A Life on Stage and Screen – by STUART ODERMAN (Electronic Format)

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


“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.

Lillian Gish – A Life on Stage and Screen – cover

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The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me – 1969 (Download electronic format)

The Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me

By Lillian Gish & Ann Pinchot (Englewood Cliffs, NJ Prentice-Hall, 1969)

Colorful, lively, and moving memoir of a giant of the early screen, actress Lillian Gish. Her story is inseparable with the history of the movies, from the early days, when the pioneers of the industry worked long hours through hardship and cold, public criticism through the horrors of war, and the proverty of the Depression. She knew them all: Mary Pickford, Greta Garbo, Rudolh Valentino, Noel Coward, Erich Von Stroheim, and many more. She talks about the director of many of her films, D.W. Griffith (David Wark Griffith), whose consuming passion creating new ways to tell stories on celluloid. A long-time member of his company, she separates the man from the legend. She exposes the very personal, human side of this early Hollywood legend, warts and all.

Download electronic format (PDF) English

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The Movies Mr.Griffith and Me

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LILLIAN GISH – An actor’s life for me – 1987

  • An Actor’s Life for Me!
  • An actor’s life for me
  • Text copyright © Lillian Gish and Selma Lanes, 1987
  • Illustrations copyright © Patricia Henderson Lincoln, 1987

In vivid anecdotes that are funny, heartbreaking, and remarkably evocative of that fascinating period, stage and screen star Lillian Gish tells the story of her childhood years in the American theater at the beginning of the 1900s.

From the perspective of nearly a century. Miss Gish recalls the kindness of her fellow actors during a Christmas spent on a train; hilarious—and sometimes frightening—slipups from many performances; the pain of separation from her mother and younger sister; and the thrill of being a professional actor.

For every child who has ever wondered about the glamour and excitement of being on the stage, about how and why a person becomes an actor, this remarkable childhood reminiscence offers a unique and lively insight, as well as a memorable piece of Americana.

Actor’s Life For Me – Illustrations

LILLIAN GISH is truly a legend in her own time. As a young girl in the early days of movies, she became a star, the leading lady of such D.W. Griffith classics as Birth of a Nation (the first feature-length film), and her career continued successfully into the talkies. On Broadway, in the 1930s, she played Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet. Most recently she appeared in Sweet Liberty with Alan Alda. To date, she has appeared in over a hundred films and fifty plays. In 1984, Miss Gish received the American Film Institute’s coveted Lifetime Service Award for her extraordinary contributions to the industry. But before all this, in 1902, when she was six, she began her distinguished acting career on a small, improvised stage in Risingsun, Ohio… where this charming, bittersweet childhood reminiscence of the actor’s life begins.

Actor’s Life For Me – Illustrations

I am Lillian Diana Gish. I was named that by my parents. But sometimes I was called Florence Niles, Baby Alice, Baby Ann, and just plain Herself, for reasons that I will explain.

My sister Dorothy (who was nicknamed Doatsie) and I were lucky. We never lived in just one place or went to school like other children we knew. From the time I was six and Doatsie just four and a half, we were child actors. We belonged to traveling theatrical companies that performed plays in small towns and big cities all along the East Coast and in the Middle West.

There was no television, movies, or even radio at the beginning of this century when we began working. All over America, going to the theater was a popular evening entertainment. Most of the plays that Doatsie and I acted in were called melodramas.

Actor’s Life For Me – Illustrations

I began life in Springfield, Ohio. I was born in my Grandmother Gish’s house in October 1896.

The nicest thing I remember about Mother and Father together is seeing them both standing at the foot of my bed one night, when I was still quite small. Mother was wearing a red satin dress with a long train and Father had on a dark, elegant suit. They must have been going to a party. They both looked so beautiful that the image has always stayed in my mind, clear as a photograph in a family album. Surely they were happy then.

When my sister Dorothy was just a baby. Father would sometimes take me for walks. I was not yet three, and we would stop to rest and have some refreshment. We never stopped at an ice-cream parlor, always at a saloon. I remember the wood walls, the sawdust on the floor and the strange bitter smell. Father loved to show me off. While he stood drinking beer, he would lift me up onto the bar, where I sat and ate my fill of the free lunch.

We looked on the movies only as a way of feeding and sheltering ourselves until we got back on the stage.

An actor’s life for me – LILLIAN GISH – An Actor’s Life for Me! (PDF)

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Old-Fashioned Camille to Sin and Die Again – By Boyd Lewis (Oakland Tribune, 1932)

  • Oakland Tribune, Volume 117, Number 108, 16 October 1932
  • Old-Fashioned Camille to Sin and Die Again
  • Lillian Gish. Raymond Hackett, Red Divans in Dumas’ Revival for Blase N. Y.
  • By BOYD LEWIS United Press Staff Correspondent

NEW HAVEN. Conn., Oct. 13. – Delos A. Chappell, wealthy Denver business man who revived Dumas’ “Camille” for the Central City. Colo., Opera House, looked forward today to a Broadway opening despite the snickers with which New Haven greeted its Eastern premier last night. “I am hoping that New York will take Its ‘Camille’ straight,” he told the United Press. “I believe it should be taken not merely as a quaint revival of an outmoded play, but at its face value as a great work of art.”

