Santa Cruz Evening News, Volume 33, Number 152, 28 April 1924
Great Interest Is Manifest in Return of “White Sister”
Lillian Gish does not act, but rather lives the title part in “The White Sister”
Lillian Gish does not act, but rather lives the title part in “The White Sister,” now playing a return engagement at the New Santa Cruz theater, having been brought Back in response to the insistent demands of the many who were unable to gain admission at the former showing. Cast by nature to give an illusion of belonging more to another world than this one, she puts a spiritual quality, an emotion and a tensity into the part which rises to breathtaking moments of artistry. Gish start in Biograph days is supremely fulfilled in Henry King’s production of “The White Sister.” Her popularity today is as sturdy as in the old days with the added advantage of having grown with each new performance. Her characterizations have matured and mellowed to a point of being sheer genius. No one has kept alive flame than Lillian Gish, no one has learned to burn finer.
Lillian Gish was born in Springfield, Ohio, and two years later her sister Dorothy was born in Dayton. They spent their childhood days in Massillon, Ohio.
Miss Gish completed her education at a finishing school and while still in her teens made her stage debut as a fairy in “The Good Little Devil,” produced by David Belasco. She was just sixteen then and her mother and sister had gone to California. She was seized with an acute attack of homesickness. This was increased one night when the wire, which permitted her to fly across the stage, broke and a disheartened fairy , with tears rolling down her pale cheeks, hit a responsive chord in the audience, but almost spoiled the show.
Lillian needed a change and soon the Gish trio was reunited, and Lillian toured the country with a repertoire show of which her sister Dorothy was a member, playing child parts.
Jumps to Films
All this time her reputation was growing as a distinct personality behind the footlights and then one day she went to the Biograph studio to visit Mary Pickford, whose film destinies were being guided by D. W. Griffith at the time. Miss Gish felt the lure of the movies for’ the first time. It was but a short time afterward that she became a member of the Biograph stock company. She played a wide variety of parts during this time, ranging from the little old mother in “Judith of Bethulia,” one of the first multiple reel pictures produced, to Colonel Cameron’s sweetheart in “The Birth of a Nation,” Griffith’s big feature spectacle. When Griffith left the Biograph fold, Lillian Gish followed him through his engagements with Reliance, Majestic, Fine Arts, Artcraft, First National and, finally, United Artists. Her reputation has traveled from coast to coast, country to country, as the result of her splendid impersonations in the living tales which Griffith brought forth. She appeared in “Intolerance” as the mother at the cradle. This was followed by her appearance in “Souls Triumphant.” “Hearts of the World,” “The Greatest Thing in Life,” “Romance of Happy Valley,” “True Heart Susie,” and “The Greatest Question.” Then she directed one of Dorothy’s pictures, “Remodeling Her Husband.” Her remarkable characterizations in “Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down’ East,” in which she portrayed young girl against all odds with the world, firmly established her as the screen’s most appealing actress. Her best role yet, where she has outdone anything in which she has hitherto appeared is in “The White Sister,” however.
STARTS TODAY By Popular Demand, Return Engagement Of the screen’s supreme masterpiece.
For you that have not seen Lillian Gish’s triumph, Here is your opportunity. For you that have, here is your chance to see it again and really appreciate the work of this artist.
F. MARION CRAWFORD’S famous novel filmed in the haunting old-world beauty of Italy.
TERRIFIC THRILLS Vesuvius in actual eruption, a town flooded by water, a fight on the Algerian desert! Lovely Miss Gish as a girl whose love was more eternal than her lover’s passion.
San Bernardino Sun, Volume 110, Number 352, 18 December 1983
She Brought Her Own Shoes
Lillian Gish has a problem. “A lot of people I know send me scripts,” she said “It’s difficult to say no to a friend. It’s hard to say I’m not suited for it, or it doesn’t appeal to me.” So it was with some trepidation that the legendary film star opened the script to Hobson’s Choice, which had been sent to her by her good friend, Gilbert Cates. He had produced Never Sang for My Father, in which Miss Gish starred on Broadway in 1968. Now he was directing Hobson’s Choice. But as she read the script, her fears vanished. “It’s the best script I’ve seen in two years,” she enthused. “That includes plays, feature films, anything. I get scripts by dozens. I wouldn’t be caught dead in any of them. They’re awful. But this was a story with a beginning, a middle and end, I like it.” In fact, she liked it enough to say yes to her friend Gil Cates.
Now Lillian Gish can be seen in one of her rare television roles, in Hobson’s Choice, new motion picture-for-television, airing on The CBS Wednesday Night Movies at 9PM. When she traveled to New Orleans for her special guest star role as a wealthy; satisfied patron of a local shoe store, Miss Gish brought along part of her costume: a pair of black suede shoes. “The shoes are very important to my character,” she explained. “They need to be right. I took along a pair of shoes I’d bought in Florence, Italy, in the early 1920s. I’ve never seen a shoe like it in this country. Here we are, sixty years later, and I still wear these shoes regularly.” According to director Gilbert Cates, it’s typical that this venerable actress would pay special attention to the one part of her wardrobe that is central to her character. “The really remarkable thing about Lillian Gish,” the director said, “is her ability to go straight to the intent of any scene. Some actors can deliver a scene letter perfect and not know what it’s about. With Lillian Gish, it’s not even important whether the words are perfect or not. Everything she says has the right color, the right flavor, the right intent.” “But you see,” the actress explained, “that’s because of my years in silent films with D. W. Griffith. He would only give us the plot. Then it was up to us to find the character. As we would rehearse the story, we’d improvise our dialogue. The cutter would take down what we said, and our words often became the subtitles, since they were borne out in the action.”
Sophie Newsome padded off across the red velvet carpet of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel with the violets and the card that said “Miss Lillian Gish.” “This is one fine Lady … always has been in the 50 years she’s been coming here…one fine lady.”
It was the same across Los Angeles as the movie city’s longest running star Lillian Gish, 82 made her comeback in her 100th film, Robert Altman’s “A Wedding.” When the satire on modern marriage mores premiered at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, an opening night crowd of 1,000 celebrities roared with applause as she came to the stage. They were still clapping when she moved out in front, held out her arms and said: “I’m really glad to be back this town and this business has been so good to me.” Gish is the only superstar from the silent era still working in major motion pictures. “When I first came here in 1913 it was on the old Sunset Limited…I can still remember that wave of perfume that hit me as the train left San Bernardino and headed into Los Angeles, there were the orange blossoms from row after row of groves…then as we got into Hollywood, there were the roses. I thought I was in paradise. “It’s been 10 years since I made my last film (The Comedians’) but it seems as if there were no break at all in the timing because I’ve been so busy on stage (‘Musical Jubilee’) and in working on my own filmed retrospective history of the movies, ‘Infinity In An Hour.'” Her role as the bedridden matriarch in “A Wedding” resulted from a visit Altman made to Gish’s apartment a year ago.
