Lillian Gish still favorite dish – By Marilyn August, October – 1983

Desert Sun 15 October 1983

Famed star of silent films Lillian Gish still favorite dish

By MARILYN AUGUST Associated Press Writer

PARIS (AP) France’s cultural elite is shining the spotlight this week on American actress Lillian Gish who turned 87 Friday and gained fame on the silent screen when the French were embroiled in World War I. “I really don’t know what I’ve done to warrant all this generosity and goodness,” said Miss Gish, the uncontested grande dame of silent movies who is being honored during week long festivities in Paris.

jeanne moreau lillian gish

Miss Gish charmed generations of movie-goers as the heroine in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Civil War classic “Birth of a Nation,” as the sad mother in “Intolerance,” and the luckless damsel in “Broken Blossoms.” Miss Gish, who Thursday received the prestigious Commander of Arts and Letters Award from French Minister of Culture Jack Lang, made her stage debut at age 4.

AP Wire Press Photo Lillian Gish, Jack Lang, Arts Letters Commandeur Medal 83
AP Wire Press Photo Lillian Gish, Jack Lang, Arts Letters Commandeur Medal 83

She has been working almost non-stop ever since, winning honors for performances in 102 movies and 50 plays that included works of Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. French film director Francois Truffaut says her career of 83 years “follows cinema history as closely as two parallel tracks of the Union Pacific.”

1972-paul-newman-joanne-woodward-gilleon-gish-francois-truffaut-valentina
1972-paul-newman-joanne-woodward-gilleon-gish-francois-truffaut-valentina

Miss Gish and her sister, Dorothy, are the subject of a television documentary by Jeanne Moreau to be aired soon, along with a song-and-dance tribute to their careers. Her soft face set off by curls the color of champagne, Miss Gish showed no trace of fatigue after a whirlwind week in the French capital that included newspaper interviews, dinners, receptions and television appearances.

 

 

“I suppose silent film did speak to the world in a way you don’t have today,” she said, pressing the arm of a reporter. “You had to write the words so you remember them longer. Nowadays, everything’s done for you so you can just sit there and eat popcorn.” Although she had a major role recently in Robert Altman’s “Marriage,” and believes cinema is the major art of the century, she says going to the movies today “hurts my pride.” “We used to play to packed houses in theaters that held 6,424 people,” she said. “I go to the movies today, and there are only six people in the audience and they don’t react.” Miss Gish’s love affair with France began in 1917 when she, her mother and Dorothy came to film a “movie to make America make up its mind to go to war for France and England.”

“I bet there aren’t many people here who saw Paris for the first time with not one light burning only a full moon,” she said. “We weren’t afraid because we had just come from London where they were having air raids without warning. At 11 o’clock one night a bomb hit a tramway right under our windows at the Savoy and 11 people were killed. We couldn’t stay in our rooms for the screams of the wounded.” Paris was a veritable haven, except that “we got thin and nervous, and mother got shell-shocked at the front.”

Her voice dropped as she recalled the mud, the rats and an epidemic “that came like a reminder that we were all doing something very bad.” But it was “dear Mr. Griffith,” the man who discovered her in 1912 and cast her in a movie with Mary Pickford, who determined the course of her long and brilliant career. Miss Gish never married, and many say Griffith was the unspoken love of her life. “He was older than my real father, so much more serious and fatherly. He was a genius, a poet with a beautiful baritone voice,” she said, smiling. They disagreed only over her name. “What kind of name is Gish for an actress,” she quotes Griffith as saying. “Gish, pish, fish, dish.” “Well, said sister Dorothy, if Gish was good enough for mother, it’s good enough for us.”

MARILYN AUGUST Associated Press Writer – 1983

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Lillian-Gish-Jeanne-Moreau 60s
Lillian-Gish-Jeanne-Moreau 60s

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Desert Sun 15 October 1983
Desert Sun 15 October 1983

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Marks of age are lost in her glow – 1978 by Carol Olten (NY)

Desert Sun, 21 December 1978

 

Lillian Gish – Marks of age are lost in her glow

By CAROL OLTEN – NEW YORK –

Lillian Gish, 82, sits under a crystal chandelier in the grand ballroom of a hotel on Central Park South. She is dressed all in orange, no, perhaps, more a coral because there seem to be pink tones in the identically colored suit, blouse and hat that lend a slight glow to her powdery paleness. She carries a small, velvet bag, the same color of coral and, one imagines, inside is a handkerchief of the same shade a lace handkerchief with flowers embroidered in a corner. Her skin, despite faint age spots and wrinkles that seem almost lace-like, too, in their delicacy, is near translucent. Mystifyingly, Lillian Gish looks unchanged from the virginal heroine seduced by a mulatto tyrant in “The Birth of the Nation,” 1915, or, the fragile waif rescued from the guillotine in “Orphans of the Storm,” 1922, The marks of age are there on her face, yes, but her eyes fill with childlike wonder as if searching out the room for an old Rolleiflex.

