.”
Miss Gish and Mr. Goodman will also be making their second Washington appearances in less than a year when they accept their awards. Miss Gish appeared at Wolf Trap recently at a screening of ”La Boheme,” the silent film classic in which she played. She spoke of her long career, which included such other silent movies as ”The Birth of a Nation” and ”Orphans of the Storm.” Her modern films include ”Duel in the Sun,” ”The Night of the Hunter” and ”The Wedding.”
In a Broadway production of ”Hamlet” she played Ophelia opposite John Gielgud.
Swing and Bartok, Too
Mr. Goodman, a clarinetist who is as comfortable with a concerto by Karl Maria von Weber as he is with a jazz composition by Fletcher Henderson, performed at a White House party this year.
His swing band was among the country’s most popular in the 1930’s and 40’s, and he formed a quartet with Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa; at the same time he was commissioning works for the clarinet by Bela Bartok, Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith.
Mr. Ormandy, now conductor laureate of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was the Philadelphians’ music director for 44 years. During his long tenure, the orchestra developed its distinctive style and a specialization in late Romantic works, and it became the most recorded symphony orchetra in the United States.
Mr. Ormandy conducted the orchestra during its 1973 visit to China, the first appearance by an American symphony orchestra in China since Peking’s resumption of relations with the United States.
‘Rich Harvest’ Ahead
The five recipients are to receive their awards at a Kennedy Center ceremony next Dec. 4, and President and Mrs. Reagan will honor them at a White House reception the following night. After the reception a performance will be given in their honor at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House. The performance will be be broadcast at a later date by CBS-TV.
Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, said that the awards, now in their fifth year, were intended to demonstrate that ”this nation does recognize the intrinsic value of the arts.”
He added: ”There are still so many who deserve to be honored that the years ahead promise a rich harvest.” Previous winners of the Kennedy Center honors were: 1978 – Marian Anderson, Fred Astaire, Richard Rodgers, Arthur Rubinstein and Mr. Balanchine. 1979 – Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Martha Graham, Tennessee Williams and Mr. Copland. 1980 – James Cagney, Leonard Bernstein, Agnes de Mille, Lynn Fontanne and Leontyne Price. 1981 – Count Basie, Cary Grant, Helen Hayes, Jerome Robbins and Rudolf Serkin.
Princess Grace of Monaco, Miss Lillian Gish and Al Pacino – 1982
City Bestows Accolade On a Cheerful Miss Gish
The New York Times – Oct. 18, 1973
Lillian Gish, who has criticized herself for living too much in “tomorrows,” enjoyed a yesterday that she said she would remember always. “This is a tremendous honor, Your Honor,” said, the actress of the silent screen, smiling at Mayor Lindsay as he awarded her the Handel Medallion for achievement in the arts.
“I’ve never enjoyed giving this medal more,” responded. Mayor Lindsay, who has bestowad the honor seven times this year. Addressing the small group that had accompanied Miss Gish to his office in City Hall for the ceremony, he read the inscription on the medal: “To Dorothy and Lillian Gish, for the joy they have given to generations of Americans.”
Miss Gish, who says she is “one decade older than the century,” looked delicate but vibrant and full of energy. “Oh, my beloved sister,” she said after hearing the inscription addressed to her and her late sister. “She was the talent in the family. I didn’t have her gift of comedy.”
The New York Times June 1, 1941
LILLIAN GISH, TOAST OF CHICAGO AND THE WEST
After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Town
By LLOYD LEWIS – Chicago
Lillian Gish, by virtue of sixty-six weeks in “Life With Father” at Chicago Blackstone Theatre, now takes her place beside the Lunts, Helen Hayes and Katharine Cornell as a truly national star.
She has achieved this position by merely spending well over a year at the crossroads of America, the railroad center, whereas the others have had to tour arduously from Tulsa to Des Moines to Seattle to Atlanta. An amazing number of transcontinental travelers stopped off in Chicago long enough to see this Chicago company of “Life With Father,” and the Pullman people say the show did a lot for midnight bookings.
But it was by automobile that the great bulk of out-of-towners came to see Miss Gish and the comedy which on May 24 ended its run after setting a new longevity mark for dramas in Chicago. Sedans carrying four or five people arrived constantly from everywhere within a radius of 400 miles. Hitchhikers were found during the year to have come 200 miles just to see the play. One woman in Chicago went thirty-five times. Hundreds are known to have seen it four and five times. What was common was for men to attend during a trip to Chicago and then return some weeks later with their entire families, one of the standard sights in the audiences being that of a father sitting with his home folks and watching, from the corner of his eye, their faces as, on the stage, they saw him satirized, portrayed, “taken off.”