The Denver millionaire has surrounded Lillian Gish, Raymond Hackett and the other members of the cast with rich trappings, including a priceless music box, ancient red divans, frail French chairs, and a massive grand piano that was carried to Colorado in a covered wagon.

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); [Camille–Gish, Lillian, and Raymond Hackett] [Made at Chappell Home, Denver]; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.176


An audience which included Professor William Lyon Phelps and Professor George Pierce Baker, head of the Yale drama school, sighed audibly as the players enacted their roles with the stilted formality of the play’s period behind old-fashioned bucket -type footlights. Miss Gish’s Dresden-China frailty and studied languor may have endowed Camille with too sweet an innocent a manner for New Haven’s “straight” consumptlon, but this Chappell believes comes from an improper understanding of what sin was in Camille’s day.

Lillian Gish as Camille


“Sinning. In those days, was not our good old American sinning, the producer said. “Dumas’ Camille was patterned after a girl who was born in the country, brought up in a convent and then muttered from one nobleman to another. Miss Gish’s delicate air of innocence is entirely in keeping with the character.”

And the same applies to Raymond Hackett as Armand. If his postures and speeches seem too stilted for our modern times, it must be remembered that he is acting the role in its original manner.”

The play bill announces that the production is done “in the manner of 1878.”

Camille Cast with R.E. Jones and Lillian Gish in Chappel Garden by Laura Gilpin Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932

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Silent film star receives top award (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1984)

  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Volume 128, Number 53, 2 March 1984
  • Silent film star receives top award

BEVERLY HILLS (AP) – “She was there at the birth of an art form,” Douglas Fairbanks Jr. said as the film world saluted Lillian Gish, last great star of the silent film era. Miss Gish, 90, was presented Thursday night with the Life Achievement Award of the American Film Institute, the second woman recipient in the 12 years of the honor. Bette Davis won the award in 1977. It was an evening for women achievers in the movie world, and Miss Gish presided at the table of honor in the Beverly Hilton ballroom with latter-day stars Sally Field, Jessica Lange, Jeanne Moreau, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Lily Tomlin and Cicely Tyson. “She is the symbol of eternal youth of America,” said Miss Moreau, who has filmed a documentary of Miss Gish’s life. “She had an air of serenity that made everybody calm,” said Robert Mitchum, who starred with Miss Gish in the 1955 film “The Night of the Hunter.” The silent film star was also saluted by co-workers and friends Richard Widmark. who appeared with her in “The Cobweb,” actress Colleen Moore, a friend since 1918; Eva Marie Saint, who appeared with Miss Gish in the TV drama and Broadway play, “A Trip To Bountiful;” Jennifer Jones of “Duel in the Sun” and “A Portrait of Jenny; ” and Richard Thomas, who appeared in Miss Gish’s most recent film, the TV movie “Hobson’s Choice.” John Huston recalled how his father, Walter, held Lillian Gish on his shoulder for a 1902 play in Ohio, “In Convict’s Stripes.” John Houseman, who produced two films with Miss Gish, recalled that her MGM boss, Irving Thalberg, once offered to “arrange a scandal” to enliven her reputation as the eternal maiden. She declined, and shortly after talking films began she returned to the theater, mailing occasional film appearances over the years.

The seriousness with which Lillian Gish took her work was undermined at MGM in 1927 when it was suggested that a scandal might improve her performance at the box office. “You are way up there on a pedestal and nobody cares.” said the producers. “If you were knocked off the pedestal, everyone would care.” Lillian Gish realized she would be expected to give a performance off screen as well as on. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I just don’t have that much vitality.” Shortly afterward, she returned to her first love, the theater, and the cinema lost her for the better part of a decade.  What the film producers failed to comprehend was how much value for the money she gave them, for she was part of an older tradition. Griffith had imbued his players with the discipline and dedication of the nineteenth-century theater, and Lillian Gish carried these qualities to unprecedented lengths.

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Chappell, Producer of Lillian Gish’s “Camille” (San Bernardino Sun, 1933)

  • San Bernardino Sun, Volume 39, 1 June 1933
  • Chappell, Producer of Lillian Gish’s “Camille”

MANHATTAN’S newest, brightest and most amiable man-about-town is Delos Chappell, a Denver blade who made his metropolitan debut last fall as producer of Lillian Gish’s “Camille.” He frequents the more sedate bright spots with. Miss Gish or George Buchanan Fife, the last and most beloved of the Park Row dandies of a glamorous newspapering unhappily dead. Another young recruit from the ranks of the haute noblesse is Tom Hamilton, wealthy and handsome Pittsburgher. A juvenile, he speaks of his first failure as “a grand Thursday night run.”