“I’d had lots of offers during the 10 years,” she said. “But nothing really appealed to me…I make it a point only to work with people I like, you know. “A press agent friend of mine brought Bob Altman over one afternoon and he stayed two or three hours, telling me the story. What caught my attention was the death scene. He said I would die but that it would be amusing. Now, I’ve died lots of times in films, but never was it amusing.” The night after the premiere, Gish made preliminary arrangements for a feature length Gothic production, “The Bat” to be filmed in London. The resurgence is hardly a surprise to old-timers: Gish has been carefully timing her entrances and exits since the silent era ushered out with her classic MGM film “The Wind” in 1928. “I’ve always picked my films and plays by picking people,” she said. “Integrity and Intelligence are what’s important. I’ve never picked money. “Film is the greatest power the world has ever known…nothing else can so move the minds and hearts of the world.” Two hours later, at a Beverly Hills party, Carol Burnett leaned over and asked Lillian Gish: “What must it feel to be a living legend?” Gish winked. “Stick around, kid, you’ll find out.”
Organized Labor, Volume 37, Number 2, 11 January 1936
Lillian Gish Broadcasts on Peace
Lillian Gish, the charming and talented heroine of dozens of outstanding plays and movies has an unusual interest in the relation of her profession to peace. In a recent broadcast in which she spoke on the subject, “How Motion Pictures May Promote Peace,” Miss Gish emphasized how great a contribution the motion pictures can make toward understanding and friendship among nations. Miss Gish said: “Having grown up in motion pictures and believing in them to the extent almost of a new religion, I hope you will forgive the lack of humor in my earnest belief in their possibilities. Of all the arts, if it may be classified as one, the motion picture has in it perhaps more than any other the resources of universality. It is to help the people of the earth to know and understand each other that the universal engine that is the cinema can be made to serve this great cause.”
By Paul O’Dell (with the assistance of Anthony Slide)
First published in 1970
A.S. Barnes & Co. Inc. Castle Books – New York
David Wark Griffith has tended to become in recent years, a figure in cinema history attributed with innovation in film technique; the close-up, the flashback, cross-cutting have all appeared in connection with his name. And so it is that he is now in danger of achieving a widespread reputation merely as technician: an inventor of cinematography. This does justice neither to Griffith himself nor to his work. It may very well be that he did “invent” all these ideas of pictorial presentation – but there is much evidence to suggest that he did not – and if he did not, then he certainly developed their use to startling effect. But these ideas, these techniques were for him only a means towards an end; never the ultimate distinguishing factor of his pictures. Nor was he dependent on these techniques in order to produce a film which stood above all contemporary works. Many of his early pictures contain no close-ups, no flashbacks, no camera movement, no complicated editing techniques, and no innovations. But nevertheless they are indisputably films of high artistic quality. Many post-Intolerance films also contain few, if any, of the “innovations” attributed to Griffith, and yet they are outstanding works nonetheless.
It is unfortunate – indeed it could be tragic – that a man who strove so hard to perfect the cinema as a medium for the stimulation of ideas should also have been the one who recognized the real potential of an embryo art form. The fact remains that while the technical achievements of D.W. Griffith have become the main reason for his importance in film history, his purely artistic achievements, the very reason why he ever made films at all, have tended to become relatively obscured.
The work of an artist is a door to his soul; whatever we see written about the artist, we will never get closer to the man himself than through his work. David Wark Griffith produced a tremendous volume of work during the twenty-three years he spent making motion pictures. It is via these films – those that remain – that we can come to a real understanding of Griffith, because in these films he poured all his ideas.
6. Into the Twenties: Way Down East and Orphans of the Storm
In terms of cinema history, Griffith was the man who fired the starting-pistol. It was he who gave the medium what it required to develop and expand. There came a time when he inevitably appeared to have “left behind,” a “non-starter.” It was to happen that he would be attacked again and again for his refusal to participate in the race. “Your refusal to face the world,” wrote one critic, “is making you more and more a sentimentalist. You see passion in terms of cooing doves or the falling of a rose petal … your lack of contact with life makes you deficient in humor. In other words, your splendid unsophistication is a menace to you – and to pictures.” Thus wrote James Quirk in 1924, cruelly cutting down the man who had virtually furnished him with a job (inasmuch as Griffith had given to the movies what no other individual had ever come near to possessing). What Quirk failed to recognize was that Griffith was not a man to be swept along in the tide of fashion. Why should he follow others? How could he follow others, when in effect they were following his precepts? ***
Way Down East
It was Griffith’s longest picture since Intolerance, and ran for more than three hours. In terms of construction, it relies on finely interwoven detail rather than the more instantly recognizable cross-cutting that distinguished his early work. In the opening sequences for example, when Anna is tricked into an illegal marriage to Sanderson, the ceremony itself is full of visual commentary, with the ring falling to the floor, cutting to Bartlett (played by Richard Barthelmess) waking suddenly from a nightmare – and this before any knowledge on anyone’s part of their two fates and the way they will eventually come together.
Lillian Gish as Anna has received much deserved praise for her work in this picture, especially for her superhuman feats among the ice-floes in the climatic sequences of the picture. The manner she receives the news of her false marriage, in the knowledge that she is pregnant, is yet another triumph for her ability under Griffith. The scene in which she baptizes her own child as it is dying also comes close to being one of Griffith’s supreme cinematic achievements. She also adds a sense of frightening realism to the scene in which she is told that her baby is dead. For a second or two she stares blankly into space, then slowly begins to shake her head from side to side. Suddenly, as if the news strikes her like some physical blow, she throws her head back, and, as if going into an epileptic fit, her whole body stiffens and she sits choking and screaming.
