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.


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

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


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

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

Clansman’s realism, inspires awe


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.

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Are the Stars Doomed? (Photoplay Magazine)

Nothing new under the sun … History (always written by the victors) repeats itself. After Lillian Gish filmed “His Double Life” (1933), she didn’t make another film for ten years. When she did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) and Top Man (1943). The Cobweb (1955) marks the return of Lillian Gish to MGM after a 22-year absence.

Are the Stars Doomed? (Photoplay Magazine)

The case of Lillian Gish is significant. She was getting about $8000 a week from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Her pictures did not bring in a return sufficient to justify a renewal of her contract. Today Lillian Gish doesn’t know where she’s going, but she is on her way to United Artists. Joe Schenck has offered her shelter under that program, but nothing more—no huge salary. Miss Gish must discover her own stories, select her own casts, provide her own director, risk her own money. The star is not enthralled by this idea, as Gloria Swanson was.

(LA BOHEME) de King Vidor 1926 USA avec John Gilbert et Lillian Gish retrouvaille, caleche, diligence, cocher, chevaux d'apres le roman de Henri Murger PMRCJN
(LA BOHEME) de King Vidor 1926 USA avec John Gilbert et Lillian Gish d’apres le roman de Henri Murger

THE only director she wants — the Swedish Seastrom—is under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Lillian has already used up all her story ideas. “The White Sister ” was made at her suggestion. So, too, were “Romola,” “The Scarlet Letter” and “LaBoheme.” Remembering their box office results, Lillian is quite justified in the suspicion that she is not a good story picker. However, Metro – Goldwyn – Mayer alone was responsible for that prize flop, “Annie Laurie.”

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

There are many critics who regard Miss Gish as our greatest artist. Certainly she has a loyal and large following. She has been acting since she was six years old.

Yet here, midway in her career, she is forced into the role of producer if she is to continue to draw a huge salary. The answer to the headline question at the beginning of this tale of woe is that stars (outstanding personalities) will go on as long as the motion picture continues in its present form.

Max Reinhardt, Lillian Gish and Douglas Fairbanks
Max Reinhardt, Lillian Gish and Douglas Fairbanks

Great pictures can be made without stars, but stars cannot be made without great pictures.

Photoplay Magazine

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Are the stars doomed - Photoplay 1928

Are the stars doomed - (The Enemy) Photoplay 1928

Nothing new under the sun … History (always written by the victors) repeats itself. After Lillian Gish filmed “His Double Life” (1933), she didn’t make another film for ten years. When she did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) and Top Man (1943). The Cobweb (1955) marks the return of Lillian Gish to MGM after a 22-year absence.

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Retain the name of The Gish Theater! Please sign the petition!

Follow this link to sign the petition

I strongly oppose the effort to rename Bowling Green State University’s Gish Film Theater honoring two talented native Ohioans, Lillian and Dorothy Gish.  Recently a similar petition was taken to the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. The Gish sisters made distinguished, unmatched contributions to the performing arts, including motion pictures, stage, radio, and television. The removal of the name of the Gish Film Theater would be a sad, ignorant, misinformed waste and an insult to these great women’s legacy. There are campus activists at BGSU who want the Gish Theater name removed because of Lillian Gish’s role in the controversial D.W.Griffith film, “The Birth of a Nation.” Miss Gish was not a producer, writer, or director  and therefore had no role in its content.  She was a twenty-one year old actress fulfilling her contractual obligations.

Regarded as THE PREMIER SILENT FILM ACTRESS, Lillian’s oeuvre encompasses roles that are anti-racist and pro-feminist including such classics as “Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East,” while Dorothy, who was one of the silent screen’s most popular actresses and did not appear in The Birth of a Nation, had a significant part in the anti-Klan film, “The Cardinal.” To remove these sisters’ names from the theater would be a blow to artistic expression and would not further the cause of racial justice and women’s contributions in film.To blacklist a performing artist simply for appearing in one film or play, as in the disrespectful phrase, “Ditch the Gish,” is outrageous, narrow-minded and sexist. It is clearly an embarrassment to the establishment from which it came, and the decision-makers should be cognizant of that, as well as Lillian Gish’s great legacy and trail-blazer as a successful woman in film who transitioned beautifully from the ‘silents’ to the ‘talkies.’ She was, and always will be, a fine example and credit to the film industry.