Robert Altman - Lillian Gish (A Wedding)
Robert Altman – Lillian Gish (A Wedding)

She exudes a strangely luminous quality. Her speech is quick and bright, brilliant in its remembrances. A photographer from 20th Century-Fox hovers around the table and, as he prepares to flash pictures, Ms. Gish invariably halts her conversation, turns toward him and poses for the photo, so inherent is her respect for the camera. The official purpose of the interview is to talk about “A Wedding,” Robert Altman’s new film in which Ms. Gish has the part of a family matriarch dying but dying amusedly in an upstairs bedroom while the bridal reception lakes place. It’s the first film Lillian Gish has done since “The Comedians” with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1967.

“I like Altman’s differences,” said Ms. Gish, “his newness to the approach to the human race. They tell me he doesn’t like them very much, but he’s making use of satire to call attention to their weaknesses. I pick people and talent when deciding to do a movie and 1 hope this one works because I’ve put all my money into my own project.” The project is a film about the history of silent movie making called “Infinity in Film.” It traces the era of the silents from the beginning until the talkies in 1928.

Lillian Gish celebrating her 100th Film "A Wedding"
Lillian Gish celebrating her 100th Film “A Wedding”
A Wedding
A Wedding

“I try to show the power of film,” said Ms. Gish. “The only country that uses the power of the film is Russia. “In July of 1969 I was a guest for 15 days in Russia with my lecture on film. In Russia they give the people classics and history of their country in films. They make Russian factories look like places you’d want to live and who would want to live in Siberia? But Siberia is made to look like poetry in white.” But this is propaganda and indoctrination, is it not? “Well! Before the First World War, we were sent to Europe to make movies that would make up American’s mind about the fighting. Nurses were valuable, then, but actors were a dime a dozen. We started thinking about this Dorothy, my mother and myself and it made us nervous. We were at the Savoy Hotel in London when London was bombed. “In 1917, I was for seven months in England and France with mother and my sister, Dorothy. I remember the first time we saw Paris. It was in the moonlight and Dorothy and I walked all night just to see it and in the morning we had something to eat. at the market. We thought we’d better take a look because, unless God was willing, there may never be another opportunity with the war happening.”

  • Photo: Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish and Robert Harron in Griffith’s “Hearts of the World”

Lillian Gish was born Lillian de Guiche in 1896 in Springfield, Ohio. She and her sister, who was born two years later and died in 1968 (never having quite the limelight in her screen career as Lillian), were the daughters of a sturdy German grocer and an actress mother. In her 1969 autobiography, “The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me,” Lillian recalled: “I made my debut when I was 6 in Rising Sun, Ohio. I took my first curtain call on shoulders of the handsome leading man, Walter Huston.” Lillian and Dorothy were on the road playing melodramas with their mother through the South and East until 1912 when they went to New York and saw a one-reeler in a nickelodeon featuring a fellow thespian, Gladys Smith. They went to Biograph Studios where the one-reeler had been made to talk to Gladys and found that she had changed her name to Mary Pickford, soon to become the world’s little sweetheart. Pickford introduced the Gishes to the director, D.W. Griffith. Lillian remembered, “I thought at first his name was Mr. Biograph. He invited us to work as extras and we started the next day. The pay was $5.”

The film was “An Unseen Enemy,” the first of many one-, two- and three-reeler melodramas the Gishes did with the acclaimed Griffith. Later. Lillian became Griffith’s leading silent star in such memorable films as “Birth of the Nation,” “Intolerance,” “Orphans in the Storm,” “Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East.”