Anna eventually recovers and goes away to a town in which no one (she believes) can possibly be aware of her tragic situation, a situation which will also be regarded as shameful. She meets David Bartlett (Richard Barthelmess) and he, like many other characters in Griffith pictures, is here identified with doves in one sequence. The truth will be out however, and especially in a small town. Unknown to Anna, Sanderson is to reappear, and her secret is to become common knowledge. Bartlett is undeterred, although the rest of the town immediately brand her an evil woman. The scene in which Anna is ordered out of the house by the Squire has been excused by some who explain that it needs dialogue for its effectiveness. On the contrary, this scene is of great emotional intensity, and this intensity is achieved simply by Griffith’s editing technique. Once again, he uses visual commentary on the basic situation to replace long sequences where there should be dialogue.
Anna is sent out into the blizzard, and David runs after her. There follows some really remarkable photography, shots in which Anna’s cape seems to vanish and reappear behind trees and snowdrifts, close-ups of Anna, whose eyelashes seem to have icicles on them, and this sequence leads directly to the chase on the ice-floes.
Orphans of the Storm
It appears, looking at Orphans of the Storm today, that once more Griffith was having to work within imposed conditions. However, as in the case of the Biographs, this does not make Orphans of the Storm an imperfect picture, and here again can be seen Griffith’s faultless gift for re-creating a period, a gift that goes back to Judith of Bethulia and beyond.
The sequences that seem the most successful are those in which the poverty of the age is most obvious. Griffith’s sense of social justice is here given in the perfect setting of course, and as Wagenknecht observes, “like Dickens, Griffith approved of the French Revolution but deplored its excesses, and he could not resist telling us, in long subtitles … that while the French Revolution rightly overthrew a bad government, we must exercise care not to exchange our good government for “Bolshevism and license.”
The familiar “Last Minute Rescue” towards the end of reel twelve is as exciting and as beautifully executed as we have by now come to expect from Griffith. Cutting between the guillotine and Henriette (Lillian Gish) and Danton (Monte Blue) racing on horseback with her pardon, the sequence is a perfect example of “stretched action,” in which the time taken for Lillian Gish to walk three paces, for example, in the completed sequence, now intercut with other action, takes twice or maybe three times as long. This serves to build the suspense inasmuch as it creates an almost unbearable sense of impatience.
The crowd scenes have been likened to those of The Birth of a Nation, and the emotional effect they create is certainly valid.
*** “Determined to solve this mystery of obliteration, I went at once to the files of Photoplay magazine. Its editor, James Quirk, seems to have wept and raged, danced and exulted, with every heartbeat of the MGM executives. And I found that the last kindness Photoplay howed Lillian Gish, until after she left the MGM studio, appeared in a caption under her photograph in the October 1924 issue. In time I became such a good Quirk student that, after the completion of “The Temptress” when Garbo’s power and demands were beginning to tell on MGM, I predicted the beginning of her nasty publicity in the July 1926 issue. And sure enough, the first threat of the only thing Garbo feared – deportation- was conveyed to her in one of those “why don’t they go back where they came from” articles titled “The Foreign Legion in Hollywood.” Will Hays’ friends in the Department of Immigration were coming in handy for something besides getting the producers’ relations into the country. Sixteen years were to pass between the public execution of Lillian Gish and the bloodless exile of Greta Garbo. Hollywood producers were left with their babes and a backwash of old men stars, watching the lights go out in one picture house after another across the country.” – “The Executive War on Stars” (Louise Brooks – 1959)
with RENEE ADOREE, GEORGE HASSELL, ROY D’ARCY, KARL DANE, FRANK CURRIER AND EDWARD EVERETT HORTON
By FRED DE GRESAC
Suggested by Henry Murger’s “LIFE IN THE LATIN QUARTER”
Continuity by RAY DOYLE and HARRY BEHN
Directed by KING VIDOR
A METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURE Presentation and Musical Score Arranged by Major Edward Bowers, David Mendoza and William Axt
Edward Everett Horton
Director: KING VIDOR AUTHOR: FRED DE GRESAC ADAPTORS: RAY DOYLE and HARRY BEHN PHOTOGRAPHER: HENRIK SARTOV
A METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER PICTURE
The Story of “La Boheme”
IN a cheap, paris rooming house, frequented by the students and budding artists of the Latin Quartier, live Mimi and Rudolphe. Mimi is an orphan, a fragile waif who ekes out a bare living by sewing, and rodolphe an ambitious playwright who manages to exist by loans from friends and by doing hack work for a newspaper.
Rodolphe shares his chambers with other members of the Bohemian Brotherhood, a group of young intellectuals whose tempestuous love affairs entertain the gossips of the Latin Quartier. The Brotherhood is composed of Schaunard, devoted to the twin arts of music and painting; Gustave Colline, self styled “a thinker”; Marcelle, a painter, and Rodolphe, the poet-playwright.
When Rodolphe first sees Mimi, ascending the malodorous stairs of their dingy lodging house, he is amazed by her angelic beauty. Later he learns that she is to be dispossessed from her room, being unable to pay her rent. That evening, as Mimi starts to leave the house with her few possessions tied in a small bundle, the Bohemian Brotherhood intercept her on the stairs and, augmented by Musette, Schaunard’s sweetheart, persuade her to have supper with them. They are unable to raise money enough to pay Mimi’s rent, but solve the problem by making her one of them, and she becomes the little sister of the Bohemians.
In Schaunard’s Elysium, the fanciful name of their attic chanbers, mimi’s life is transformed into a thing of beautiful gratitude to her new found friends, especially so to the romantic playwright, who sets himself to win her with little kindnesses. His dashing wit and handsome appearance also charm the little seamstress.
By the time Easter has come the two have found a deep and sincere love for one another, and at a picnic in the shadow-haunted Bois de Boulogne they confes their mutual love.
Time flies swiftly for the lovers, and soon Rodolphe finishes his play, “The Avenger.” Manager after manager rejects the ambitious opus of the young man. Discouraged by this continual dashing of his hopes, Rodolphe despairs of his ability, and begins to look upon himself as a failure. But Mimi, in her great faith, will not allow him to think so; she encourages him to writ it over again. With petty cajolery she wins him from his despondency.
With renewed fervor he revises the play, and so absorbed is he by it, that he forgets to write his weekly hack articles for the newspaper. finally a messenger arrives to remind him that he must have his work at the editorial office by a certain time. In a desperate hurry the young playwright finishes his article and is about to bring it to the offices of the journal. but Mimi offers to take it for him, so that he may have more time to work on his play. On her arrival, the editor griffly tells her that Rodolphe’s articles are no longer wanted; the paper has gone to press, and Rodolphe is discharged.