Instead of renouncing the well-deserved honor bestowed on these two great actresses with the establishment of the Gish Film Theater in 1976 there should be a ‘re-awakening’ celebration of the Gish sisters’ achievements instead, which could be accompanied by lectures on these women by well-known film historians and the showing of such anti-racist and pro-feminist movie classics as “The Cardinal,””Broken Blossoms” and “Way Down East.” This could have such a beneficial ripple affect on the entire campus, even beyond the Film, Drama, and Women Studies Departments, which it would directly benefit. Retaining the name of the Gish Theater would also increase Bowling Green University’s respect and admiration as an institution, world-wide.

Ralph Wolfe and Eva Marie Saint Return to Bowling Green Fall 1976
Ralph Wolfe and Eva Marie Saint Return to Bowling Green – Fall 1976

I had the privilege of meeting Lillian Gish when I was a graduate student in painting at Bowling Green State University on October 14, 1979. It was her 80th birthday and she gave a warm, articulate lecture on “Way Down East” at the Gish Theater, a silent film in which she played the heroine.  Afterwards I asked if I could take her picture for my sister, Jane Gaines, now a published film historian who teaches at Columbia University.  She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Let’s have a picture taken of the two of us for your sister. I had a sister once, and I miss her very much!”

These kind women’s legacy in film needs to be REMEMBERED and HONORED at Bowling Green State University and in their state of Ohio and the rest of the world, NOT ERASED!

Anne Gaines and Lillian Gish 1979

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The Gish Film Theater Hanna Hall - View from the projection room
The Gish Film Theater Hanna Hall – View from the projection room

Reasons For Signing The Petition for retaining the name of The Gish Theater


“DITCH THE GISH” – Strategy

The Gish Theater Saga


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The REAL African people, members of Lillian Gish – Fan group

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.


After “The Birth of A Nation” was released and criticized as being racist, D.W. Griffith was very hurt. He decided to make Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) as a follow-up, to show how damaging and dangerous people’s intolerance can be.

Years later, this same Babylon set was replicated as the central courtyard design for the new Hollywood & Highland complex in Hollywood, which opened in 2001. Included among the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”, edited by Steven Schneider.

The release of “The Birth” inspired many African-Americans to start making their own films in an attempt to counter this film’s depiction of them and to offer positive alternative images and stories of the African-American people.

Hollywood & Highland complex - Griffith's Babylon set replica
Hollywood & Highland complex – Griffith’s Babylon set replica

 D.W. Griffith had previously produced and directed Biograph’s The Rose of Kentucky (1911), which showed the Ku Klux Klan as villainous – a sharp contrast to “The Birth of A Nation”, made four years later, in which the KKK was portrayed in a favorable light.

The Rose of Kentucky – International Movie Database

The Rose of Kentucky - 1911
The Rose of Kentucky – 1911 – still frame

That fact proves that films were even then part of entertainment industry, nothing more than a business. Nothing like today, when the hate is to thick, one can almost feel it like a disturbing presence. Racist issues never ceased and with catalists like BSU, never will.

The BGSU website - Gish Theater description

Black Student Union on Twitter - Hashtag - DITCH THE GISH
Black Student Union on Twitter – Hashtag – DITCH THE GISH, upper left corner a logo (fist combined with the map of Africa, colors Red-Green-Yellow)

They don’t care. Her other achievements mean nothing to them. They are so focused on one movie. It makes me so sad. I agree about the hashtag “ditch the gish”. It does diminish their credibility. I was at the open forum and we were greatly outnumbered. The majority of the students were polite. The notice on the theater itself all but accuses Dorothy and Lillian of being racists. That makes me angry too. (Barbara Carr – Oregon)

The Birth is on sale again on all major online sites (Amazon, Ebay), that’s because , as it happens it was restored to full HD.

Birth of A Nation for sale online
Birth of A Nation for sale online

Also I wish to mention that on the other LILLIAN GISH group I have constantly requests for membership from Sudan, Ghana, Somalia, the REAL African citizens who are enjoying Lillian’s silent films because (She was right) those movies are interpreted in universal language of “dancing emotions”. But this fact is not in her favour either – I suppose. I have marked all Gish Theater articles as offensive, #spoiler and small group interest. All this chain of actions (part mentioned above) leads to one conclusion: Bottom line; all is part of a carefully elaborate plan that is deploying it’s final disgusting phases as I’m editing this text.

