Lillian Gish Quits America First Group – The New York Times – Sept. 2, 1941

LILLIAN GISH QUITS AMERICA FIRST GROUP;

But Actress Won’t Say if Her Opinion on War Is Changed

The New York Times – Sept. 2, 1941

Lillian Gish, stage and screen actress, announced here yesterday that she had resigned as a member of the America First Committee, which is opposed to America’s intervention in the war. Miss Gish said she had informed General Robert E. Wood, acting national chairman of the America First Committee, of her resignation in a personal conversation with him in Chicago last Thursday. She declined to reveal the reason for her resignation, nor would she say whether she has changed her opinion on the international situation.

“I just resigned.” said the actress, who has spoken publicly for the committee in Chicago, Hollywood and San Francisco.

Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941
Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941

Recently, a Hollywood trade journal reported that Miss Gish might be called to Washington to testify before a Senate subcommittee appointed to investigate alleged pro-war “propaganda” in current films. The story said there was a rumor that Miss Gish could not get screen employment because of her America First activities. In the next issue of the journal. Miss Gish vigorously denied that she would be a witness, or that any discrimination had been employed against her.

“My position still is the same, she said yesterday. “I have nothing to tell the Senate committee, and I know nothing of any discrimination against me.”

Miss Gish. who recently closed a record run of ‘”Life with Father” in Chicago, is visiting her mother, Mrs. Mary R. Gish, here. Her sister, Dorothy Gish, who toured in the same play, also is here.

WWII Scribners COMMENTATOR Magazine 1941 War Propaganda
WWII Scribners COMMENTATOR Magazine 1941 War Propaganda

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Gish and Garbo – The Executive War on Stars – By Louise Brooks (Sight and Sound – January, 1959 – London, England)

Louise Brooks

Gish and Garbo – The Executive War on Stars

By Louise Brooks

Sight and Sound – January, 1959 – London, England

Hollywood and its stars are used to being written about, but it is not often that the stars themselves are prepared to discuss frankly the cinema as they see it. We here publish an extract from a book Louise Brooks is at present writing ” Women in Films”which promises to be a unique, intensely individual record of Hollywood thirty years ago.

Many of the films of Louise Brooks have disappeared from the screen, and Miss Brooks herself has been called the ‘lost starof the ‘twenties. After beginning her career as a dancer with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn at the age of fifteen, she was working for Ziegfeld when she was signed up by Hollywood and within a few years was a top star. She made two films with Pabst, “Pandora’s Box” and “Diary of a Lost Girl,” and among her other notable pictures were Howard Hawks’ “A Girl in Every Port,” Genina’s “Prix de Beaute,” and “The Canary Murder Case.” Meanwhile Louise Brooks herself has never been forgotten ; and in Paris she has recently been attending a special series of her films mounted by the Cinematheque Francaise.

THERE was a time when I began work on this book [Women in Films] that I had a great deal to say about the failure of the most powerful stars in maintaining the qualities of their uniqueness which had first made them the idols of the public. I found a great deal to condemn in their lack of judgment in accepting poor pictures. In the spring of 1958, looking at Lillian Gish in One Romantic Night (The Swan), I could not understand how she could have gone back to Hollywood in 1929 to play that ghostly part in that foolish picture made where, two years before, her spirit had gone forever- “forgotten by the place where it grew.”

Lillian Gish Conrad Nagel 1930 Swan 2

But now, after deeper penetration into the picture executives’ aims ‘and methods, I can only wonder and rejoice at the power of personality, intellect and will that kept Lillian Gish a star for fifteen years. I can only be endlessly grateful that she was able to make so many marvellous pictures before the producers found the trick of curbing the stars and standardising their product according to their will and personal taste. And it was never their will, but the public’s which made them exploiters of great personalities and builders of enduring stars. It was never their taste, but that of certain writers and directors by which their product sometimes lost its passing value as entertainment and gained the enduring value of art. All the jumbled pieces of the picture puzzle began to fall in place one day while I was thinking about one of Hollywood’s foremost producers of the 1950’s, whom I used to know in New York when he worked in a department store. For that led me to the realization that as an actress I had been treated exactly as later I was treated as a salesgirl at the New York department store where I was accepted for work in 1946. They preferred young girls (I was 39) but otherwise I fitted nicely within the store’s policy. I got $30 a week. I was inexperienced and would not make too many sales. I would not stay too long. A few girls of exceptional ability there were who were allowed to stay, to build a following and collect a small percentage of their sales. But beyond this limited permission it was impossible for the selling of the merchandise ever to become dependent on the salesgirls. The customers were drawn by the name of the store and the merchandise. A great lot of dresses with mass appeal would be advertised with attractive snobbery in all the Sunday papers. On Monday they would sell themselves. At the end of the season, to clear the way for the new merchandise, old stuff was either reduced in price or sold as waste to anyone who could use it.