Mimi is frantic with anxiety. She realizes that the success of the play is as vital to the life of the ambitious Rodolphe as food — and yet, he must eat. Finally she hits on a device by which she may aid him. She conceals his discharge from him, and each week pretends to take his articles to the paper, returning with money presumably paid to Rodolphe by the editor. But, in reality, she ricks her fragile health by sewing all night.
Rodolphe, not suspecting Mimi’s sacrifice, is happy; the play almost writes itself in the fire of his inspiration. At last he finishes it, and the tow lovers are enthusiastic about its artistic worth, and the new vistas of life that its success will open to them.
During the while that Rudolphe has been engrossed by his play, a cynical boulevardier, Vicompte Paul, charmed by Mimi’s beauty, has been cultivating her friendship by bringing her sewing to do. By a disply of his wealth, his fine home, his gorgeous apparel, and by shoing her the pleasures and luxuries that he could give her, he attempts to win her away from rodolphe. But Mimi is faithful and devoted to her lover, and Paul, much impressed by her high hearted steadfastness, admires her for her virtues, and becomes her friend.
When Rodolphe finishes his masterpiece, Mimi shows it to Paul, and he is immediately impressed with the originality of the young playwright. In his enthusiasm, he tells Mimi that he will find a manager to produce it, and goes out to interest a friend of his in the play. He is successful in this and they make an appointment for the reading. In order to surprise Rodolphe with his good fortune, and to keep him from disappointment should she fail, Mimi holds this new development a close secret. On the appointed night, Mimi, in borrowed clothes, goes to the theatre with Paul, where the manager gives her an encouraging audience.
On the same night, Rodolphe learns from the editor of his newspaper that he has been discharged for a month. On going into Mimi’s room he finds evidences of her sacrifice, and is deeply moved.
Mimi, overjoyed with the happy termination of her endeavors, returns from the theatre and hastens to remove and hide the clothes which she has borrowed for her important mission. While she is still engaged in this, Rodolphe enters to tell her that he is aware of her sacrifice, and assure her of his love and gratitude. He sees the gay shoes that she has been unable to remove, finds the clothes she has so hastily concealed, and jumping to an erroneous conclusion, accuses her of intimacy with Paul. Hurriedly, pathetically, she tries to explain, but he won’t listen to her, and in a sudden rage hurls her to the floor. She coughs terribly, a result of the long, hard nights of work in his behalf. Remorseful, and alarmed by her illness, rodolphe rushes for a doctor.
Rodolphe returns with the physician, and finds that Mimi has gone. he reads a note she left him, which tells him how she has thought herself an impediment to his literary success, how she can not bear to let him sacrifice himself for her, and that she is leaving him, but will return when his play is a success.
In vain does the heartbroken Rodolphe search for her in the Latin Wuartier. For she has gone to another district, to slave in a factory for scanty food and a cold lodging.
Months pass; months of frantic searching on the part of Rodolphe, and of heart randing toil and privation on the part of Mimi. In these months Rodolphe’s play has been accepted.
A day before the opening of his play, Rodolphe tries to alleviate his pain by giving a party to herald his coming triumph. And, even while music and all manner of merriment reign at Schaunard’s Elysium, Mimi falls desperately ill, and learns from the doctor who attends her that she has but a day to live.
The following night the play opens, and rodolphe triumphs, while Mimi, knowing that death is upon her, staggers back to the old room. A friend apprises Rodolphe of Mimi’s return, and he rushes to her side. But his joy at her return is soon ended, when he sees how pitifully frail and thin she has become. He overwhelms her with caresses, but Mimi warns him that she is dying, and that he must let her speak. She tells him that she loves him and that he must not reproach himself for what has happened, then quietly expires, clinging even in death to a tiny muff that he had given her. Rodolphe is convulsed with grief.
Ten years pass slowly for Rodolphe, and he finds himself a great success, the literary idol of all Paris, but still unhappy — carrying always in his heart the weight of his tragic love.
A Successful Experiment
THE stage type of rehearsal, unchanged since the halcyon days of ancient Greek drama, may prove the solution of the screen’s greatest problems — and they are many.
This is the theory evolved from a new system of direction which King Vidor successfully tried out for the picturization of the opera-novel “La Boheme,” Lillian Gish’s first starring production for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The entire screen world watched Vidor’s experiment with keen interest. For it means a vast saving of time and worry.
The first step, originally taken by the “La Boheme” company, consisted of a series of careful rehearsals of every scene in the photoplay as written into the script. These scenes were times as they were rehearsed and the director knew the exact footage of each when they were letter perfect. Camera angles, close-ups and all other such necessary details were also perfected during rehearsals. In face, no scene was filmed until the cast and staff knew and could go through the while picture without stopping.
It is even thought that this system of stage rehearsals may develop a means of producing pictures without endless experimentation, cutting, retitling, and otherwise adjusting and changing a picture, processes which often require more time than the actual production of the picture itself.
The rehearsals also applied to the lighting of sets. The electricians were given their cue sheets to memorize by Henrik Sartov, chief cameraman, and all their experiments were carried on during rehearsals. Directors and stars who have had to wait patiently while the electricians adjusted their carbons and focused their spotlights will appreciate what a godsend is such a method.
“In other words,” declared Directory king Vidor, “We reversed the usual process. Instead of filming the picture and then spending days to cut, edit, and retitle it and so forth, we did all this first by means of the rehearsals. it can save about seventy-five percent of production time when fully perfected.”
It is predicted that Vidor’s example may be generally adopted by all directors. But what measure of success others will attain with his method at first is hard to foretell. Mr. Vidor himself is inclined to be a trifle pessimistic about the instantaneous results that go with that prediction. For, he reasons, the new and old methods are opposed to each other and have been since the inception of motion pictures.
“In the past,” he declares, “stage directors who have turned their efforts to the films have had to forget all of the stage’s mechanics and learn to speak the more technical language of the silent drama.
“Most of our really fine directors are men who have spent years to accumulate what knowledge they have of the intricacies of motion picture making. It has gotten into their blood; it has become second nature to them and will not be dissevered with one fell swoop.
“There are two sides to this method of stage direction when applied to the movies. There is the side on which the director must forget everything he has store up about the motion picture language; and the side on which he must forget all he knows about the stage. Yet he must have the ability to switch from one to the other on a second’s notice.
