Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLIV, Number 51, 31 December 1918
GRIFFITH’S NEXT BIG FILM IS ‘BABYLON’
With lines as long as a showman’s dream pounding against the box office where “The Greatest Thing in Life” is showing, D. W. Griffith announces he is going to take off the big holiday hit Saturday night and replace it with the story of “Babylon” taken from his stupendous “Intolerance.” So many requests received from every section of the country at the time Mr. Griffith’s spectacle was first shown, have finally led him to release the story of Babylon as a separate and distinct picture. In the former version there were about three reels dealing with the destruction of the city. The new play, however, contains the complete historical romance of the mountain girl who would have saved her city had her king been sufficiently sober to listen to her warnings. Embellished with thousands of feet of photographs taken in the actual valley of the Euphrates, the new production contains but a passing resemblance to the story of “Intolerance.’’ The massive spectacle of the destruction of the city is there with several hundred scenes added, bringing out the vanished glory of that ancient time in a way that was not attempted in the “Intolerance’’ version. Constance Talmadge is seen as the mountain girl, supported by a cast that can never again be gathered. It includes Tully Marshall, Elmer Clifton. Mildred Harris Chaplin, George Siegmann, Seena Owen, Elmo Lincoln and many others who have since earned their right to stardom. The presentation of “The Fall of Babylon” will begin with the matinee performance at Clune’s Auditorium next Monday.
“Dinner at Eight” with its superlative all-star cast, and “His Double Life,” a provoking comedy featuring Lillian Gish and Roland Young, make up the splendid double-feature program opening today at the Fox West Coast theater. The cast of “Dinner at Eight” practically tells the story, and when this array of excellent actors is combined with a plot both clever, amusing and dramatic, there is nothing more to ask for. The beloved Marie Dressler is there with John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, Billie Burke, Madge Evans, Jean Hersholt, Karen Morley, Louise Closser Hale, Phillips Holmes, May Robson and half a dozen more. “His Double Life” will provide plenty of laughs as well as the first glimpse of Lillian Gish on the screen in many a month. Miss Gish, who once held the brightest of spotlights in films, has devoted most of her time in recent years to the legitimate stage.
The history of movies is the history of Lillian Gish
By Mike Hughes Gannett News Service
She was born in a quieter century, in a cozier part of the world. Risks were rare, expectations low. “We were from Ohio,” Lillian Gish says in a film to be broadcast a 9 tonight on KVCR. (American Masters) “Ladies had their name in print when they were born, when they got married and when they died but NEVER for anything else.” But fate intervened and her career has embraced most of the history of movies. Now it’s recalled in a masterful opener for the “American Masters” season. Here is a life that can be illustrated through 106 movies spread over 75 years. And here is someone interviewed at just the right time; at 93, Gish overflows with rich memories. Her quiet Ohio life was disrupted because her father couldn’t keep work. Her mother “the most perfect human being I ever knew” told him not to come back until he could. “He would follow us around and beg Mother to take him back,” she says in the film. “But he didn’t have a job.” So the Gishes turned to the stage for money. At the ages of 5 and 4, Lillian and her sister Dorothy became touring actresses, They were quite haughty about it, feeling sorry for their friend, Gladys Smith, who “had to go to the movies to make a living.” But Gladys did well, after changing her name to Mary Pickford. Pickford also introduced them to D.W. Griffith, Hollywood’s first great director. “He said, ‘Can you act?’ And Dorothy pulled herself up and said, ‘We are of the legitimate theater.’ And he said, ‘I don’t mean reading lines. Can you act’?”” They could.
Lillian Gish A long life and a lot of memories
Beginning in 1912, these teens and their incredibly expressive faces were being molded by a master. “Griffith got into films in 1908, and by the time I got (there), he had given films their form and grammar.” Gish was in the movie that made him famous “Birth of a ‘Nation,” released in 1915 and “Intolerance,” the one that destroyed him just a year later. “Theaters wouldn’t take it,” Gish says of the latter film’s original, marathon length. “And he cut it and ruined it. Because it still remains the greatest film ever made.” She bridles at the way he was treated after that. “He couldn’t take orders from business people. It was just not possible.” And other Hollywood attitudes grate on her. Once, movie mogul Louis Mayer suggested that Gish (who has never married) start a scandal to generate publicity. She also complains about the characters she was given (“I played those little virgins that after five minutes you got so sick of’) and the industry’s obsession with happy endings, Tonight’s “Masters” provides a vivid example of that the absurd new ending ordered by the studio for “The Wind,” in 1928. “Frances Marion, who did the script, never took anything in film seriously again, and I came back to the theater,” Gish remembers. She would retreat often to the stage, but certainly didn’t forget Hollywood and her life’s work: “I never doubted film was the mind and heartbeat of our century,” she says.