Movies in America - David Wark Griffith
Movies in America – David Wark Griffith

From this viewpoint, the successful leap of so many from the garment industry in New York to the picture industry in Hollywood was no longer remarkable. Except geographically, it never took place. The men from the garment district simply went on to run the studios, the theatres and the exchanges just as they had run the dress factories, the whole-sale houses and the department stores. They used the writers, directors and actors just as they had used the dress designers, tailors and sales people. And was it not reasonable to continue to love and exploit only what they possessed their names, their business and their product? What was more natural than to despise the old pictures that depressed the market? What was more sensible than ridding themselves of all but the negatives they were forced by law to keep in order to prove their property rights? Old pictures were bad pictures. Pictures were better than ever. An actor was only as good as his last picture. These three articles of faith were laid down by the producers and business conducted in a manner to prove them. As far as the public was concerned, it was an expensive grind of years – teaching it to sneer at old pictures. People were accustomed to seeing the same things over and over and loving them more and more – the same minstrel shows and vaudeville acts, the same Sothern and Marlowe in The Merchant of Venice. Why not the same Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame? the same Negri in Passion? As late as 1930, Photoplay magazine reported: “There was a deluge of ‘what-has-become-of’s’ this month. Fans would like to see some of the silent favourites – both stars and pictures – brought back.” But Hollywood feared and believed at once and without question. Even Charlie Chaplin believed, he whose supreme success depended chiefly on the continued showing of his old pictures. Among all the creative minds of the picture business, D. W. Griffith, alone, knew the lie. “The public isn’t fickle about its stars,” he said in 1926. “Stars do not slip quickly despite the theory to the contrary. You hear that so-and-so will die if he doesn’t get a good picture immediately. Consider how many weak pictures have been made by big favourites- who are still favourites.” But who cared what Griffith said? Like his plot of sin and punishment and violent sexual pleasure, he was dead. Late at night in the New York Paramount studio, I used to see him patrolling the dark sets of The Sorrows of Satan, like a man cut from a 1910 catalogue of Gentlemen’s Apparel.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - Griffith demonstrating his rapport with animals — with D. W. Griffith.

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1925 was the year when two things happened which finally bound the producers together in a concerted war on the Star System. It was the terrible year when “the spoiled child of industry” suddenly found itself in subjection to Wall Street. Modestly declaring a hands-off policy, the bankers had been financing the producers in their effort to buy up the country’s 20,500 picture theatres and encouraging them to spend 250,000,000 a year on theatre construction. And now bankers were sitting in on board meetings and giving producers orders. Bankers, having penetrated the secrets of the picture corporations’ books and studio overhead, were sharing generously in the once private “golden harvest of the producers.” Finding that it wasn’t the name of a lion roaring on a title sheet, but the name of a star that drew that $750,000,000 gross at the box-office, bankers were objecting to the abuse of stars exemplified by Paramount’s ruthless blackballing of Valentino. (He got $2,000 for making The Sheik.) Naturally, the producers did not even consider giving upcutting salaries and firing stars in order to make up their losses and to refresh their prestige. It was simply a question of using a subtler technique to be confirmed by box-office failure. And marked first for destruction was Lillian Gish.

Irving G. Thalberg, Lillian Gish, Louis B. Mayer 1926
Irving G. Thalberg, Lillian Gish, Louis B. Mayer 1926

She was the obvious choice. Among all the detestable stars who stood between the movie moguls and the full realization of their greed and elf-aggrandisement, it was Lillian Gish who most painfully imposed her picture knowledge and business acumen upon the producers. She was a timely martyr also, being Hollywood’s radiant ymbol of purity standing in the light of the new sex star. Because it was all of the glorious year when Will Hays had killed censorship in all but five state. Of these, New York was the only one that mattered – meaning New York City where Mr. Hay had thoughtfully set up the National Board of Review, “opposed to legal censorship and in favour of the constructive method of selecting the better pictures,” which had already put a passing mark on the producers’ test runs with adult pictures of sexual realism. A Woman of Paris, Greed and The Salvation Hunters had all been tolerated by the public. It had accepted the new hero with the conscienceless sophitication of Adolphe Menjou and the unbridled manliness of John Gilbert, mounted on the beloved proposition that practically all women are whores anyhow. Everything was set for the box-office treasure where the producers’ heart lay, when they were pulled up with the realisation that they had no heroine with youth, beauty and personality enough to make free love sympathetic. To be beautifully handled, a female star’s picture still had to have a tag showing marriage. Mae Murray, fighting for her virtue against von Stroheim’s direction in The Merry Widow, had proved the impossibility of transmuting established stars into the new gold.

The worldly woman type, given a whirl with Edna Purviance, Florence Vidor and Aileen Pringle, was too remote and mature to intrigue the public. The passionate Negri, after being worked over by Paramount for three years, was dead at the box-office. And the producers were driving actresses out of their minds – draping Barbara LaMarr in nun’s veils to make her sympathetic and sticking a rose between the teeth of Hollywood’s most celebrated screen virgin, Lois Wilson, to make her sexy. And then in the early spring of 1925, Louis B. Mayer found her! Looking at Greta Garbo in Gosta Berling in Berlin, he knew as sure as he was alive that he had found a sexual symbol beyond his imagining. Here was a face as purely beautiful as Michelangelo’s Mary of the Pieta, yet glowing with passion. The suffering of her soul was such that the American public would forgive all thirty-nine of her affairs in The Torrent. At last – marriage – the obstacle standing between sex and pleasure could be done away with!

Greta Garbo 1

At last, an answer to young actresses who wanted to play good girls! Perfume the casting couch! Bring on the hair bleach, the eyebrow tweezers and the false eyelashes! As for the established women stars, it was only a question of a year or two until the powerful support of the studios would be withdrawn from all of them. The timely coincidence of talking pictures served as a plausible reason to the public for the disappearance of many favourites. But there wasn’t an actress in Hollywood who didn’t understand the true reason.

Greta Garbo.

From the moment The Torrent went into production, no actress was ever again to be quite happy in herself. The whole MGM studio, including Monta Bell, the director, watched the daily rushes with amazement as Garbo created out of the stalest, thinnest material the complex, enchanting shadow of a soul upon the screen. And it was such a gigantic shadow that people didn’t speak of it. At parties, two or three times a week, I would see Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, Hunt Stromberg, Paul Bern, Jack Conway and Clarence Brown, all of whom worked at MGM. By chance, if one of the men was so inhumane as to speak of a Garbo picture, one of the girls would say, “Yes, isn’t she divine? ” and hurry on to a less despairing subject.