“In the motion pictures, however, there are men like myself who have had no stage training. To acquire it with a degree of certainty means a study of several years. And therein lies a great danger; Those of my contemporaries who see some semblance of reason in my method might attempt to do what I have done, but without study and thought I have expended on it. In that case I predict certain failure.
“No person can drop a habit of years in a day. Simply a desire to do what I have done will not serve to bring about the deed at will. Therefore, it is necessary that a directory shall first know the stage and screen well enough to call upon either by instinct rather than design.”
About Lillian Gish
It being an infinitely more difficult task to fulfill predictions than make them, the glory of Lillian gish’s ability and fame is essentially her own. And the splendid things predicted for the star when she began her motion picture career with the old Biograph company have been more than supremely fulfilled in “La Boheme.”
Lillian gish was born at Springfield, Ohio, and moved on to Massillon, Ohio where she passed her childhood days with her sister, Dorothy.
At the completion of her education, while still in her teens, Lillian made her stage debut as a fairy in “The Good Little Devil,” produced by David Belasco. Her mother and sister had just gone to California. Her homesickness was accentuated one night whe the wire which permitted her to flit across the stage, snapped, and a sidheartened fairy was hurled to the floor. She burst into tears, and, with her loud boo-hoos, hit a reponsive chord in the audiencd, but almost spoiled the show.
The family was soon reunited and Lillian was well on the way to stage fame, when, one day, while visiting Mary Pickford at the Biograph studiom she met D. W. Griffith. Screen acting fascinate her and she soon became a member of the Biograph stock company, appearing under Griffith’s direction. She played in a wide variety of parts, ranging from the little old moth in “Judith of Bethulia” to colonel Cameron’s sweetheart in “The Birth of a Nation.”
When Griffith left the Biograph fold, Miss Gish followed him through his engagements with Reliance, majestic, Fine Arts, Artcraft, First National and United Artists.
An Overworked, Wilted Flower
She impersonated the mother at the cradle in “Intolerance” and the outcast girl in “Way Down East.” She appeared in such pictures as “Souls Triumphant, “Hearts of the World,” “The Great Love,” “The Greatest Thing in Live,” “Romance of Happy Valley, “True Heart Susie,” and “The Greatest Question.” She directed “Remodelling Her Husband,” one of her sister Dorothy’s pictures, and later returned to stardom in “The White Sister” and “Romola.”
Miss Gish is now under contract to star in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer pictures, the first of which is “La Boheme.” This will be followed by “The Scarlet Letter,” taken from the Hawthorne classic.
The Origin of “La Boheme”
THE first among the French novelists and poets to make attractive to his readers the irresponsible life of artists and students of the Paris Quartier Latin was Henri Murger.
Born in Paris on March 24, 1822, Murger started a glamorous writing career at the age of twenty-six. His first novel, “Scene de la vie de Boheme” was published in 1848. This was followed by “Scenes de la vie de jeunesse” in 1851, “Les buyeurs d’eau in 1854, “Madame Olympe” in 1859 and other prose tale of perhaps lesser import. The poems, “Les nuits d’hiver,” came in 1861.
In 1849, one year after the publication of his first great work, Murger collaborated with Theodore Barriere in the dramatization of “Scenes de la vie de Boheme.” The stage version was known by the briefer title of “La vie de Boheme and proved a tremendous success when first performed at the Theatre des Varieties in Paris.
Nearly half a century later the popularity of the novel, and especially the play based on it, persisted wherever French was spoken, read or translated. And in Turin, Italy, on February 1, 1896, was produced the first opera version by Giacomo puccini. As an opera it was based on the dramatization, “La vie de Boheme,” and assumed the still briefer title of “La Boheme.” Those who collaborated on the libretto for the opera were G. Giacosa and L. Illica.
Still another composer paid musical tribute to it by converting it into an opera. For a little more than a year later, on May 5, 1897, Ruggiero leoncavallo’s version was sung in Venice. But it was Puccini’s “La Bohee” that first came to the United States. it was performed in New York on May 16, 1898.
The motion picture version, however, is an original treatment by Fred De Gresac, bases on a collection of short stories from the pen of Henri murger which were called “Life in the Latin Quarter.” The principal characters and the important episodes which give to”La Boheme the life which has since passed otu of its original title, have, of course, been retained and highly intensified, thanks to Fred De Gresac and also Ray Doyle and harry Behn, who wrote the continuity.
Literature owes to Henri Murger the word “Bohemia,” a word which signifies a moral condition rather than a geographical spot — a word which can describe the follies of student days and the unconventional, informal life of highly emotional persons.
And to Henri Murger a large picture-going world, no doubt, owes its gratiitude for an imperishable love story.
Speaking of Great Stars
JOHN GILBERT — Soldier and Sailor, too — as Kipling sand of the Marine — John Gilbert, author, director, rubber salesman, actor, and star of three great pictures, “The Big Parade,” “The Merry Widow,” and “La Boheme,” in which he is co-starred with Lillian Gish.
Gilbert’s career is as variegated as it is interesting. He has gotten more into a few brief years of life than perhaps any celebrity on the screen.
For John Gilbert believes in learning thing thoroughly if he starts at it — and so he follows through. That’s why when he started work in a rubber concern years ago he didn’t quit until he’d learned the whole business, and was drawing a good salary as a sales executive. That’s why when the chance came to learn film direction he went the whole hog. He did more than become a director — he became a good director.
Finally, when he definitely decided to become an actor, he made history. For he massed all his experiences into one conglomerate while, and proved to be a screen artist of such brilliancy that his dawn on the screen horizon was almost the advent of a meteor.
Gilbert was born in Logan, Utah, the son of ida Claire Gilbert, a noted stage star of the time. His mother’s work kept her traveling, so as the boy became of school age, he was given his education, a few days at a time, in the schools of cities in which his mother happened to play. In his early teens he toured the Northwest with Eddie Foy’s stock eompany. Sometimes a stock engagement enabled him to spend several months in the same school. But that was rare. Finally, to complete his high-school studies, he was sent to the hitcock military academy at San Rafael, near San Francisco, where he received the most systematic schooling in his hurried education.
On his graduation from the academy he decided not to follow his mother’s career, and so took a position with a well-known robber company in San Francisco. But the Fates decreed othewise, which was good judgment and for which we may be thankful.