Miss Gish, to the people of the interior, was still a shimmering memory from the silent screen when she arrived in Chicago with the Crouse-Lindsay comedy in the Spring of 1940. She had made brief appearances in spoken dramas during the past decade, but the plays had never been smash hits nor tarried long in the few large cities which they had visited. Her Ophelia opposite John Gielgud had never come West. Most of her stage fame was purely Broadway.
But in “Life With Father” she has made herself an entirely new fame in the midlands. The Lily Maid of Astolat is no longer a dream creature in an ivory belfry nor a flower-decked vision on a dark barge. She is now Mrs. Day, mother, wife and housekeeper. Lillian Gish has come from the unreal to the real. She has made people laugh, she has made people adore her for the simplicity and humor as well with the truly great charm with which she has worn the manners and costumes of the past century. She has identified herself with a character, a scene and a play wholly American, wholly practical and realistic so far as atmosphere is concerned.
Midlanders talk about her now as though she had never been a fabulous, distant, legendary creature of D.W. Griffith’s filmdom at all. She is now somebody everybody knows-and loves, and if she chooses, she can tour the midlands for years in this comedy, building for herself a reputation approaching that of Joe Jefferson in “Rip Van Winkle.” It would take years, of course, and it is not likely she will undertake it, for on May 24 she had acted Vinnie Day for seventy-two consecutive weeks without missing a performance or a rehearsal. Some of those weeks were, indeed, rehearsals, but they meant daily work longer and harder than actual performances and must be added to the span of her toil.
“I don’t know,” says she, “if I should play ‘Life With Father’ any longer; Helen Hayes tells me seventy-two weeks straight is too long for an actress. Other theatrical people tell me that I have thus set a new American record for an actress playing a principal role. I don’t know about this. I do know that I grew weary toward the end and only the enthusiasm of those crowds kept me going. I felt, too, that is was good for the theatre, especially in the midlands, to have a play run in one house for more than a year. That could mean the education of new thousands to the value of the drama.”
After a Summer’s rest, Miss Gish will decide whether to appear in another play or to return to further tours in “Life With Father.” It was from a balcony seat at the Empire Theatre in New York soon after the original company was launched that she first saw the play. After the first two acts she went to the business office of the theatre downstairs and congratulated the management. One of owner Oscar Serlin’s lieutenants then and there asked her why she didn’t head a second company. Surprised, she retired to the balcony with the statement that if the third act held up she’d see. It did, she saw, and within a few weeks she was rehearsing with the second company.
During the historic Chicago run, which bettered by one week the record set by Frank Bacon in “Lightnin’” in 1921-22. Miss Gish has done herculean work for the play outside as well as in the theatre. She has become a very impressive speaker due to the endless Kiwanis and women’s club luncheons she has addressed. She has been photographed with Mayors, water lilies, new automobiles, 4-H club youngsters. She has posed buying tickets to charities.
In her, Chicago has seen what D.W. Griffith saw when, at the height of her career as a fragile, ultra-feminine, wraith-like spirit in films, he said “she has the brain of a man.” For the Griffith films she worked daily, every day, across nine years. When she was not acting she was writing subtitles, picking locations, coining advertising catch lines. She learned all about billposting, and bargained for one-sheets, twenty-four sheets, snipes. She coined the title for “The Greatest Thing in Life,” and once in the early 1920’s she directed for Paramount a picture called “Remodeling Her Husband,” with her sister Dorothy as star and an unknown girl-friend named Dorothy Parker supplying the subtitles.
Not without pride Miss Gish recalls, today, that this film cost $28.000 and grossed $300.000. And she takes satisfaction in the success of “White Sister,” a film for which she raised the money, supervised the scenario, the direction, the acting, and made the releasing deals when major companies refused to handle the film because it was “non-commercial.” It was she who wrote into the script the scene that assured the picture’s success, the ceremonial at which the heroine became a nun; the scene had not been contained in either the novel or drama. Her discovery of Ronald Colman, an obscure stage actor, as a film possibility and her employment of him as the hero of “White Sister” was also a businesslike item in the story of that film. Costing $270.000 it was eventually took in $4.000.000.
So wholly did Hollywood come to agree with Griffith’s verdict that she owned the brain of a man that she had, several years ago, standing offers from companies to come back and direct whenever she wished. But stage acting has been more important to her, obviously giving her mind more nourishment than Hollywood could ever give.
Thinking back across her career, it was not the nine vacationless years with Griffith, nor the seventy-two consecutive weeks of “Life With Father” that have taxed her as much as in the long run as Ophelia in “Hamlet” with John Gielgud.
“And it wasn’t the work that did that,” she says, “it was the emotional strain of Gielgud’s Hamlet. Every night his performance was as emotionally exhausting to me as to the spectators. His was truly great acting.”
LILLIAN GISH JOINS FESTIVAL TROUPE;
Will Play Nurse in ‘Romeo’ at Stratford, Conn.