Lillian Gish - A Wedding
Lillian Gish – A Wedding
Elaine The Lilly Maid Dreaming of Astolat ... Lillian Gish - Way Down East
Elaine The Lilly Maid Dreaming of Astolat … Lillian Gish – Way Down East

THEN AND NOW – A movie career spanning more than 50 years is depicted in the two photos here. Below, Lillian Gish appears in “Way Down East,” in 1920. Above is her latest film, “A Wedding” now in release.

Carol Olten – New York (Desert Sun, Dec. 1978)

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

Interviewing-Lillian-Gish
Interviewing-Lillian-Gish

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

 

Tribute to Gish telecast – April 17, 1984

Desert Sun, Number 209, 4 April 1984

Tribute to Gish telecast April 17

By Copley News Service

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

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

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

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

Copley News Service – April 1984

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

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Weeps at Own Play – 1919 (Los Angeles Herald)

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLIV, Number 290, 6 October 1919

WEEPS AT OWN PLAY

(Broken Blossoms)

Lillian Gish has been the heroine in many Griffith pictures, but no other film in which she has appeared hits made so deep an impression upon her as “Broken Blossoms,” which is now being presented at Clune’s auditorium. She saw the photoplay on the opening night in New York, she saw it in San Francisco and in other cities, and now that it is being presented in Los Angeles she is seeing it at every opportunity.

Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess - Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess – Broken Blossoms

And, it is said, she weeps softly every time she sees it. Critics throughout the country have declared that the work Miss Gish does in this picture has placed her in the forefront of modern tragediennes, and one enthusiastic reviewer coupled her name with that of Bernhardt. But it is not to see Lillian Gish, the actress, that Miss Gish so often visits Clune’s  Auditorium to sit alone and watch the tragic tale as it is unfolded on the screen. It is the story that Griffith has moulded that enthralls her.

Lillian Gish - Lucy, the girl (Broken Blossoms)
Lillian Gish – Lucy, the girl (Broken Blossoms)

It is so natural, so artistic, that it has almost become part of her life. “’Broken Blossoms’ is by far the most wonderful thing we have done,” said Miss Gish. ‘‘lt is my pet picture. Some people say it is 100 true to life. Only a few nights ago as I sat in the theater, a woman said to the man seated beside her, ‘I won’t look at it, I can’t. I want to go home.’ But he was apparently wrapped up in the play and kept saying to her ‘Shut your eyes, then, if you don’t want to see it. I won’t go home. It is wonderful’.“ I like stories that reflect life. That is why I love ‘Broken Blossoms.’ Because it is real, ‘Broken Blossoms’ should be seen at least twice by every one.

Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms
Lillian Gish and Donald Crisp in Broken Blossoms

I think pictures, books and people should be met twice. We never discover all of any person at one meeting; why should we only read a book through once or see a picture once. “People are not usually honest at the first meeting. They are likely to be excited or not at ease, and we don’t get truthful impressions. The same is true about especially such a picture as ‘Broken Blossoms.’ ” (Miss Lillian Gish)

Above: The Closet Scene – “Broken Blossoms”

Lucy's smile ... (Broken Blossoms)
Lucy’s smile … (Broken Blossoms)

Los Angeles Herald, 6 October 1919

Los Angeles Herald 6 October 1919
Los Angeles Herald 6 October 1919

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

A Life on Stage and Screen – by STUART ODERMAN

Lillian Gish

A Life on Stage and Screen

By STUART ODERMAN

Lillian Gish - Life With Father (Stuart Oderman - book cover)
Lillian Gish – Life With Father (Stuart Oderman – book cover)

PREFACE

New York City: March 12, 1993. There were 700 mourners in attendance at St. Bartholomew’s. The pews were already filled before the start of the eleven o’clock memorial service.1 Even before it was announced in the newspapers and on radio and television, many knew that Lillian Gish had passed away in her sleep at her East 57th Street apartment, where she had lived alone for many years.
“It was what she had wanted,” James Frasher, her longtime personal manager, told the press.2 “She died at 7:03 p.m. on February 27 in her own bed. She was film. Film started in 1893, and so did she.” Film, in the days of its infancy, meant a quickly cranked black-and-white onereeler exhibited in nickelodeons for an audience of poor people, immigrants eager to plunk down their nickels for a new minutes of escapism from the factories, tenements, and drudgeries of the day. In her silent film years, Lillian had risen from a $5-a-day player hired off the street for the Biograph Company in 1912 by D.W. Griffith to co-star with her sister Dorothy in a one-reel melodrama, An Unseen Enemy, to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer leading lady who, in 1927, could command a salary of $400,000, along with her choice of director, script and cast approval, and the added luxury of extra rehearsal time. She had lived long enough to see the “flickers” become “talkies,” which became multi-million dollar color extravaganzas that commanded high ticket prices, sometimes required reserved seats, and caused traffic jams.