LILLIAN GISH Fan Group Members composed of African People
LILLIAN GISH Fan Group Members composed of African People and many other nationalities
African People - membership requests
African People – membership requests (approved)

The Gish Theater Saga

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Students attending to Black Issues Conference - Gish Theater
Students attending to Black Issues Conference – Gish Theater

The Gish Film Theater Saga


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We need to remember the long-suppressed history of women including their pioneering contributions to cinema.

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.


If the present period is one of heightened concerns about race, it is also one with a reawakened feminism, a fresh emphasis on the need to recover and remember a long-suppressed history of women including their pioneering contributions to cinema. In the age of the MeToo movement, one sure way to rebuild support for the Gish Film Theater is to remind people of the roles of Lillian and Dorothy as strong, emancipated women at a time when females were struggling to obtain the vote and define themselves as something other than the property of their husbands. The sexist overtones of the hashtag, “Ditch the Gish,” means that the Black Students Union have lost whatever moral high ground they thought they might have gained by harping on the Klan and the “Birth” controversy.The New Gish Theater BGSU Front

Please consider that all the material related with this above mentioned attack is marked on as SPOILER. If interested only in the seventh art and theatre please do not read it.

Thank you kindly for visiting Miss Lillian Gish fan page.

Black Student Union on Twitter - Hashtag - DITCH THE GISH
Black Student Union on Twitter – Hashtag – DITCH THE GISH, upper left corner a logo (fist combined with the map of Africa, colors Red-Green-Yellow)

The Gish Theater Saga

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Eva Marie Saint cancels trip to BGSU

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.


An Evening with Eva Marie Saint, scheduled for Friday, March 29, has been cancelled.

Dean Raymond Craig of the College of Arts and Sciences wrote in a notice addressed to Friends of BGSU Arts that: “Ms. Saint regrets that she will not be traveling to Bowling Green State University this spring.”

The Academy Award winning actress and graduate of BGSU was schedule to perform with students during the evening event.


Dave Kielmeyer, spokesman for the university, said that the change of plans was not related to the controversy over the name of the Gish Film Theatre. Plans for the event just were not coming along as well as the university would want, he said. “It’s as much on us.”

Saint’s appearance was originally scheduled as part of the rededication of the Gish Film Theatre in its new space in the Bowen Thompson Student Union. However, that was cancelled when members of the Black Student Union questioned the venue being named in part for Lillian Gish, who starred in “The Birth of a Nation.” The 1915 D.W. Griffith silent movie epic has been tied to the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and widely criticized for its racist depictions of African-Americans.


“…But as that in effect amounts to an embarrassing situation it might be that the university administrators, as horrible as this is to say, will feel less embarrassed by simply pretending the Gishes never existed and eliminating any sign of them on the campus. If in a glaring anticlimax they do return the Gish Film Theater to its original location or some other less prominent place, then the grand reopening they had in January with Eva Marie Saint becomes in itself a source of discomfort.
   I can only say that if there is enough pressure from those who care about Lillian and Dorothy Gish and their place in history, then it may become clear to the BGSU administration that they will face far greater embarrassment all over the world if they drop the name than if they retain it. For this reason, I feel an online petition is the best way to go to prevent this from happening.”
   William M. Drew
“…As for your suggestion of a possible museum for the Gish sisters, the problem with that is there are very few such memorials dedicated to pioneer film artists. Off hand, I can think of only three in the Los Angeles region that house museum displays–the homes of Nell Shipman, William S. Hart, and Will Rogers who also has a major memorial in his hometown of Claremore, Oklahoma. Several of the old studios where structures and other sites survive have had museums dedicated to them, too. In my own Bay Area, there is the Essanay studio in Niles, California, Hollywood has the famous DeMille barn that marked the start of Paramount, while on the East Coast there are the American Museum of the Moving Image located in Paramount’s Astoria studio, the Fort Lee Film Commission with a museum dedicated to the East Coast Hollywood, the Norman Studios Silent Film Museum in Jacksonville commemorating the years the Florida city was a center of film production, and the Wharton Studio Museum in Ithaca, New York devoted to the many films produced there in the 1910s.
  With the exception of Fort Lee, none of these sites have anything to do directly with Lillian and Dorothy Gish. The three studios where they worked with Griffith–the Biograph in Manhattan, the Fine Arts in Hollywood, and the Mamaroneck in New York–have all since vanished. In Hollywood, they lived mainly in rented bungalows and never established a big permanent residence like Pickfair. In New York City, they lived in an apartment for years, but that is not likely to become the site of a museum. So, for the foreseeable future, the Gish Film Theater and Gallery in Bowling Green is probably the closest thing to a museum display that commemorates them–that is, if it is allowed to continue there.”
William M. Drew
Gallery: Orienta Point, Mamaroneck (former Griffith Studios and sets from “Way Down East” and “Orphans of The Storm”)

As a film historian \ I am very concerned about the current agitation at Bowling Green

SPOILER WARNING !!!, this material is related to the attack that targeted Miss Lillian Gish and her sister Dorothy, their reputation and memory.