RENEE ADOREE has appeared in numerous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer productions, among them “The Eternal Struggle,” “Women Who Give,” “The Bandelero,” “Excuse Me,” Elinor Glyn’s “Man and Maid,” and more recently in “The Big Parade,” “Exchange of Wives” and “The Black Bird.”
She came to American from the French stage three years ago, and being extremely anxious to enter motion pictures, she applied at the Fox studios. She was such an admirable subject for the films, and her talents and experience left themselves so well to the art of pantimime that she was engage to appear in “The Strongest,” a story built around the life of Georges Clemenceau.
Miss Adoree was brought to M-G-M by Louis B. Mayer at the time of the film merger less than two years ago. She had appeared in several films at that time, and was attracting favorable attention.
She is the daughter of a French traveling circus performer and was appearing in the saw dust ring at Brussels, Belgium at the time of the German invasion. Escaping in a box car she went to England and then came to America.
Part of “La Boheme’s” Who’s Who
TURNING from short stories to scenario writing, King Vidor wrote something like fifty-two failures before organizing a small motion picture company in Texas, in order to get one of his scripts produced.
He played the leading male role himself and also directed it, and although no one lost any money, the producers in Hollywood failed to besiege him with diamond-studded contracts.
Instead of going direct to Hollywood he visited Santa Monica first and offered his services to the General Film Company. He wrote and directed five screen stories there before he made his definite choice of directing as a career. Realizing that his experience was not sufficient to qualify him as a fist-class director, he undertook to familiarize himself with the technical part of studio work. He became a studio carpenter, and, in succession, property man, electrician, assistant camera-man and first camera-man. When again he took up the megaphone, he was in a position to handle any situation without feeling uncertainty regarding the execution of some of its details.
Among the pictures which give strong evidence of his training are “The Turn in the Road,” “The Jack-Knife Man,” “The Sky Pilot,” “Peg O’ My Heart,” “Proud Flesh,” and “The Woman of Bronze.” His penultimate work for Metro-Goldwyn-mayer was the inspired “The Big Parade,” from the story by Lawrence Stallings.
King Vidor was born in Galveston, Texas, thirty years ago. he was educated there and in San Antonio, where he atteneed the peacock military Academy. The Tome School at Port Deposit, Maryland, also claims him as one of its celebrated pupils.
THE distinction of being the oldest actor on the screen goes without contest to Frank Currier, who plays the humble part of the theatre manager in “La Boheme.”
When he was only three years old his mother introduce dhim to the stage in “Ireland As It Was.” In 1869 he became call boy at the Centennial Theatre in Boston. he did his first “bit” in “Rolla,” which starred Edwin Forrest, the tragedian. During the same year he played in “The Shaughran” with Dion Boucicault at Wallach’s Theatre, New York, and went on the road with the same play. In 1880 he went to leadville, Colo., with a stock company brought from New York and supported financially by Governor Tabor. He has played under 32 stage stars, including Edwin Booth, joseph Jefferson; with leo burgess in “Vim” and the “County Fair,” and with Julia Marlowe for two years. He took the “County Fair” to Australia for 18 months. He played the old organ grinder in New York and Philadelphia with viola Dana in “The Poor Little Rich Girl.” He also went to London with “Way Down East.” His screen career, started in 1913, is almost as varied.
Currier, who is now under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-ayer, appeared last in “Ben-Hur.”
ROY D’ARCY, character actor, made his film debut in “The Merry widow,” for Metro-Goldwyn=mayer, starring Mae murray, and played the Crown prince as his first picture role.
His theatrical training started in his college days in Germany, as a singer, and he has appeared in various musical comedy roles, as the tenor singing lead in Shubert reviews, in Earl Carroll’s Vanities, as leading man for Morosco in the East, in the “Oh Boy” company, and with Peggy Wood in “The Clinging Vine” in Los Angeles.
Although he was born in San Francisco, D’Arcy was educated abroad in several universities in Germany and England. He is related to the famous Carl Gutzkow, the German playwright and Socialist; and to henry russ, an early settler and one of the founders of San Francisco.
He has spent twelve years of his life in Europe, at Berlin, Leipsic, Vienna, Paris; and has also lived in South America and San Francisco.
WHEN Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer needed an actor to play Schaunard in “La Boheme” they telegraphed to New York for George Hassell.
There is nothing disparaging in that statement. There may be actors in Hollywood who are just as good as George hassell, and some who consider themselves better. But at that time there was none better qualified for the role of the fat, almost lumbering Schaunard.
And so George Hassell, upon receipt of the telegram from the M-G-M casting director, withdrew from the cast of a prominent New York stage play in which he happened to be appearing at the time and journeyed to Culver City to do honor to “La Boheme.”
FOLLOWING his excellent characterization of “Slim” in “The Big Parade,” Karl Dane was signed to a long-term contract by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios.
Dane was born in Copenhagen and has been in the theatrical business since he was a boy. His father was connected with the theatre, and Karl was everything from call and curtain boy to the baby in his father’s productions.
He made his first picture in 1917, “My Four Years in Germany,” which at that time was a sensation. He then appeared in vaudeville until 1920, when he deserted the theatrical world for contracting work until about eight months ago. His first big opportunity came, however, under the direction of King Vidor in “The Big Parade,” which at the present time is regarded as the greatest war picture ever made. Dane’s first part under his new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract is in Hobert Henley’s “Free Lips.”
COLLINE, without whom “La Boheme” would be incomplete, is played by Edward Everett horton, who will no doubt be remembered also for his excellent performance in the picturization of “The Beggar on Horseback.”
When he is not appearing before the camera he is to be seen playing on the stages of Los Angeles. In fact, he is the creator of the leading role in “The Nervous Wreck,” which was first tried out on the west coast, and several other big roles. In short, when there is good stage acting to be done in Los Angeles they call upon Horton.
And when he is not appearing on the stage, Horton goes in for fine screen comedy, with which he has become identified in the past two years.
The Necessary Knowledge
QUAINT old drawings culled from notebooks of artists who in their youthful days studied in Paris, queer sketches of the nooks and crannies of the Latin Quarter and many rare examples of the work of artists now very celebrated, were collected to produce the famous Parisian haunt of the genius in embryo for “La Boheme.”
Not in years has such painstaking research work been conducted in behalf of any photoplay. Fred De Gresac, adaptor for the immortal story by Henri Murger, herself familiar with every corner of the Quartier Latin, as it is called, is largely responsible for the atmospheric details. it was under her guidance that the technical experts of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios combed the nation’s highways and byways of art for the important material.