Greta Garbo Queen Christina 1933

Lillian Gish

Another name never mentioned in endless shop talk was that of Lillian Gish. The guilty, incredible suspicion that MGM had put her under contract at a spectacular salary in order methodically to destroy her might not have been forced upon me had I not seen The Wind at the Dryden Theatre in Rochester’s Eastman House one night in 1956. I had never heard of it! And I could find no clue to its making. Gish’s clothes were charmingly contrived from all periods, from no period. Millers had been making those dancing slipper since 1915. Her hair was either piled up in a dateless fashion on top of her head or swirling round her throat and shoulders, more tormenting than the wind. Victor Seastrom [Sjostrom], in his direction shared her art of escaping time and place. They were meant for each other- Seastrom and Gish – like the perfume and the rose. After the picture, I could hardly wait to ask Jim Card when and where it was made. “In Hollywood in 1927 at MGM? Why, I was there then, working at Paramount! How come I never heard a word about The Wind?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.

Romola was “one of the highly promising things of the new film season.” From then on, I pursued Quirk’s fascinating operations on Gish like Sherlock Holmes. Her unprecedented contract ($800,000 for six pictures in two years) was belatedly tossed off on a back page in June, 1925. In September, even before her first picture, La Boheme, had gone into production, Photoplay became unaccountably worked up in an editorial reading: “What does the future hold for Lillian Gish?

Lillian Gish – The Enigma of The Screen – article By James R. Quirk

Criticism has its fads and fancies and it has in the past few years become fashionable. to laud her as the Duse of the screen, yet, since she left Mr. Griffith’s studios, nothing has appeared which should give her artistic preference over other actresses who have earned high places. She has always played the frail girl caught in the cruel maelstrom of life, battling helplessly for her honour or her happiness. She has a philosophy of life which she adheres to with a deliberateness that amounts almost to a religion, reminding me of a girlish ‘Whistler’s mother’. While she may not be the intellectual personality some writers are so fond of seeing in her because of her serenity, she has a soundness of business judgment which has enabled her to capitalise her screen personality with one of the largest salaries . . . Wouldn’t it be interesting to see Gish play a Barbara LaMarr role, for Duse was a versatile actress, if ever there was one.”

With the release of La Boheme, in March 1926, Quirk himself put the question to his more than·2,000,000 readers in a long piece, ‘The Enigma of the Screen’. ” Lillian Gish has never become definitely established in a place of public favour . She achieves greatness of effect through a ingle phase of emotion; namely, hysteria . . . As a regular commercial routine star grinding on schedule with whatever material is at hand, her fate at the box-office would be as tragic as it invariably is on the screen. Witnesses of the playing of scenes in La Boheme felt this strongly. The acting methods of John Gilbert and Miss Gish are entirely different. He expressed the opinion that she was the great artist of the screen and that she knew more technically than anyone else. Yet plainly his work was suffering under that method.” D. W. Griffith was involved in an interview printed in December. “Asked about Miss Gish, in view of her more recent film roles, he countered, ‘Who is greater?’.” The June 1926 Brief Review of La Boheme read: “A simple love story wonderfully directed by King Vidor and acted with much skill by John Gilbert. Lillian Gish is also in the cast.”

In October The Scarlet Letter was reviewed with: “Lillian Gish wears the red letter of sin with her stock virginal sweetness.” The gossip pages were seeded with items like: “Who is your choice for Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes? Ours is Lillian Gish. But, failing to get Lillian, we suggest that Paramount borrow the services of Harry Langdon. In July, under a full page profile of Mae Murray, was tucked the line: “For here is a picture of Mae that makes her look just the way Lillian Gish would look if Lillian had IT.” In May, following a straightforward article by Peter B. Kyne about pictures being the reflection of the producers’ taste, not of the publics demand, the following paragraph was slapped on at the end: “Some months ago, Mr. Louis B. Mayer asked me to write a story to feature Miss Lillian Gish. I asked him what type of story he required for her and he said he didn’t know, but that it was certain she would have to suffer a lot. Alas, poor Louis! I know him well!”

Louis B Mayer, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg
Louis B Mayer, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg

Ramon Novarro - Greta Garbo - Mata Hari

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.

Greta Garbo Ross Verlag Germany

Compared to Quirk’s finished mauling of Lillian Gish, MGM’s application of the dig-your-own-grave technique was a sloppy job which was not to achieve a slick finish till the time after the death of Irving Thalberg in 1936, when Mayer began restocking hi stables with actresses closer to his heart, working on that insoluble problem of how to make a box-office star without at the same time making her unattainable. Eased out with full approval, in the perfection of their beauty, art and popularity, were Jeannette MacDonald, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and finally Garbo.

King Vidor Lillian Gish and filming team La Boheme
King Vidor Lillian Gish and filming team La Boheme

With Gish it was a question of how to get her to make a real stinker. Under her supervision, La Boheme and The Scarlet Letter were fine pictures. So while she was called away to bring her sick mother home from London, the studio carefully framed a picture postcard called Annie Laurie which she returned to find all ready to shoot – sets, costumes and Norman Kerry.

Back in charge she next made The Wind, which was so loaded with sex and violence that MGM held up its release until the first Academy Award had been safely dealt to· Janet Gaynor. And then Gish’s strength failed and she accepted a dreary studio property, The Enemy. She could go now, MGM said, she needn’t make the sixth picture. At last Quirk was able to set her up as an example and a warning to any actress who might presume beyond sex and beauty. MGM had let her go because she got 8,000 a week! And, he developed, without a blush, all the pictures made on her say-so were box-office failures.