By William M. Drew

I am writing you to express my concern about an attempt to remove the names of the Gish sisters from a campus theater in Ohio as a consequence of the constant, non-stop demonization of D. W. Griffith over “The Birth of a Nation.” I am hoping that, by alerting you to this, you might be able to get the word to others in the academic community seriously committed to the study and appreciation of film art. Perhaps this can lead to a coordinated protest so that this effort will not succeed.

What has happened is as follows. Back in 1976 when the United States was still a democracy, people at Bowling Green State University, Ohio decided to name a campus theater after Ohio native daughter Lillian Gish. Lillian refused the honor unless it also included her sister Dorothy so they then named it the Gish Film Theater with which Lillian was quite happy. The theater was in operation for many years and Dr. Ralph H. Wolfe put together a collection of memorabilia associated with the Gishes which was on display there. As the theater was in need of renovation by 2016, however, it was felt its function, including the name, should be transferred to another location.

Eventually, they found what they felt was an ideal campus location for the Gish Film Theater–a building that is also used by the students union. So in January of this year, 2019, the Gish Film Theater reopened at its new site in a dedication hosted by Eva Marie Saint, now 94 and a longtime friend of Lillian Gish, who had come all the way to the university for this special event.


Soon after, however, campus activists led by the Black Students Union began demanding that the name of Gish be dropped from the theater because Lillian had played the leading feminine role in “The Birth of a Nation.” They claimed that the reason they had not objected to the Gish name being attached to the theater previously is because it was in a much less visible, almost hidden part of the campus than it is now. Pressure has continued to mount and the university president says he will render a decision on whether the Gish name stays or is removed in May.

Students attending to Black Issues Conference - Gish Theater

As the saying goes, we’ve seen this movie before. In 1998, 21 years ago, there was a similar controversy on another college campus, Northern Kentucky University in Covington, over Red Grooms’ sculptures of D. W. Griffith and Billy Bitzer filming Lillian Gish on the ice in “Way Down East.” The sculptures had occupied a prominent situation on the campus since being placed there in 1979. For years, they brightened the otherwise dreary-looking campus without any controversy. But with Griffith’s reputation beginning to disintegrate in the 1990s as more and more attacks were launched against him in the media, perhaps it was inevitable that this would have an adverse effect on any monument or memorial to him even if, as in this case, it had nothing whatever to do with “The Birth of a Nation.” With students and academics demanding that NKU get rid of this monument to a “racist” filmmaker, the college administrators bowed to their demands and the sculptures were removed and then dismantled.


With this perhaps as a precedent, the following year in December 1999 Griffith’s name was removed from the Lifetime Achievement Award that the Director’s Guild of America had been giving to outstanding filmmakers since 1953. The Guild said that they were doing so because Griffith had perpetrated “intolerable racial stereotypes” in his films. Unlike the NKU controversy which attracted little attention outside the northern Kentucky/southern Ohio region, the DGA’s decision was widely reported, eliciting a variety of comment, pro and con. In the ensuing years, while the denunciations of Griffith over “The Birth of a Nation” have never ceased and with very little attention paid to his other works, there have not been similar efforts to dishonor him publicly for the simple reason that there are few memorials of any kind to commemorate his existence. There are no other awards bearing his name, no grand museum honoring his life and work, no cities and parks named after him nor theaters, either, no towering statues of him. It seemed that all those who had come to despise him could do was continue writing and producing vitriolic books, articles and documentaries about him in which he was forever blamed for just about all of America’s racial problems.


Now that the Gishes are being targeted, I suppose I should utter that old cliche that I’m not surprised. But actually I am. For example, there is the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize established by provisions in Lillian’s will to reward worthy artists. One of its more recent recipients was none other than Spike Lee who had no objections at all to receiving an award bearing the name of the actress who played Elsie Stoneman in “The Birth of a Nation.”


