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

Desert Sun 15 October 1983

Famed star of silent films Lillian Gish still favorite dish

By MARILYN AUGUST Associated Press Writer

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

jeanne moreau lillian gish

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

MARILYN AUGUST Associated Press Writer – 1983

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

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

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Desert Sun 15 October 1983
Desert Sun 15 October 1983

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

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

Desert Sun, 21 December 1978

 

Lillian Gish – Marks of age are lost in her glow

By CAROL OLTEN – NEW YORK –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

Interviewing-Lillian-Gish
Interviewing-Lillian-Gish

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

 

The Clansman is coming to Local Theater – 1916

Morning Union, 8 January 1916

The Clansman is coming to Local Theater shortly

*** The Clansman also known as “The Birth of a Nation”

The Auditorium management this morning make the important announcement that three complete performances of “The Clansman” will be given in this city Sunday and Monday, January 23rd and 24th, opening with a matinee Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock. The second show will be given Sunday night and the third Monday night. The prices will be 25 cents for children, 50 cents for adults and 75 cents for reserved seats. Special music and singing is a part of the attraction.

The Birth of a Nation 1915 3

This production of twelve reels was directed by D. W. Griffith, the world’s foremost motion picture producer. It is an adaptation from Thomas Dixon, Jr’s popular novel of the same name, and is the costliest motion picture ever produced. “The Clansman” deals with the Civil War period. It shows the causes that led up to this conflict land carries Die spectator through the war. In “The Clansman’’ are shown the most marvelous battle scenes that have ever been staged. The siege before Petersburg with thousands of soldiers in action, is realistically shown in Die picture. The battle fields were laid out and trenches dug under the direct supervision of seven G. A. R. army veterans who took part in the original conflict.

The Birth of a Nation - Massive troop movements wide shot D. W. Griffith, American film master
The Birth of a Nation – Massive troop movements wide shot

These veterans, two of whom were commissioned officers, remained with Mr. Griffith during the entire period that the Scenes were being – staged. Artillery duels, in which explosive shells are hurled by both the Northern and Southern troops, from huge mortars, are shown in motion pictures for Die first time in “The Clansman.’’ The artillery used is Die same that was used during the Civil War and borrowed from the U. S. government tor the occasion. The explosive blank shells used in the mortars were constructed especially for these big guns by an expert fire-works manufacturer. More than 500 of these shells are used in the battle scenes. They cost thousands of dollars. In directing the battle scenes, Mr. Griffith used field telephones, flag signals, field couriers and even a captive balloon.

original-souvenir-birth-of-a-nation-1915

These methods were not used as part of the army equipment, but were merely used by Mr. Griffith in staging the production. He used the modern war methods to better execute the methods of 1861 -65. The artillery duels present one of Die most striking features of the picture: “The Clansman” describes the organization and motives of the famous Ku Klux Klan, and shows more than 2000 of these white-hooded riders in their raids on the negroes. Gen. Sherman’s historical march to the sea, together with the burning of the entire city of Atlanta, is shown in the picture. The burning of Atlanta is shown at night. The entire city with its countless number of buildings and dwellings is shown in the destruction.

lillian gish - nacimiento-de-una-nación - the birth of a nation

A terrific battle between Ku Klux riders and negro troops, provides another thrilling feature. The assassination of President Lincoln by Wilkes Booth, is shown for the first time in the history of motion pictures. The final scenes of “The clansman” provide the most powerful sermons that could possibly be preached against the horrors of war. “The Clansman” is presented by an all-star cast including Henry Walthall, Mae Marsh, Miriam Cooper, Josephine Crowell, Spottiswoode Ailken, Balph Lewis, Lillian Gish, Elmer Clifton, Robert Harron, George Seigmann, Walter Long. Mary Alden, Joseph Hennebery, Sam de Grasse, Howard Gave, Donald Crisp, Win. De Vaull, and Jennie Lee.