Stigmatised, a grasping silly sexless antique, at the age of 31, the great Lillian Gish left Hollywood forever, without a head turned to mark her departure. “A shadow’s shadow – a world of shadows.”

THE SCARLET LETTER, Lillian Gish (hands clasped front left), Victor Sjostrom (aka Victor Seastrom) (hand in pocket front right) with the crew on-set, 1926
THE SCARLET LETTER, Lillian Gish (hands clasped front left), Victor Sjostrom (aka Victor Seastrom) (hand in pocket front right) with the crew on-set, 1926

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There is something fateful now in remembering that after Gish ran Costa Berling to look at Lars Hansen for The Scarlet Letter, she said that she had faith in Mayer because he had brought over Greta Garbo. Not possibly could she have guessed that this event would make Gish roles obsolete as fast as the studio could clean up her contract. Even less could she have guessed that uprooting her as a chaste reproach in the new paradise of sex films would become less imperative than getting her out of Garbo’s meditative sight. Before The Torrent started, while the studio kept Garbo hanging around the lot (we’re paying you, aren’t we?) making publicity stills, she was able to observe Gish at work on La Boheme. Watching the only American star whose integrity, dedication and will brought her work up to the standards of order and excellence she had learned in Europe, Garbo saw that the helpless actress being churned in a clabber of expedience, irresolution, unpredictable hours and horseplay was not necessarily the law of American film production.

Greta Garbo Anna Karenina

The May, 1926, Photoplay quoted Garbo as saying “I will be glad when I am a ‘beeg’ star like Lillian Gish. Then I will not need publicity and to have ‘peectures’ taken shaking hands with a prize fighter.” But no amount of the studio’s calculated ‘dumb Swede’ publicity could alter the fact that Garbo could read the box-office figures in Variety and get exactly the same answers Louis B. Mayer got. La Boheme and The Torrent opened the same week in February, 1926, on Broadway. La Boheme, a great story with a great director, King Vidor, and two great stars, Lillian Gish and John Gilbert, did average business at the Embassy Theatre. Lillian Gish got $400,000 a year. The Torrent, a senseless story with a fair director and Ricardo Cortez, a comic Valentino-type leading man, and an unknown actress, Garbo, did top business at the Capitol Theatre. Garbo got 16,000 a year.

Greta Garbo and John Gilbert

After The Temptress, when Garbo said, “I do not want to be a silly temptress. I cannot see any sense in getting dressed up and doing nothing but tempting men in pictures,” Quirk was compelled to write in his December editorial: “When you learn to speak English, gal, inquire how many beautiful and clever girls have been absolutely ruined by playing good women without ever a chance to show how bad they could be. Some actresses would give a year’s salary if they could once be permitted to play a hell-raising, double-crossing censor-teaser for six reels. There are exceptions, of course. Lillian Gish continues to demonstrate that virtue can be its own reward to the tune of eight thousand bucks a week. Nevertheless, Anna Karenina, which had been announced in November as going into production with Lillian Gish, became Love with Greta Garbo. Love was Garbo’s first picture after signing a new MGM contract in May, 1927. After the long hold-out off salary, her business triumph over the studio was collecting with stunning impact on seven months of nation-wide publicity. The studio had not reckoned on defeat and its consequences. And the victory of one friendless girl in an alien land over the best brains of a great corporation had rocked all Hollywood. In the fury of the battle, Quirk had laid it on the line for Garbo in the April, 1927, Photoplay: “Metro is said to have told Garbo that, unless she signs, she will be deported at the end of her passport time limit, in June.” The revelation of this pressure was later masked by the invention of the “I ‘tank’ I go home” gag. Because, if Garbo had really wanted to go home, she would have gotten her 7,500 a week – and double. But she dared not risk even a scheming departure. For two years she had worked at MGM in that climate of worship and service which had secured the purity of her art. And, as well as she knew that she was Queen of all movie stars then and forever – she knew that to leave her kingdom was to become a wandering tarnished star like all the rest.

Louis B. Mayer MGM 1944 WM
Louis B. Mayer MGM 1944 WM

How well she knew her genius was revealed to me when I met her one Sunday in the summer of 1928 at the house of the writer Benjamin Glazer. His wife, Alice, was a witty, outrageous woman perfectly suited to Garbo’s shyness and my sulky discontent. Apart from the other guests clattering through lunch in the patio, Garbo and I sat with Alice drinking coffee in a little breakfast room. The subject of the conversation, of course, was Alice’s and therefore personal. I had divorced Eddie Sutherland in June, and while Alice poked into my private life with ribald questions and the worst possible assumptions, Garbo and I sat laughing and looking at each other. And it was then in that free and happy moment that Garbo seemed to condense, as it were, into a crystal of gracious joy in herself. Remembering the distillation of the whole of her beauty and art in that lovely moment, makes me wonder at the meanness of the human mind which still believes the most obviously ridiculous of all Garbo myths. Photoplay gave it birth in the same April article that carried the deportation threat. “Metro wanted Stiller, and Miss Garbo, his find, was signed reluctantly at a sliding scale of 400, 600 an $750 a week for three years, more to please him than anything else.” Metro wanted Stiller? He never made a single picture there. Knowing his temper, the studio let him play interpreter and assistant director for his find until, engulfed with rage, he settled his contract and fled. Mayer wanted to please Stiller? They hated each other from the day they met – Stiller because he knew Mayer viewed his work with indifference, Mayer because of the coarse indignities Stiller inflicted upon his majesty. As for Garbo’s salary; in 1925, any time an untried actress got more than $300 a week the studio was really yearning for her. And nobody seems to remember how, after her arrival, Mayer kept Garbo in isolation in New York for three months trying unsuccessfully to force her to substitute a new contract for the Berlin agreement which would not hold up in American courts.

Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo - on set for The Wind
Lillian Gish and Greta Garbo – on set for The Wind

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.

Sight and Sound (1959-01)(BFI)(GB)-19

Sight and Sound (1959-01)(BFI)(GB) Burton - Bloom

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Lillian Gish, Grandma Moses, Cited by Women’s Group (The New York Times – January 21, 1954)

The New York Times – January 21, 1954

MRS.ROOSEVELT HONORED

Lillian Gish, Grandma Moses Also Cited by Women’s Group

The Federation of Jewish Women’s organization held its thirty – fourth annual convention and luncheon yesterday at the Astor Hotel and presented awards to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and several other prominent women for achievements in the theatre, art, and social welfare.

Mrs. Roosevelt  received a citation as a “Woman of Achievement.” Miss Lillian Gish was honored for her work in the theatre and Mrs. Dore Feibel for social welfare. A citation was sent to Grandma Moses, the artist, who was unable to be present.

The presentations were made by Mrs. Isaac Gilman, president of the federation.

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NY Times January 21 1954 Gish Honored for Theatre
NY Times January 21 1954 Gish Honored for Theatre

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Writers for ‘Anya’ Accepted Lillian Gish’s Voice – By Louis Calta (The New York Times Nov. 9, 1965)

LILLIAN GISH GETS FIRST STAGE SONG;

Writers for ‘Anya’ Accepted Her Voice, Says Star

By Louis Calta

The New York Times Nov. 9, 1965

“You better wait until you hear me before you use the word ‘sing,'”, Lillian Gish said yesterday. She confirmed a report that she will be heard in song on Broadway for the first time in her career. As the dowager empress of Russia in „Anya,” the musical version of the play “Anastasia,” opening here Nov. 29, Miss Gish will sing a  special number, „Little Hands.”

1965 Press Photo Lillian Gish - Little Hands
1965 Press Photo Lillian Gish – Little Hands

”George Abbott, the director, asked me.” she said. “I might be frightened in less professional hands than Mr. Abbott’s, but I’m excited instead.”

Miss Gish said she had not taken any voice lessons. “The time is too short and it might confuse me,” she explained. “I met Robert Wright and George Forrest, the show’s song writers. They heard me and·they said that it would be all right for me to do the song.

Miss Gish made her stage debut in Ohio when she was 5 years old, in a melodrama with Walter Huston as the young leading man.

She had always wanted to be in a musical, she said, and even went so far as to take voice lessons from Victor Maurell, a teacher of half a century ago, and from Margaret Carrington.

Sitting Composerlyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest- Standing Lillian Gish, director George Abbott, Constance Towers, and unidentified man during rehearsal for the stage production Anya
Sitting Composerlyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest- Standing Lillian Gish, director George Abbott, Constance Towers, and unidentified man during rehearsal for the stage production Anya

I was only 19 then, and I’m afraid I did not fully appreciate the opportunity,” Miss Gish said wistfully. „But I’m sure I got some good from it.”

Although biographical data usually list in Miss Gish’s birth date as 1896, the energetic star says that she is actually only 65 years old.

„When we were little,” she! said – referring to herself and her sister Dorothy -„we would say that we were older because of the laws prohibiting youngsters from appearing on the stage.”

„Anya,”which deals with the purported survival of a Russian princess of the Bolshevik massacre in 1917, teams Miss Gish with Constance Towers, Michael Kermoyan and lrra Petina.

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KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 5 IN ARTS – By Irvin Molotsky, Special To the New York Times, 1982

KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 5 IN ARTS

By Irvin Molotsky, Special To the New York Times

Aug. 16, 1982

George Abbott, Lillian Gish, Benny Goodman, Gene Kelly and Eugene Ormandy were named today as the recipients of the 1982 Kennedy Center Honors for their contributions to the performing arts.

”I’m in such good company – that’s marvelous,” said Mr. Kelly when told the names of his co-winners. ”It’s a gang I feel very comfortable with.”

Mr. Kelly, who was cited in his award for his work as a dancer, choreographer and director, was reached by telephone near Nogales, Mexico, where he is vacationing with his family, and his designation will mean his second trip this year to the White House for a meeting with President Reagan, an old friend.

This year Mr. Kelly was the host for a nationally televised performance by young dancers at the White House.

Gene Kelly - Singing in the Rain
Gene Kelly – Singing in the Rain

Youngest of the Five

”Nothing could have pleased me more than to have been selected,” Mr. Kelly said. ”I was very moved and touched when informed of it.” At the age of 70, Mr. Kelly, who has retired from dancing, is the youngest of this year’s recipients. The oldest is Mr. Abbott, who is 95.

Just a week ago Mr. Abbott announced that he would stage a revival in December at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts of ”On Your Toes,” a musical he wrote in 1936. His collaborator for the revival will be George Balanchine, who choreographed ”On Your Toes,” his first Broadway musical.

Mr. Abbott thus joins Mr. Balanchine as a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors; the choreographer was in the first group of winners in 1978.

Mr. Abbott’s other Broadway writing credits include ”Three Men on a Horse,” ”The Boys From Syracuse,” ”Where’s Charley?,” ”The Pajama Game” and ”Damn Yankees.” The plays he has directed include ”Sweet Charity,” ”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and ”Call Me Madam.”

Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron - on set - An American in Paris
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron – on set – An American in Paris

Broadway and Hollywood

Mr. Kelly’s career includes movies as well as the stage. He appeared on Broadway in ”The Time of Your Life” and ”Pal Joey” and in such movies as ”Singin’ in the Rain” and ”An American in Paris.”

1982 DC Ronald Reagan - Lillian Gish (Kennedy Center)
1982 DC Ronald Reagan – Lillian Gish (Kennedy Center)

Miss Gish and Mr. Goodman will also be making their second Washington appearances in less than a year when they accept their awards. Miss Gish appeared at Wolf Trap recently at a screening of ”La Boheme,” the silent film classic in which she played. She spoke of her long career, which included such other silent movies as ”The Birth of a Nation” and ”Orphans of the Storm.” Her modern films include ”Duel in the Sun,” ”The Night of the Hunter” and ”The Wedding.”

In a Broadway production of ”Hamlet” she played Ophelia opposite John Gielgud.

Benny Goodman 1982
Benny Goodman 1982

Swing and Bartok, Too

Mr. Goodman, a clarinetist who is as comfortable with a concerto by Karl Maria von Weber as he is with a jazz composition by Fletcher Henderson, performed at a White House party this year.

His swing band was among the country’s most popular in the 1930’s and 40’s, and he formed a quartet with Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa; at the same time he was commissioning works for the clarinet by Bela Bartok, Aaron Copland and Paul Hindemith.

Mr. Ormandy, now conductor laureate of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was the Philadelphians’ music director for 44 years. During his long tenure, the orchestra developed its distinctive style and a specialization in late Romantic works, and it became the most recorded symphony orchetra in the United States.

Mr. Ormandy conducted the orchestra during its 1973 visit to China, the first appearance by an American symphony orchestra in China since Peking’s resumption of relations with the United States.

Lillian Gish Kennedy Center
Lillian Gish Kennedy Center

‘Rich Harvest’ Ahead

The five recipients are to receive their awards at a Kennedy Center ceremony next Dec. 4, and President and Mrs. Reagan will honor them at a White House reception the following night. After the reception a performance will be given in their honor at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House. The performance will be be broadcast at a later date by CBS-TV.

Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, said that the awards, now in their fifth year, were intended to demonstrate that ”this nation does recognize the intrinsic value of the arts.”

He added: ”There are still so many who deserve to be honored that the years ahead promise a rich harvest.” Previous winners of the Kennedy Center honors were: 1978 – Marian Anderson, Fred Astaire, Richard Rodgers, Arthur Rubinstein and Mr. Balanchine. 1979 – Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Fonda, Martha Graham, Tennessee Williams and Mr. Copland. 1980 – James Cagney, Leonard Bernstein, Agnes de Mille, Lynn Fontanne and Leontyne Price. 1981 – Count Basie, Cary Grant, Helen Hayes, Jerome Robbins and Rudolf Serkin.

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

Princess Grace of Monaco, Miss Lillian Gish and Al Pacino – 1982

Lillian Gish Kennedy Center 1983 RPP
Lillian Gish Kennedy Center 1983 RPP
KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 5 IN ARTS By Irvin Molotsky, Special To the New York Times Aug. 16, 1982
KENNEDY CENTER HONORS 5 IN ARTS By Irvin Molotsky, Special To the New York Times Aug. 16, 1982

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Lillian Gish Gives a Notable Performance in Foote’s ‘The Trip to Bountiful’ – By BROOKS ATKINSON (New York Times, 1953)

New York Times, November 4, 1953

FIRST NIGHT AT THE THEATRE

Lillian Gish Gives a Notable Performance in Foote’s ‘The Trip to Bountiful’

By BROOKS ATKINSON

Everything ·being possible, Lillian Gish may some day give a finer performance than her Mrs. Carrie Watts in “The Trip to Bountiful.” which opened at Henry Miller’s last evening. But no one has a right ever to expect anything finer. For this is Miss Gish’s masterpiece. As a weary old woman, homesick for her youth in the country she gives an inspired performance that is alive in every detail and conveys an unconquerable spirit.

The play by Horton Foote is a narrative that supplies Miss Gish with honest material but does not take much of the burden off her shoulders. All it has to say is that Mrs. Watts is a lonely woman who has to live with a daughter-in-law who hates her and a son who does not dare take her side. Life being intolerable for every member of the family in their small Houston apartment, Mrs. Watts dreams of escaping back to Bountiful where she was born and once lived a fruitful and peaceful life. She does run away. She catches a bus for the next town to Bountiful. She finds friendly people on the bus and along the way. And she does have a few blissful moments in the weed-grown dooryard of her old home before her son and daughter-in-law come to fetch her back to Houston.

Lillian Gish by Forbes - Advertising the new version of - The Trip To Bountiful - play - Stars in Goodyear TV Playhouse ...
Lillian Gish by Forbes, Advertising the new version of “The Trip To Bountiful” play – Stars in Goodyear Television Playhouse …

That does not make a very substantial play for a whole evening. Nor does Mr. Foote make things any better by underwriting. He is a scrupulous author who does not want easy victories, and that is to his credit morally. But he might also do a little more for the theatre by going to Bountiful himself as a writer, providing his play with I more substance and varying his literary style. He writes “The Trip to Bountiful” as though it were a point of honor with him never to let go. The story is thin, and the dialogue is all in one tone of deliberate flatness.

As a gallery of character portraits, however, his drama has distinction. And under Vincent J. Donehue’s directiont the performance is so pitilessly exact that you can hardly tell where the writing leaves off and the acting begins. Jo Van Fleet, who played Camille in “Camino Real” last season, gives another penetrating performance as the irritable daughter-in-law.

Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)
Jo Van Fleet, Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish (The Trip To Bountiful)

The part is well-written. By massing his details Mr. Foote discloses the selfishness, emptiness, laziness and cruelty of a shallow wife who dominates the family by evilness of her temper. And Miss Van Fleet acts the part from the inside out with remorseless candor.

Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish - The Trip To Bountiful 1953
Gene Lyons and Lillian Gish – The Trip To Bountiful 1953

Gene Lyons ably expresses the patience and timidity of Mrs. Watts’ son, who has no strength left for making decisions. There is a sweet characterization of a soldier’s wife by Eva Marie Saint whose senses of pride and sympathy are nicely balanced; and Frank Overton gives a pleasant performance of a sheriff who treats Mrs. Watts with unprofessional forbearance.

Lillian Gish is Carrie Watts (The Trip To Bountiful)
Lillian Gish is Carrie Watts (The Trip To Bountiful)

But “The Trip to Bountiful” is Miss Gish’s play, and she finds all the heartbreak and gallantry that is in it. Looking frail, dressed untidily in a shapeless garment, her hair messy and her face drawn, she gives, nevertheless, an impression of indomitable strength. Her acting is keenly aware. For Mrs. Watts, lost in her private grief, never forgets the world that is streaming by her. She is always peering out of the windows. She is alive to other people. Although physically tired, she is an eager person.

EM SAint The trip to bountiful
Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint in “The Trip to Bountiful”

The theatre has a whole bagful of tricks for describing old ladies. But Miss Gish never uses any of them. Her portrait of Mrs. Watts is pure art. The character is freshly created. As a whole, “The Trip to Bountiful” is an ingrown play; and Otis Riggs’ scenery, which has been executed indifferently, gets pretty mediocre after the first act.

But Miss Gish is at the peak of her career in the leading part. It’s a triumph of skill and spirit.

Playbill - the trip to bountiful - Miss Lillian Gish
Playbill – the trip to bountiful – Miss Lillian Gish
NY Times Nov 4 1953 A Trip To Bountiful
NY Times Nov 4 1953 A Trip To Bountiful
Miss Lillian Gish (Mrs. Carrie Watts) - The Trip To Bountiful
Miss Lillian Gish (Mrs. Carrie Watts) – The Trip To Bountiful

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After ‘Life With Father’ Lillian Gish Owns the (Chicago) Town – By Lloyd Lewis (New York Times, 1941)

The New York Times June 1, 1941

LILLIAN GISH, TOAST OF CHICAGO AND THE WEST

After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Town

By LLOYD LEWIS – Chicago

Lillian Gish, by virtue of sixty-six weeks in “Life With Father” at Chicago Blackstone Theatre, now takes her place beside the Lunts, Helen Hayes and Katharine Cornell as a truly national star.

She has achieved this position by merely spending well over a year at the crossroads of America, the railroad center, whereas the others have had to tour arduously from Tulsa to Des Moines to Seattle to Atlanta. An amazing number of transcontinental travelers stopped off in Chicago long enough to see this Chicago company of “Life With Father,” and the Pullman people say the show did a lot for midnight bookings.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

But it was by automobile that the great bulk of out-of-towners came to see Miss Gish and the comedy which on May 24 ended its run after setting a new longevity mark for dramas in Chicago. Sedans carrying four or five people arrived constantly from everywhere within a radius of 400 miles. Hitchhikers were found during the year to have come 200 miles just to see the play. One woman in Chicago went thirty-five times. Hundreds are known to have seen it four and five times. What was common was for men to attend during a trip to Chicago and then return some weeks later with their entire families, one of the standard sights in the audiences being that of a father sitting with his home folks and watching, from the corner of his eye, their faces as, on the stage, they saw him satirized, portrayed, “taken off.”

Miss Gish, to the people of the interior, was still a shimmering memory from the silent screen when she arrived in Chicago with the Crouse-Lindsay comedy in the Spring of 1940. She had made brief appearances in spoken dramas during the past decade, but the plays had never been smash hits nor tarried long in the few large cities which they had visited. Her Ophelia opposite John Gielgud had never come West. Most of her stage fame was purely Broadway.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936

But in “Life With Father” she has made herself an entirely new fame in the midlands. The Lily Maid of Astolat is no longer a dream creature in an ivory belfry nor a flower-decked vision on a dark barge. She is now Mrs. Day, mother, wife and housekeeper. Lillian Gish has come from the unreal to the real. She has made people laugh, she has made people adore her for the simplicity and humor as well with the truly great charm with which she has worn the manners and costumes of the past century. She has identified herself with a character, a scene and a play wholly American, wholly practical and realistic so far as atmosphere is concerned.

Life with f lill 58

Midlanders talk about her now as though she had never been a fabulous, distant, legendary creature of D.W. Griffith’s filmdom at all. She is now somebody everybody knows-and loves, and if she chooses, she can tour the midlands for years in this comedy, building for herself a reputation approaching that of Joe Jefferson in “Rip Van Winkle.” It would take years, of course, and it is not likely she will undertake it, for on May 24 she had acted Vinnie Day for seventy-two consecutive weeks without missing a performance or a rehearsal. Some of those weeks were, indeed, rehearsals, but they meant daily work longer and harder than actual performances and must be added to the span of her toil.