 

Father, Dear Father

The Springfield, Ohio, where Lillian Diana Gish was born to James Leigh and Mary (McConnell) Robinson Gish on October 14, 1893, wasn’t very far removed from the wilderness of an earlier time.

Springfield, Ohio, Limestone Street
Springfield, Ohio, Limestone Street

If one wanted to learn of the latest births or deaths or new arrivals settling down, or attempt an honorable courtship, the church was of central importance as a proper meeting place. In Springfield and the surrounding areas, there were small churches of different denominations. To attract and maintain new and established congregants, “dinner on the ground” (a link to a time when churches were hard to find – and preachers harder) became very popular.  It was a common sight to see pioneer wives with food baskets coming to worship in the morning and then staying for the afternoon service.

Springfield Ohio - Downtown
Springfield Ohio – Downtown

Always an active theatre state, Ohio was home to touring companies featuring the likes of Jane Cowl, Maude Adams, and playwright Eugene O’Neill’s father, James, who left the security of a tailor’s job in Cincinnati to join a touring company.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Lillian and her mother — with Mary Robinson McConnell and Lillian Gish early 1896

To this nomadic life, with its frustration and heartbreak, Mary Robinson Gish would have to surrender herself and her daughters if they wished to survive. The origins of James Leigh Gish were not known or easily traceable. Everyone knew that Lillian’s mother, once known as “pretty May McConnell,” could trace her solid American ancestry back to President Zachary Taylor, a poetess named Emily Ward, and an Ohio state Senator, who was their Grandfather McConnell. Even in an era when townspeople discussed their kith and kin with unabashed alacrity, nobody could speak a complete paragraph about Mary Gish’s husband. James often described himself as a travelling salesman, a “drummer.” Although the most skilled drummers (which James wasn’t) could charm their way through town after town, changing their stories and lines of patter as the occasion required, the only James Gish story about which there was complete agreement was his courtship of young, pretty May McConnell. They had met in May’s hometown, Urbana,  and were married very quickly. Thanks to Mary McConnell’s father, James was able to get a job in a grocery store with the hope that one day he and his wife would have saved enough money to open a confectionery business of their own.

Mary Robinson McConnell
Mary Robinson McConnell

Mary never criticized her husband or his ideas in front of Lillian or her younger sister, Dorothy. Lillian’s retelling of what had been said to her was greeted with a stony silence. It was bad enough to subject other townspeople to drunken reveries in the subdued light of a local tavern, but to put these wandering notions into the mind of an innocent little girl? Where did he get his upbringing? When would he assume the responsibilities of a Christian, God fearing father and stop playing the role of a feckless ne’er-do-well?

Without James’ knowledge, she and her daughter joined the Episcopal church and were regular worshipers, maintaining the tradition that had begun in Springfield. Perhaps if Mary’s thoughts were spoken in proper prayer and constant Sunday devotion, there might be salvation for James. Indeed, for everyone. We must bear and forbear. Amen.

James-Leigh-Gish.jpg
James Leigh Gish

Before the summer ended, James left his family in search of business opportunities in other cities, tightening the bond between Mary and her daughters. Lillian, somehow becoming aware of James’ erratic behavior patterns, knew not to upset her mother with painful questions. Everything Lillian wanted she had found on her Aunt Emily’s farm: chickens, a cat who was always asleep, and a friendly dog. There was no need to think about an absentee alcoholic father who made her mother cry and wasted money on drink.

James Leigh Gish
James Leigh Gish

 

The Road to Biograph and Mr. Griffith

At the end of the engagement, Mrs. Gish took her daughters to East St. Louis, where she managed an ice cream parlor, assisting the wife of her recently deceased brother. The workday was long, sometimes twelve to fourteen hours. It left her little time to spend with Dorothy or Lillian. Lillian, never an outgoing person, especially needed to be helped. She had been maturing into a young lady and hadn’t received the benefits of an education or childhood experiences. When not acting on stage, she preferred to be alone, spending those quiet hours looking out of the window or curled in a chair, reading books. Sometimes she helped her mother.

streets-of-st-louis-missouri-1900s
streets-of-st-louis-missouri-1900s

To provide a place for Lillian to play and receive a much wanted education, the Ursuline Academy would supply properly cooked meals, a room, and schooling for twenty dollars a month. It would be a financial burden, but Mary Gish acquiesced to Lillian’s please. With an education, she could play “serious, grown-up parts,” and perhaps read better for a director. Without the right education, she would always sound like a little girl. After the initial weeks of adjustment to convent life, Lillian welcomed the opportunity to be removed from the pressures of touring, the lack of constancy, and the nomadic existence of a stage player. The Ursuline Academy provided her with the first stability she had ever received.