  • Grass Valley Department – 1916
  • Morning Union, 8 January 1916
Morning Union, 8 January 1916 Birth of a Nation
Morning Union, 8 January 1916 Birth of a Nation

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

d.w. griffith and robert harron taking a lunch break during the filming of the birth of a nation

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Tribute to Gish telecast – April 17, 1984

Desert Sun, Number 209, 4 April 1984

Tribute to Gish telecast April 17

By Copley News Service

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

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

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

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

Copley News Service – April 1984

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

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Weeps at Own Play – 1919 (Los Angeles Herald)

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

WEEPS AT OWN PLAY

(Broken Blossoms)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Closet Scene – “Broken Blossoms”

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

Los Angeles Herald, 6 October 1919

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

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

A Life on Stage and Screen – by STUART ODERMAN

Lillian Gish

A Life on Stage and Screen

By STUART ODERMAN

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

PREFACE

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

 

Father, Dear Father

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

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

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

Springfield Ohio - Downtown
Springfield Ohio – Downtown

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

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

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

Mary Robinson McConnell
Mary Robinson McConnell

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

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

James-Leigh-Gish.jpg
James Leigh Gish

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

James Leigh Gish
James Leigh Gish

 

The Road to Biograph and Mr. Griffith

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

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

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

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

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

Cinema old

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

griffith david wark_737

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

the Biograph Bronx Studio
the Biograph Bronx Studio

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

An Unseen Enemy

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

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

Lillian Gish 1916
Lillian Gish 1916

 

The Last Reel

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

The Gish Film Theater

 

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

 

Epilogue 

“Any artist has just so much to give.

The important thing is to give it all.

Sometimes it’s more than you think.”

Lillian was just making another disappearance.

 

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

 

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

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

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

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

Clansman’s Realism, Inspires Awe – Los Angeles Herald 1915

Los Angeles Herald, Volume XLI, Number 86, 9 February 1915

Clansman’s realism, inspires awe

By GUY PRICE

THE mastery of David Ward Griffith in the motion picture production field, it would seem, is now supreme. If this remarkable director never again touches his hand to pictography—and it would indeed be regrettable if he didn’t—his ’’Clansman” will stand as a monument of glorious achievement in the future annals of cameric art.

lillian gish - nacimiento-de-una-nación - the birth of a nation 6

The picture was presented here, for the first time in public, at Clune’s Auditorium last night, and the Jam of people that packed the mammoth theater “from cellar to garret” is only more convincing evidence of the growing interest in the newer branch of indoor amusement. There was not a vacant seat in the entire house – if there were, only the fellow with the magnifying or field glasses could discover them. Whether this exuberance of enthusiasm was prompted by curiosity or a wish to pay deserving tribute to the “wizard of the film” or just another example of the ever increasing tide of favor toward the “movies” we are not prepared to say offhand, but to the man up a tree it looks like the theatergoers had about come to a realization of the vastly important part the camera lens is now playing in this game of make believe and they deeply appreciate the work the Griffith brain and hand are doing in the way of advancing a worthy and educational science.

“The Clansman” has a score and more good features, and possibly only one or two to criticise and these latter come under the heading of “photographic inconsistencies.” While the immenseness of the picture (it is in twelve reels and each reel is crammed full of situations that only can be fully described by the adjective “gigantic”) strikes you as amazing, the artistic scale on which it is built astounds the more. It is hardly conceivable that a so tremendously big production could be made so realistic and yet retain its wondrous beauty.

 There is the great battle scene in which 25,000 soldiers participate (this is the press agent’s estimate, not ours; after witnessing the men in action on the screen we should say there were 250.000), the thrilling rides of the white-cloaked  members of the Kin Klux Clan, the assassination of Lincoln, the burning  of Atlanta, the capture and rout at the little old log cabin, the clash in the street between the whites and blacks—and oh, so many other moments of intense excitement that the mere repeating sends the chills on a marathon in our spinal region.