“I don’t know,” says she, “if I should play ‘Life With Father’ any longer; Helen Hayes tells me seventy-two weeks straight is too long for an actress. Other theatrical people tell me that I have thus set a new American record for an actress playing a principal role. I don’t know about this. I do know that I grew weary toward the end and only the enthusiasm of those crowds kept me going. I felt, too, that is was good for the theatre, especially in the midlands, to have a play run in one house for more than a year. That could mean the education of new thousands to the value of the drama.”

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

After a Summer’s rest, Miss Gish will decide whether to appear in another play or to return to further tours in “Life With Father.” It was from a balcony seat at the Empire Theatre in New York soon after the original company was launched that she first saw the play. After the first two acts she went to the business office of the theatre downstairs and congratulated the management. One of owner Oscar Serlin’s lieutenants then and there asked her why she didn’t head a second company. Surprised, she retired to the balcony with the statement that if the third act held up she’d see. It did, she saw, and within a few weeks she was rehearsing with the second company.

During the historic Chicago run, which bettered by one week the record set by Frank Bacon in “Lightnin’” in 1921-22. Miss Gish has done herculean work for the play outside as well as in the theatre. She has become a very impressive speaker due to the endless Kiwanis and women’s club luncheons she has addressed. She has been photographed with Mayors, water lilies, new automobiles, 4-H club youngsters. She has posed buying tickets to charities.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

In her, Chicago has seen what D.W. Griffith saw when, at the height of her career as a fragile, ultra-feminine, wraith-like spirit in films, he said “she has the brain of a man.” For the Griffith films she worked daily, every day, across nine years. When she was not acting she was writing subtitles, picking locations, coining advertising catch lines. She learned all about billposting, and bargained for one-sheets, twenty-four sheets, snipes. She coined the title for “The Greatest Thing in Life,” and once in the early 1920’s she directed for Paramount a picture called “Remodeling Her Husband,” with her sister Dorothy as star and an unknown girl-friend named Dorothy Parker supplying the subtitles.

Life With Father - Lillian Gish
Life With Father – Lillian Gish

Not without pride Miss Gish recalls, today, that this film cost $28.000 and grossed $300.000. And she takes satisfaction in the success of “White Sister,” a film for which she raised the money, supervised the scenario, the direction, the acting, and made the releasing deals when major companies refused to handle the film because it was “non-commercial.” It was she who wrote into the script the scene that assured the picture’s success, the ceremonial at which the heroine became a nun; the scene had not been contained in either the novel or drama. Her discovery of Ronald Colman, an obscure stage actor, as a film possibility and her employment of him as the hero of “White Sister” was also a businesslike item in the story of that film. Costing $270.000 it was eventually took in $4.000.000.

So wholly did Hollywood come to agree with Griffith’s verdict that she owned the brain of a man that she had, several years ago, standing offers from companies to come back and direct whenever she wished. But stage acting has been more important to her, obviously giving her mind more nourishment than Hollywood could ever give.

Thinking back across her career, it was not the nine vacationless years with Griffith, nor the seventy-two consecutive weeks of “Life With Father” that have taxed her as much as in the long run as Ophelia in “Hamlet” with John Gielgud.

“And it wasn’t the work that did that,” she says, “it was the emotional strain of Gielgud’s Hamlet. Every night his performance was as emotionally exhausting to me as to the spectators. His was truly great acting.”

Hamlet 1936
Hamlet 1936

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After 'Life With Father' the Actress Almost Owns the Chicago Town NY Times Sun 1 1941
After ‘Life With Father’ the Actress Almost Owns the Chicago Town NY Times Sun 1 1941

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Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941
Life With Father Blackstone Theatre Chicago postcard ca 1941

 

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Lillian Gish Will Play Nurse in “Romeo” – By Sam Zolotow (The New York Times – 1965)

LILLIAN GISH JOINS FESTIVAL TROUPE;

Will Play Nurse in ‘Romeo’ at Stratford, Conn.

By Sam Zolotow

The New York Times – Jan. 27, 1965

Lillian Gish will portray the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Conn. It will be the first bill of the student series on March 8 and will usher in the regular season on June 19. Allen Fletcher, the group’s artistic director, will stage the play.

Lillian Gish as The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet 1965
Lillian Gish as The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet 1965

Miss Gish, who says she weighs 115 pounds and is 5 feet 6 inches tall, acknowledged she would make a petite nurse.

“I’ll persuade them without using any padding” she said, “that I’m large and vigorous. Size and weight have nothing to do with a good interpretation.”

Juliet (Maria Tucci) and The Nurse (Lillian Gish) in Romeo and Juliet - 1965
Juliet (Maria Tucci) and The Nurse (Lillian Gish) in Romeo and Juliet – 1965

The nurse will be Miss Gish’s only role at the festival and the first time she has acted there. Her only other Shakespearean role was Ophelia to John Gielgud’s Hamlet on Broadway in 1936.

Lillian Gish as Ophelia in Hamlet 1936
Lillian Gish as Ophelia and John Gielgud in Hamlet 1936

Terence Seammell has been selected for the part of Romeo and Maria Tucci as Juliet. Mr. Seammell is a third-season member of the troupe.

Miss Tucci, who is 22 years old, will make her debut at the festival. She has acted on Broadway in “The Deputy” and “The Milk Train doesn’t Stop Here Anymore”.

Lillian Gish and Terence Seammell in Romeo and Juliet 1965
Lillian Gish and Terence Seammell in Romeo and Juliet 1965

“There were plans to do “Romeo and Juliet” with Dick Barthelmess in Italy using the original locations, but, following our announcement, letters from the exhibitors begged reconsideration saying Mr. Shakespeare emptied their theaters. By the time I finally succeeded in appearing in this play at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut, I was playing the Nurse.” (Dorothy and Lillian Gish – By Lillian Gish)

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