St. Louis Streets in the Early 20th Century (2)
St. Louis Streets in the Early 20th Century (2)

Something called “flickers” was beginning to affect the attendance at theatres. While some stage veterans might have viewed these primitive entertainments as the latest novelty for the lower classes and recent non-English speaking immigrants, it did not take producers long to realize that the nickel price for a program of short films and  newsreels, accompanied by a pianist whose melodies could soften the noise of the hand-cranked projector and underscore the action on the screen, was less than the dime needed for a seat in the upper gallery. Suddenly, “live” players didn’t mean that much. “Flickers” could be shown over and over, from the early morning until the very late evening. There would always be a steady stream of customers.

Cinema old

In 1903, a twelve minute one-reeler in fourteen scenes called The Great Train Robbery, filmed by the Thomas Edison Studios in West Orange, New Jersey, was causing a sensation -whether exhibited in formerly empty storerooms with hastily assembled screen and chairs or in specially built nickelodeon parlors. By 1908, the year of the release of D. W. Griffith’s first film, The Adventures of Dollie, 8 there were more than 10,000 nickelodeons across the United States.

griffith david wark_737

D. W. Griffith’s American Mutoscope and Biograph Company was a typical New York brownstone of the 1850s: four stories with a commercial basement that opened onto the street. Originally, the brownstone had been a private home prior to being tenanted by the Steck Piano Company. When Steck vacated the premises, the basement stores were rented, and the building was leased to Biograph for five thousand dollars. Because some stage actors had scruples about being recognized entering a place that manufactured such low entertainment, they reported to work through a basement store that served as a rented tailor’s shop. Their fear was not of being seen by the public, but by fellow stage professionals who might spread the scandalous news that they knew someone who had to resort to the “flickers” to pay their room rent or feed their (obviously destitute)  families.

the Biograph Bronx Studio
the Biograph Bronx Studio

From his first film, The Adventures of Dollie (1908 ), Griffith proved he was the master showman. The Adventures of Dollie contained all of the elements of melodrama that would appeal to an audience: a child is kidnapped by villains, imprisoned in a barrel, and sent down the river, over the waterfalls, and rescued in the final minutes by a group of boys fishing in a stream.

An Unseen Enemy

  • continued the pattern set by The Adventures of Dollie. By constantly changing the point of view, the audience could not avoid being drawn into the plight of the Gish heroines. Like good storytelling worthy of his favorite author, Edgar Allan Poe, Griffith successfully utilized Poe’s short story techniques of presenting the main character and a particular problem, then adding further complications that leads to the climax and denouement. “Scare ’em,” and then “save ‘e m.”

Despite the successes of earlier Biograph arrivals Mary Pickford and Blanche Sweet, Lillian in her first film, An Unseen Enemy, would prove to be Griffith’s romantic notion of the perfect heroine. Through film after film, she would maintain, no matter how great the danger, a vision of spiritual purity worthy of the respect one would show to one’s mother or sister. It was an innocence that did not yield to desire. You wanted nothing to happen to her. You wanted to save her, to cherish her, to protect her from corruption and the evils of the world she might encounter if she left the house. She would rise above any negative environment like an angel heaven-bound. Beneath her outer fragility was the undying strength of iron. Off screen, Lillian had the same aura, recalled Hearst journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns, who began her long newspaper career in 1913, one year after the arrival of the Gish sisters. Lillian knew how to present herself. She always created her own atmosphere. She had none of the features you would associate with the “vamps” or the bad girls. She had blonde hair and big blue eyes, which we would  associate with the fairy tale princess illustrations or the little dolls girls would play with. Lillian was always radiant, like the children you see in holy pictures: not of this earth, and very ethereal. Because she moved with such elegance and grace, like a trained ballet dancer, I think she intimidated men. She would look them directly in the eye and then turn away very demurely. Men loved it. They respected her. Respect for any lady in Hollywood was very rare. Yet Lillian inspired respect. Even in her Griffith days, in an era before women had the right to vote, men would stand up when she approached their table.