Camille Cast with R.E. Jones and Lillian Gish in Chappel Garden by Laura Gilpin Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas 1932

LILLIAN GISH, by the way, provided a melancholy evening in “No. 9 Pine Street,” a study of frozen New England conscience. It was a dramatization of the famous axe murders of the mauve decade the killings in the Borden family. Miss Gish did fairly well by a poor piece. And made a stage door John of the silk-hatted George Jean Nathan on her opening night.

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979); [Gish, Lillian, and Mrs. Carrington] [Made in Chappell Garden, Denver, Colorado]; 1932; Gelatin silver print; Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Ft Worth, Texas; Bequest of the Artist; P1979.140.197

BROADWAYITES have finally had an opportunity to see Lillian Gish as Camille, and she is assured a place in arguments about illusion in the theater for years to come. Not every one approved her delineation of the role, but every one found some evanescent magic in it. There were harsh words said about her playing the fabulous courtesan as a chaste spinster. There was some confusion over the play being presented in the manner of fifty years ago with quaint lighting, soliloquies, and exrated posturings.


” Among the significant and potentially historic figures of our dramatic times, Lillian Gish occupies a particularly luminous place. The literati have burdened her with ethereal apostrophes: she has been likened to Duse, to Helen of Troy, to an angel, and to a “frightened chrysanthemum”. She has been in pictures ever since she was a fragile wisp of a girl, and she has remained the symbol of delicacy and passive tenderness ever since the days of Broken Blossoms, down the years through The White Sister and Orphans of the Storm to the present day. Now she is hack again on the legitimate stage, exquisitely moribund as Camille, her first play since her great success of two years ago, in Uncle Vanya. Miss Gish is being further canonized by a new biography, Life and Lillian Gish, by Albert Bigelow Paine, and by a revival of one of the first Gish opera extant, an ancient Biograph film, entitled A Northwoods Romance, which is being shown as a part of that acid revue. Americana

Miss Lillian Gish

(George Jean Nathan)

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A NEW YORKER AT LARGE – By Jack Stinnett (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1936)

  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Volume 94, Number 72, 23 September 1936
  • By Jack Stinnett

NEW YORK – Among the “anticipations of the Broadway season” New Yorkers are listing well toward the top Lillian Gish’s soon-to-be-seen performance as Ophelia in the Guthrie McClintic production of “Hamlet.” In spite of her long experience on stage and screen, this is Miss Gish’s first venture in Shakespeare. She’s “very thrilled,” she told Lillian Gish us, but more than that she would say naught for it is not the Gish way to be talking of a thing before it is done.

Guthrie McClintic and Lillian Gish working on last details before Hamlet – 1936 (Lillian Gish signed the contract for Ophelia)

On the subject of why she quit pictures she was far more articulate for that is a thing that is over and laid aside. . . . And a queen’s mantle it was too that Miss Gish put off when she turned away from the films to come back to the stage as Helena in “Uncle Vanya.” “It’s really quite simple,” she says. “I always loved the stage. I always felt that I was part of it. I started acting when I was six, you know. “Pictures used to be something you could give your whole heart to in the silent days. And I liked that. We often worked hard, very hard, often never knowing if we would be paid until the pictures proved successful and sometimes not being paid when they were not. “But silent pictures were wonderful. There was so very much to expressing yourself in action alone . . . such a thrill when you knew you had told your story without words. I have seen some of the old silent pictures recently and you would be I surprised how well they stand up. “Words need an audience and when it came to the business of speaking lines again, I had to return to the stage. I have never regretted it,” she says.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia, 1936, by Edward Steichen

Somewhere in those years of experience that led from the stage to films to stage again, Miss Gish has discovered Ponce de Leon’s fountain. Don’t get us wrong. Miss Gish isn’t old. Her film star was high in the sky before she was 20. But she retains a miraculous youth … an unchangeableness that leaves her still the wistful young girl of “The Birth of a Nation,” and “Broken Blossoms,” and “Way Down East”. Proof of it was seen in a story she told of her travels this summer. On a 6000-mile motor trip through Europe that carried her into Macedonia, she was recognized time after time by natives of little villages that boasted not a single movie house. Some years ago, Miss Gish made a picture which you may recall . . . “The White Sister.”‘ The picture was shown in the churches of numerous villages of southeastern Europe. In many instances, if was the only movie the people ever had seen and they had never forgotten the little “White Sister.”

“Ophelia” – Photo Gallery – Lillian Gish

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