With no apparent controversy over this prestigious award and with numerous film critics and historians continuing to bestow on Lillian Gish the praise that they now generally withhold from Griffith who is more often than not reviled these days, I had actually thought she was immune to this kind of attack. But since the few memorials to the director have long since vanished, it is evidently Lillian’s turn to be denounced and dishonored as a surrogate for Griffith. And if they succeed in removing any honors to Lillian and sister Dorothy who, unlike Lillian, was not in “The Birth of a Nation,” will they then target Mary Pickford who was not in “The Birth of a Nation,” either, but who also did indeed work for Griffith?

d.w. griffith, mary pickford, charlie chaplin (seated) and douglas fairbanks at the signing of the contract establishing united artists motion picture studio

I don’t think it is hyperbole to observe that what we are seeing these days with all the attacks on memorials to iconic historical figures is an American equivalent of the Cultural Revolution that decimated China’s civilization in the 1960s and with much the same stated objective. While this kind of frenzy scarcely began amidst the meltdown caused by the disgraceful and incompetent administration of Donald J. Trump as witness the earlier anti-Griffith agitation of the late 1990s, there is no question that his repellent antics have only intensified the madness of the so-called resistance. If unchecked, it could spread to many other outstanding cultural figures, not only in cinema but in the older arts as well.

Pickford, Griffith, Chaplin, Fairbanks - United Artists
Pickford, Griffith, Chaplin, Fairbanks – United Artists

Mark Twain could come under fire, not for “Huck Finn” but for “Tom Sawyer” due to the racially stereotyped character of Injun Joe. You could have activists running around Oakland demanding that the name of Jack London Square be changed because several of the writer’s statements seem racist to some. Not long ago I came across a college paper in which the “scholar” tried to argue that, based on passages in their works, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were all racists or bigots. That this analyst appeared to be confusing the attitudes expressed by some of their characters with the personal views of the authors was clear enough to me. But in a time when critical thinking and reasoned debate has all but disappeared in this country and many other Western nations, this approach has become all too common.

United Artists Corporation Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, David Wark Griffith
United Artists Corporation – Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, David Wark Griffith

I believe therefore that it is imperative for all those concerned with cinema art to express their opposition to this attempt to remove the Gish name from the theater. If this attempt by the professionally outraged is not halted in its tracks, it will simply encourage more and more such assaults on our cultural heritage. From a feminist standpoint, it effectively applies an “Adam’s rib” conception to both Gish sisters in which they are no more than projections of a now despised and much misunderstood male artist without any individuality or creativity of their own. In an era in which women’s voices and contributions are supposed to count, scapegoating Lillian and Dorothy Gish for a portrayal in just one film that was conceived, not by Griffith but by the crackpot writer Thomas Dixon, Jr., the only person connected with “The Birth of a Nation” who merits censure, is utterly ridiculous.

the sisters - 1914 — with dorothy gish. 4

One of the high points of my viewing classic films was the time in 1995 when I witnessed a revival of “Way Down East” that proved electrifying in its emotional effect on the audience. The denunciation of the sexual double standard and the traditional male patriarchy elicited loud cheers and applause. I have never experienced such a response to any other film in all the years I attended theatrical screenings. It was this film that inspired those fighting for women’s rights all over the world including China in the 1920s where it proved enormously influential. But the continued attacks on Griffith which are now starting to engulf Lillian Gish as well have caused this to be almost completely forgotten.

I would very much appreciate it if you would consider contacting those of your colleagues in the film history field who conceivably could circulate a petition requesting that the name of the Gish Film Theater remain intact. If enough people sign it, I believe we might be able to prevent this effort at name change and public dishonor from going through.

As a film historian who enjoyed a very nice correspondence with Lillian Gish over the years and who has written extensively about D. W. Griffith, I am very concerned about the current agitation at Bowling Green State University to drop the name of Gish from the Gish Film Theater as a result of the never-ending controversy over “The Birth of a Nation.” Sadly, given the past history of such incidents where this issue is concerned, it is likely that the university will give in to such pressures unless there is a strong enough counter-protest to defeat this attempt.

  I have in mind getting up a petition that could be sent around for cinephiles and others concerned about the arts to sign. It could then be forwarded to the university president and if there are enough signatures on it, it might have the desired effect. I have other information about the Gishes, D. W. Griffith and many others from those years I will be happy to share with you. In the meantime, I am including in this e-mail a copy of a letter I’ve started sending out to film academics and others with a particular interest in this. It gives a background history for the situation that has now arisen. 

    I’m looking forward to hearing from you about this rather urgent matter soon. I will be very interested in any suggestions you may have.



    William M. Drew


The Gish Theater Saga

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