Lillian Gish 1916
Lillian Gish 1916

 

The Last Reel

On her birthday in October 1990, the Gish Film Theater at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, was rededicated after extensive repairs that included the installation of a 35 millimeter projector with surround sound, replaced floor and wall coverings, more Gish memorabilia in the gallery, new lighting, and plush red seats. Each seat had a name plate on the back, acknowledging Lillian’s and Dorothy’s friends and admirers who helped the theatre Lillian called “a little jewel” glitter with even more warmth.

The Gish Film Theater

 

On February 27, 1993, Lillian, like all good art, became eternal.

 

Epilogue 

“Any artist has just so much to give.

The important thing is to give it all.

Sometimes it’s more than you think.”

Lillian was just making another disappearance.

 

Oct 9 1982 (BGSU) Lillian Gish in The Gish Film Theater
Oct 9 1982 (BGSU) Lillian Gish in The Gish Film Theater

 

  • Note: The original illustrations from Stuart Oderman’s book are placed in the photo gallery below:

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Lillian Gish and Stuart Oderman backstage I never sang for My Father
Lillian Gish and Stuart Oderman backstage I never sang for My Father

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Remember The Silent Screen Sisters? (1975)

THE DESERT SUN. Palm Springs. Calif. – Saturday. November 8.1975

Remember The Silent Screen Sisters?

Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish ... having a (big) snack cca 1918
Dorothy Gish and Lillian Gish … having a (big) snack cca 1918

Away back in the era around 1920 when movies were probably the most popular form of entertainment, it was not unusual for several members of one family to be stars in their own right. That was the time when the ability of the cast and the quality of the pictures, not sensationalism, packed the movie theaters night after night. Two of the most famous sisters of that time were the Gish girls, Lillian and Dorothy.

Lillian Gish by Edward Steichen (Steichen, 27 January 1927). Half Tone Print
Lillian Gish by Edward Steichen (Steichen, 27 January 1927). Half Tone Print

Lillian was a fragile, wistful beauty whose acting could and did tug at your heart strings. Her forte was emotional drama, and she played in such pictures as “Broken Blossoms” which was a record-breaker for its time, “Way Down East” which had been adapted from the stage play, and those famous D.W. Griffith masterpieces, “The Birth of a Nation” which was the story of the Civil War and its aftermath, and “Hearts of the World,” a picture of World War I which did literally touch the hearts of the world.

Dorothy Gish cca 1930 - by Nell Dorr 2
Nell Dorr (1893-1988); [Dorothy Gish in costume]; ca. 1920s; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Fort Worth, Texas; Bequest of Nell Dorr; P1990.45.464

Dorothy Gish, Lillian’s younger sister, was a bright pixie with dancing eyes and an impish smile who always said she wanted to be a tragedian, but who was such a success as a comedian that she never had a chance to try to tragedy. Somehow, you just couldn’t picture her personality fitting into a sad part. But she was perfect in such lively plays as “Mary Ellen Comes to Town,” “Little Miss Rebellion” and “Remodeling a Husband.”

Then there were the Talmadge sisters, Norma and Constance. Norma was the dramatic actress, although she acted in an entirely different type of picture than Lillian Gish did.

Norma Talmadge
Norma Talmadge

Lillian Gish’s pictures might have been called sentimental if anyone else had played in them, but so great was Lillian’s acting ability that she only made them seem real. And besides, audiences liked a certain amount of sentiment in their movies in those days. It got the message across as sensationalism never could. On the other hand,

Norma Talmadge - La Colombe (postcard)
Norma Talmadge – La Colombe (postcard)

Norma Talmadge, whose flashing dark beauty was in direct contrast to Lillian’s blonde loveliness, played in what was known as heavy drama plays such as “The Passion Flower,’’ “The Branded Woman,” “She Loves and Lies” and “Isles of Conquest” titles which tell their own story.