In recent summers, PBS’ Monday lineup has come as a vibrant surprise. “Masters” crafts portraits with intelligence and detail; “Alive From Off Center” is both deft and daft. And now both start their new seasons in appropriate style. “Off Center” (10 p.m. locally) has two mismatched films a witty and stylish satire of a high-tech ad agency and a pointless and (almost) endless segment from the movie “Aria.” And “Masters” (9 p.m.) is at its very best with the Gish profile.
Griffith’s desire to make longer films was thwarted by Biograph. Determined to make the greatest movie ever produced, Griffith left Biograph in 1913 and soon set to work on a film version of Thomas Dixon’s novel of the Civil War, ‘The Clansman’. The result of his labors was The Birth of a Nation, which exploded on the screen in 1915. Filmed at a cost of one hundred thousand dollars, the three-hour epic was enormously popular and equally controversial; it is still regarded as one of the key films in cinema history. The film’s depiction of leering, bestial blacks created a furor throughout the country, and much to Griffith’s surprise and dismay the movie was roundly condemned by many fair-minded Americans. But although Griffith’s view of history and race relations was deplorable, his artistry was undeniable. It was, as critic Bosley Crowther has written, “as though a superb symphony had burst from the muck of primitive music within two decades after the invention of the horn. . . .
People were simply bowled over by its vivid pictorial sweep, its arrangements of personal involvements, its plunging of the viewer into a sea of boiling historical associations. . . .”
Any follow-up to The Birth of a Nation should have been anticlimactic, but Griffith’s next film, Intolerance was even more monumental. The two-million-dollar film told not one story but four. Ancient Babylon, Biblical Judea, sixteen-century France, and modern America were the scenes of its four tales of bigotry and intolerance, and Griffith cut back and forth from one story – to another with increasing rapidity as the film progressed. By the last reel, the crosscutting was almost frantic. Scenes of a girl rushing to warn the Babylonian king that he has been betrayed were intercut with sequences showing the lover of the French heroine running through the streets to save her from the anti-Huguenots, Christ carrying his cross to Calvary, and the modern heroine racing to obtain a pardon that will stop her husband’s execution.
Despite Griffith’s ability to focus on intimate scenes in the midst of staggering spectacle, and despite his brilliant use of crosscutting to heighten tension and involvement, Intolerance was a commercial failure. Audiences found it confusing and unappealing. Griffith was both heartbroken and financially- ruined.
In 1915 Griffith had founded the Triangle Film Corporation, a partnership involving two other men who rank high among the innovators of early Hollywood.
While these and other directors were winning plaudits, the man to whom they all owed so much was experiencing a tragic decline in his fortunes. D. W. Griffith had enjoyed a huge success in 1919 with Broken Blossoms, starring Lillian Gish as a cruelly- mistreated waif and Richard Barthelmess as the Chinese man who loves her. It was, Lewis Jacobs notes, “a brilliant culmination for the ‘sweet and innocent’ era in American movies, already dying and being succeeded by the sophisticated, daring ‘triangle era.'” Way Down East, which marked the apogee of D.W. Griffith’s personal and professional fortunes, was released to universal acclaim in 1920. Filmed at considerable peril to both the director and his leading lady, Lillian Gish, this Victorian melodrama features a sequence in which Gish flees across an ice-clooked river.