By Sam Zolotow
The New York Times – Jan. 27, 1965
Lillian Gish will portray the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Conn. It will be the first bill of the student series on March 8 and will usher in the regular season on June 19. Allen Fletcher, the group’s artistic director, will stage the play.
Miss Gish, who says she weighs 115 pounds and is 5 feet 6 inches tall, acknowledged she would make a petite nurse.
“I’ll persuade them without using any padding” she said, “that I’m large and vigorous. Size and weight have nothing to do with a good interpretation.”
The nurse will be Miss Gish’s only role at the festival and the first time she has acted there. Her only other Shakespearean role was Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet on Broadway in 1936.
Terence Seammell has been selected for the part of Romeo and Maria Tucci as Juliet. Mr. Seammell is a third-season member of the troupe.
Miss Tucci, who is 22 years old, will make her debut at the festival. She has acted on Broadway in “The Deputy” and “The Milk Train doesn’t Stop Here Anymore”.
“There were plans to do “Romeo and Juliet” with Dick Barthelmess in Italy using the original locations, but, following our announcement, letters from the exhibitors begged reconsideration saying Mr. Shakespeare emptied their theaters. By the time I finally succeeded in appearing in this play at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, I was playing the Nurse.” (Dorothy and Lillian Gish – By Lillian Gish)
The New York Times, Sep 30, 1937
Maxwell Anderson’s ‘The Star Wagon’
By Brooks Atkinson
The Star Wagon, a play in three acts and eight scenes, by Maxwell Anderson. Settings by Jo Mielziner; staged and produced by Guthrie McClintic. At the Empire Theatre.
- Hanus Wicks ……………… Russell Collins
- Martha Minch ………………… Lillian Gish
- Stephen Minch ……. Burgess Meredith
- Park ……………………….…. Whither Bissell
- Ripple …………………………. Alan Anderson
- Angela ………………………….… Muriel Starr
- Apfel …………………..…. Howard Freeman
- Duffy ………………………………… Kent Smith
- First thug ……………………….. Barry Kelley
- Second thug ………..… Charles Forrester
- Misty ……………………………. John Philliber
- Hallie Arlington ………… Jane Buchanan
- Mr. Arlington …………….…. Arthur Young
- Mrs. Rutledge ………… Mildred Natwick
- Paul Rieger ……………… Edmond O’Brien
- Cristabel ………………………. Evelyn Abbott
- Delia …………………………………. Edith Smith
- Oglethorpe ………………… William Garner
Maxwell Anderson and his crew of playmakers are back. They put on “The Star Wagon” at the Empire last evening and restored theatre – going to the status of a privileged profession. Although Mr. Anderson is not the most original playwright in the world, nor the most unctuous craftsman, he writes with considerable bone and muscle. To put it in its simplest terms, “The Star Wagon” is one of his most interesting plays. Taking the hackneyed theme of the time-machine and operating it clumsily at times, he manages to grind some characters out of it who are enormously absorbing people to be with in the theatre and who speculate on the cosmic subjects that arouse a man’s normal wonder. It is a vigorous and variegated play, written with the tang of good prose; and it is superbly acted by Burgess Meredith and Lillian Gish in one of Mr. McClintic’s master performances. Of the new plays of the season this is the first to be worth a serious discussion.
In “High Tor” last year Mr. Anderson was advising his contemporaries not to try to hold time back. Although his style is less grandiloquent this season, his point of view is much the same. There is no such thing as good and bad fortune, he says; if we follow our natural instincts, we are doing as well by ourselves as we can. To prove this point, Mr. Anderson offers us an impractical laboratory inventor who constructs a machine that can carry him back and forth in time. He goes back specifically to the day in 1902 when he made his choice for a wife. Since she has been insisting that both of them married the wrong person, he tries the experiment of marrying the other girl and letting his present wife marry the other man she might have chosen. The results are ghastly; they all turn out to be jangled people. By operating the time machine again, he restores everything to its present condition and now everyone feels fine.
As a dramatic device, the time-machine is not the subtlest tool of imagination. Mr. Anderson departs from the magic-carpet tradition by permitting his chief characters to be aware of their privilege and by endowing them with the power to make different choices at the crucial moments in their past history. When they return to the present they also retain the memory of their excursions into what might have been, which gives them a perspective denied to the ordinary mortals of the world. The new play leaves the mind rather discontented.
But the dramatic device is not the interesting aspect of “The Star Wagon.” What absorbs an audience is the power Mr. Anderson has to create vital characters, write lively scenes and scribble robust conversation. He can manage a flight of fancy but preserving his common sense about people. And the people of “The Star Wagon” are some of the best he has gathered under his dramatic roof-plain people with queer twists of personality, comic people with a touch of the ludicrous in their habits, mean people and generous people, and at least one who is inspired. As for the scenes, they are penny plain and tuppence colored, some of them grubby, some of them overflowing with sentimental nostalgia and many of them democratically humorous. Mr. Anderson’s play is steeped in people and stuffed full of giddy scenes.