Constance Talmadge Publicity (Mountain Girl - Intolerance)
Constance Talmadge Publicity (Mountain Girl – Intolerance)

Constance was the comedian in the Talmadge family, but here again, her comedies were different than those of Dorothy Gish. Constance herself was more serious and the comedy was more likely to lie in the story. Titles were expressive in those days and such names as “The Love Expert,” “Good References,” “Dangerous Business” and “The Virtuous Vamp” give a pretty good idea of the type of pictures Constance played in. Another family pair was Viola Dana and Shirley Mason who used different last names but were nevertheless sisters.

Constance Talmadge 1920
Constance Talmadge 1920

Viola Dana was the elder and possibly the greater actress of the two. Perhaps her best-known picture was “The Willow Tree,” a Japanese story which made her famous. Some of her other pictures were “Cinderella’s Twin,” “Blackmail,” “Puppets of Fate” and “The Off Shore Pirate.”

Viola Dana (Virginia Flugrath, 1897-1987) in Vaudeville
Viola Dana (Virginia Flugrath, 1897-1987) in Vaudeville

While most of Viola Dana’s pictures were on the serious side they were not exactly heavy drama. Shirley Mason, on the other hand, usually starred in pictures of a lighter type which were not necessarily actual comedies pictures such as “Love’s Harvest,” “Treasure Island” and “Love Time.”

Shirley-Mason-and-sister-Viola-Dana-dressed-as-Rudolph-Valentino-and-Natasha-Rambova
Shirley Mason and sister Viola Dana dressed as Rudolph Valentino and Natasha Rambova
Constance Talmadge 1917
Constance Talmadge 1917
THE DESERT SUN. Palm Springs. Calif. - Saturday. November 8
THE DESERT SUN. Palm Springs. Calif. – Saturday. November 8

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

Lillian Gish tops playing roles in silent movies – By Mike Hughes (1988)

Desert Sun, 11 July 1988

Lillian Gish tops playing roles in silent movies

By MIKE HUGHES Ganett News Service

She was born in a quieter century, in a cozier part of the world. Risks were rare, expectations low. “We were from Ohio,” Lillian Gish says in a film to be broadcast Monday. “Ladies had their name in print when they were born, when they got married and when they died but NEVER for anything else.” But fate intervened and her career has embraced most of the history of movies. Now it’s recalled in a masterful opener for the “American Masters” season.

Lillian Gish Host of TV Silent Series 1975 PBS New-York, USA
Lillian Gish Host of TV Silent Series 1975 PBS New-York, USA

In recent summers, PBS’ Monday lineup has come as a vibrant surprise. “Masters” crafts portraits with intelligence and detail; “Alive From Off Center” is both deft and daft. And now both start their new seasons in appropriate style. “Off Center” (10 p.m. locally) has two mismatched films a witty and stylish satire of a high-tech ad agency and a pointless and (almost) endless segment from the movie “Aria.” And “Masters” (9 p.m.) is at its very best with the Gish profile. Here is a life that can be illustrated through 106 movies spread over 75 years. And here is someone interviewed at just the right time; at 93, Gish overflows with rich memories. Her quiet Ohio life was disrupted because her father couldn’t keep work. Her mother “the most perfect human being I ever knew” told him not to come back until he could. “He would follow us around and beg Mother to take him back,” she says in the film. “But he didn’t have a job.” So the Gishes turned to the stage for money. At the ages of 5 and 4; Lillian and sister Dorothy became touring actresses. They were quite haughty about it,’ feeling sorry for their friend; Gladys Smith, who “had to go to the movies to make a living.”

But Gladys did well, after changing her name to Mary Pickford. Pickford also introduced them to D.W. Griffith, Hollywood’s first great director. “He said, ‘Can you act?’ And Dorothy pulled herself up and said. “We are of the legitimate theater. And he said, ‘I don’t mean reading lines. Can you act?’ ” (Mike Hughes – 1988)

Desert Sun, 11 July 1988
Desert Sun, 11 July 1988

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

Gish Sisters Christen New Hup – 1916 (L.A. Herald)

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLII, Number 119, 18 March 1916

 

GISH SISTERS CHRISTEN NEW HUP

Christened with the rich golden Juice of a California orange, the first Victoria Hupmobile in the west appeared In Los Angeles this week. Surrounded by the beautiful flowers and crystal watered swimming pool of their Denishawn home, the distinctive motor car is the property of the Aliases Lillian and Dorothy Gish. Known from coast to coast as the loading- figures in such famous film plays us “The -Clansman,’’ “Old Heidelburg” and the “Lily and the Rose,” these two talented sisters are not only Orange day boosters but enthusiastic lovers of Southern California at all times of the year.