Not only were the settings made from the odd sketches of former art students, but the sketches on the walls — one of the traditional features of the Montmartre apartments — were the practice drawings of actual art students, the early and promising handiwork of masters.
Some of the material reproduced in the photoplay was submitted Howard Chandler Christy, who also contributed much valuable technical information during a visit to the M-G-M studio concurrent with the filming of the production. Old sketches by a number of well-known American artists were borrowed mostly through his aid and information.
Perhaps the most interesting revelations about sketches of the Quartier Latin came from the pages of George Du Maurier, himself an artist as well as an author. In his memorable “Trilby” Du Maurier describes at length the revels of the art studens, their interesting habit of drawing on the walls and other details of life in the Parisian Bohemia.
Then, too, Fred De Gresac obtained from friends in France copies of a nuber of these wall drawings. It is the custom in the Quartier latin never to erase the drawings students place on the walls, and the superstition among the art students goes that fame can never come to any of them who has not left a sample of his early style on the studio walls.
In one apartment in Paris, says De Gresac, can be found sketches by the great Rosa Bonheur which she made in her student days. And on the same wall, drawn some twenty years later, and sketches by Elizabeth Strong, one of her most noted pupils. Where generations of artists may be traced on these walls.
Howard Changler Christy admits having made many of these drawings while in paris, but for the life of him he can’t remember the addresses of his early creations. The apartment owners, however, always remember. They have the history of every artist and are always ready to recite them to eager tourists and new students, with whom they use them as great selling points when renting the apartments.
A Montmartre street of the “La Boheme” period was reproduced from an old sketch said to have been made in his youth by Chase, the great Aerican artist. One of Jules Page’s old sketches furnished the inspiration for the scene of Rodolphe’s studio, and an attic bedreoom is from the early work of the same artist.
So, in the case of “La Boheme” at least, it might be said that the technicians paid strict attention to the handwriting on the wall.
This, incidentally, brings to mind the fact that the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio has established and maintains at at great cost to a special biographical department. In it may be found the handiwork and mementoes of hundreds of noted personages of the past and present, who have at one time or another been recorded in fiction or history.
For in these days of motion picture exactitude the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer company never knows whose life it may be called upon next to give a faithful record of in its films. This department, therefore, buys up and store away rare objects created by the great and near-great. It has enough property in it now to found a fair-sized art museum.
Did You Know That —
FOR the filming of the theatre scenes of “La Boheme” the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer company placed under contract Ernets Belcher, famous ballet master. Belcher trained the ballet corps especially engaged for the production.
Catherine Vidor, sister of Director King Vidor, makes her debut as a motion picture actress in “La Boheme, playing the role of Phemie. Brother King made things as difficult for her as possible in order to show her that motion picture acting is not the easiest thing in the world. Catherine got her part through the casting director and has since convinced her famous brother that she need not depend on “pull” to win recognition in the movies.
An elaborate musical score was compiled for “La Boheme” while it was being filmed scene by scene. Several musicians worked on the sets along with the company, interpreting every facial and physical movement of the players into musical terms. Thus every bit of pantomime has its musical counterpart.
Charles hackett, Metropolitan Opera tenor, spent a good deal of time with John Gilbert and the “La Boheme” company at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios inCulver city, Calif. Hackett, who has sung the role of Rudolphe numerous times, revealed a few of the tricks commonly used by tenors to make Rodolphe the most popular character in lyric drama.
Rosa Bonheur, the world’s freatest painter of horses; Guy De Maupassant, France’s most brilliant teller of tales; Charles Beaudelaire, who astounded the world with his poems, and Sarah Bernhardt, who became the world’s greatest tregedienne, are all portrayed on the screen for the first time in “La Boheme.” There are all seen in the cafe groups in which Mimi and Rodolphe mingle with other struggling artists who later became famous. It is a daring rouch and absolutely according to history.
Henrik Sartov, the photographer of “La Boheme,” is the man responsible for all the beautiful photographic effect (sic) in many of the past D. W. Griffith pictures. He is the favorite photographer of Lillian Gish.
Sunlight in France is orange-colored and in California it has a blue tinge. That is why special light filters and analyzers had to be constructed to film “La Boheme” and give it that “Frenchy” tint so peculiar to the locale of the story.
All the Mimis of the past have been brunettes, but Lillian gish defied tradition by not covering her own fair head with a brunette wig. The movie Mimi is, therefore, a blonde Mimi.
Mme. Fred De Gresac, who is sometimes known by the masculine nom do plume of just Fred De Gresac has herself written more than thirty plays, among them vehicles for the late Rejane, Duse and marie Tempest.
The proper pronunciation of “La Boheme” will no doubt puzzle a number of picture-goers. Our own lexicographer announces that there are some who pronounce it as if the last syllable rhymed with “dreamy,” and some who pronounce it as if it rhymed with “gem.” But the correct way, says he, is to sound the last syllable as if it rhymed with “name.” “La Boheme” is the name.
Lillian Gish’s next production, her second for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, will be “The Scarlet Letter,” taken from the Nathaniel Hawthorne classic.
And John Gilbert’s next photoplay will be based on Rafael Sabatini’s “Bardleys the Magnificent,” with King Vidor at the directorial helm again.
TED HENKEL Musical Director FORUM THEATRE
A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer PICTURE
This book sold only in theatres showing “La Boheme.” It may be purchased in quantity from AL GREENSTONE, 1547 Broadway, N.Y.
I was friendly with Lillian Gish, too, when she was a big star at MGM. I remember when [King] Vidor was making “La Boheme” with Lillian and Jack Gilbert, she came up to Vidor’s house one Sunday morning. She wanted to play a scene a certain way and Vidor wanted her to play it another way. She wanted it her way so she came up to the house by herself and offered Vidor a great big beautiful red polished apple as a peace offering.
From the interview with Eleanor Boardman in “Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1989 (page 48)
I wanted to be an actress from the time I was born, I guess, and I loved the movies. I remember getting into hysterics watching Lillian Gish running around looking for her lover all over France in “La Boheme.” I wasn’t crying. I was having hysterics. When it was all over and I went to get up, my foot had fallen asleep and I almost fell on my face. I thought, “Oh, I hope people don’t think I’ve been drinking or something.” I was only fifteen, you know. I couldn’t get my leg working but I finally got up. That’s the way she affected me. Oh, she was marvelous in this thing.