Way Down East (1920), famous for its scenes of Gish and Barthelmess leaping from ice floe to ice floe just a few feet from the edge of a gigantic waterfall, and Orphans of the Storm (1922) were both popular melodramas. But from that point on Griffith pleased neither critics nor public. Unable to cope with the new financial realities of big-business Hollywood, he was also loathe to eschew the sentimentality that was so out of fashion. When, desperate for income, he attempted to pander to public tastes by aping the successes of others, the results were disastrous. He worked only sporadically in the late twenties, and his last film was made in 1931. He lived in a rented room in Hollywood for seventeen more years and died in 1948, a bitter old man largely forgotten by the industry he had helped to create.
Forgotten too, by then, were many of the major stars of the silents, their careers terminated by the arrival of sound movies. “We didn’t need voices,” says Gloria Swanson, playing a reminiscing silent screen star in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. “We had faces then.” Faces, and distinctive personalities, and talent, and enormous egos.
Norma Talmadge, leading lady of the First National studio, specialized in playing heroines who aged during a film’s progress. Married to producer Joseph Schenck, who nurtured her career, she is not well known today because many of her films have been lost. Nonetheless, she was one of Hollywood’s top stars. Her sister Constance, also popular in the twenties, played vibrant, comic roles, but Norma’s fans wanted to see her suffer—and suffer she did in such films as The Sacrifice of Kathleen, The Branded Woman, and Love’s Redemption.
Another pair of sisters, Lillian and Dorothy – Gish, had achieved stardom in D. W. Griffith’s films. Dorothy was a charming comedienne; Lillian, an ethereally lovely – woman, was regarded as the finest of all screen actresses. Her performance in Seastrom’s The Scarlet Letter remains an impressive piece of acting, even after half a century. Critic Pauline Kael wrote in 1968 that “her Hester Prynne is one of the most beautifully sustained performances in screen history—mercurial, delicate, passionate. There isn’t an actress on the screen today, and perhaps there never was, who can move like Lillian Gish; it’s as if no bones, no physical barriers, stood between her intuitive understanding of the role and her expression of it.”
California Aggie, Volume 99, Number 86, 24 February 1981
Lillian Gish To Appear At Premiere
By Eve Downing
This Friday night there will be a special gala showing of the silent film classic “Broken Blossoms,” staring Lillian Gish. The event will take place at the plush Crest Theatre in Sacramento. The “Premiere,” a fundraiser sponsored by the Family Service Agency of Sacramento, will be a spectacular event that is not likely to happen again soon. Miss Lillian Gish, the star of the 1919 film, will appear as the guest of honor at the screening. The film will also be accompanied by a live orchestra featuring Gaylord Carter, famed theater organist of the silent film era. The orchestra will play the musical arrangements used for the original premiere of “Broken Blossoms .” Directed by the legendary D. W. Griffiths, “Broken Blossoms” is the tragic story of a twelve-year-old girl (Lillian Gish at eighteen) whose ex-boxer father (Donald Crisp) beats, her regularly. A Chinese philosopher (Richard Barthelmess) who lives nearby attempts to rescue the girl, but fails, and the film ends on a truly tragic note. In a phone interview with Miss Gish, she told the story of a reporter from Variety magazine who, after watching the filming of a particularly harrowing scene from “Broken Blossoms,” quickly left the room and “lost his breakfast.”
Even silently, the film was so powerful the women fainted while watching. Nevertheless, “Broken Blossoms ” was a fabulous success, running for months at New York City’s finest theatres and making millions of dollars. Many critics have claimed that in “Broken Blossoms” Lillian Gish gives her finest performance, but Gish admitted that she had severe doubts about playing the part of a twelve-year-old. She told of how such a child would be “unrestrained in terror,” and how she had refused to play such emotional scenes until the camera was actually rolling. When asked how well she thought the Premiere would recreate original silent film viewing. Miss Gish described a similar screening of “Broken Blossoms” done recently in Southern California. A special color tinted print loaned by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art was shown (as will be at this Friday’s Premiere), and Miss Gish declared that she had “never known it (the film) to go better.-’’ Miss Gish will also attend a champagne reception in the Crest Theatre lobby prior to the screening.
Hollywood was a dirt town when Lillian first saw it
As long as I can remember, the scent of orange blossoms has brought back to me my first day in Hollywood. It was a bright February day and I thought that we had actually come to a garden of Eden, for only a few days before we had left behind us the bitter winter blizzards of New York.