Startling all of them, even awe-inspiring, but never sensational. Quite the most spectacular section of the film is the battle of which we already have spoken, and Sherman’s triumphant march to the sea, which follows on its heels. These scenes are the very acme of realism, the strictest attention having been paid to the details as recorded by authentic histories.

The Birth of a Nation (1915)Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Mae Marsh
The Birth of a Nation (1915) Directed by D.W. Griffith Shown: Mae Marsh

In one scene Florence is shown going to the spring for water after having been warned by her brother not to expose herself. The Journey is a quick one, covering only a few feet of film. While still at the stream, the girl is surprised by Gus, a burley black, and she begins her fight for her honor. She breaks from the embrace of her assailant and runs, with the negro at her heels. The picture takes her over mountain, across prairie and desert and finally reveals her in a leap from a high cliff to her death. Another scene that is intensely dramatic is the one where a friend of the Ku Klux clan leader battles his way to victory against a horde of his enemies.

The story of the play is equally as absorbing as it is dramatic. It deals with the Civil War and the reconstruction period, showing with graphic intensity the causes that led up to the vital struggle and the anguish and suffering that were unavoidable after-effects. Racial prejudice figures to quite a surprising extent, but offense can scarcely be taken at this because without it a drama depicting the conflict between north and south would be inadequate and unreal. Director Griffith evidently knew beforehand the ability of his players else he would not have risked so important assignments in their hands. The leads are taken by Henry Walthall, May Marsh, Lillian Gish, Mary Aiden, Donald Crisp, Miriam Cooper, Spottiswoode Aitken, George Seigmann, Sam De Grasse. Robert Harron and Jennie Lee. The photo-drama that is superior to “The Clansman” has yet to be produced.

During the Intermission between Parts One and Two, Judge A P Tugwell of the moving picture censor board told why the board favored showing of the film.

Guy Price – 1915

Note: “Clansman” aka “The Birth of a Nation”

Los Angeles Herald 9 February 1915 (Clansman)
Los Angeles Herald 9 February 1915 (Clansman)
Clunes Auditorium L.A.
Clune’s Auditorium L.A.

Back to Lillian Gish Home page

 

Griffith: The Minor Masterworks By Herb Sterne (Rob Wagner’s Script – 1946)

Rob Wagner’s Script

May 11, 1946

Screen

D.W.G.: The Minor Masterworks By Herb Sterne

David Wark Griffith
David Wark Griffith

DAVID WARK GRIFFITH’S cult is cleaved into two camps: one adheres to the opinion that the director-producer’s genius shines with greatest glory in the spectacle films of panoramic import and molten mob effects; the other group, as vigorously champions the idylls of the king of celluloid, those tender, delicate pastorals that are worked from a palette of pastels.

Now, due to the preferences and limitations of one Miss Iris Barry, a lady who patently rates glister above nuance, The Museum of Modern Art Film Library’s sketchy list of Mr. Griffith’s feature-length films heavily subscribes to the more expensive items he created during his illustrious career.

David Wark Griffith Isn't Life Wonderful 1924
David Wark Griffith Isn’t Life Wonderful 1924

With the exceptions of ”Broken Blossoms,, and ”Isn’t Life Wonderful?” today it is impossible for the public to view other post – Biograph Griffith vignettes, for Miss Barry, and ipso facto, the Museum, chooses to circulate only the more grandiose of his works such as ”The Birth of a Nation,” ”Intolerance” and ” ‘Way Down East!’

Broken Blossoms - Lillian Gish
Broken Blossoms – Lillian Gish

To obtain a comprehensive understanding of Griffith’s important and varied contribution to the cinema, it is necessary to be familiar with this artist’s creations in the realm of the intimate feature film. It is impossible for the public of these benighted times to be acquainted with such of his endeavours as ”The Love Flower,” ”The Idol Dancer, ”Dream Street,” ”The White Rose,” ”Sally of the Sawdust,” ”Scarlet Days” or the several most meritorious works which were  released through Paramount – Artcraft. Today, the titles, not to say the subjects themselves, are unknown to all but the more esoteric clique of cinema enthusiasts.