Lillian Gish - with Hupmobile car
Lillian Gish – with Hupmobile car (Source: Dorothy and Lillian Gish by Lillian Gish)

Originally the car was nothing more than a late model standard stock car, but upon selecting a Hupmobile as a result of extensive investigation and the added advice of Mrs. Gish, the young women immediately planned for something characteristically distinct. The details of the luxurious pleasure car, all of which are a result of the decorative genius of Miss Dorothy Gish, include tasteful seat covers, snow white wire wheels, rich maroon finish and a specially designed Victoria top.

pictureplay magazine Dorothy Gish driving her car
pictureplay magazine Dorothy Gish driving her car, with Constance Talmadge and Mother Gish (Mary Robinson McConnell) in the back

Page 89 of the September 1916 issue of “Picture-Play Magazine” a photo of Dorothy Gish driving the Hupmobile with her mother, Mary Gish, and her friend, Constance Talmadge, seated in the back. The man seated next to Dorothy is Harry Sabata who was employed by the Gish family as a man-of-all work and occasional chauffeur although, as this picture indicates, more often either Dorothy or Lillian did the driving. I recall from Lillian’s book, “Dorothy and Lillian Gish,” her mentioning that their mother also drove. From the standpoint of feminine emancipation in the 1910s, the Gishes’ ability to drive a car in those days was yet another indication that they were very much New Women. This page with the photo from “Picture Play” is part of an article by Robert C. Duncan entitled “The Fine Arts Studio.” (William M. Drew)

Gish Hupmobile Detail
Gish Hupmobile Detail

Upon taking the new car the sisters immediately announced it would be used to combine pleasure with work and its very maiden trip was a whirl to the big Griffith studios, where it made its initial camera bow wth Lillian Gish at the wheel. In order to boost California Orange day they withheld their street appearance until today. Having spent a portion of yesterday at the Chapman orange ranch in Fullerton the popular screen artists returned home with enough golden fult in thefr Hupmobile to present « souvenir to each of the army of co-workers at the Hollywood studio today. “We have always wanted a distinctive motor car.” said Miss Lillian Gish, bright star of the “Clansman.” “But we wanted one that would harmonize with our work in the films, with the surroundings of Denishawn and with the wishes of mother. (Los Angeles Herald – 18 March, 1916)

Photoplay (Photoplay Publishing, July 1916). Magazine Lillian Gish and her Hupmobile car
Photoplay (Photoplay Publishing, July 1916). Magazine Lillian Gish and her Hupmobile car

The Victoria Hupmobile has measured up to every requirement and everybody is happy. “While we realize that there is nothing startling about a Victoria top in Southern California nor are wire wheels at all uncommon, yet the combination when embodied with the few graceful lines of this Hupmobile: present an artistic motor picture that has no rival. (Los Angeles Herald – 18 March, 1916)

Lillian Gish with a new Hupmobile
Lillian Gish with a new Hupmobile

Above are Lillian and Dorothy Gish with their new Victoria top Hupmobile. Lower picture shows Lillian Gish alighting from car, which has top extension in place.

Gish Sisters Christen Newhup – 1916 (L.A. Herald)

Los Angeles Herald – 18 March, 1916

Lillian Gish - with Hupmobile car
Lillian Gish – with Hupmobile car

“The lists of registered automobiles in California were regularly published as booklets from 1905 to 1922 by the state’s Motor Vehicle Division. In the March 1916 registered automobiles volume, I found the following listing: registration no., 141747; owner, Gish, Mrs. Mary; address, 6th and St. Paul sts., Los Angeles; make, Hupmobile Tour; engine no. and hp., 64968 22.

Gish Hupmobile Detail
Gish Hupmobile Detail (registration number)

 The 1916 Los Angeles City Directory lists Lillian, Dorothy and Mrs. Gish as photo players and gives the exact number of their address as 600 St. Paul Avenue. The home where the Gishes lived in 1916 has long since vanished and is today occupied by a large office building built in 1948.”

(William M. Drew)

600 St. PAUL Avenue from corner w
600 St. PAUL Avenue from corner w (L.A.)
Gish Hupmobile Detail
Gish Hupmobile Detail

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

Lillian Gish with a new Hupmobile article

Photo Gallery:

Back to Lillian Gish Home page