Hollywood was a sparsely settled village then. I remember a land agent tried to sell us a remote tract of ground for $300. We decided in favor of some pretty stock certificates, gold-trimmed and completely phony. Today that ground is the Sunset Strip, and parts of it would bring $300 a foot. But then it was wasteland. Hollywood didn’t even have a movie theater when we came. It had the Hollywood Hotel, a few churches and houses.
And D. W. Griffith. There I’ve said it all. Because Griffith was Hollywood. Through every memory I have comes his voice. He was the movie industry. It was conceived in his brain, developed there, and born to learn by trial and error. Griffith gave it all the devices that are still used. The fade-out and fade- in. The moving camera. And so many more. He wrote all his early stories as he went along, made them up or took them from the classics. He set scenes and called out plot as we rehearsed. He borrowed from Browning, Poe, and the Bible. He took much from Dickens. Sometimes he gave credit, but more often, not. Pippa Passes retained its own name. He switched the scene of David Copperfield to New England and called it True-heart Susie.
The greatest money-making picture in movie history was the Birth of a Nation. It cost $90,000 to make and brought in about $20,000,000. I was only a small part of it. I got the part Blanche Sweet was supposed to have because I had long blond hair that reached to my hips.
Back in those days, an “old hag” of eighteen was passe. Youth was an absolute necessity.
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.
DRAMA EXPERTS THERE.
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.
“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.”
Santa Cruz Evening News, Volume 33, Number 107, 5 March 1924
Defy’ Perils of War To Get Scenes Shown In “The White Sister”
One of the most exciting and dangerous locations ever used in the making of a motion picture was visited by Henry King’s production unit of “The White Sister,” the .Metro Inspiration special, opening a two day’s engagement at the New Santa Cruz theater, today, in which Lillian Gish stars. It was necessary to get some desert scenes, and in order to do this the company was forced to go to Algeria, where the natives were warring on the Italian government. Under military guard night and day, the actors were constantly in danger of being attacked by wild Mohammedan, fighters. As if to emphasize the danger, they were incurring, the actors and mechanical staff were treated to the sight of a troop of Italian cavalry bringing into Tripoli, the capital city, 500 prisoners who had been captured in a severe engagement the preceding day.
Have Pleasant Dreams
It was in the country where this battle had been fought that the actors were going to get color for the stirring scenes of the story dealing with the capture of the hero by Arabs. “We could not wait for the rebellion to end,” said Ronald Colman, who played the role of Giovanni, “and against the advice of Giuseppi Wolpi, the governor-general of the province, -we concluded to go out to our location on the desert forty miles from the capital city. So serious was the fighting that the city was surrounded by barbed wire entanglements. Owing to the co-operation of the Italian government, though, we were given a military escort, a battalion of 500 infantrymen and 150 native loyal camel-troops under command of officers were assigned to us.
Taste of Real Thing
“It was most aweing to see the prisoners being brought in by the victors. It was a taste of real warfare. The prisoners were sullen and defiant. We took possession of the block house which, had been captured by the Italian troops and there for six days, constantly being disturbed by rumors of the approach of the insurrectionists -we shot all the scenes necessary. “Regular military discipline was maintained and every precaution taken to guard against surprise. Every day scouts from the camel troop pushed into the desert to make reconnaissance. It is most inspiring to see these ungainly beasts start out. They are used on the desert because horses can not stand the going of the sand. The camels make speed that seems incredible. Warned of attacks, outposts were established and wire entanglements were stretched about our encampment. Several times we were warned that bands of insurrectionists were preparing to attack us, and the troops made ready for a desperate engagement, as the fanatical rebels defied death in their struggle against Italy. Detachments from our guard put a force to rout without firing a shot, as the rebels recognized the superior force. “All of us at one time or other have been locked out of our homes, but never before have I been locked out of a city. When we had finished our work in the desert we started back for the city. The journey of forty miles took longer than we had calculated. The gates of the city are locked at 9 o’clock and we found them locked against us on our arrival. We had to go back six miles to a block house and telephone in to have the gates opened for us.” “The White Sister,” by F. Marion Crawford, is a Henry King production, made by Inspiration Pictures, Charles H. Duell, Jr., president, and is released through Metro.
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