Because of the Museum’s lack of judgement, the Griffith collection it has chosen to circulate is woefully incomplete, thereby giving contemporary students of the motion picture a distorted and erroneous impression of the scope of the man’s achievements.

David-Wark-Griffith-and-Billy-Bitzer.jpg
David-Wark-Griffith-and-Billy-Bitzer.jpg

Recently, through the good offices of Mr. Griffith and Adolph Zukor, I was privileged to view three of the ignored films, and thus in part repair certain dire omissions in my personal pleasure and knowledge of the work of the foremost figure produced by the motion picture. It is certainly to be regretted that the prints are once more on their way to the Paramount vaults in Albany, New York, again to gather dust, and that the Museum is so insufficient interested in the photoplay as art as to ignore procuring this trio of minor masterpieces for general distribution.

D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front
D.W. Griffith in the trenches on the western front

During World War I, Griffith was prevailed upon to visit the battlefields of Europe to make a propaganda film for the Allied cause. The result was the saber-flashing ”Hearts of the World.,, In addition, while abroad, Griffith procured additional war footage, which he planned to utilize as background material for subsequent battle subjects upon his return to this country.

Hearts of The World
Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron - The Hearts of The World
Lillian Gish and Robert Harron – The Hearts of The World

”Hearts of the World” was pro-War. But what Griffith saw and experienced in the trenches appears to have made him anti-War, for when he once more went to work in the United States he turned his attention and talents to studies of plain people who wished to live their lives in peace. These films propound the  philosophy of simplicity and non-violence, and as lyric essays they remained unsurpassed.

But before beginning this cycle, Griffith completed the military films for which he had contractual obligations. One of these, ”The Greatest Thing in Life,” clearly foreshadowed the change in the director’s philosophy. Although it has a background of battle, the film itself focuses on the people of the villages of France, plain folk to whom war is not glory but tragedy. Curiously for its period, the photoplay is no hymn of hate, and it is only in the concluding, climactic footage that one encounters the customary caricature of ”the enemy.” For the rest, the film points the injustices in the American social code (witness the scene where a white man snubs a Negro; and, again, the sequence in the shell hole at the front where the snobish Edward Livingston tries to alleviate the last moments of a colored comrade-in-arms) and, courageously in a time of hate, declares hatred to be a two-edged blade. In many aspects, ”The Greatest Thing in Life” is superior to the far better publicised and generally remembered ”Hearts of the World.”

Lillian Gish - The Greatest Thing in Life
Lillian Gish – The Greatest Thing in Life

In it Lillian Gish, as Jeannette Peret, proffers a performance unlike any other she has contributed to the screen. As a child, Jeannette is a hoydon, volatile in expression and motion. As she matures. she becomes a coquette of no small sexual allure, a girl sure of her beauty, one certain of her power to attract men. Jeannette is a vivid, dimensional heroine, a figure which is unique and bears no resemblance whatsoever to the other Gish portraits of the Griffith gallery.

Lillian Gish - The Greatest Thing in Life
The Greatest Thing in Life

David Butler’s Monsieur le Bebe is quite unforgettable. Amazing in its originality of conception and playing, the character possesses an unusual combination of direct humor and oblique pathos. Robert Harron, an actor I’m just beginning to properly appreciate, is  unfalteringly superb as the aristocrat who is changed by his contact with fellow beings. The sub-titles are easily the best to appear in a Griffith picture, and are notable for their nonchalant and satirical tone. Of technical interest is the appearance of the first ”beauty close-up” in this film, a diffused type of lensing originated by Griffith and cameraman Hendrik Sartov, which later came into universal favor and use.