From the interview with Anita Page in “At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties” by William M. Drew, Vestal Press, 1999 (Page 152)
Kindly access the link below to download the PDF version
Nathan had been denouncing the movies as a menace to the arts for many years, but the screen appearance of Miss Gish bewitched him. A year earlier he had published a rapturous essay about her in Vanity Fair, attempting to explain the spell her celluloid image cast. That she is one of the few real actresses that the films have brought forth, either here or abroad, is pretty well agreed upon by the majority of critics. But it seems to me that, though the fact is taken for granted, the reasons for her eminence have in but small and misty part been set down in print.
“The girl is superior to her medium, pathetically so. Her genius lies in making the definite charmingly indefinite. Her technique consists in thinking out a characterization directly and concretely and then executing it in terms of semi-vague suggestion. The smile of the Gish girl is a bit of happiness trembling on a bed of death; the tears of the Gish girl are the tears that old Johann Strauss wrote into the rosemary of his waltzes. The whole secret of the young woman’s remarkably effective acting rests as I have observed, in her carefully devised and skilfully negotiated technique of playing always, as it were, behind a veil of silver chiffon. She always dominates the scene, yet one feels somehow that she is ever just out of sight. There is ever something pleasantly, alluringly, missing, as there always is in the case of women who are truly ‘acting artists.’
Nathan proposed that Hergesheimer profile Lillian Gish and the novelist complied with an essay that ran in the August 1924 Mercury and is considered one of the memorable contributions to the magazine. The critic also told Hergesheimer that he would very much like to meet Miss Gish, but just then she was away filming in Italy. In November 1924, back from Italy, Miss Gish was on her way to spend a weekend at Joe Hergeshiemer’s home in Pennsylvania when, on the train to Philadelphia, a man introduced himself to her. She remembered him as being handsome and charming. She was suprised to find that he was George Jean Nathan, as she had imagined him to be a much older and ruder fellow, in keeping with his destructive humor. He, too, probably by pre-arrangement, was to be a guest at the Hergesheimers, and they chatted away the two hours of railroad journey. He was immediately and utterly enchanted. Miss Gish, however, was not entirely at ease with her new admirer. Once back in her New York apartment she was reluctant to accept Nathan’s frequent telephone calls. When he caught her on the line she would disguise her voice and, pretending to be her maid, would say that her mistress was out. Eventually, though, she began to accept Nathan’s phone calls and his invitations to first nights and dinners.
A calamity brought Lillian Gish from Hollywood on a lighten-ing visit in the summer of 1926. Her mother, who had gone to London where her daughter Dorothy was filming Nell Gwyn had suddenly suffered a severe stroke. Lillian was in the last week of shooting The Scarlet Letter. She learned that by leaving Los Angeles in three days she could catch the liner, Majestic, leaving New York for England. The last week of filming was compressed into the three days available and she was rushed to the Los Angeles depot with a police escort. Nathan saw her off on the Majestic and continued to write to her:
“Darling, I hope for all time: I tell you again what I have told you daily for the last solid year; that you are the only girl who can ever figure in my life, that you are the only one I can ever really and deeply love, and that I wish you would feel the same way about me as I do about you. “
The Gish girls nursed their mother in London and in a few weeks she was sufficiently improved to be transported to New York. There they broke the journey, preparing for the five-day train trip back to California. Nathan was most attentive during their New York stay. He gave Lillian a wirehaired terrier which she named Georgie, a playful puppy who cut his teeth on all the best chairs of the hotel drawing room. Nathan also presented the actress with a ring on which his profile was engraved. She wore it often and it attracted the attention of interviewers who asked whether it represented her engagement. To this she would evasively reply, “Mr. Nathan is a very brilliant man and my friend.” After Lillian went back to California, Nathan sailed for an inspection of the London theatres. While there, he visited A.B. Walkley, the British drama critic. During a day spent with Walkley at his seaside home, Nathan asked his host—who showed little partiality to Americans in general—how he explained the affinity that made his host and he friends. “You are the only American I have ever met who when you speak does not make me fear that all the dishes on the table will crash to the floor,” replied the advocate of Artistotelian reasoning.
Nathan kept encouraging Lillian Gish to pursue the theatre in her career. She eventually did decide to enact mature drama as well as motion pictures. She gave her initial Broadway performance as Helena in Chekov’s Uncle Vanya on April 15, 1930. Jed Harris, a flamboyant producer, led the moving measure of the company and the excited public.
Her next three plays were Camille by Alexandre Dumas fils, Sean O’Casey’s tragedy about a prostitute, Within the Gates, and John Gielgud’s Hamlet, she playing Ophelia. Shortly after the death of George Jean Nathan on April 8, 1958, after he was stricken with arteriosclerosis in 1956, Lillian Gish came to see me. She spoke of the letters she had owned since 1924. Most of her friends believed that he wanted to marry her. But in 1933 she wrote him that she had no more love for him. He replied that he was ready to commit suicide. She persuaded him to survive and he swallowed the bitter experience.
When Life with Father opened in New York in November 1939, no one could have predicted that it would become the longest-running nonmusical play in Broadway’s history—3,224 performances in more than six years. Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s family comedy meant to raise no earthshaking issues. At a time when war news was crowding the daily press, its depiction of the life of an affluent New York family in the “gilded” 1880s delighted audiences nostalgic for crises no larger than those touched off by the irascible but good-natured ” Father.
Lindsay and Crouse urged Lillian not to sign a run-of-the-play contract since they were about to produce a vehicle that would be ideal for the two sisters. The Gishes did not heed their advice and lost out on the chance to create the hit Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway. Life with Father kept them gainfully employed for far longer than they had anticipated.
Lillian’s company opened in Chicago on February 19, 1940, where it stayed, with her, for a record-breaking sixty-six weeks. “Mother” Vinnie Day suited Lillian in many ways. She had no trouble passing for “a charming, lovable, and spirited woman of forty.” She certainly had Vinnie’s “lively mind,” even if hers did not dart “quickly away from any practical matter.” There was also the “bustled” era of the play, when women comported themselves with a gentility and grace that Lillian enacted with ease. She knew something of that world, and she loved it. She also shared Vinnie’s strong religious convictions.
After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Town (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.
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.
“I don’t know, 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.” – Lillian Gish
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