His colleagues have been his most appreciative friends. Mr. McClintic and Mr. Mielziner have kept his fancy squarely set on the stage of a theatre. In the last two seasons Mr. Meredith has had a chance to show what he can do with bravura parts in an Anderson play. Now he skips through the whole gallery of man-the lack-lustre present, the dewy past, and back to now again; and all this he acts with infinite resource, personal magnetism and the gusto of a fully awakened actor. Although Miss Gish has given many fine performances, put this one down as in the top flight, a conscientious and shining characterization. In “Candida” Mr. McClintic gave Mildred Natwick a chance to radiate comedy without wearing grandma’s old costumes, and here she is again proving herself to be the perfect comedienne. Last year Russell Collins was distinguishing himself as the chief character in “Johnny Johnson.” As he who gets slapped in the current play he is in his best form, a likable and humorously straightforward actor.
Expertly staged, beautifully acted, written with the tenacity of an independent – minded playwright, “The Star Wagon” is the first job of the season worth discussing. As a craftsman Mr. Anderson is no perfectionist, but when he sits down to his table he can write for the theatre.
The New York Times – Oct. 25, 1950
AT THE THEATRE
Lillian Gish in the Theatre Guild’s Production of ‘The Curious Savage’
By Brooks Atkinson
In the days before the great enlightenment, people used to go to Bedlam to enjoy the odd behavior of the lunatics. Last evening, the Theatre Guild invited the subscribers to the Martin Beck to see the antics of the characters in “The Curious Savage.”
John Patrick, who wrote the Hasty Heart”, has written this excursion into a modern, Bedlam. Presumably, he has something ,more than sensation and curiosity in mind. For his chief character is an elderly lady whose gaiety and generous impulses look like lunacy to her stepchildren. Alarmed by the liberality with which she gives money away to people she likes, her stepchildren have her committed to an institution.
If you imagine that the patients in the mental institution are more amiable than the stepchildren, and that the elderly lady returns with genuine regrets and misgivings to the sane world outside, you are a very experienced theatergoer indeed, and need no further instruction. Mr. Patrick’s attitude is not exactly original.
Things in the theatre are criticized frequently as being in bad taste. Some people think that Olsen and Johnson are in bad taste, which seems plausible. But this column would like to suggest that “The Curious Savage” is also in bad taste, and that the delusions and crotchets of people who are mentally ill are not genuinely amusing.
Mr. Patrick has filled his comedy with bright remarks, precocious sayings and the foibles of the mad. No doubt his intentions are honorable. We have “The Hasty Heart,, to show that he is a man of compassion. But the writing of “The Curious Savage” is not subtle, and the performance is a lark. To at least one theatregoer, this jovial portrait of psychopathic people is embarrassing.
Although Peter Glenville has directed the performance nimbly, he cannot exorcize the spirit of the comedy. And if you are not comfortable in the company of the deranged inmates of a mental institution, you are likely to regard Lillian Gish’s performance as a trifle kittenish in the part of the roguish lady who is legally sane.
Robert Emhardt gives a first rate performance as the most cheerful of the imbeciles, finding just the right tone and emphasis to define a character. The cast also includes Isobel Elsom, Marta Linden, Flora Campbell, Gladys Henson, Lois Hall and Hugh Reilly, who give good performances in other parts. The single set of the living-room in a home-like institution has been pleasantly designed by George Jenkins.
On its own terms as polite entertainment with a faint edge of satire, “The Curious Savage” is a fairly mild play. But many theatergoers are likely to regard the whole project as distasteful. Bedlam is not so delightfully amusing as it was a hundred years ago.
THE CURIOUS SAVAGE, a comedy ln three acts, by John Patrick. Staged by Peter Glenville; production designed and lighted by George Jenkins; costumes by Anna Hill Johnstone; presented by the Theatre Guild, Russell Lewis and Howard Young. At the Martin Beck Theatre.
Florence …………………….. Isobel Elsom
Hannibal ……….….…. Robert Emhardt
Fairy May ………………….….…. Lois Hall
Jeffrey ………………..………. Hugh Reilly
Mrs. Paddy …………….. Gladys Henson
Titus …………………….. Brandon Peters
Samuel …….……..….. Howard Wendell
Lily Belle ………..……..… Marta Linden
Ethel …………………………… Lillian Gish
Miss Wilhelmina ……. Flora Campbell
Dr. Emmett ………….……. Sydney Smith
Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times, October 25, 1950)