The Movies Mr. Griffith and Me (03 1969) - With Robert (Bobby) Harron in True Heart Susie 1919 — with Lillian Gish and Bobbie Harron.

”True Heart Susie,” a tale of a Hoosier small town, is one of Griffith’s finest achievements in the realm of the intimate film. It is a comedy drama of characterization and atmosphere, simple in its telling, overwhelming in its effect. Here the director gives full play to his feeling for  landscape, his expert sense of editing, the emotion to be evoked from such familiar objects as corn popping and apples roasting. Tinted stock is utilized for mood purposes and the land itself becomes an active protagonist of the story through an artful use of lighting, hues and shades. Costumes are utilized for comedy and dramatic points in Griffith’s inimitable way. And the searing sorrows and delights of adolescence, always so understandingly presented by Griffith, are here depicted in segments that are among the director’s very best.

Robert Harron Signed Promotional
Robert Harron Signed Promotional

The cast, headed by Lillian Gish and Harron, could not be improved upon for delicacy of delineation and sheer delightfullness. ”The Romance of Valley,” laid against the Kentucky country which Griffith knows and loves, is in much the same simple mood. Its treatment of small town religion, the comments on the human will to be ”good” and its tendency to ”backslide,” are genuine Americana, and, what is more, eternal and universal human nature.

A Romance of The Happy Valley - Lillian Gish
A Romance of The Happy Valley – Lillian Gish

Late in the story of a boy who rebels against his constricted surroundings and longs for the adventure he supposes he will find in a large city, the story bolts into melodrama. It is good melodrama, but it is an extraneous thread which has no actual part in the picture’s plot. Despite this structural fault, ”The Romance of Happy Valley” is one of Griffith’s most persuasive idylls, and contains still another pair of endearing performances by Miss Gish and young Harron.

It is a distinct loss that the minor masterworks of Griffith are so little known today. As experiments in mood and characterization in photoplay form they have no equals in American film history.

Paulette Goddard in Kitty (1945)
Paulette Goddard in Kitty (1945)

”KITTY” WOULD LIKE to appear a direct descendant of Amber St. Clare for purposes of box office pelf, but it is also to be judged that she has a blood relationship to Liza Doolittle. The writing, I hurry to relate, is closer to the Winsor hovel than it is to the Shaw castle. This pageant of 18th Century London is a handsome, slow and somewhat amusing movie of a wench no-better-than-she-should-be, who, praise be!, never receives her come-uppance,  unless one subscribes to the Bolshevik belief that marrying a title and a fortune constitutes catastrophe.

Paulette Goddard at no time has difficulty appearing beautiful, conniving, brittle and carnal, no more than which Kitty demands. Ray Milland has little to do beyond being arch, and trying not to look silly in hats that only the astounding style of Hedda Hopper could save from looking silly. Sara Allgood, all done up in a La Frochard makeup as a mistress of a Houndsditch stew, gives a wonderfully traditional performance, as does Constance Collier, portraying an aging damsel who spends most of her time on lost weekends.

The-Postman-Always-Rings-Twice-1946
The-Postman-Always-Rings-Twice-1946

”THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE” bears little of the true mark of Cain. The screen transcription of the novel is less mayhem than moral values, and as an osculatory opera its merits are strictly those of the kiss of death. John Garfield is excellent type casting, but he hasn’t much chance against a dull script and ditto direction.

The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946
The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946

Lana Turner, it is my guess, drew the inspiration for her heroine from recent runnings of Norma Shearer’s single performance in ”Her Cardboard Lover,” ”We Were Dancing” and ”Romeo and Juliet.”

Herb Sterne – 1946

D.W. Griffith on set
D.W. Griffith on set

Iris Barry - Griffith

DW Griffith-American-Film-Master-by-Iris-Barry-moma_catalogue_2993

 

Back to Lillian Gish Home page